Harvard College Curriculum

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Situated within the context of a large research university, Harvard College seeks to educate students in the liberal arts, thereby enabling them to advance knowledge, promote understanding, and serve society. In fulfillment of this goal, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, of which the College is a part, has established an undergraduate curriculum that provides students with a breadth of knowledge in a variety of subject areas and depth in a single discipline. The information below is assembled in order to give students an overview of the components of the curriculum and the corresponding requirements.

For an in depth look at the requirements for the Bachelor’s see the Handbook for Students.

Expository Writing

Bearing in mind the Faculty’s goal that students are proficient in scholarly writing, first-year students are required to take Expository Writing 20, a one-semester course offered by the Harvard College Writing Program that focuses on analytic composition and revision. Expos 20 courses are taught in small seminars and students meet one-on-one with instructors (called preceptors) regularly to refine writing skills. Depending on the result of the summer writing placement exam, some students may take Expos 10 in the fall, followed by Expos 20 in the spring. In rare instance, students may elect to enroll in both semesters of Humanities 10 to satisfy the writing requrement.

Language Requirement

Another goal of the curriculum is to develop the ability to communicate with, as well as gain exposure to, other cultures. To that end, all students are required to have proficiency in a foreign language by the end of their second year in the College. Students can meet the foreign language requirement in a variety of ways, including through coursework, Harvard Placement Exams, AP, IB, and SAT II scores.

Freshman Seminars

While not a requirement for the AB or SB, the Faculty recommend that students consider enrolling in one of the Freshman Seminars. Boasting small class sizes (fewer than 15), seminars are a chance for students to interact with world-class faculty in an intimate setting on topics ranging from poetry and neuroscience to the nature of democracy and everything between.

Program in General Education

As mentioned, the foundation of the Harvard College education is based in the liberal arts. And to that end, the Faculty has long required students to engage and be proficient in a range of courses and topics outside their concentration, or area of focus. Over the course of their four years, students are required to take and pass a course in each of the four perspectives of the new General Education curriculum. In addition, students will be required to fulfill the new distribution requirement by taking and passing one course in each of the three divisions of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences: Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences; and Science, Engineering, and Applied Sciences. Finally, students will be required to take one course in Quantitative Reasoning with Data. These new College requirements take effect in fall 2019.


If the Program in General Education provides breadth and a foundation in the liberal arts, then a student’s concentration – selected in the second year – provides depth in one (or two) fields. The equivalent of a “major” at other institutions, the concentration typically requires between 12 and 16 semester-long courses and sometimes culminates with a thesis in consultation with a faculty adviser.

Secondary Fields

In addition to selecting a concentration, students also have the option of pursuing work in a secondary field (similar to a “minor” at other institutions). Like concentrations, secondaries have a certain set of pre-determined requirements set by the faculty in each discipline, but usually fewer are mandated for the concentration. Note that the College does offer several secondary fields that are not offered as concentrations (e.g. Global Health and Health Policy).