Course Exploration and Registration Guide

A student walks through Harvard Yard at dusk

Preparing for Course Selection 

Finding and enrolling in courses at the start of each academic term can be exciting and challenging. Many factors enter into course choices:  

  • The need to satisfy Harvard College requirements 
  • The need to satisfy concentration requirements 
  • The need for a balanced workload 
  • The need to develop a schedule that is compatible with other commitments  

Even as you weigh all these diverse needs, we encourage you to take courses every semester that allow you to either deepen existing interests or discover new ones.  

Keep an open mind and allow for some serendipity! Use the “Have you Considered?” tool on your my.harvard course search page as one way to “stumble” onto wonderful courses you might not have otherwise realized existed. Check out special curricular programs like the Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship and the StudioLab courses offered by the Lemann Program on Creativity and Entrepreneurship. If you are an upper-level student, consider the possibility of taking a course at one of the Harvard professional schools (after consulting with your adviser and with the approval from the instructor). If you think you might want to study abroad (and receive concentration, secondary field, and/or elective credit during your time abroad), make an appointment with the Office of International Education and begin planning. 

two students in a classroom
Liz Linder

Course Exploration Tools

Exploring the many courses offered at the College is important to ensure you are making the most out of your Harvard experience. Here are a few tools designed to make course exploration more manageable.  

  • My.harvard Course Search Tool: Use my.harvard to browse courses, create a favorites list, and enroll in courses, including those available for cross-registration at other Harvard schools and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Visit the IT Help Center to learn more about how to use the course search tool and get tips for narrowing your course search on my.harvard. 
  • Harvard Syllabus Explorer: This tool gives you access to course syllabi associated with previous versions of a class, even if the syllabus for the current class version is not yet published and available for viewing. Because this tool allows you to search using words that might be found on a course syllabus—but potentially not in a course title or brief description—it may also help you discover interesting courses you would otherwise have overlooked.
  • Course Canvas websites: Canvas is the platform for FAS course websites. You may view syllabi, assignments, announcements, and messages for courses. Access to individual course Canvas websites is available through the course descriptions on my.harvard. Additionally, when you place courses in your Crimson Cart on my.harvard, you will receive announcements posted via Canvas. Exploring Canvas is often one of the best ways to dive deeper into what the course experience may look like. By Wednesday, August 17, all courses and syllabi should be live on Canvas. Some may include additional materials. You can also find information about who to contact with questions about courses and registration. 
  • Q Reports and Q Guide: The Q guide provides important student feedback about courses and faculty and can be a helpful resource when selecting courses. The Q guide aggregates student-collected data such as average hours of workload per week, student comments about the course, and teaching staff evaluations. Course descriptions on my.harvard link to past Q evaluations. Note that any new courses will not have a Q score available. 
Private library room with a table, lamps, and walls of book shelves

Things to Consider

As you plan your semester, keep in mind the following basic categories of courses, and potential constraints on enrollment in certain courses (e.g., pre-requisites, limited enrollment). 

Harvard College Curriculum Requirements (up to 12 courses: note that many General Education courses are also counted by Departments/programs towards concentration requirements) 

Concentration Requirements (numbers vary, but usually between 11 and 14 courses) 

Harvard College offers fifty concentrations, with most offering students the option of pursuing honors or a non-honors path through their requirements. You can learn more about individual concentration requirements by consulting the department or program’s concentration website, consulting the Harvard College Fields of Concentration handbook or meeting with a departmental or program adviser. It is also possible to pursue a special concentration, a joint concentration (integrating work between two concentrations), or (new this academic year!) a double concentration.

Electives (numbers vary, but between 8 and 12 courses) 

These courses represent the discretionary part of every Harvard College student’s study plan. You can use them to explore personal interests outside of your concentration. You can also use them to take Freshman Seminars, pursue a secondary or minor field, pursue a concurrent Masters, do advanced language study leading to a citation, or study abroad in an area outside of your concentration.

Pro-tip

Gateway Courses to Potential Concentrations 

If you are a first-year or sophomore who has not yet decided on a concentration, consider taking one or more gateway (introductory) courses in the concentrations you are considering. Gateway courses generally assume no prior exposure to the field, and many gateway courses also double count for Gen Ed credit. Every Harvard College concentration website provides a list of designated gateway courses for interested students. Begin exploring today!

The Arts and Humanities Division of Harvard College has prepared a guide to gateway courses.  The Life Sciences cluster program has also created a guide of its own.

Prerequisites 

Know the course prerequisites for the courses you are considering. In some cases, instructors may waive a prerequisite if persuaded that you have the equivalent background, but you must check directly with the instructors.

Enrollment Restrictions and Lotteries Some courses have course caps, requiring you to submit a petition to join the course through my.harvard. In addition, you may need to participate in an enrollment lottery if interest exceeds available seats. Individual courses or departments may have specific lottery or petition instructions and deadlines; check for enrollment restrictions as stated in my.harvard. If a course you are considering requires a lottery, information about the lottery process should be clearly provided on the home page of the course website.

Want to know more?

Student and adviser talking at a table during the fair

Advising

Please take full advantage of the robust academic advising network at the College. Many people here are eager to help you navigate your options, answer your questions, and make wise choices. Online tools are great, but they are no substitute for a one-on-one personal conversation with an adviser!

  • Work with your first-year, sophomore, or concentration adviser to select classes. Your academic adviser’s name and contact details are visible in your my.harvard advising portal, under the Advising Network tab. You are required to meet with your first-year, sophomore, or concentration adviser before the course registration deadline (Friday, August 26, 2022). You will be unable to enroll in courses until your adviser approves the courses in your Crimson Cart and lifts the Advising Hold. When meeting with advisers, you should plan to bring any questions or concerns that you have about courses, concentrations, grading, or requirements. 

  • The Advising Programs Office (APO) offers individual advising sessions for all undergraduates during the term and small group advising conversations for incoming first-years through early August through the Crimson Scheduler to help you make informed choices. 

  • Placement Advising: If you have questions about the results of any of your placement exams, help is available. You can find more information about where to get advice on the placement exams website or send an email to placement-help@fas.harvard.edu.  

Students walking through Winthrop House Courtyard

Special Considerations for First-Years

Some courses, such as Expository Writing and Freshman Seminars, are only open to first-year students and require that you participate in an application or sectioning process. You can find more information about first-year requirements and special opportunities in the document, How to Prepare for Fall Course Registration, and by clicking on the links at the bottom of this section.

Pro-tip

The Writing Placement Exam, which is administered to all incoming students, allows the Writing Program to advise students whether they should enroll directly into Expos 20 or whether they would be better served by first taking the elective Expos Studio 10 in the fall. Students who are recommended to enroll directly in Expos 20 are pre-assigned to take it in either fall or spring term. 

More on First-Year Opportunities

Harvard Yard.

Key Dates and Deadlines

A full list of all dates and deadlines can be found on the College calendar.  

Course Cross Registration  

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences allows Harvard College students to cross-register at other Harvard schools. We also have a cross-registration agreement with MIT. If the two schools have different registration deadlines, you must cross-register by the earlier deadline, so (for example) if an MIT class has a registration deadline earlier than Harvard’s, you must register by the MIT deadline. Learn more about cross-registration.  
 

*All times mentioned in this guide are Eastern