Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Graduate Programs

You asked and we'll answer!  Check out these FAQ's for applicants to our Ph.D., M.E., S.M., and A.B./S.M. programs.

Visit the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) FAQ's for even more information.
 
Applicants to the Master in Design Engineering should go here for more information.  
Applicants to the MS/MBA:Engineering Sciences program should go here for more information.

Application Questions

In what subjects do you offer admission into graduate degrees?

We offer admission into the Ph.D. in the following four areas:  Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering Sciences. Engineering Sciences includes Bioengineering, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Science and Engineering, and Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering.

Note: we do not offer admission into terminal masters degrees in any of these areas.

We offer admission into the Master of Science (S.M.) in the following two areas:  Computational Science and Engineering and Data Science.

We offer admission into the Master of Engineering (M.E.) only in Computational Science and Engineering.

SEAS offers the following collaborative options: 

What are the criteria for admission to the Ph.D. program? What can I do to improve my chances of admission?

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)
  • Obtain recommendation letters from distinguished people who (a) know your work and (b) know what is expected at a major research university.   The strongest letters speak in specific terms about your preparation and aptitude to conduct research at a major university
Can I apply to two School of Engineering programs at the same time?

No. Students can only apply to one program housed in the School of Engineering 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  to GSAS during the course of his or her academic career. 

What does the application require?

Applicants to the School of Engineering are responsible for fulfilling the requirements listed here and also on the GSAS Admissions Checklist.

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.  Bear in mind that our faculty receive numerous emails from prospective students and they may not be able to personally respond to all inquiries they receive.

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 application. 

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 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.

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. The School of Engineering 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).  The 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 admiss@fas.harvard.edu 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
Does the Graduate School admit for fall, spring and/or summer?

We do not offer rolling admissions. New students are admitted once a year, to begin studying in the fall.

May I defer my admission?

Decisions on deferral requests are made on a case-by-case basis and only after an admitted student has accepted our offer of admission.

How do I provide my transcripts as part of my application?

Applicants are required to upload copies of all transcripts into the online application system; these are usually in PDF format.  Official transcripts are not required at the time of application; applicants may upload unofficial transcripts for the purposes of the application.  

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.

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 admissions@seas.harvard.edu (preferred) or by phone at 617.495.2833.

Questions about the Master in Design Engineering should be directed to designengineering@harvard.edu.

Questions about the MS/MBA with Harvard Business School should be directed to msmba@hbs.edu.

Program/Requirements Questions

Tell me more about the degree requirements?

The degree requirements for the Ph.D., S.M., and M.E. are available here. The S.M. and M.E. in Computational Science and Engineering have additional requirements, which are available here.  The additional requirements for the S.M. in Data Science are available here.

What are the differences between the masters degrees (AB-SM, SM, ME) offered by 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 coursework (non-research) based degree and no thesis, foreign language, or general examination is required.  We offer the S.M. in two areas:  Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) and Data Science.  The S.M. in CSE is a one year (two terms) degree.  The S.M. in Data Science is a one and a half year (three terms) degree
     
  • 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 Computational Science and Engineering only.
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.  

Does SEAS offer distance or online learning?

All degree programs at the School of Engineering 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 School of Engineering are wholly separate schools within Harvard University.   Note that SEAS does not allow coursework taken at the Extension School it count toward our graduate degrees.

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 10 courses toward the doctoral degree.  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.)   Visit each area's page to see information specific to their area requirements.

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.

Am I allowed to have a Ph.D. research advisor outside of SEAS?

It depends.  Our Ph.D. students are expected to have a primary research advisor who is a member of the School's ladder faculty.  Students are allowed to have a co-advisor from departments/schools external to SEAS, but the SEAS ladder faculty member is expected to be the lead advisor and chair the dissertation committee.    All first year students must have an advisor who is a member of the SEAS ladder faculty.  "Affiliate faculty" cannot admit PhD students.  There are many SEAS ladder faculty with formal joint appointments in other GSAS departments, like Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences.  These faculty can serve as primary research advisors to SEAS students.   A complete list of the SEAS ladder faculty can be found here- filter for "primary graduate advisors" once you're on this page. 

Can I apply to transfer to another Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences department from SEAS if I decide that’s a better fit?

Yes, but it requires a new, complete application.  Students admitted to SEAS cannot simply transfer to another department within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).  Students are welcome to apply to another GSAS department should they decide it’s a better fit, but that requires submitting a complete application to that department during the admissions cycle.  There is not a separate process for students who wish to “transfer” from one GSAS department to another.  More information can be found here.

For Ph.D. students, transfers from one SEAS area to another SEAS area are handled internally. SEAS Ph.D. degrees areas include Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering Sciences, which encompasses Bioengineering, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Science & Engineering, and Materials Science & Mechanical Engineering.

Masters students cannot change degree areas within SEAS.

Can I transfer credits for previous academic work into your graduate programs?

“Maybe” for Ph.D. students and “no” for masters students.  Ph.D. students can petition for up to three classes taken elsewhere while enrolled in a graduate program to count toward the Ph.D. 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, even if they are graduate level, cannot be used for this purpose.  Any coursework you wish to petition to transfer must have been taken while enrolled in a graduate program.

Our master’s degree programs do not allow for any transfer courses.

International Student Questions

What are the minimum scores on the TOEFL or IELTS?

Please visit GSAS Oral English Language Requirement for information about our proficiency requirements.

80 is the minimum score on the TOEFL's Internet-based Test (iBT).  GSAS policy is that the TOEFL score be valid at the time of entry into the program (August 2020 for the upcoming admissions cycle.)   TOEFL scores expire after two years.

Applicants 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, 2018. Results should be sent to Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences by the IELTS test center via IELTS E-Delivery service.

I will earn a degree from an institution outside of the U.S. May I still apply?

GSAS welcomes applications for admission from individuals holding a BA, BS, or equivalent undergraduate degree (for prospective international students, a three- or four-year undergraduate degree from an institution of recognized standing) and actively seeks applicants from groups historically underrepresented in graduate schools. All degree candidates are admitted for full-time study beginning in the fall term.

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.

What are the English proficiency requirements?

Please visit  GSAS Oral English Language Requirement for information about our proficiency requirements.

80 is the minimum score on the TOEFL's Internet-based Test (iBT).  GSAS policy is that the TOEFL score be valid at the time of entry into the program (August 2020 for the upcoming admissions cycle.)   TOEFL scores expire after two years.

Applicants 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, 2018. Results should be sent to Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences by the IELTS test center via IELTS E-Delivery service.