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Frequently Asked Questions
Below is a list of some of the most frequent questions we receive from prospective applicants. For additional information, please visit the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Prospective Students webpage.
Note: These FAQ's are for applicants to the Ph.D., M.E., S.M., and A.B./S.M. programs only. Applicants to the Master in Design Engineering should go here for more information. Applicants to the MS/MBA program should go here for more information.
DEGREE, PROGRAM AND COURSE INFORMATION
In what subjects do you offer graduate degrees?
While our programs cover a wide range of topics, Ph.D. and master's students are awarded their official degree in one of six programs: Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Computational Science and Engineering, Computer Science, Data Science, and Engineering Sciences. A detailed listing of our graduate degree programs is available online on the What can I study? webpage.
SEAS offers the following collaborative options:
Health Sciences and Technology graduate program, with Harvard Medical School and MIT (for Ph.D. students only)
Master in Design Engineering with the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) (masters degree only; application via GSD)
MS/MBA jointly offered with Harvard Business School (HBS) (masters degree only; application via HBS)
What areas are covered by a degree in engineering sciences?
Engineering Sciences includes Bioengineering, Environmental Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering.
What are the differences between the masters degrees (AB/SM, SM and ME) offered by Harvard SEAS?
- The Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science (A.B./S.M.) is a joint degree program offered to currently enrolled Harvard College students only.
- The Master of Science (S.M.) degree is a non-research based degree and no thesis, foreign language, or general examination is required. Students are expected to successfully complete one year of course work for a total of eight letter-graded courses. This is a one year degree. We offer the S.M. in three areas: Computational Science and Engineering, Data Science, and Electrical Engineering.
- The Master of Engineering (M.E.) degree program is a research based degree and no foreign language or general examination is required. Students are expected to successfully complete one year of course work and one year of research, including a final oral presentation and thesis, for a total of sixteen letter-graded courses/research courses. This is a two year degree. We offer the M.E. in two areas: Computational Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering.
What are the degree requirements?
The degree requirements for the Ph.D., S.M., and M.E. are available online on the SEAS Degree Requirements webpage. The S.M. in Computer Science has additional requirements available online at Master’s in CS Requirement webpage. The S.M. and M.E. in Computational Science and Engineering has additional requirements available online at Master of Science in CSE webpage. The S.M. in Data Science requirements are on the Data Science webpage.
Are there differences in the course requirements for the Ph.D. in Applied Physics versus the Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences?
All SEAS Ph.D. students must take the same number of courses toward the doctoral degree; 10 courses are required. Each area has "Area Course Requirements, Guidelines, and Model Programs", which provide a good idea of the kinds of courses taken by students in Applied Physics versus the kinds of courses taken by students in Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering (for example.) They can be found here.
Students must decide, based on their own interests and future plans, whether an Applied Physics degree or an Engineering Sciences degree is a better fit.
Note: admitted students can petition to change their degree program after they arrive, providing they have appropriate support from their faculty adviser, an approved program plan in the new area, and the approval of the Committee on Higher Degrees.
We recommend that students in the process of applying to SEAS focus on identifying specific faculty members whose work they find of interest.
Does SEAS offer distance or online learning?
All degree programs at SEAS require the coursework to be completed on campus.
For non-credit online SEAS courses, please visit Harvard’s initiative, edX at https://www.edx.org/, for information on free online courses offered by MIT and Harvard University.
The Harvard Extension School offers Master’s degree programs in various fields in science and technology areas, as well as professional certificate programs in Nanotechnology, Software Engineering and Web technologies. Some of these courses may be taken online. The Harvard Extension School and SEAS are separate Schools within Harvard Unversity.
Should I contact members of the faculty if I am interested in their research?
We encourage serious-minded candidates (i.e. those who have a clear sense of what they would like to do and with whom they would like to work) to get in touch with relevant faculty to discuss their research plans. Generally speaking, email is the best way to reach out to faculty.
CAREERS AND INTERNSHIPS
Does SEAS offer career counseling?
The Harvard FAS Office of Career Services and SEAS Office of Experiential and Career Development collaborate to offer several workshops and individual advising to our current undergraduate and graduate students. Our graduate students also work closely with their faculty advisor to discuss research opportunities.
What are the fees and estimated associated costs of attending?
How can I tell whether I should apply?
We often receive inquiries from students who want to know whether to apply to our program. It is very difficult to predict outcomes without reviewing the completed application, as all components of the application are important. We cannot make a full assessment just from seeing just your vita, resume, or transcript.
How can I be admitted to a Harvard Ph.D. program?
You must distinguish yourself among your peer group. Because we have a limited number of places, we are sometimes forced to turn down candidates who could have successfully completed the program.
What can I do to improve my chances of admission?
Undertake an ambitious course of study (including advanced courses) and do well.
Become involved with a research project, take part in research internships during the summer, or work in an industry research lab.
Obtain recommendation letters from people who (a) know your work and (b) know what is expected at a major research university.
What are the criteria for admission to the Ph.D. program?
While there is no perfect set of criteria for admission, we especially look for candidates who...
- Have a strong interest in and great potential for undertaking research
- Have excellent grades, e.g., in the range of A to A- in their undergraduate (and if applicable, graduate) programs
- Have solid preparation in coursework and research experience (e.g., a strong plan of study at a respected university)
- Have solid letters of recommendation from distinguished faculty and mentors; the strongest letters speak specifically about the applicant's apptitude for research
Should I apply for the S.M. degree and follow through to the Ph.D. later on if it suits me?
If you are ultimately interested in performing research, you should apply to the Ph.D. program directly because:
1. We have a very limited terminal masters degrees program. We only admit students into the terminal masters degree programs in Electrical Engieenering, Data Science, and Computational Science and Engineering. Our other areas do not admit students into the maters degree program.
2. There is no financial aid available for the S.M. and M.E. programs; all Ph.D. students receive full financial aid.
May I study part-time?
Graduate students are expected to be full time. Students may petition to change their status to part-time study only in cases with extenuating circumstances, such as health concerns or a serious family emergency.
Can I apply to two SEAS programs at the same time?
No. Students can only apply to one program housed in SEAS per admissions cycle. For example, a student cannot apply to one of our PhD programs and a master’s degree in Computational Science and Engineering at the same time. Students can apply to a SEAS program and a non-SEAS program in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the same admissions season. It is Graduate School policy that an individual may submit no more than three applications during the course of his or her academic career.
What does the application require?
How do I obtain an application for admission?
Degree-seeking students (PhD, ME, SM and AB/SM) submit an online GSAS application by selecting program "Engineering and Applied Sciences."
Please do not send any application materials directly to us. If you do so, we cannot guarantee that your application will be processed in time for review.
When is your application deadline for prospective Master's and Ph.D. and students?
The deadline for all applicants is December 15, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Out of fairness to all applicants, we do not accept late applictions.
Note: We do not offer rolling admissions. All applications are due at that time. All admitted students begin their studies in the fall.
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Who should write my letters of recommendation?
The strongest letters of recommendation are from people who (a) know your work and (b) know what is expected at a major research university. The most helpful letters will not simply claim that you are smart, are creative, work well independently, etc. The best letters are packed with specific information about what you did and what the results were. Letters of recommendation must be submitted online.
What is the minimum score for the GRE?
There is not a minimum score for the GRE or any section of the GRE. GRE scores expire after five years; we do not accept expired scores for the appliction. Note: the GRE is optional for applicants to our Ph.D. programs, but it is required for applicants to our terminal masters programs (the S.M. and M.E. degrees.) Ph.D. applicants are welcome to submit a GRE score if they wish, but will not be at a disadvantage if they chose not to.
What are the minimum scores on the TOEFL or IELTS?
Please visit the GSAS Application Instructions and Information’s section on English Proficiency at and review the GSAS Oral English Language Requirement.
80 is the minimum score on the Internet-based Test (iBT). GSAS policy is that the TOEFL score be valid at the time of entry into the program (August 2019 for the current admissions cycle.) TOEFL scores expire after two years.
Applicants to SEAS may opt to take the IELTS test instead of the TOEFL. A minimum score of 6.5 is required and must be from no earlier than September 1, 2017. Results should be sent to Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences by the IELTS test center via IELTS E-Delivery service.
What is your ETS institutional and department code?
When requesting official score reports from ETS for the GRE or TOEFL, indicate the receiving institution as Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Code 3451. There is no department code; you may leave it blank.
The Graduate School requires that you submit your application online. You must upload your transcript(s) and additional academic information in the Writing Sample and Additional Academic Materials section of the application.
SEAS SUPPLEMENTAL FORM
If I am interested in a particular research sub-area (such as materials or biophysics), and it appears as a choice in more than one top-level research area on the application form, how should I best respond?
SEAS is extraordinarily interdisciplinary in its approach to research. Keep in mind, that while you are applying to a particular degree program, it is far more important to determine which faculty member's lab does the kind of work you are most interested in pursuing. With that in mind, use your statement of purpose to elucidate this.
Increasingly, research falls between areas, and hence, the sub-area selection should be seen more as a guide than as an absolute commitment.
TRANSFER APPLICATION AND CREDITS
Is there a separate application for students interested in transferring to SEAS?
SEAS does not have a formal transfer application process and we do not admit "transfer students." All admitted students begin our program as first year graduate students. All students complete the standard Harvard GSAS graduate application. After entering the program, Ph.D. students may submit a petition to transfer in coursework as explained below.
Can I transfer credits for previous academic work into your graduate programs?
Ph.D. students can petition for up to three classes taken elsewhere to count toward the Ph.D. To count toward the degree, all "transfer" courses must be approved by the student's faculty advisor and the Committee on Higher Degrees after the student begins graduate study. Courses taken while in an undergraduate program cannot be used for this purpose.
The master’s degree programs do not allow for any transfer courses.
How do I find out the status of my application?
To check the status of your application, you may log on on to your online application account and see what materials have been received and what materials are still missing. SEAS cannot provide information regarding the status of your application or supporting materials, as all materials are submitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). Contact information for GSAS is:
- PHONE: Please call the GSAS by phone between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (EST), Monday through Friday, at 617.496.6100.
- EMAIL: Please email GSAS at email@example.com with the SUBJECT LINE and information for the message as noted below. Please allow 24 to 48 hours for a response.
- SUBJECT LINE: Enter “ADMISSIONS QUESTION: CHECKING APPLICATION STATUS” in the subject line exactly as is and in all caps.
- MESSAGE (BODY OF EMAIL): Include your Name, Date of Birth, Program of Interest, and a note that you are checking the status of your application
May I defer my admission?
Decisions on deferral requests are made on a case-by-case basis.
I am an international student and will earn a degree from an institution outside of the U.S. Can I apply to SEAS?
Applicants who wish to pursue a degree at the Graduate School must hold the equivalent of a US bachelor's degree (BA or BS) from an institution of recognized standing.
Applicants from institutions outside of the US; applicants must hold the equivalent of US bachelor’s degree (BA or BS) from institutions of recognized standing (either a three or four year undergraduate degree).
Students who are unsure of the US equivalency of their degree(s) should consult a reputable credential evaluation service.
I am an international student. What are the requirements for undergraduate programs outside the U.S.?
Applicants who wish to pursue a degree at the Graduate School must hold the equivalent of a US bachelor's degree (BA or BS) from an institution of recognized standing. The following guidelines apply to undergraduate programs outside the US:
- British-patterned education: bachelor's degree with honours
- French-patterned education: degree or diplome requiring four years of post-baccalaureat study
- Germany: minimum three to four years of post-secondary study (vordiplom plus one year)
- Other European countries: university degree requiring a minimum of four years of study
- Middle East: university degree requiring a minimum of four years of study
- Canada: three-year bachelor's degree from Quebec, four-year bachelor's degree from all other provinces
- Latin America: university degree requiring a minimum of four years of study
- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal: bachelor's degree in engineering, master's degree in all other fields
- Philippines: five-year bachelor's degree or four-year bachelor's degree plus one year of graduate work
- Other Asian countries: university degree requiring a minimum of four years of study
- Students who are unsure of the US equivalency of their degree(s) should consult a reputable credential evaluation service.
Please contact the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences if you have any additional questions.
Should I take the TOEFL exam? How do international students meet Harvard’s English proficiency requirements?
Please visit the GSAS Oral English Language Requirement and review the GSAS Application Instructions and Information’s section on English Proficiency. Follow links to "Completing your online application".
Does the Graduate School admit for fall, spring and/or summer?
No. New students are admitted once a year, to begin studying in the fall.
What if I have specific questions not covered here?
If you have any additional questions about admissions to graduate programs at SEAS, please contact the Graduate Admissons Office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or by phone at 617.495.2833.
Questions about the Master in Design Engineering should be directed to email@example.com.
Questions about the MS/MBA with Harvard Business School should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.