The Program in General Education is at the core of our liberal arts education programme. Harvard believes firmly in its responsibility to turn out flexible, skilled and well-rounded individuals, and it therefore seeks to connect a student’s education to life beyond college. In today’s constantly changing jobs market, the development of wide ranging academic and life skills becomes a critical part of a graduate’s success.
One-quarter of the 32 courses in each student’s four-year programme will be in the eight General Education areas, taken in any of the eight semesters and offered in a broad range of interest areas. The areas of General Education are:
- Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding
- Culture and Belief
- Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning
- Ethical Reasoning
- Science of Living Systems
- Science of the Physical Universe
- Societies of the World
- United States in the World
More details and listings of courses in General Education can be found in the Advising Programs Office website.
In consultation with academic advisers, faculty, and others, students select a field of concentration in the third semester of their eight semester programme. Over the course of four years, about half of each student’s courses is devoted to pursuing an academic interest in depth. Concentrations are the same as “majors” at other colleges. In addition to the 49 concentrations offered at Harvard, students can also have a “secondary concentration in a different field, equivalent to a “minor” at other colleges. The full listing of concentrations can be found here.
Here is a sample of some concentrations:
- Applied Mathematics
- Environmental Science and Public Policy
- History and Science
- Slavic Languages & Literatures
- History of Art & Architecture
- Computer Science
Freshman Seminar Program
The Freshman Seminars are a hugely popular programme of small classes (usually less than 15 students) under the guidance of a senior faculty member. Many of the seminars are thematic and interdisiplinary, offering first year students a taste of what it is like to study an intellectually stimulating topic in collaboration with a specialist or expert.
Harvard offers a range of over 130 Freshman Seminars to first year students. The full listing of Freshman Seminars can be found here, but below is a small sample:
- Anatomy and Ethical Transgressions in National Socialism
- The Art of Storytelling
- Psychoactive Molecules from Babylon to Breaking Bad
- Literatures of Historical Guilt
- Chance and the Pleasures of Probability
- The Book: From Gutenberg to the Internet
- Neurotoxicology: Biological Effects of Environmental Poisons
- Feuding and Peacemaking in Viking Age Iceland (c 870 to c 1150 C.E.)
- Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literatures
- The American Death Penalty: Morality, Law and Politics
- The Folklore of Gaelic Scotland
- Why We Animals Sing
The academic calendar is composed of two semesters. Fall semester starts in late August (with first-year students arriving a week early for placement tests and adjustment to campus life) and ends in mid-December after final exams. Spring semester starts at the end of January and finishes in mid-May after final exams. Vacation periods include a brief “long weekend” for Thanksgiving at the end of November, most of January between semesters, and a week-long Spring Break in March. The full academic calendar can be found here.