The 12 Houses of Harvard: Pros and Cons from a Student
Harvard has twelve residential houses for undergraduates, with each one offering something fresh and different to students.
Harvard’s Housing Day takes place just before spring break. This is when students from all the 12 houses of Harvard rush into the dorms of the Freshmen who’ve been randomly assigned to their house, clamouring and hugging the bewildered first-years.
For the uninitiated, you may be confused as to what the differences are between each of these 12 houses. Which one do you want to get? Which ones should you pray to avoid? What are the myths about each of the houses that need to be dispelled?
Here’s a definitive breakdown of the 12 houses of Harvard, from Lowell to Currier, Dudley Co-op to Kirkland. We’ll talk about the unique features of each house, whether the accommodation is up to scratch, what the social life is like, and whether being Quadded is actually as bad as first-years make out.
Adams has a bit of a mixed reputation on campus. Some people wax lyrical about its prime location and the old Harvard character of its halls, corridors, and tunnels (more on that a bit later).
On the other hand, naysayers complain about how busy Adams can get during the day, with non-Adams residents attempting to swipe in for lunch in between classes at the nearby Science Center.
- Its location: you really can’t argue with this one. Adams is situated across Massachusetts Avenue, a mere two-minute walk from most lecture theatres in Harvard Yard and a five-minute walk from the Science Center. If you have most of your classes in this area, you won’t find a house in a better location. Adams is pretty much in the centre of where everything’s happening at Harvard.
- The character of the place: from the underground tunnels that are painted with the dreams, wishes, and imaginative musings of former and current residents to the gorgeous Gold Room, Adams is filled with quirks and old-school character.
- Its location: Adams’ biggest strength is also one of its weaknesses, as its central location means that the dhall tends to be absolutely packed during most weekdays. If you’re a resident and you want a quiet study place or to have a quick catch-up with your blocking group, you may struggle to find a suitable spot.
- Separate accommodation blocks: Adams accommodation is spread across several different buildings, from Westmorly Court along Bow Street to Randolph Hall, which is across the road from the Harvard Lampoon. This means that members of your blocking group may have a room that’s quite a trek from your own.
What’s So Special About Adams?
The tunnels that run along underneath Adams are an absolute delight, and you can spend hours exploring the drawings and paintings that former students have etched and sketched on these walls.
These tunnels reflect one of Adams’ greatest strengths, which is the sense of community that you’ll find in this house: their House Committee (HoCo) is particularly active, putting on a weekly Carpe Noctem event and organising awesome events like Drag Night and the yearly Winter Feast in Adams’ impressive dining hall.
The 12 Houses of Harvard: Cabot House
One of the three residential houses based in the Radcliffe Quadrangle, Cabot gets an unfair rep as an unfavourable housing option based purely on how far it is from Harvard Yard, the Science Center, and the Athletics Complex.
It’s well worth noting that Seniors from across all twelve residential houses tend to rank Cabot far more highly than they did as Freshmen, which goes to show how upperclassmen’s opinions of Quad houses are much more favourable than those of first and second-years who’ve never even ventured out to the Quad.
- Housing for all residents: if you get into a Quad house, you’ll find it far more likely that you’ll have a spacious single all to yourself from Sophomore year onwards. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get this luxury if you’re in a river house, so it’s not a feature to be sniffed at.
- Quad life: despite prevailing opinions among Freshmen, Quad life can be highly beneficial for Harvard students. The Quad is away from the hustle and bustle of touristy Harvard Square, and is a peaceful and cathartic space, with a large grassy commons and gorgeous red-bricked buildings.
- Distance from Harvard Yard and the Athletics Complex: if you’re a student-athlete, you’ll find that it will take between 30 to 40 minutes to walk from Cabot to the Athletics Complex (a bit of an issue if you’ve got early morning practice or lift). Luckily, you can catch the Quad shuttle bus to Harvard Stadium or invest in a skateboard, scooter, or bike to cut down commute time drastically. Some student-athletes also stay in one of their friend’s rooms in a river house the night before an early morning team workout.
