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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's): Undergraduate Programs

This is a list of some of the most frequent questions we receive about our undergraduate program applications. For additional information, please visit the Harvard College website.

What distinguishes Harvard's academic programs in engineering?

In a word: Harvard. Unlike some programs in engineering and applied sciences, Harvard undergraduates who pursue the field are not enrolled in a separate school or college. Studying engineering is only one aspect of a student's experience.

As an engineering school within Harvard, we are closely linked with a variety of multidisciplinary and innovative education and research institutes, centers, and initiatives, as listed under faculty & research.

What’s the difference between an AB and an SB?

The Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree is similar to that available through other Harvard College concentrations. In engineering concentrations at SEAS, the A.B. degree requires 14 to 16 half-courses (dependent on a student’s math placement). This degree provides solid preparation for the practice of engineering, and it provides outstanding preparation for graduate study in engineering and careers in other professions (finance, business, law, medicine, etc.). Due to its moderate total course requirements, the A.B. offers greater flexibility than the S.B. degree, allowing students to pursue their interests outside of engineering, or giving them the freedom to selectively deepen their engineering education by taking additional technical courses of their choice. Students who have pursued the A.B. degree have gone on to top graduate programs in engineering, computer science, medicine, and related fields.

The Bachelor of Science (S.B.) degree programs require a minimum of 20 half-courses, and gives students the level of technical depth comparable to accredited engineering programs at other major universities. The additional course requirements in the S.B. program provide students with greater depth in their chosen area, as well as S.B.-specific courses in engineering design. In their junior year, S.B. concentrators take a team-based design course (typically ES 96), which provides the opportunity to be part of a multidisciplinary team that will analyze and design a prototype solution for a real-world engineering problem. Past ES 96 projects have included designing a shoe insert to detect the early formation of diabetic ulcers and a novel research instrument to measure atmospheric ozone concentrations while suspended in the payload of a high-altitude balloon. In their senior year, all S.B. concentrators take a year-long capstone design course (ES 100hf) in which they design and prototype a solution to an engineering problem of their own choice. This project is their senior design thesis. In addition to providing exceptional preparation for graduate school and careers in other professions, an S.B. degree also provides outstanding preparation for a career in professional engineering practice.

How can high school students best prepare if they are considering engineering and applied sciences?

The College Admissions Office offers the following guidance for ALL prospective students interested in any concentration in the physical, life, and engineering sciences: "... it is essential that you study chemistry and physics in secondary school. Your college work will build upon these courses. To be well-prepared for college, you should study secondary school science for four years if possible: a year of chemistry, physics, and biology, and a year of advanced work in one of these disciplines. Courses in psychology, astronomy, geology, and anthropology are not appropriate substitutes for these subjects."

What is SEAS doing to attract and encourage women, minorities, and underrepresented students in engineering and technology?

The following SEAS-affiliated student organizations have historically supported efforts to encourage more women, minorities, and underrepresented students in STEM:

In addition, SEAS has its own Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, that provides strategic leadership, partnership, programs, and support toward the development, implementation, and ongoing evaluation of a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Strategic Framework.

What is the size of the program relative to other Harvard College concentrations?

Students concentrating in engineering and applied sciences comprise about 20% of Harvard College concentrators (and that doesn't include those pursuing secondary fields). 

What does the future hold for engineering at Harvard?

In the past decade, the engineering and applied sciences program has undergone a spectacular renewal and emergence, hiring 50 new faculty members and building a host of new facilities. In the coming years, the size of the SEAS faculty is projected to continue to grow. In addition, Harvard is planning a significant expansion of the campus that will include new state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities for SEAS.