Frequently Asked Questions

How long has Harvard done engineering?

The Lawrence Scientific School, which housed the University’s first programs related to engineering and applied sciences, was founded in 1847.

But isn't the engineering school new?

Yes and no. The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) was officially launched in 2007 under the leadership of Dean Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti. During the previous decade, Dean Narayanamurti had developed the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS), then a unit within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with 43 faculty members, to the size and capacity necessary for it to become a separate school. SEAS now has about 75 faculty full-time equivalents (FTEs) with plans to continue to grow the faculty to about 100 FTEs.

But, don’t all the “real” engineers go to technical institutes?

That’s like saying all the “real” biology or history students only go to Harvard. Moreover, engineering is increasingly like a liberal art in the way the field interacts with other fields (and that assessment came from an engineer).

What distinguishes Harvard’s academic programs in engineering?

In a word: Harvard. Unlike some programs in engineering and applied sciences, Harvard undergraduates who pursue the field are not enrolled in a separate school or college. Studying engineering is only one aspect of a student's experience.

As an engineering school within Harvard, we are closely linked with a variety of multidisciplinary and innovative education and research institutes, centers, and initiatives, as listed below. (http://www.seas.harvard.edu/faculty-research/centers-initiatives)

REASEARCH CENTERS BASED AT SEAS

The BASF Advanced Research Initiative at Harvard; The Bio-Inspired Optics MURI’s; The Center for Integrated Quantum Materials (CIQM); Harvard's Center for Research on Computation and Society (CRCS); The Institute for Applied Computational Science (IACS); The Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology; The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC); The Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH).

A.B. or S.B. in engineering?

The Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree is similar to that available through other Harvard College concentrations. For the engineering concentrations, the A.B. degree requires 14 to 16 courses (dependent on a student’s math placement). This degree provides outstanding preparation for graduate study in engineering and careers in other professions (finance, business, law, medicine, etc.). Due to its moderate total course requirements, the A.B. offers greater flexibility than the S.B. degree, allowing students to pursue their interests outside of engineering, or giving them the freedom to selectively deepen their engineering education by taking additional technical courses of their choice. Students who have pursued the A.B. degree have gone on to top graduate programs in engineering, computer science, medicine, and related fields.

The Bachelor of Science (S.B.) degree programs require a minimum of 20 courses and give students the level of technical depth comparable to accredited engineering programs at other major universities. The additional course requirements in the S.B. program provide students with greater depth in their chosen area and required courses in engineering design. In their junior year, S.B. concentrators take a team-based design course (typically ES 96), which provides the opportunity to be part of a multidisciplinary team that will analyze and design a prototype solution for a real-world engineering problem. Past ES 96 projects have included designing a shoe insert to detect the early formation of diabetic ulcers and a novel research instrument to measure atmospheric ozone concentrations while suspended in the payload of a high-altitude balloon. In their senior year, all S.B. concentrators take a year-long capstone design course (ES 100hf) in which they design and prototype a solution to an engineering problem of their own choice. This project is their senior design thesis. In addition to providing exceptional preparation for graduate school and careers in other professions, an S.B. degree also provides outstanding preparation for a career in professional engineering practice.

How does Harvard rank in engineering?

As mentioned, academically we are part of Harvard College (which is consistently ranked as offering one of the top programs the country for undergraduates). We suggest prospective students consider a broad range of factors when considering what program best meets their needs. Read more on rankings.

How difficult is it to get accepted to the program?

As mentioned, all undergraduate students, whatever their intended concentration, apply to and are enrolled in Harvard College. For the class of 2018 over 34,000 students applied for undergraduate admission. Applications have doubled since 1994, and about half of the increase has come since the University implemented a series of financial aid initiatives to ensure that a Harvard College education remains accessible and affordable to talented students from all economic backgrounds.

In 2007, Harvard established the new John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which, under the leadership of Dean Frank Doyle, is increasing the visibility of Harvard’s excellence in this area. Applications from students interested in engineering have risen considerably more than applications as a whole.

Specifically, the College Admissions Office reports that the percentage of applicants in the class of 2018 expressing an interest in engineering has increased from 11% to 17% of all applicants compared to those in 2007.

Typically, 50% of an entering College class expects to concentrate in biological, physical, or engineering sciences or computer science.

How can high school students best prepare if they are considering engineering and applied sciences?

The College Admissions Office offers the following guidance for ALL prospective students interested in any concentration in the physical, life, and engineering sciences: "... it is essential that you study chemistry and physics in secondary school. Your college work will build upon these courses. To be well-prepared for college, you should study secondary school science for four years if possible: a year of chemistry, physics, and biology, and a year of advanced work in one of these disciplines. Courses in psychology, astronomy, geology, and anthropology are not appropriate substitutes for these subjects."

What are the engineering students like?

