Making Adjustments

A colleague ran into Michael Jacobsohn's piece, "The Harmony of Life," in one of those magazines that airlines put in seat pockets, but it was originally an entrance essay Jacobsohn wrote as part of his application to Harvard University. And all that happened more than 26 years ago. The obvious question is what happened to the "academic and football colossus and a lover of musicals" after he arrived at Harvard.

This short piece from the Harvard Magazine answers that question and also gives some good advice for the next generations of beginning freshmen.

After four years as a Harvard undergraduate, Michael Jacobsohn has two words of advice to all those who will come after him: Stop complaining.

"Most of the angst that we complain about"—common criticisms include academic pressures, the difficulty of finding an adequate social scene, and finding a niche—"is ungrounded," the Cabot House resident declares. "And much of it we bring on ourselves."

Of course, Jacobsohn speaks from an accomplished position. He has deferred entering Harvard Law School for two years in order to attend Oxford as a Marshall Scholar; he is planning to focus on Soviet and Russian law.

As a Slavic languages and literatures concentrator, he made the small size of that department work for him by obtaining extensive personal advising. "My department is fantastic," he says. "I haven't found Harvard to be impersonal at all."

He's also found his niche with a group of close friends. "I didn't feel the need to associate with everyone," he says. "Just with a small group of people whom I've become close to."

But it wasn't always so easy, Jacobsohn admits. As a first-year from Charlotte, North Carolina, he had a difficult time adjusting to Harvard. "I think most people find what I found when I got here—that it's a struggle to find your place in both an academic and personal way," he says. "Most people end up having either an academic or a personal life, not both."

In time Jacobsohn found his way by indulging interests he had not had the opportunity to explore before. A self-described "math and science guy" in high school, he broke out of that track in favor of languages. "When I came, I decided I wanted to try something new," he says. "I took Russian and loved it so much that I decided to make it the focal point of my career here."

He also abandoned football, which he played in high school, and did not pursue his interest in musical theater. "New things kept cropping up," he explains with a shrug. In fact, he says, "It's a good thing I didn't have any future plans for college while I was in high school, or I wouldn't have taken as many risks here as I did. I just did what felt right for me personally, like concentrating in something a little bit offbeat and trying out things I had never done before."

So mostly his Harvard life has been a charmed life? "There have been plenty of times that I felt despondent about one thing or another at Harvard," he says. He hesitates, and adds: "And I still complain a lot."  ~ C.M.

From the May/June 2000 issue of Harvard Magazine <>