- The dining hall: Cabot has one of the least memorable dining halls out of all the Harvard residential houses, which might sound like an odd complaint. However, if you take the impressive dhalls of houses like Dunster, Lowell, Eliot, and Winthrop into account, you’ll realise how much you miss out on the “Harvard” experience with a more generic canteen.
What’s So Special About Cabot?
Cabot Aquarium is an inclusive social space that hosts a lot of parties throughout the academic year. You’ll also appreciate Festivus, a yearly winter party that includes an entertaining talent show and “the burning of Grievances” (or complaints).
Another great thing about Cabot is the fact that you’ll get treated to weekly study breaks (where various tutors bring in snacks from Harvard Yard) every Sunday evening (most houses don’t provide these types of study breaks on such a regular basis).
Currier is the second of the three Quad houses and has a very different look to Cabot and Pfoho (Pforzheimer House). Currier was built in the late 1960s and has an unassuming red-bricked and concrete exterior.
- The food: quite simply, Currier has the best food of all the 12 houses of Harvard, and by quite a way at that. The dhall is small and intimate, with an exceptional salad bar, well-cooked hot options, and friendly, personal catering staff. If you want to try the best version of Harvard’s dhall food, head to Currier for the evening.
- Housing: like all the Quad houses, Currier has excellent housing options for underclassmen, Juniors, and Seniors. You’re likely to get a roomy single with your own bathroom, something you could only dream of as a Sophomore (or even a Junior) in a river house.
- It’s not got a traditional “Harvard” feel: if you’re looking for a house with old-school prestige and that classic Harvard aesthetic of Georgian or Federal-style architecture, you won’t find it with Currier (which is pretty unassuming by comparison).
- Location for athletes: like Cabot and Pfoho, Currier is quite a trek from the Athletics Center on the other side of the Charles River. If you’ve got an early morning lift, conditioning session, or practice, you’ll have to factor in a travel time of between 30 to 45 minutes just to get to the gym or changing room on time.
What’s So Special About Currier?
The small size and comforting family feel of Currier are ideal if you’re looking for a house with a sense of real community. When you walk through Currier to head to the dhall, you’ll pass through a number of open-plan, communal social spaces where you’ll often find friends hanging out.
The Dudley Co-op, or “the Co-op” as it’s more commonly known, is an alternative form of residential housing for students who want to experience something a little different.
There’s a real sense of community at the Co-op: the residents meet every week to divvy up chores like cooking and cleaning among themselves, and they host weekly social events (as well as bi-monthly parties with an open invitation to all Harvard undergraduates).
- It’s a cheaper alternative to living in the Houses: residents will pay a discounted housing fee when they move into the Co-op, and a significantly lower board rate (as the students themselves are responsible for most of the house upkeep).
- The social aspect: all Co-op residents will wax lyrical about the sense of community they feel as part of Dudley, as well as the meaningful sense of satisfaction they get from looking after the house themselves.
- There’s only space for 32 undergraduates: the Co-op is a very small community, with only 32 undergraduates on site at any one time. If you’re looking for a house with a larger body of residents, you might want to stick to one of the other eleven residential accommodation blocks on campus.
- It’s quite far from Harvard Yard: you’ll find the Co-op just beyond the Harvard Law School campus, about a 20-minute walk from Harvard Yard and the Science Center. This means you might well have to invest in a scooter or bike to make your commute easier.
What’s So Special About the Co-op?
The open-invite parties that the Co-op hosts are, hands-down, the best of the 12 houses of Harvard. No sketchy frat or finals club boys lingering around, great music (they’ll often get a local DJ in to spin records in the living room), home-cooked food, and a brilliant garden setup make the Co-op the place to be if you enjoy a slice of joyous, non-judgmental, and raucous fun every few weeks.
The 12 Houses of Harvard: Dunster House
Dunster House is one of the most picturesque buildings at Harvard, lying on the banks of the Charles River (photo by Jorge Salcedo/ Shutterstock.com)
Dunster was the first residential house to undergo a drastic renovation, opening up again in 2015 with a stylish wood-pannelled dhall, a state-of-the-art Grille in the basement, and a well-equipped gym and cardio room.
