Academic Life at Harvard – Program

General Education (‘Gen Ed’)

The Program in General Education is at the core of our liberal arts education program. Harvard believes firmly in its responsibility to turn out flexible, skilled and well-rounded individuals, and it therefore seeks to connect a student’s education to life beyond college. In today’s constantly changing jobs market, the development of wide ranging academic and life skills becomes a critical part of a graduate’s success.

One-quarter of the 32 courses in each student’s four-year program will be in the four Gen Ed Categories, which are:

A full list for each of the four categories can be found on the Gen Ed Courses page.


In consultation with academic advisers, faculty, and others, students select a field of concentration in the third semester of their eight semester program. Over the course of four years, about half of each student’s courses is devoted to pursuing an academic interest in depth. Concentrations are the same as “majors” at other colleges. In addition to the 49 concentrations offered at Harvard, students can also have a secondary concentration in a different field, equivalent to a “minor” at other colleges. The full listing of concentrations can be found on this page of the Harvard College website.

Here is a sample of some concentrations:

First Year Seminar Program

The First Year Seminars are a hugely popular program of small classes (usually less than 15 students) under the guidance of a senior faculty member. Many of the seminars are thematic and interdisiplinary, offering first year students a taste of what it is like to study an intellectually stimulating topic in collaboration with a specialist or expert.

Harvard offers a range of over 130 First Year Seminars to first year students. The full listing of First Year Seminars can be found here, but below is a small sample:

Academic Calendar

The academic calendar is composed of two semesters. Fall semester starts in late August (with first-year students arriving a week early for placement tests and adjustment to campus life) and ends in mid-December after final exams. Spring semester starts at the end of January and finishes in mid-May after final exams. Vacation periods include a brief “long weekend” for Thanksgiving at the end of November, most of January between semesters, and a week-long Spring Break in March. The full academic calendar can be found here.