A Freshman Guide to Haverford College

Founders Hall, Haverford College.

My first year at Haverford College ended today along with the last exam of my two-week-long finals period. It’s sort of a bittersweet end, with the COVID-19 pandemic ending my on-campus experience early and rendering future plans undetermined. I still reflect on the memories I made there with nostalgia, since it’s been a year of tremendous exploration and growth for me.

If you are thinking about applying to Haverford or have already been accepted, I definitely have a few things I could tell you about what I learned from my experience (and also what my friends have learned, too). While I know that the incoming class of 2024 will have a drastically different experience from those in my class year, I think some things will stay the same.

Here are some things you should know about the Haverfordian experience:

Summer before college

  • There are so many summer programs or pre-Customs programs that are set before the beginning of orientation. Some of them are the Chesick program, Horizons, PCOP. They differ in terms of program goals and content, but they’re super helpful in getting you used to the campus and meeting people to form connections even prior to orientation.
    • I’m biased but I think these programs are wonderful! I’m a Chesick Scholar. Looking back at it, most of my now current connections (whether it be friend circle or professors I keep in contact with) are built from my first exposure to Haverford with the Chesick program.
  • Do not stress over placement tests! You absolutely do not have to get a perfect score or to compete with anyone. The tests are just to gauge your experience and preparedness, so you can be placed into classes that fit your level of preparedness the most.
    • Emphasis: You don’t have to prepare or study for these tests. If you think you ‘flunk’ it, in fact you probably did better than you expected.

Moving in

  • This was a big move for me: A journey from Texas to Pennsylvania. If you’re from somewhere far away like me, I would recommend packing your things and flying there/driving there several days head of the start of orientation.
    • My family flew out 3-4 days before orientation with my suitcases. We rented out Airbnb and a car. We spent time together exploring the city before my move-in day, when we packed everything I needed in the car and drove to Haverford to move in.
    • There will be people who help you move your things in.
  • Dorm essentials: Online websites usually have a more comprehensive list of dorm essentials for packing than I do, but personally I wished I knew I would need these items:
    • Shower caddy and shower shoes (order them on Amazon or buy them once you’re at Haverford)
    • Clothes hangers
    • Laundry hampers
    • Containers/storage cubs/ bins
    • A fan
    • Extension cords
    • Optional, but many people I know have them : bed risers, mattress topper, mini-fridges

The things they don’t tell you

  • Straight up: Some people will not know what a Haverford is. Do not let that get to you or believe that your educational experience here will be any lesser than others. Classes at Haverford are definitely very challenging, and you are taught by some of the best professors out there.
  • Customs AKA Year-long-freshman-orientation-that-everyone-is-hyped-about. You don’t have to love it, and if you don’t bond with everyone on your hall, that is fine too. Use this critical time to meet new people and try new things! The purpose isn’t to force you to bond and make friends with anyone immediately, but rather to encourage you to keep trying new things until you do find your own people.
  • Use all the resources you are given. In my case, coming from a first-gen, low-income background, I am often hesitant to ask for help. It takes time, but don’t be afraid to reach out. The faculty and staff here are every warm and welcoming– you are encouraged to take advantage of all your resources available.
    • Go to your First-Year Dean. Visit the OAR and writing/class tutors. Haunt your professors’ office hours and question centers. Go to events and talks advertised on flyers and emails.
  • Remember to have a balance; don’t spread yourself too thin. Have breaks when you feel overwhelmed, and take mental health days. Do not feel guilty for not doing 1000 things at the same time. At a small college like Haverford, it seems like everyone is involved in everything, but allow yourself space to breathe so you can continue to excel.
  • Talk to the upperclassmen and the professors! They’re usually very friendly and open to conversations. If you are interested in working in research lab with a professor, try cold emailing! More often than not, they will be open to providing you more information.
  • There are many special interest groups, affinities and clubs at Haverford. You can always join any time.
  • Go explore Philly (and beyond, if you have time). Haverford is a small campus, so going out to the city to explore with always provide you with something new and fun to try. Campus Philly (https://campusphilly.org/) has some great resources, whether it be about internships and job searches or great locations in the city.
  • Out of the four freshman dorms (Barclay, HCA, Tritton and Gummere), Gummere is the oldest. This means that the restrooms are not the best, and your room can be very small. However, I’ve met some of the best people at Gummere, and living there is a bonding experience. In addition, all Gummere rooms are singles.
  • There are plenty of on-campus jobs available. You could work in the bookstore, the Dining Center, the Admissions Office, amongst many others.
  • Regarding the party scene: If you are not into it, there is absolutely no pressure. Nerd House hosts fun, non-substance events such as lazer tag and video game nights. Whatever your ‘style’ here is, you would not feel pressured to conform to any particular way.

Settling in + daily life

  • Classes here are very challenging, and you would be taught by amazing professors who are passionate about teaching. Most classes are small, ranging anywhere from 5-20 people per class. Intro-level classes might be significantly larger in size, but the smaller setting allows for more student engagement. The professors can get to know you better, and you would not feel like another face in the class.
  • For challenging classes with heavy workload, I suggest figuring out your schedule earlier on and leaving time to do homework or wind down.
    • Use Google Calendar to block out events, classes, or other commitments, and have a to-do list. Make sure to be organized so you know what to expect for your schedule every day.
    • The weekend is precious time to do catch-up work.
  • Taking class at Bryn Mawr College is very easy. The Blue Bus comes by Haverford every 10 minutes to pick students up, and there are many students who major at Bryn Mawr. Taking classes at University of Pennsylvania requires more planning, as you need to consider transportation time on top of your own schedule.
  • Study spots on campus: Lutnick Library is often packed, but some other amazing spots are the Science Library, CPGC Cafe in Stokes, the KINSC study rooms.

While student experience and tips differ from person to person, I hope that my tips can give you a glimpse into the life of a Haverford students and what you can do to prepare. However, I think my most important advice is this: Go into Haverford with an open mind and make the journey your own.

Published by Tien Vu

Tien is a rising sophomore at Haverford College and a Questbridge Scholar. She is planning on studying Biology with minors in Psychology and Health Studies on the pre-med track. She is passionate about connecting low-income communities to resources for higher education and beyond. Her other interests include learning more about social justice work, exploring multimedia art, and discovering new music

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