As such, Dunster has a pretty favourable campus reputation as one of the best houses around. It has an expansive courtyard, and its exterior is particularly impressive, making it “the most photographed house at Harvard”.
- Late-night dinners: student-athletes love Dunster, as it’s the only river house that has late-night dinners until 8 pm. This means that you’re guaranteed some food after evening or late-afternoon practice.
- The Grille: Dunster has the best Grille of any of the 12 houses of Harvard. It has a massive flatscreen TV where you can watch sports or films, a foosball and pool table, diner-style seating, and a great menu of satisfying, delicious food.
- Location: Dunster is right next to Mather, so it’ll take you around 15 minutes to walk up to Harvard Yard, and 20 to get to the Science Center (a bit of a stress if you’re in a rush for morning lectures).
- Sophomore housing: upperclassmen housing at Dunster is, generally, pretty decent (especially if you get the iconic seven-man duplex on the top floor as a Senior), but as a Sophomore, you might have to stay in DeWolfe, which is an accommodation block that’s a five-minute walk from the main house.
What’s So Special About Dunster?
How it looks. Dunster really has that classic, seminal look that you think of when someone mentions the name “Harvard.” If you’re looking to live out your Ivy League, Harvard College fantasies in a red-bricked house with hardwood floors and wood-pannelled libraries, you won’t find anywhere better than Dunster.
Eliot has quite a reputation among the athletes on campus: that’s because this house is the closest to the Harvard University Athletics Complex out of the 12 residential colleges.
This means that those 6 am strength and conditioning sessions or morning rows on the Charles River become all the easier for Eliot-based athletes, who only have to roll out of bed and trudge across the river 10 – 15 minutes in advance (compare this to Quad-based athletes, who have to leave 30-35 minutes earlier just to get to the complex on time for those gritty fitness sessions).
- The Eliot pass: this is particularly useful to athletes on their way back to get breakfast after a morning session. It means that you can use your HUID (Harvard student pass) to cut through Eliot courtyard and get to the river houses 5-10 minutes quicker than you normally would (a notable shortcut if you’re rushed for getting to a 9 am or 10 am lecture after practice).
- Eliot Grille: if you head down into the basement of Eliot, you’ll find this Grille, which serves loaded fries, mozzarella sticks, burgers, and milkshakes to hungry students.
- The courtyard: Eliot has a spacious and secluded courtyard, where you can hang out and read during the summer months, or build a snowman during Boston’s cold winters.
- Poor housing options for underclassmen: if you’re not a Senior, and don’t manage to get first pick in the rooming lottery (which is conducted towards the end of spring term every year) you may well find that you’ll be sharing a small room with one of your friends for the year.
- It’s a touch elitist: like a few of the other Harvard houses (Adams, looking at you), Eliot has a bit of a reputation on campus for being snooty and elitist. Black tie events like Fête do nothing to help with this image.
What’s So Special About Eliot?
The Eliot House Fête is an annual formal event that takes place during Harvard’s spring term, and it’s known for being one of the most exclusive and glitzy events on campus. If you’re not part of this river house, you may have some trouble getting your hands on a ticket: in fact, you’ll probably have to rely on a friend from Eliot to nab you one of the few plus one tickets on offer.
If you do manage to get through the doors at Fête, you’ll find a gorgeously-lit outdoor courtyard, a live swing band, a champagne bar, and an assortment of hand-baked cakes on offer to make this a Spring night you won’t forget.
Kirkland is one of the smallest houses on the campus, but has a great reputation amongst the student-athletes on camp: after Eliot, it’s the closest house to the Athletics Center, so you’ll only need to leave ten minutes or so to get across the river in the morning.
- Community: Kirkland has one of the strongest communities of all the houses at Harvard, with a brilliant HoCo and a particularly engaged residential body that takes part in housewide events like Secret Santa and Haunted Hicks (in the house library).
