By Katie Banks
Many Harvard students sailed through high school without needing the help of tutors; if anything, they tutored other students. However,if you’re struggling with tough concepts and feel that you need that extra one-on-one time, you’re not alone! Many Harvard students seek tutoring every year through the Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC), which runs the peer tutoring. Some of the most sought-after classes (according to unofficial sources) are LS1b, Math21, and other science classes, which are among some of the most challenging! The BSC has enthusiastic tutors who are well-suited for the job—as well as many other resources to guide you through your academic life and your emotional life at Harvard (those two are related, you know). Whether you need help with your homework or more substantial support and guidance, the BSC can provide real counsel.We talked to the BSC and Harvard scientistas on campus to find out the inside scoop of what the BSC is like and how you can make the most of it.
The friendliness and openness of the drop-in tutors are immediately apparent to students visiting the BSC for the first time. One female student felt calm about her academic situation for the first time after a BSC counselor had her take her shoes off at the door and welcomed her into his decidedly low-stress office. Similarly, Mary*, an applied math major who was overwhelmed taking Chem 20 as a freshman, described her tutoring sessions as “so chill,” and praised her tutor(a senior chemistry concentrator)for being incredibly flexible with her tight schedule and “just a nice person”—someone you may sorely need when you are in the midst of stressful academic hell. Tutoring sessions can be as simple as you and a tutor working through problems with a guide there to help you reason your way through the material. Even a couple of two-hour sessions a semester have brought students back from the brink of failing a class.
But the Bureau of Study Counsel isn’t just a peer tutoring service. The BCS also offers special seminars on time management, thesis and dissertation writing, procrastination, and other issues Harvard students may need to deal with for the first time (or the millionth). Several members of the BSC staff are researchers in their own right, publishing on student learning habits and struggles. Their staffers recognize how tightly twined your mental health and academics are. In addition to academic tutoring services, they provide training for peer counseling services like Room 13 and Contact, have ties with University Health Services when more resources are needed, and maintain relations with Resident and Freshmen Deans. They also organize drop-in groups for students with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder.
When students come to the BSC, they not only receive help and guidance for the struggles they are facing, but also, often, realize they are not alone in them. This experience is life-changing for some. One student had been molested by a high school teacher and felt isolated by the experience, because she had no adults to go to for help and did not tell her parents what had happened. When she came to Harvard, she wanted a new beginning, but quickly realized that she needed help dealing with the repercussions of her experience—how she couldn’t let anyone touch her and couldn’t look people in the eyes. Her freshman proctor referred her to the BSC for help her parents wouldn’t find out about, and the BSC paired her with a trauma therapy specialist, who treated her confidentially and free of charge. Her doctor through the BSC provided support she hadn’t found elsewhere and helped her identify and deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, gather the courage to talk to her family, and build tools for feeling back in control of her life.
All of these students stress that even a short time with the BSC—as little as a month--was life-changing. All it took them to get started was the courage to ask for help that first time. As one of the students put it: “I have never regretted the moment of courage in which I decided to ask for the help I needed so badly, and I will always be grateful to Harvard for having had the support network to provide it.”
You can contact the Bureau of Study Counsel via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, call at (617) 495-2581, or drop into their office at 5 Linden Street anytime 8:30am-5:30pm, M-F. More information on all services and appointment scheduling is available at the BSC website, bsc.harvard.edu. There, you can find a tutor for a specific class, how to sign up for group tutoring or one of the BSC’s many special workshops, links to related Harvard offices and services, and other information.
*Names have been changed for anonymity.