Like other Harvard students: smart, determined, dedicated, diverse (approximately 34% of concentrators are female; 33% are minorities (including Asian); and nearly 19% are foreign nationals) and enjoying broad interests. Hear it from them: “I am glad that I have friends with a wide variety of interests …”; “I knew I would concentrate in engineering … [but] I wanted to attend a college with an active music program.”

What is SEAS doing to help attract and encourage women, minorities, and underrepresented students in engineering and technology?

Harvard College has the following undergraduate groups that provide support...

  • Harvard College Society of Black Scientists and Engineers (HSBSE)
  • Women in Science at Harvard-Radcliffe (WISHR)

  • Women in Computer Science (WICS)

In addition, the Harvard Graduate Women in Science and Engineering is an organization of graduate students and is dedicated to the personal, academic and professional development of women in science and engineering across Harvard University. SEAS is also engaged in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

What sort of research have students done?

Past students have created bio-inspired machines, built a cycle-plane simulator, implemented wireless sensor networks, co-authored papers on quantum science and technology, and investigated the role of materials and processes at the nanoscale that regulate the earth's environment. In short, whatever your research passion, given the resources at Harvard, you can find a faculty member who does it and the funding to go along with it. For more, explore the amazing breadth of research opportunities available.

Can I concentrate in chemical engineering?

While there is no current degree in chemical engineering, students may find the biomedical engineering track within the Engineering Sciences degree program a suitable alternative. In addition, the materials option in the Engineering Sciences degree makes a great option for students interested in the materials aspects of chemical engineering. The biomedical engineering A.B. degree program has a heavy focus on chemical and biological aspects; for those interested in chemical engineering from a biological perspective it is an excellent match.

Does an engineering degree at Harvard fully prepare students for graduate school and careers?

Past students have attended graduate school programs at leading universities (including those with “technical” in their name) in areas ranging from engineering to law to business to medicine. Others have taken jobs right after graduation with leading consulting, engineering, and business firms.

What is the size of the program?

Data from 2014-2015: Undergraduate: 832 undergraduate concentrators. Graduate students: 450. Faculty: 97 ladder and 37 nonladder.

The number of declared undergraduate concentrators in SEAS has nearly tripled since the 2007-2008 academic year (the year that SEAS was launched as a school). Undergraduates are divided approximately one-third each in applied mathematics, computer science, and engineering.

What is the size of the program relative to other Harvard College concentrations?

Counting all our degree programs, about 17% of Harvard undergraduates are SEAS concentrators (and that doesn't include those pursuing secondary fields). (Meaning, you will not be lonely.)

How can I get involved if I do not concentrate in engineering?

Opportunities include extracurricular activities like the Harvard College Computer Society (HCS) and the Harvard College Engineering Society (HCES); competitions, such as those available through the Harvard Computing Club (HC3); and campus-wide groups like Women in Science at Harvard-Radcliffe (WISHR).

What does the future hold for engineering at Harvard?

In the past decade, the engineering and applied sciences program has undergone a spectacular renewal and emergence, hiring 40 new faculty members and building a host of new facilities. In the coming years, the size of the SEAS faculty is project to continue to grow. In addition, Harvard is planning a significant expansion of the campus that will include new state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities for SEAS.

Does a degree in engineering and applied science really prepare students for careers in business or finance?

Engineering was second only to business administration as the most common undergraduate degree among S&P 500 company chief executive officers, according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

What do SEAS students go on to do?

Primary Activity Post Harvard

  Class Year 2010 Class Year 2011
Working full-time 71% 77%
Working part-time 7% 4%
Graduate school full-time 18% 16%
Graduate school part-time 1% 2%
Other educational program 3% 2%
Military services 2% 1%
Volunteer activity 3% 2%
Starting/raising a family 1% 2%
Traveling 6% 5%
Undecided 6% 6%
Other 6% 4%

 

Primary Occupation Post Harvard

  Class Year 2010 Class Year 2011
Financial services 33% 28%
Consulting 13% 18%
Sales & marketing 1% 0%
Business (other) 0% 5%
Communications, media, arts 2% 0%
Education 4% 4%
Engineering 17% 20%
Government 1% 1%
Health or medicine 1% 1%
Information technology 20% 14%
Law 0% 0%
Military 1% 0%
Non-profit/NGO 1% 5%
Sports, hospitality, recreation 1% 0%
Other 4% 5%

What are some of the graduate programs that students attend?

A list of universities members of the class of 2010/11 are attending...

  • Boston University
  • Cornell University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Harvard
  • Harvard Business School, MBA 2+2 program
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • London School of Economics
  • MIT
  • New England Conservatory
  • NYU School of Law
  • Princeton
  • Rice University
  • Stanford or McGill
  • Stanford University
  • The Juilliard School
  • UC Berkeley
  • University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
  • University of Cambridge
  • UT Austin Law
  • University of Washington
  • Vanderbilt
  • Yale University