This Is America’s Oldest Academic University

The first academic university in the United States was established just 16 years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. Per a vote, the amount of £400 was approved to establish an institution of higher learning. In 1636, New College was opened to educate clergymen and, initially, the school only had a handful of students. A few years into the establishment of New College, its name was changed to Harvard after John Harvard, the university’s first major benefactor (via Harvard).

John Harvard was born in England and emigrated with his wife to Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1637. He was a freeman, which afforded him more than a hundred acres of land and political rights. Harvard was also part of the First Church of Charlestown and read scriptures and sermons to the people of the congregation, per Your Dictionary. Not even a year after his arrival in Charlestown, however, Harvard died of consumption. In his will, he left his collection of about 400 books and half of his estate to New College, which changed its name to Harvard College. The college’s first commencement exercise happened in 1642, with nine students in the graduating class.

Harvard University's early years

The education philosophy in Harvard‘s early years was based on England’s education model in the 17th century, but it also had a focus on the Puritan teachings of the colonists. At the time, Latin was used as the language of instruction and the school also provided courses in Hebrew and Greek. The initial disciplines offered included Arithmetic, Geometry, Logic and Rhetoric, as well as Politics and Ethics (via Harvard).

In the late 18th century, the institution added medical courses to its program and by the early 19th century, Harvard has grown its campus and added more programs including the Harvard Law School and the Divinity School. By that time, admissions into the institution became a challenge as well. In its early years, basic education was all that was needed to pass the entrance test, but by the middle of the 19th century, Harvard University became a school for the academic elite, with entrance tests lasting up to three days to measure an applicant’s educational abilities, per JSTOR Daily.

Harvard University today

Today, Harvard University is one of the eight Ivy League schools and remains one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Per the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges ranking of 2021, Harvard University came in second place, just behind Princeton University (via Forbes). With the prestige that comes with studying at the oldest and one of the best schools in the United States, plenty of students aspire to be accepted at Harvard. Getting into the university is a feat, though, as they have a low acceptance rate. In 2019, per Data USA, Harvard reported a 4.64% acceptance rate with 2,009 students approved out of the 43,330 who sent in their applications.

In 2008, Barack Obama was added to the list of U.S. presidents who graduated from Harvard University the others being Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Quincy Adams, John Adams, and George W. Bush (via The Harvard Gazette). Other famous alumni include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Conan O’Brien, Tom Morello, T.S. Eliot, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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