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Common Misconceptions About Harvard-Westlake

by Sophia V. ’24


Now that I am in my fifth year as a HW Student Ambassador, and after conducting dozens of
prospective student tours and fielding questions, it is clear that a number of misconceptions
about our school abound. It would be a disservice to prospective students and the surrounding
community to have a false impression of some of the important factors that make our school an
amazing institution. Here are the three most common misconceptions I have come across.
“Harvard-Westlake is a pressure cooker and I don’t want my child to burn out.”
It is no secret that Harvard-Westlake has a rigorous academic curriculum and high expectations
for its students. However, I have seen many prospective students have an exaggerated
perception of the academic demands of the school and what it takes to be successful here.
Harvard-Westlake has an incredibly talented student body, but it would be inaccurate to say we
are all hyper-competitive geniuses who are working several tiers above grade level. The reality
is that talent and success come in many different forms, and Harvard-Westlake embraces the
intellectual, athletic, and artistic diversity of its student body. It also recognizes that no single
academic track is appropriate for everyone, and our deans help us develop the right curricular
balance to ensure that we are constantly being challenged to be our best, but not at the
expense of our personal sense of well-being. If this is done right, through communication and
support from our wonderful deans and families, the challenges that Harvard-Westlake offers us
make our academic experience here exhilarating, not defeating.
“Harvard-Westlake students are wealthy and entitled.”
An unfortunate reality about independent schools like Harvard-Westlake is that there is a cost to
attend. This is a necessary reality to support the human resources and infrastructure that make
Harvard-Westlake such a premier institution. However, we are not all wealthy, and many of us
have families making sacrifices every day to support our education. Another reality is that all of
our circumstances are different, and it is sometimes prohibitively expensive for a prospective
student to attend our school. To address this need, Harvard-Westlake has a healthy endowment
that is funded through our community of families and friends and supports a generous financial
aid program assisting around 20% of our student body.
Just like students at any school, some individuals may act entitled in their personal lives, but
that is not a common theme running through Harvard-Westlake. Our student body is bonded by
mutual respect and a collective desire to be our best, and we work hard every single day to
reach that goal. Our classes are not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and every grade we
achieve is earned. Entitlement simply is not part of the equation.
“Harvard-Westlake students think they are better than everyone else.”
In 7th grade, I went to a debate tournament with our school and was teamed up with two other
Harvard-Westlake students. After another Los Angeles school won a debate against us, an
announcement from that school’s principal was circulated, and unintentionally made its way
back to me. They wrote “you should have seen the looks on their smug faces” and similar
untrue commentary about our demeanor just prior to the debate that betrays some of the
misconceptions about how Harvard-Westlake students view themselves. In truth, that debate
had been our first ever tournament, and we were just as nervous as everyone else, had no
expectation to win, and also graciously accepted defeat. This is who we are.
Our student body takes great pride in being part of our school, but it is not because we think we
are smarter or better than anyone else. If anything, being at Harvard-Westlake is a humbling
experience, not the other way around. This is partially due to the academic rigor and also being
surrounded by such talented peers. Many of us came from schools where we were the top
academic students, athletes, artists, and so forth, all at the same time. This is not the case at
Harvard-Westlake, and it is tremendously grounding to be reminded of this every single day.
Another important point on this is that Harvard-Westlake students have a demonstrated
commitment to community service which undermines the notion that we think we are better than
others. We collectively spend thousands of hours per year directly helping underserved
communities by tutoring, working in soup kitchens, and other works of service. Working with the
community grounds us and supports the values of our school.
The Harvard-Westlake student body is a diverse group of individuals who strive for excellence,
whether it be in academics, athletics, or arts. If one still seeks an umbrella statement that can
sum up who we are in a Breakfast Club-esque fashion, then I suggest taking a glance at our
statement of purpose, which so eloquently states: “Harvard Westlake strives to be a diverse and
inclusive community united by the joyful pursuit of educational excellence, living and learning
with integrity, and purpose beyond ourselves.”

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Last modified: February 13, 2023