Academic Life at Harvard – Courses

Course Load

Each student takes four courses in both the autumn and spring semesters for a total of 32 courses over the four years. Harvard students spend, on average, 12 hours per week in class and enjoy wide latitude in setting priorities for study and free time. Course choices are made in close consultation with an academic adviser over a week-long “shopping period” at the start of each semester in which students enjoy a “taster” of many courses to help them choose the four they will settle on for that semester. Over the four-year undergraduate program, each student will fulfil the requirements of a field of concentration (on average, half of a student’s total coursework) and the General Education Curriculum (about one-quarter of the plan of study). The remaining quarter of a student’s coursework (electives) is chosen freely from courses offered throughout the University.

The single course required of all students is a writing course taken in the first year called Expository Writing, chosen from a variety of topics taught by experts in the craft of writing. Knowledge of one foreign language is required: some students take a language while at Harvard while others with prior language study have the requirement waived by taking a test.


Harvard offers nearly 3,700 courses and more than 49 undergraduate fields of study called ‘concentrations’, many of which are interdisciplinary. There is no first-year programme as such: students make their own decisions about the level and pace at which to start their undergraduate study.

While there are hundreds of possible choices and combinations shaped by each student’s interests and background, here is one possible first-year course programme for a student considering studying government.

Example of a Possible First-Year Fall Semester:
Example of a Possible First-Year Spring Semester:

With the help of advisers, this student would later choose 24 more courses over the remaining three years which would include 12 more in the field of government, 6 more across the General Education fields, and 6 more electives – any course at all that is of interest!

Class Size

Class size varies tremendously and all students can expect to be part of both large lecture classes and small seminars. Nearly half of the almost 1,300 courses offered each semester enrol 10 or fewer students, and there are only 8 courses enrolling more than 300 students. Most departments feature tutorials that are taught one-on-one or in small groups.