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Master of Science Degree Requirements
Master of Science (S.M.) degree eligibility
Ph.D. candidates in SEAS and GSAS may earn the S.M. degree en route in any SEAS area, and A.B. candidates in Harvard College with sufficient Advanced Standing may be admitted for S.M. candidacy through the A.B./S.M. program. SEAS also offers terminal S.M. and M.E. degrees in these areas only, and no others:
- Computational Science and Engineering (CSE)
- Engineering Sciences: Electrical Engineering
S.M. Program Plan and approval process by the CHD
Any student seeking an S.M. degree from SEAS must submit an S.M. Program Plan form to the SEAS Committee on Higher Degrees (CHD). Terminal S.M. (and M.E.) students must submit program plans before study card day in the Fall term of their first year. A.B./S.M. students must submit plans by early April of junior year, and should note that the final opportunity to submit a revised plan is for the first CHD meeting of their senior spring term, usually in January.
Exception: A SEAS Ph.D. student seeking an S.M. degree whose Ph.D. program plan in the same area has been approved by the CHD can receive an S.M. in that area en route to the Ph.D. with no further approval required, provided that the courses selected to apply towards the degree satisfy both the SEAS-wide and area-specific S.M. course requirements. Note that transfer credit is not accepted toward the S.M. degree, even if it has been approved toward the Ph.D.
SEAS-wide S.M. course requirements
The following course requirements apply to all SEAS S.M. degrees (areas may have additional requirements). Note that the term "course" refers to a standard Harvard semester-length "half course", i.e., a 4-unit FAS course or its equivalent.
- Eight letter-graded courses are required for the S.M. degree; as many of these as possible should be SEAS 200-level courses.
- At least four of the eight courses must be offered through SEAS or taught by a SEAS faculty member in another FAS department. Because Applied Mathematics is inherently interdisciplinary and draws on offerings in Mathematics and Statistics, this standard is not applied stringently to S.M. programs in Applied Mathematics. Candidates for the S.M. in Applied Mathematics should consult their graduate advisor or the DGS in Applied Mathematics about their programs.
- At least five of the eight courses must be 200-level SEAS/FAS technical courses, not including reading and research courses (299r), seminar/project courses (298r, 297r, 294r), or innovation or communication courses. The remaining three courses should be from SEAS, FAS departments, other Harvard schools, or MIT. (Note: for courses taken prior to the 2015-16 academic year, only H-level MIT graduate courses are acceptable; for 2015-16 or later MIT courses, consult with the Office of Academic Programs. Students should attach the course syllabus and the catalog description when submitting their program plan, indicating MIT H-level status if applicable).
- Up to three of the eight courses may be 100-level SEAS/FAS courses. As a guideline, having one 100-level course will generally not lead to any concern; having two 100-level courses requires at least some justification (i.e., that the courses are necessary prerequisites for 200-level courses); having three will generally lead to close examination by the CHD.
- Only one reading and research (299r), seminar/project (298r, 297r, 294r), innovation, or communication course can count among the eight courses. An exception is that two such courses are allowed in a CSE S.M. program plan.
- Harvard Extension School courses may not be included in the program plan.
- Transfer credit is not accepted toward the S.M. degree.
- No 300-level courses may be included in the program plan.
- Exceptions to these requirements are considered by petition to the CHD.
Further details on these guidelines and other exceptions (e.g., GSAS special students, students writing an S.M. thesis) can be found in the SEAS Policies of the Committee on Higher Degrees document.
Area-specific S.M. course requirements
In addition to fulfillling the SEAS-wide course requirements listed above, S.M. students are required to satisfy the following applicable area-specific requirements.
Applied Mathematics S.M.
As stated in the SEAS-wide S.M. degree requirements, the four-SEAS-course standard is not applied stringently to programs in Applied Mathematics; however, the overall set of courses must constitute a coherent, rigorous program appropriate for a higher degree specifically in the field of Applied Mathematics. For non-SEAS courses, please submit a detailed syllabus with a list of topics and an example of an exercise set when available along with your S.M. Program Plan. Students are advised to avoid more than two 100-level courses in their S.M. programs. Students are encouraged to include 200-level Applied Mathematics courses. As examples, here are S.M. Program Plans in Applied Math approved by the CHD:
AM 203; AM 205; AM 221; CS 281; CS 224; CS 125; Stat 210; Stat 211
AM 201; AM 203; AM 206; AC 209; CS 205; CS 283; CS 181; Stat 139
AM 222; AM 231; CS 222; CS 234r; CS 124; CS 181; Ec 2030; Stat 210
AM 203; AM 215; AM 254; ES 220; Physics 251a; MIT 18.305, 8.333, 8.334
AM 201; AM 202; AM 203; AM 216; AM 115; Math 243; SysBio 200; OEB 252
Students seeking an S.M. in Applied Mathematics should construct a coherent Applied Mathematics program plan with their assigned SEAS graduate advisor. Questions can be directed to the Applied Mathematics Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Ariel Amir (fall), or Professor Yue Lu (spring).
