Why Goal Setting Is So Important When Applying to Harvard (article with video)
Why Goal Setting Is So Important When Applying to Harvard (article with video)




10 Must-Have Skills for a Harvard University Student 

For about 10 years as a consultant on admission to competitive universities abroad, every second student and parent who came to me for a consultation wanted to enter and study at Harvard. At that time I was not yet a Harvard student, but I had a wide experience of studying in the USA and other countries. I received my bachelor's degree from Mount Holyoke College, a prestigious women's institution in the United States - the alma mater of the legendary women Emily Dickinson, Virginia Apgar, Francis Perkins, among many others, and I completed a postgraduate program at the Nanjing Center of Johns Hopkins University. There is a direct relationship between the degree of complexity of entering the university and the complexity of direct study in the program. Among the variety of study opportunities in different countries, admission to the United States remains the most difficult, time-consuming and demanding process. Knowing this, I first of all analyzed how ready the student and his parents were for such a long and unpredictable process.

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Unlike many private universities in the United States, where admission is really easy (such universities, by the way, can be identified by their active presence on the Russian-speaking Internet and on the websites of educational agencies), Ivy League universities and the top 50 universities and colleges from the US News University ranking /College Ranking takes student selection very seriously. A multi-stage admission process and a multi-component introductory package of documents for both undergraduate and graduate programs give the admission committee a more complete picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate.

Successful students demonstrate to varying degrees the 10 skills that enable them to be successful students and professionals in the future.

I will gradually talk about them in the next articles of my column. In my Masters in Neuroscience and Education at Harvard University, I will mostly refer to my freshly baked experience. I will do just that also because the educational system, approaches and methodologies are constantly changing, and give a better idea of ​​​​the difference in higher education systems in general. However, my undergraduate academic experience in the US, as well as the experiences of my students at top US universities, confirm the versatility of these skills. Let's start with the first skill.



Skill #1: Goal Setting

Goal setting - in our case, the ability to set long-term and short-term goals - will allow the student to make the most of the resources of the educational program, not get lost among the huge choice of subjects that are available to him, and maintain motivation to cope with the huge amount of independent work.

We must remember that getting an education is not a goal, it is a means of acquiring tools, experience, competencies and acquaintances to achieve higher goals.

The main introductory document used by the admission committee to assess this quality is the introductory essay (Statement of Purpose / Statement of Intent / Motivation Letter). Often, when reading students' motivational letters, one gets the feeling that they are writing an autobiographical essay, that is, answering the question “who am I and what did I do before the idea of ​​​​going to university X”, forgetting to answer key questions such as “what do I plan to do after university” and “why I chose this particular university and program out of thousands of similar ones”.

The essence of the letter of motivation comes down to actual proof of the compliance of the chosen program with your long-term goals, namely, highlighting specific components of the program (courses, professors, unique aspects of the learning process, university resources, etc.) and demonstrating their significance for achieving your long-term goals. At the same time, the more specific your goal is and the more it is related to solving really important problems, the more effective your motivation letter will be. While high school graduates entering undergraduate programs are allowed to lack a clearly articulated long-term goal due to a lack of broad life experience, then students entering graduate and graduate programs should be able to justify “what questions do you want to find answers to and how the program will allow you to do this” and “why are you a worthy candidate and should be in the top 5% of successful applicants”?   
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Why is it so important to understand why and what you came to study?

Unlike the system of higher education in Russia, which is dominated by a fixed list of subjects that all students of a specialty take, in the USA a student has the luxury of choosing subjects. Depending on the specialization and the school, the student receives guidance on the number and level of subjects that he must pass within his specialization and related disciplines to receive a diploma. As a student of the Master of Education program in Mind, Brain and Education, each semester I have to choose only 4 courses out of about 15 available to me at different Harvard schools (for example, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard School of Arts & Sciences ,etc).

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Screenshot of all available courses page on Harvard student profile

Without a clear understanding of the goals, it is very difficult to make a choice. In addition, having made a preliminary selection, you need to meet with your academic supervisor, who will assess how your choice really matches the goals. But that's not all. Having chosen classes and received the approval of the curator, it is absolutely not a fact that you can do this. And that's why:

First, some courses and professors are so popular that some sort of selection system is expected. The simplest and, according to many students, dishonest form is the lottery. This happened at the beginning of this semester with the mega-popular Multi-Modal Learning Analytics course, where students learn how to apply different methods of collecting big data (different sensor devices, eye-trackers, etc.) and use the information received to conduct research. The popularity of the class is connected not only with the applied nature of the course and the novelty of the material, but also with the material base of the course. So, for example, already at the first lesson, each lucky person was given a kit for self-assembly of a sensory device. Unfortunately, the course is held only once a year, so those who did not get to it went to look for another suitable course.

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A kit for assembling a touch device at the Multi-Modal learning analytics course at Harvard

Secondly, in order to enroll in especially popular courses, especially if as a student of the Harvard Graduate School of Education you want to enroll in a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Business, you need to write a motivation letter again. This time, this motivational letter will be read by a professor and decide how your goals correspond to the content and goals of the course. For example, when registering for the Designing Innovation course at the Harvard Innovation Lab, I had to send in a resume as well as a description of the project I would like to complete as part of the course. Such selection allows you to create a certain ecosystem within the class, when students have common goals, complementary competencies and an equally strong desire to learn and participate in the acquisition and creation of knowledge.

Goal-setting and reflection are also present when you are already a student of the course. Usually, in the first lesson, students write a separate essay, where they describe specific goals for this semester, and formulate questions that, as a result, they would like to find answers to.

In general, such a system allows each student not only to work more focused and efficiently, but is also a great motivation for self-study, which is at the heart of the student preparation system. Therefore, the next skill that we will talk about is the ability to learn independently.



Author:Evgenia Efremova, Master's student at Harvard University 
and academic director Global Ambassador 


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 Read or watch about 2 skills in the continuation of the article  

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