Massachusetts has over 100 colleges within its small state — 80 of which remain nationally recognized in some capacity. Boston remains home to many of the state’s most famous private and public institutions.
Students looking to attend a school with enough classrooms and cityscapes to roam in the Bay State have an illustrious option famed for its pedigree. It’s not the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s 1,450-acre campus, Amherst College’s scenic 1,000-acre campus, or Mount Holyoke’s 800-acre campus. Do you know which well-known school takes the top spot for the largest college campus?
Keep reading to discover Massachusetts’s largest college campus by acreage.
The Largest College Campus in Massachusetts
The largest college campus in Massachusetts is Harvard University at 5,000 acres. Harvard University’s three main campuses create Massachusetts’ only Ivy League school and the biggest college campus by acreage. It’s also among the nation’s best universities for value, economics, and psychology programs.
Harvard is in eastern Massachusetts, just over 20 miles northwest of Boston.
Harvard’s main body is split into three different parts. Several auxiliary branches exist in other parts of the country.
The land owned by Harvard University spans the Charles River and dips into Allston, creating a three-city campus for the students to call home. For the most part, undergraduates study in Cambridge at Harvard College, the undergraduate school and one of 14 different learning institutions situated under the Harvard University name. The Cambridge campus only makes up around 200 acres of the larger university’s 5,000 acres. Cambridge is also the site of the school’s oldest part: Harvard Yard. It dates back to the mid-1600s, making the space over 350 years old.
The facilities in Massachusetts include dozens of libraries, museums, and athletic fields. Because the Massachusetts campuses are home to the majority of the University’s smaller colleges, there’s always something going on within the university community at Cambridge, Allston, or Boston.
Out of all the colleges in the United States, Harvard has the most extensive history.
Why? Because it’s also the oldest higher learning institution in the country.
Founded in 1636, Harvard claimed its unique title of the First College in the American colonies when the “Great and General Court of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England” approved the establishment of a school. About a year later, the governing body purchased the school’s first plot of land — what’s now known as Harvard Yard. The house and acre of land purchased became the university’s heart and soul and is still in use today.
At this point, the college was simply known as an institution to be built in Cambridge. When local minister John Harvard passed away in 1638 and bequeathed his 400-book library and half of the value of his estate to the college, it was so grateful that it decided to name the school after the generous benefactor. This tidbit of information often gets overlooked — some believe John Harvard founded the school, though he did not.
Over a decade later in 1650, Harvard got a charter that outlines the President, five Fellows, and a Treasurer’s duties to manage the school. For the first time since 1650, in 2010 officials made changes to the structure set forth in the original charter.
As the nation’s oldest school, Harvard weathered the good, the bad, and the transformative. During the Revolutionary War, Harvard became a hotbed for violence, historical moments, and the nation’s future leaders. John Adams graduated just as the war began, a fire burnt Harvard Hall and all but one of John Harvard’s books, and continental soldiers quartered in campus buildings. Did you know eight different Harvard alumni signed their names on the Declaration of Independence?
The 1800s to Today
At the turn of the century, Harvard remained poised for growth. Within the 1800s, the school opened its Divinity School, Dental School, and Harvard Law School. It also opened the Harvard Observatory and played host to a famous murder.
Throughout the next 200 years, many more significant happenings occurred. The college added more schools to its roster, bringing the grand total up to a staggering 14. It continued to educate and graduate significant public figures in America — including presidents, politicians, and activists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Harvard’s Notable Alumni
Harvard has over 400,000 alumni located all over the world. They vary widely in discipline and practice, but all hold true to their Crimson roots. Here are some of the most notable alumni from Harvard University:
- Presidents including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Quincy Adams, and John Quincy Adams.
- T.S. Eliot, the famous poet with works to his name like The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Old Possum’s Book for Practical Cats.
- Natalie Portman, the actress known for standout roles in V for Vendetta and the Star Wars franchise among others.
- J. Robert Oppenheimer, widely considered the “father of the atomic bomb.”
Though they didn’t attend the school to obtain a degree, other famous figures who’ve received an honorary degree from Harvard University include Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, and Madeleine Albright.
Harvard University provides its undergraduate and graduate students with plenty of options to get involved on and off the massive campus. Undergraduates of the College must live on campus their first year, while sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students get to choose whether they live in University-backed housing or in their own choice of residence.
When students aren’t studying, they’re probably doing one of three things: exploring the city, participating in or cheering at an athletic event, or finding an extracurricular activity to enjoy.
City life in Massachusetts depends on where you live. For the Bostonians, museums and great food top the charts as the best activities off campus. For the Cambridgers, you may see rowers prepping for the Charles Regatta. Outside of campus tours, many visit the squares in Cambridge for nightlife, global cuisine, and more.
Sports at Harvard hinge on one major rivalry: Harvard vs. Yale. In every sport, the two colleges go head to head. In the fall, the competition culminates in the annual football game (which traces its history back to 1875). It’s known as simply “The Game” by faculty, staff, and students.
Outside of sports and outdoor excursions, students have over 400 groups to join across campuses. They range from artistic organizations like the Bach Society Orchestra to professional and academic fraternities, like Phi Beta Kappa. According to the school, Harvard has the oldest continuously-running chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in the nation (as both William and Mary and Yale’s chapters have become inactive in the past).
Flora and Fauna
On campus, students will walk through centuries of history — some of which rise above them in the form of trees.
The hundred-plus-year-old oak trees that line streets and squares are only the beginning of the arboreal wonder that Harvard holds. The school has an impressive array at the Arnold Arboretum, where 281 acres of protected land create a living museum. Plants at the Arboretum include a crabapple collection, a conifer collection, and even a one-of-a-kind viburnum. Open every day and free to all visitors, the Arnold Arboretum includes trees, a herbarium, and extensive library space for continually educating students and the public about the environment. For those in need of a nature fix a bit closer to campus, the Radcliffe Sunken Garden near Radcliffe Yard makes a great quiet place to study, eat lunch, or enjoy the serenity of the meticulously designed garden.
As far as campus wildlife goes, squirrels are the main furry friends found among Harvard University’s landscapes. In addition to the Eastern gray squirrel, students spot animals like the Canadian goose and wild turkeys. These three animals remain the school’s main urban pets — or pests, depending on your persuasion.
Harvard: Massachusetts’ Largest Campus
The spirited legacy of 400,000 alumni who came before the current students of Harvard University is alive and well on campus. Between academics, extracurriculars, and the vibrant urban spaces in Boston, Allston, and Cambridge, Harvard students have the world at their fingertips. As students of the largest college campus in Massachusetts, Harvard undergraduates and graduates get the unique advantage of learning, living, and thriving at an impressively large institution.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock.com
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