The Undergraduate Program
Harvard offers students everything necessary for a liberal education in virtually every imaginable field. The sheer number of curricular choices — the catalog includes about 3,500 courses — opens doors for the exploration of widely disparate fields and also for concentration in special areas of interest. Harvard's philosophy has long been that an undergraduate education ought to have structure and coherence, while allowing for maximum flexibility and individual choice.
Each student takes four courses in both the fall and spring semesters. Harvard students spend, on average, 12 hours per week in class and enjoy wide latitude in setting priorities for study and free time. Course choices are made in close consultation with an academic adviser over a week-long shopping period at the start of each semester. Over the four-year undergraduate program, each student will fulfill the requirements of a field of concentration (on average, half of a student's total coursework) and the Program of General Education (about one-quarter of the plan of study). The remaining quarter of a student's coursework is chosen freely from courses offered throughout the University. These three components of the undergraduate program together fulfill the fundamental aims of a liberal arts education. For full details of undergraduate degree requirements, consult www.handbook.fas.harvard.edu.
Energetic students often pursue their intellectual interests to unusual depth, so there is no firm distinction in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences between undergraduate and graduate courses. Students may progress in the curriculum as rapidly as their preparation permits, and many enroll in graduate-level courses at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Most of Harvard's 10 graduate schools allow students to cross-register and to participate in special programs; both options can be invaluable in exploring future careers or areas of academic interest.
Faculty design their courses with optimal learning conditions in mind, so class size, teaching materials and equipment, and even the classroom setting become important considerations. Some of Harvard's most popular courses are taught in grand lecture halls to accommodate significant student interest. Most Harvard professors, however, teach in more intimate settings, with over 900 courses enrolling 15 or fewer students. A reciprocal arrangement with MIT, our Cambridge neighbor, also permits Harvard students to cross register in courses offered there.