- The dogs: Kirkland’s Resident Deans have a couple of absolutely gorgeous Bernese Mountain Dogs, and you’ll find that plenty of the residential tutors also have pups that they’ll bring into the dhall and outside into the courtyard.
- Housing: as we’ve already mentioned, Kirkland is a small house, so housing is a bit tight, particularly if you’re a Sophomore or Junior (although even Seniors have been known to get a bit of a bad deal when it comes to rooming).
- Everyone knows everyone and everything: this might sound like a good thing, but if you’re in Kirkland and there’s even the slightest bit of drama between you and one of your friends, chances are plenty of people are going to hear about it. That’s because the community is so small and tight-knit.
What’s So Special About Kirkland?
The house spirit. Kirkland is known for being one of the best of the 12 houses of Harvard when it comes to community spirit. If you become a Kirkland resident, you should make sure to take part in the annual Secret Santa event, where the HoCo chairs pair up residents randomly in the lead-up to Christmas.
People go big for their Secret Santa presents: it’s not uncommon for someone to organise a flash mob or public concert in the dhall for their Santee, or to go out of their way to purchase a genuinely touching and heartfelt gift like a Magic Johnson autograph.
Leverett has a slightly unfair reputation on campus as a large house with less character and soul than its smaller river house counterparts like Mather, Kirkland, and Dunster.
It’s true that Leverett (or Lev, as it’s more commonly known on campus) is the largest residential house at Harvard, with a sizable dining hall that can leave residents feeling slightly anonymous and isolated from the community.
However, there are plenty of pros to getting Lev on Housing Day, which we’ll talk about in the next section.
- The housing in Lev towers: the modern towers that stand between Leverett and Dunster houses have exceptional housing options for underclassmen and Seniors alike, with views across the Charles and towards Boston and ample space for hosting friends.
- McKinlock Hall: the newly-renovated McKinlock Hall is clean and gorgeous, with an old-school Harvard red-bricked exterior and a well-maintained courtyard lawn with views out to the Charles and Harvard Business School.
- The number of residents: the large number of residents and the size of the on-site dining hall could lead to you feeling slightly lost and out of touch with the community in your own house.
- Three separate accommodation locations: Lev isn’t a self-contained house, which means that you will have to walk between buildings quite a bit, and could end up feeling isolated from your friends in DeWolfe, McKinlock, or Lev towers, depending on where your room is.
What’s So Special About Leverett?
Leverett tends to host one of the best block parties of the 12 houses of Harvard in the lead-up to Yardfest, which is the annual music gig that the College Events Board (CEB) organises in Harvard Yard for the weekend before Spring Break.
Expect live DJs, food, and bouncy castles in the Leverett courtyard to get you ready for a night of partying in Harvard Yard.
The 12 Houses of Harvard: Lowell House
Lowell was recently renovated, making it a highly sought-after house for Freshmen in the lead-up to Housing Day.
The new Lowell is bold and beautiful, with its iconic clock tower looking particularly resplendent. New residents will also appreciate the house’s location: not only is it a five-minute walk from Harvard Yard and a ten-minute walk from the Science Center, but it’s also just across the road from Insomnia Cookies (some of the best late-night cookies you’ll ever have)!
- A gorgeous dining hall: Lowell’s dhall is hugely impressive, with high ceilings and tall windows that give it a light and airy, pleasant feel. Check out the new Game Room in Lowell basement as well, with its foosball and chess tables.
- Large courtyard spaces: Lowell has two enclosed (and relatively large) courtyards, so residents can soak up the sun during the spring and summer months, laying out a picnic blanket and reading a book or chatting with friends.
- Noise: Lowell is pretty close to a number of Harvard’s Final Clubs, including the rowdy and raucous Owl and Phoenix Clubs, which often put on loud day parties and nighttime events that can be pretty noisy (Harvard isn’t officially affiliated with these clubs, so can’t really sanction these events).
- Lowell bells: some students love the Lowell bell performance that takes place every Sunday afternoon, others find it an irritating and “obnoxious” interruption to their time of catharsis before classes start up again on Monday.
