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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why top college students don't read or go to class: Resume polishing is #1


Learning is not the priority of most Harvard students, writes Aden Barton in Harvard Magazine. Going to class and doing classwork as "simply another item on their to-do list." Earning good grades is easy. Resume polishing requires more effort.


"Harvard has increasingly become a place in Cambridge for bright students to gather — that happens to offer lectures on the side," he writes.


Students will do whatever it takes to earn an A, writes Barton. But they know professors' expectations are low.


He took a seminar with three friends. "Although we knew hundreds of pages of readings would be assigned each week, we were excited about the prospect of engaging with the material. As time went on, the percentage of readings each of us did went from nearly 100 to nearly 0." All received A's.


This fall, one of my friends did not attend a single lecture or class section until more than a month into the semester. Another spent 40 to 80 hours a week on her preprofessional club, leaving barely any time for school. A third launched a startup while enrolled, leaving studying by the wayside.

Harvard students have spent years trying to "maximize each moment or opportunity to stand out," writes Barton. That's how they got in.


When nearly everyone's got an A average, the ambitious student needs extracurriculars and internships to stand out, Amanda Claybaugh, dean of undergraduate education, told the New York Times. “Extracurriculars, which should be stress relieving, become stress producing.”


At Yale, and other elite universities, getting into clubs is highly competitive, writes Rachel Shin in The Atlantic. "After more than a month of nonstop auditions, applications, interviews, and even tests, (Arrow) Zhang found herself rejected from multiple clubs," including the community-service club. The freshman was turned away by "the Existential Threats Initiative, which meets to discuss issues such as climate change and AI," . . . for not having enough experience dealing with existential threats."


A majority of Harvard graduates take finance, consulting or technology jobs, writes Francesca Mari in the New York Times. Princeton's numbers are nearly identical. "While the main image of elite campuses during this commencement season might be activists in kaffiyehs pitching tents on electric green lawns, most students on campus are focused not on protesting the war in Gaza, but on what will come after graduation," she writes. For many, it's what used to be called a "sellout job." But, now, that's prestigious, not pejorative. Competition for internships is fierce.


Universities are hiring fewer professors and a lot more administrators, write Naomi Schaefer Riley and James Piereson in City Journal. Academic learning is a lower priority than extracurricular life on campus.

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6 Comments


JK Brown
JK Brown
May 29

Well, here's some NYU students bragging of the the self designed specializations. Perhaps corporate America needs some cube drones with attitudes?

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deirdre.mundy
May 29

I have a kid in engineering school. She is not getting straight A's, and if she was skipping class and not turning in any work, she'd fail everything. Clearly Harvard is not a good choice for kids who want an education.

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
May 30
Replying to

Harvard's reputation is falling, and should continue to fall, while that of its crosstown rival MIT has surpassed its, a sign of things to come in a globalizing world that does not need pointless snobs, but instead needs serious solutions to real problems.

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m_t_anderson
May 29

And not one of them can change a tire, fix a good martini, bake a pie, or unclog a stopped-up toilet. I'm not impressed.

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Paul Kramer
Paul Kramer
May 30
Replying to

i showed an MIT grad how to write a check

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