An academic taxonomy of Harvard students: the three breeds

During my time in Cambridge (MA not UK), I noticed three breeds of Homo harvardensis when it came to academics: the Gunner, the Savvy, and the Slacker.

Gunners come to college to kick ass academically.  They’ve already got their eyes on the prize — Rhodes and Marshall fellowships, graduating summa cum laude, getting into the best grad schools — and they will work hard to get it.  These were the kids who were studying on a Saturday night, impervious to my entreaties to go check out some parties. In my experience, about 10-15% of the campus fits this category.

Slackers are the other end of the spectrum.  Sure, they worked hard in high school.  But now, they’ve figured out that they can pick classes such that they never have to get up before 11am; can have 4-day weekends by picking classes that only meet on Tuesday and Thursday; and generally not need to work too hard.  They’re happy to get by on the gentleman’s/gentlelady’s B while attending to their extracurriculars and social life.  They comprise about 10-15% of the student body.

In the vast middle — 70-80% of the students — are the Savvies.  They don’t take up the same austerity measures as the Gunners; nor do they eschew all hard word like the Slackers.  They’ve figured out how to work smart, such that they can perform well academically — sometimes as well as the Gunners — while having a well-rounded college experience. In other words, they’ve figured out how to have a balanced college life.

I started out as a Gunner, had a fall from grace which landed me in Slackerville for a while, and a gradual awakening which made me Savvy.  Unfortunately, by the time I had stuff really figured out, I was wearing a cap and gown in Tercentenary Theater.  What I would have given to have that knowledge, oh, say freshman year, or even before.  And that’s why I created HUGS: so you’d have the benefit of all that experience NOW when it’s actually useful to you, and not in the year 2014.

Being a Savvy is the middle way.  And the middle way — the way that avoids the extremes, as put forth by Eastern wisdom — tends to be more effective and fun.  We’ll talk about that a lot on HUGS Day, Sat Aug 7, and have a whole section devoted to it on the HUGS CD.  Until then, if you have questions for me, zap ‘em to me at ali at

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