What’s So Special About Lowell?
Every Thursday, between 5 and 6 pm, the Resident Deans open up their house to students from Lowell and beyond, serving up delicious home-baked treats and afternoon tea in cups and saucers for everyone to enjoy.
It’s a real event, and one of the best house-affiliated study breaks for undergraduates at Harvard.
Mather House is Harvard’s youngest (or newest) residential house. Originally opening in 1970, Mather certainly looks different from most of the other houses on campus, with a 19-floor concrete tower that juts up into the Cambridge sky and a low-rise Brutalist block that stretches around a grassy courtyard.
Don’t be put off by the striking (and somewhat divisive) architecture though: Mather is known for having one of the strongest student communities of any of Harvard’s residential houses. This house also hosts some of the most renowned and fun officially-sanctioned college parties on campus, with a consistent reputation as one of the most fun houses around.
- Senior housing in Mather Tower: if you’ve got the top pick in the Senior (or Junior) rooming lottery, you’ll likely get a spacious and dreamy room on one of the top floors of this tower block, giving you stunning views of the Boston city skyline on one side, and Harvard Business School on the other.
- Intramural sports: Mather is one of the best of the 12 houses of Harvard when it comes to the Intramural (IM) sports competition, often winning the inter-house sports competition that takes place throughout the academic year. If you want to get involved with recreational sports at Harvard, you’ll love Mather.
- It’s pretty far from Harvard Yard and the Science Center: you can catch a shuttle from the front of Mather that takes you up to Harvard Yard in a few minutes, but if you miss that you’re looking at a 15-minute walk to classes in the Yard, and a 20-minute one if you’re based in the Science Center for the day.
- It’s not “classic” Harvard: if you’ve signed up to Harvard with the dream of living in a red-bricked dorm, you won’t find that with Mather. The architecture is in the Brutalist design, with concrete features and sharp, modernist angles.
What’s So Special About Mather?
Mather is one of the most welcoming, inclusive, and sociable houses on campus, without the airs and graces of other residential houses (looking at you, Eliot) or the more generic anonymity of places like Leverett.
The Mather House Committee (HoCo) is a vibrant and active part of house life, running a house-wide game of Assassins, a Super Bowl tailgate, and the famous Mather Lather every year.
The third of the Quad houses, Pfoho has a reputation as a sociable house with a lovely dhall and an impressive clock tower. Freshmen will tend to view Pfoho as a less viable housing option than places like Quincy, Lowell, Leverett, and Dunster, but upperclassmen across campus have a real appreciation for this house’s charms.
- The Quad Grille: Pfoho is home to the Quad’s Grille, where you can feast on late-night burgers, fries, mozz sticks, and chicken quesadillas during a study break.
- The arcade games in the Den: you can challenge your friends to a game of Pac-Man when you’re a bit bored and in need of some creative stimulation. Just head down to the Den and get on one of the old-school retro machines. You can also work out in the onsite weight and cardio rooms.
- Location: at the risk of sounding a bit like a broken record here, Pfoho is in the Quad, meaning it’s far away from the Athletics Complex, Harvard Yard, and the Science Center.
- Separate buildings and halls: Pfoho has a number of separate housing halls, from Wolbach and Holmes Hall to Comstock and The Jordans so you may have to put in a bit of effort to visit your friends in a different part of the house.
What’s So Special About Pfoho?
The Resident Deans put on regular Hygge-style study breaks throughout the long winter months, where you can crowd around a fireplace in Comstock Hall every Sunday evening and sip on hot apple cider while taking a bite out of homemade doughnuts from a nearby bakery.
The 12 Houses of Harvard: Quincy House
Quincy is known as a sociable and fun house by most students on campus. Underclassmen and upperclassmen alike will often head to Quincy for lunch during weekdays: it’s less busy than Adams and is a five-minute walk from Harvard Yard.
The recently renovated Stone Hall has gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing rooms, while the New Residence Block on the other side of the courtyard has six floors of spacious duplexes for upperclassmen who want large rooms with great views.
