A letter to the editor originally published in April of 2002.
Re: Why Harvard Hates Straight A's (April 22) -- Having attended both Harvard and the University of Toronto, I can state that there are two differences between the schools: Harvard is much more difficult to get into, whereas the University of Toronto is much more difficult to get out of -- with a degree and decent grades, that is.
At Harvard, undergraduates have to take only four full-time courses per year to earn a degree, and they have a longer school year in which to prepare for their exams. At U of T, five full-time courses must be taken, and the school year is much more condensed.
The atmosphere at Harvard is quite "country-clubish" and leisurely, while at U of T it is a downright pressure-cooker.
At U of T there is an unwritten policy in most classes that 20 per cent of the students in every class will receive a failing grade. At Harvard, most students receive a minimum of A- grades. In fact, to receive anything less than a B, one would have to miss exams and not hand in assignments.
As far as getting into Harvard goes, the most significant factor is whether or not you are a so-called "legacy," meaning that if your father, mother, or sibling went to Harvard before you, you can still get in, as hundreds do, with mediocre grades in high school.
I'm not surprised that current Harvard students feel that they deserve A's for their $100,000 investment; if they were forced to compete with students at the U of T, many would receive only C's at best.