Think Harvard's too hard to get into? Think again

The Kennedy Scholarship programme allows Brits the chance to study at the most famous university in the world

I did not have lofty dreams of coming to Harvard throughout my childhood. My prime exposure to the institution was the film ‘Legally Blonde’, which thankfully has not shaped the course of my life.

I applied to Harvard for practical reasons. The courses and professors are brilliant, it is widely respected, and there is funding available. I am sure many other British students have been in my predicament – with a masters offer that will help in the long-run, but financially cripple you in the short-term. In the US, 42 per cent of people repaying their student debt are between the ages of 30 and 50. I was incredibly lucky to receive a scholarship from the Kennedy Memorial Trust.

The Trust was established by act of parliament after President Kennedy’s assassination and Kennedy Scholarships are the living British memorial to him. This year eleven were awarded to British students studying at Harvard or MIT, covering tuition fees, healthcare, living costs, summer travel allowance, and a return flight to the UK.

From the outset, the application seems daunting. One quote from popular online forum ‘The Student Room’ explicitly discouraged candidates from applying with the comment ‘look at the profiles of who gets these things’. Honestly, I didn’t think I stood a chance of being selected – I did not attend Oxbridge, after all! – but I decided to mimic the American ‘can-do’ attitude and apply regardless.

The application process was not as daunting as I had thought. A panel interview with ten people sounds horrendous. But the interview was actually surprisingly relaxed – everyone I have spoken to had the panel in fits of laughter at some point. It is a process that challenges you to evaluate what you want, and be prepared to defend it.

Coming to Harvard has a similar effect. The sheer volume of talks and opportunities emailed to you literally every day – not to mention work – constantly pushes you to assess your interests. One of the first Master’s introductions is a career talk, already planning for your departure from the university. Harvard offers its students professional development at a level I never imagined possible. Within two months, I have already been placed on a journal’s editorial board, filled up my January ‘holiday’ with a trip to assess the Syrian refugee crisis, applied for two conferences, and attended over a dozen talks. It is like spinning through a crimson haze.

There are huge differences from UK university education, many stemming from a focus on professional skill development. Courses tend to be less theoretical and push the real-world impact of ideas. If you feel quite comfortable with being a high-achiever at your UK university, the level of competition for everything at Harvard may not be enjoyable. At one point I ran out of earshot of an interview before mine, as the candidate was so intimidatingly qualified. Americans also tend to talk about their feelings a lot in seminars, which doesn’t sit well with the British disposition. Students are also ludicrously confident; the Kennedy scholars were recently invited to a ‘Future Leaders’ evening, which felt dauntingly presumptuous.

Currently, I only have a vague idea of where the next two academic years will take me. It is a world away from the certainty I had during my undergraduate degree. But, at least for now, I am enjoying the whirlwind.

Applications for Kennedy Scholarships awards for 2014-15 will close on 23 October 2013

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant - IT Channel - Graduate

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a Value-Added I...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Guru Careers: Junior Web Developer

£18 - 22k (DOE) + Benefits & Stock Options: Guru Careers: A Junior Developer /...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss