Undergraduate Program in Applied Mathematics

The fundamental aim of the applied mathematics concentration at Harvard is to provide a structure for students to combine their interest in mathematics and mathematical reasoning, with an interest in a specific field of intellectual activity.

The concentration provides a mechanism for combining these interests into a coherent academic program. We view this concentration as Harvard’s quantitative liberal arts degree, and go to great lengths to provide flexibility for students to construct a program that brings out their passion for mathematical reasoning in a subject of interest to them.   

Simply put, Applied Mathematics is the application of mathematics. Such applications can occur in any field of human endeavor. Most commonly known are those in science, economics or engineering, where, for example...

  • Einstein invented the general theory of relativity by applying methods from differential geometry to the structure of space and time;
  • Arrow probed the limits of democracy as an institution by calculating the probabilities that decisions cannot be reached on purely rational terms;
  • Black, Scholes and Merton wrote down a fundamental formula for the price of an option, by applying the theory of random walks to the stock market; and
  • Shannon characterized an information source in mathematical terms, and in so doing laid the quantitative basis for modern information technology.

Mathematical ideas have also had impacts on fields where you might not think such contributions possible, ranging from Sociology (where Harvard’s Stanley Milgram studied human social networks, leading to the famous 6 degrees of separation) to History (where Mosteller and Wallace used statistical analysis to settle who wrote the Federalist Papers).

Moreover, linguist Noam Chomsky built on Shannon’s ideas to develop deep theories about the structures of languages. The discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick was presaged by Crick’s calculation of the Fourier transform of a helix. Armed with this knowledge he was able to interpret Rosalind Franklin’s data when nobody else could.

The Applied Mathematics concentration has long and distinguished history, with alumni ranging from Steve Ballmer AB’77 (currently CEO of Microsoft) to prominent academics like Eric Maskin, AB’72, AM’74, Ph.D’76 (winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics, currently a faculty member in the Economics Department).

Graduates go on to careers in wide ranging fields, including business, law, medicine, academics, and well, just about anything.

Concentration & Secondary Field Guide

Getting Started
This section covers common questions students have about the field of Applied Mathematics.

Planning and Requirements
This section covers information about the degree and secondary field programs and provides a guide to planning for current and prospective concentrators.  

Course listings in Applied Mathematics.

Areas of Application
Listing and description of the most common areas of study (e.g., economics, computer science) within the concentration.

Secondary Field
Information and requirements for students considering a secondary field in Mathematical Sciences.

Advising and Forms
This section provides information about and downloads of the most common forms and specifics about academic advising.

Careers and Alumni
This section covers potential career paths for those with degrees in Applied Mathematics and profiles SEAS alumni.

Outside the Classroom

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Research may be part of your coursework or as as part of individual research opportunities working with professors.

Our dedicated undergraduate research facilities and Active Learning Labs also provide opportunities for students to engage in hands-on learning.

Clubs & Activities

Clubs and activities provide students from all concentrations an opportunity to do everything from build robotic soccer bots to imagine and launch start-ups.