“Is Harvard Hard?” And Other Commonly Asked Work-Related Questions

Category Student Voices


Halie Class of '17 Alumni
Authored on December 01, 2014


Although we often blog about fun and exciting things happening around campus, it is also important to remember that students at Harvard spend a lot of time on their studies.

Coursework is a central part of the Harvard experience, just as making friends and participating in extracurricular activities are. As classes begin winding down for the semester and finals quickly approach, I thought I’d take this opportunity to answer some commonly asked work-related questions.  

A small group of students sitting in Harvard Yard

“How much time do you spend in class?”

This really varies depending on your concentration and the types of classes you are taking. For example, my English class meets for 3 hours of lecture plus 1 hour of discussion section per week, whereas the second semester organic chemistry class I’m taking in the spring will meet for 3 hours of class plus 5 hours of lab/discussion section each week. Typically, most students spend between 14 to 20 hours in class per week, but this can vary from person to person and semester to semester. To make sure that students can handle their schedules, all students have to meet with their academic adviser before signing up for classes to make sure that they are setting themselves up for a balanced course load each semester.


“What type of ‘homework’ do you get?”

There are two main types of classes at Harvard: problem set (“pset”) classes and essay classes. Problem sets are often given out in math or science courses, and they consist of various problems that you have to solve (like a set of math problems, for example). Essay classes typically consist mainly of a few written papers throughout the semester. This is just a general breakdown: many classes have a combination of essays and problem sets, or have different assignments like online quizzes or online discussion board posts. In addition, many classes assign readings outside of class—it’s important to stay on track!

Interior shot of a Harvard Library, a large white room with a single studying student.

“What are finals like?”

After classes end, there is one week called “Reading Week” before final exams begin. Reading Week is designed to give students the time they need to study, write final papers, and complete final projects (depending on the class). Each class that does have a final exam has a 3-hour time slot in which the exam is given, and there are only two possible time slots per day (so you are never in the position where you are taking four exams in one day). Most final exams are cumulative and cover all of the material learned over the course of the semester.


“Is Harvard hard?”

Yes, I believe that Harvard is a challenging academic environment. Of course some things will be easier for some students to grasp than others, but I think one of the great things about being here is that everyone pushes themselves to do their own personal best work. It is difficult but manageable, and there are tons of resources and support systems to help you get through it.


Well, looks like it’s time to get back to studying!

Halie Class of '17 Alumni

Hi everyone! My name is Halie, and I’m a senior from Framingham, MA (which isn’t too far from here) now living in Currier House.