Frequently asked questions about applying for a Harvard master's degree in Computational Science and Engineering

Answers to general questions about applying to graduate programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences can be found here:


The SM in CSE is open to both external applicants and Harvard students interested in concurrent degrees. This FAQ addresses common questions from these two groups separately.

External Applicants

When and how can I apply?

Applications for entrance in 2016 will be accepted beginning in September 2015. Applications are submitted online to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. For information about applying to Harvard graduate programs, see http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/prospective_students/admissions_overview.php

How do I find the CSE master's in the GSAS application system?

The degree appears on the Program Selection page after you select Engineering and Applied Sciences as your "program." From the Subject menu, choose "SM or AB/SM Computational Science & Engineering." See screenshot:

How many slots are available?

There is no fixed number of slots. A faculty committee reviewing applications will determine the number admitted.

Who is the ideal candidate for this program?

Our program is best suited to enterprising, well-prepared individuals who are lively and original thinkers. Many of our students will be motivated to pursue a career in which they apply mathematics and computation to challenges in engineering, natural and social sciences and the humanities—or build the tools for doing this work. We welcome applicants with non-academic work experience or interest in an industrial career.

The ideal candidate has shown a capacity for advanced computational work by (1) excelling in courses in math, computer science, statistics or scientific computing; (2) exploring computational approaches in undergraduate research; or (3) distinctive professional accomplishment. Recommendations and scores on the Quantitative Reasoning portion of the GRE might provide additional evidence of this capacity.

There are no specific criteria for admission, aside from the requirements of GSAS and SEAS. Faculty members take a holistic view of each application, assessing the whole individual rather than applying specific criteria. SEAS is committed to student body diversity and interdisciplinary education.

Should I apply if I have a background in finance?

As an interdisciplinary program, CSE attracts students with varied backgrounds. Candidates might have completed undergraduate or other master's degrees in almost any area of study within the sciences, mathematics and engineering, as well as the social sciences or a field of humanities such as history. The most competitive applicants are likely to have tried and enjoyed computer programming, quantitative methods, mathematical modeling and data analysis.

What courses should I take if I'm thinking of applying?

There are no specific course requirements for admission. As implied above, it's a good idea for anyone thinking of pursuing computational science in graduate school to have studied programming, scientific computing, linear algebra, partial differential equations or statistical methods and done well in these subjects. Our faculty have posted a syllabus for each IACS core course on this website. To get an idea of their expectations, we recommend that you read the statements about prerequisites or complete the "homework zero" self-assessment offered for a course.

How can I get help with the costs of my degree program?

Generally SEAS does not offer fellowship aid to students enrolled in master's programs. Students from underrepresented groups are encouraged to visit the Diversity at GSAS page to learn about special programs supporting science and technology study.

Enrolled Harvard Students

I'm a student in another GSAS department. Can I apply for this master's?

Maybe. You cannot be enrolled in two GSAS departments at once. However, SEAS and your home department can reach an understanding that you are pursuing the Master of Science degree (SM) in CSE. You should first check with your home department, then contact IACS about your plan of study for the SM.

If I complete this master's en route to a PhD from an FAS department outside SEAS, who pays the tuition? 

You remain enrolled in your home department, and all tuition flows through that department.

How do I apply for this program if I am an existing SEAS PhD student?

You should contact the SEAS Office of Academic Programs for instructions on preparing and submitting a plan of study. The plan of study will be reviewed by the CSE Program Committee.

Can I count courses toward both my PhD and the SM?

Yes, courses that meet the requirements of both your degree program and the SM can be "double-counted" as long as it’s okay with your home department. For SEAS students, this question will be answered during review of your plan of study.

I'm a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. Can I apply for this program?

No. Students are not permitted to enroll in two Harvard schools at the same time, except when a formal joint degree program is in place.