Applied Physics S.M.
- Four of the eight required courses must be 200-level Applied Physics courses or 200-level Physics courses taught by SEAS faculty. ES 273, ES 274 and ES 277 count as 200-level Applied Physics courses toward this requirement.
- The remaining four courses must be technical/scientific.
Candidates for a terminal S.M. degree in Applied Physics (including the A.B./S.M.) are advised against including a 299r class in their Program Plan. Ph.D. students seeking the S.M. en route may include one 299r as a “technical/scientific” course in #2 above.
Computational Science and Engineering S.M.
Students seeking an S.M. in Computational Science and Engineering should refer to the program's specific requirements. Questions can be directed to the Assistant Director of Graduate Studies in Computational Science & Engineering, Daniel Weinstock.
Computer Science S.M.
Students seeking an S.M. in Computer Science must fulfill the following area requirements:
- Five of the eight required courses must be 200-level courses specifically covering topics in computer science. Generally this means they must be offered as courses in Computer Science. In particular, for Computer Science graduate degrees, Applied Computation courses may be counted as 100-level courses, not 200-level courses. The CHD may approve exceptions.
- At least one of these five 200-level courses must be in Theory. There is no specific list of Theory courses; this rule is enforced by the faculty advisors and the CHD. However, in almost all cases, any class with a course number Computer Science 22x is acceptable as a theory course.
- Just as we expect all students obtaining a S.M. to have experience with the theoretical foundations of computer science, we expect all students to have some knowledge of how to build large software or hardware systems, on the order of thousands of lines of code, or the equivalent complexity in hardware. That experience will be evidenced by coursework. In almost all cases a course numbered CS26x or CS24x will satisfy the requirement (exceptions will be noted in the course description on my.harvard). For projects in other courses, the student is expected to write a note explaining the project, include a link to any relevant artifacts or outcomes, describe the student's individual contribution, and where appropriate obtain a note from their class instructor.
Please note that 200-level courses in fields outside SEAS will be examined carefully. Generally, the CHD is looking for two things in such courses. First, it is expected that the course will be comparable in technical level to a SEAS course. Second, the overall program must be coherent. Taking a course in economics because it might apply to computing is not automatically considered coherent. Taking an economics course in game theory along with appropriate relevant 200-level computer science courses in Artificial Intelligence that apply that theory could be part of a coherent program.
Questions can be directed to the Computer Science Director of Graduate Studies, Professor David Brooks.
Engineering Sciences S.M: Bioengineering
There are no additional course requirements beyond the SEAS-wide requirements. Students seeking an S.M. in Engineering Sciences: Bioengineering should construct a cohesive Bioengineering program plan with their assigned SEAS graduate advisor. Questions can be directed to the Director of Graduate Academic Programs, John Girash.
Engineering Sciences S.M.: Electrical Engineering
There are no additional course requirements beyond the SEAS-wide requirements. Students seeking an S.M. in Engineering Sciences: Electrical Engineering should construct a coherent Electrical Engineering program plan with their assigned SEAS graduate advisor. M.E. students must fulfill the SEAS-wide S.M. requirements of eight courses plus eight additional research-oriented courses at the 300-level that result in the completion of the required M.E. thesis. Questions can be directed to the Director of Graduate Academic Programs, John Girash.
Engineering Sciences S.M.: Environmental Science and Engineering
There are no additional course requirements beyond the SEAS-wide requirements. Students seeking an S.M. in Engineering Sciences: Environmental Science and Engineering should construct a coherent Environmental Science and Engineering program plan with their assigned SEAS graduate advisor. Questions can be directed to the Director of Graduate Academic Programs, John Girash.
Engineering Sciences S.M.: Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering
There are no additional course requirements beyond the SEAS-wide requirements. Students seeking an S.M. in Engineering Sciences: Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering should construct a cohesive Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering program plan with their assigned SEAS graduate advisor. Questions can be directed to the Director of Graduate Academic Programs, John Girash.
General S.M. questions
Current Harvard students should direct their questions about the SEAS S.M. program to the SEAS Director of Graduate Academic Programs, John Girash. Prospective Harvard students should direct their questions to the SEAS Director of Graduate Admissions, Julie Holbrook.