- Quincy Grille: this Grille is one of the best of the 12 houses of Harvard, situated just off to the right as you enter through the main entrance. They do a wide selection of deliciously greasy food, and you can sit on a barstool and talk to the student cooks as they prepare your meal.
- A mixture of architecture: Quincy is a vibrant and visually interesting house, perfectly integrating new and old styles of architecture. The modern dhall has floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can have your dinner with a view of the house courtyard on one side and of Bow Street and the Harvard Lampoon on the other.
- Can get quite busy: like Adams, Quincy dhall can get pretty busy during the week, as it’s one of the closest canteens to Harvard Yard and the Science Center. If you’re wanting a bit of peace and quiet to enjoy some lunch after a long morning of lectures and work, you’ll find the crowds of people offputting.
- Underclassmen housing: if you’re a Sophomore (and sometimes even a Junior) you’re quite likely to get a pretty small room in Stone Hall, and it’s unlikely that you’ll get a single to yourself.
What’s So Special About Quincy?
Quincy is a friendly and social house, with plenty of upperclassmen rooms that are ideal for parties and a dhall that’s decked out really well for running into old friends and striking up conversations with new ones.
The courtyard is sheltered and pleasant, with a hammock that you can nab for an afternoon of reading or relaxing during the spring and summer months.
River houses like Winthrop and Leverett have gorgeous views across the Charles River to Harvard Business School (photo by Jorge Salcedo/ Shutterstock.com)
Another recently renovated house, Winthrop is a classy, clean, and attractive river house. The courtyard in front of Standish Hall is an underrated and gorgeous one, with leafy trees and plenty of greenery.
Winthrop also has a Grille, where you can order sloppy burgers and cheesy treats when you need a bit of motivation to finish that problem set or essay for class.
- The courtyard: Winthrop has three riverside courtyards, each one with gorgeous green lawns and impressive views of Harvard Business School on the other side of the Charles River. The extended terrace in front of Gore Hall is an ideal place to sit and relax with friends on a summer’s day.
- Housing: if you’re looking for a river house that has high-quality housing options, you’ll find it with Winthrop. After the renovation, 70% of all rooms in Winthrop are singles, and 29% of these are spacious hallway singles.
- Separate accommodation blocks: Winthrop is made up of three separate accommodation blocks or halls. These are Standish Hall, Gore Hall, and Beren Hall. Since the dhall is in Gore Hall, if you live in one of the other two buildings, you’ll have to go outside and head down the road or across the courtyard whenever you want food.
- Dark dining hall: despite recent renovations, the positioning of Winthrop’s dhall (down some stairs and halfway below street level) means that there isn’t as much natural light in the space as you’d get from dhalls in Lowell, Dunster, or Quincy.
What’s So Special About Winthrop?
The new rooftop terrace. If you head up to the top of Beren Hall you’ll find a state-of-the-art space with an integrated outdoor sound system and a nearby common room with some of the best views you’ll find in any residential house at Harvard (across to the iconic Harvard Business School and the Athletics Complex).
Which of the 12 Houses of Harvard is the Best? My Final Thoughts
Full disclosure here: I (the writer) lived in Dunster, so my opinions may be slightly biased when it comes to picking the best of the 12 houses of Harvard.
The real answer to this conundrum is that whichever house you get on Housing Day, it’s generally pretty likely that you’ll end up thinking that this house is the best one at Harvard. That might sound clichéd, but it holds true.
I have student-athlete friends who felt deflated when they were Quadded but ended up, in their Senior Year, claiming that being in the Quad was the best part of their university experience.
I know people who didn’t get their classic Harvard-looking house but made the best friends of their lives in places like Mather, Quincy, and Currier.
At the end of the day, the factor that determines whether you fall in love with your house is the relationships that you make with the people in these places.
My advice is this: get involved in house life in any way that you can, whether it’s through joining the HoCo, getting a job in the guard’s office or at the Grille, competing in IM sports, or striking up conversations with the dhall staff and cleaners.
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