Graduate Degree Requirements

Students may work towards three graduate degrees—Master of Science, Master of Engineering, or Doctor of Philosophy—in one of six subjects: Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Computational Science and Engineering, Computer Science, Data Science, and Engineering Sciences.  Not all subjects admit students to every degree (S.M., M.E., Ph.D.).  SEAS and GSD also offer a collaborative Master of Design Engineering (M.D.E.) degree.  See the Graduate Programs page for a listing of which degrees are offered by each area.

Please note that we strongly encourage any student who is considering ultimately pursuing the Ph.D. at Harvard to apply directly to the Ph.D. program.  Students in our masters programs are not given preferential treatment in admission to the Ph.D. program.

Our S.M., M.E. and Ph.D. programs are administered through Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).  The M.D.E. program is administered through Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD). The MS/MBA program is jointly administered through GSAS and the Harvard Business School.


S.M., M.E., and Ph.D. Basic Requirements


Requirements for each degree are summarized below. Detailed information on requirements can be found on the Committee for Higher Degrees page.

Master of Science (S.M.)

The S.M. degree is awarded for the successful completion of eight semester-length courses at Harvard, i.e., one full academic year's course load. The S.M. degree is a non-research degree, and no dissertation, foreign language, or general examination is required.  For specific information on course and other requirements, see the Master of Science Degree Requirements page.

The S.M. is considered a terminal degree. Upon successful completion of the S.M. degree program, any student planning to pursue the Ph.D. degree must formally apply to the Ph.D. program (see below). No preferential treatment is given to S.M. degree holders seeking admission to the Ph.D. program.

As students admitted to the Ph.D. program can apply for and receive the S.M. upon completion of the requirements for the S.M. degree, we strongly encourage any student who is considering ultimately pursuing the Ph.D. at Harvard to apply directly to the Ph.D. program.

Master of Engineering (M.E.)

The M.E. degree is for students who wish to pursue more advanced formal training without undertaking the research required for completion of a doctoral dissertation.  Students earn the M.E. degree by successfully completing one year of course work and one year of research, including a final oral presentation of the thesis. A thesis is required in the M.E. program.

The requirements for the M.E. degree are 8 semester-long courses as for the S.M. degree, plus 8 additional research-oriented courses at the 300-level that result in the completion of the required M.E. thesis.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The Ph.D. requires a minimum full-time academic residency of two years beyond the bachelor’s degree. Programs are individually tailored and approved by a committee on higher degrees.

Normally, students spend one-and-one-half to two years on coursework.  10 semester-long courses, including at least 8 disciplinary, are required.

Depth and breadth of knowledge are important guiding principles in the Ph.D. program. The first year is ordinarily spent principally on coursework, although some students may begin research. The second year is usually divided between coursework and research, with coursework completed during the third year if necessary.

As soon as coursework is completed, students conduct research full time. Original research culminating in the dissertation is usually completed in the fourth or fifth year. No foreign language is required.

Model Programs for Ph.D.

The Model Programs present SEAS-wide course requirements for the Ph.D. degree along with area-specific course requirements, guidelines, and model programs that are intended to help students develop programs with sound intellectual frameworks.

Oral Qualifying Examination

Preparation in the major field is evaluated in an oral examination by a qualifying committee. The examination has the dual purpose of verifying the adequacy of the student's preparation for undertaking research in a chosen field and of assessing the student's ability to synthesize knowledge already acquired.  For details of arranging your Qualifying Exam see the Ph.D. Timeline page.


Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, a committee chaired by the research supervisor is constituted to oversee the dissertation research. The dissertation must, in the judgment of the research committee, meet the standards of significant and original research.

Final Oral Examination (Defense)

This public examination devoted to the field of the dissertation is conducted by the student's research committee. It includes, but is not restricted to, a defense of the dissertation itself.  For details of arranging your final oral exam see the Ph.D. Timeline page.