The Concentration Requirement

Choosing a Concentration

Changing Concentrations

Joint Concentrations

Special Concentrations

Tutorial

General Examinations

All degree candidates must fulfill the requirements of one of the recognized fields of concentration, an approved joint concentration, or an approved special concentration. A student’s concentration is a commitment to a particular discipline, field, or specialization. All concentrations provide students with opportunities for appreciating, assimilating, and making applications of a coherent body of knowledge.

Harvard currently offers more than forty fields of concentration, some of which have multiple tracks. Each concentration is overseen by a faculty member serving as the Head Tutor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Overviews of each concentration, its specific requirements, and how to obtain more information about the concentration are included in Fields of Concentration and Secondary Fields.

In many concentrations, students may pursue either a basic program or one that makes them eligible for honors in the field. Honors-eligible programs generally differ from basic programs in that they require a senior thesis and/or advanced course work. To be awarded the degree with honors in the field of concentration, the student must complete the honors requirements within the concentration, receive an honors recommendation from the department or committee that supervises the concentration, and meet the College-wide requirements for an honors degree. Students should understand that completing the degree requirements for an honors-eligible program does not guarantee that they will graduate with honors (see "Requirements for Honors Degrees”).

Several concentrations may limit enrollment by selecting their concentrators from those students who apply. These concentrations include Environmental Science and Public Policy; History and Literature; Comparative Literature; Social Studies; and Visual and Environmental Studies. Each of these programs attempts to select those students whose needs and interests will best be served by its offerings and will admit as many students as its teaching resources allow.

Choosing a Concentration

The choice of a concentration is an important decision, requiring inquiry and reasoned judgment and some creative research on the part of the student. Freshman advisers, sophomore advisers, other resident advisers, concentration advisers, and faculty are available to help students make this decision. Fields of Concentration and Secondary Fields lists the names of individuals who can provide specific information about each concentration. Students may also consult the Advising Programs Office website for up-to-date contact information.

Students should plan their concentration program with a representative of the concentration who will approve the Declaration of Concentration and Plan of Study. This procedure constitutes official admission to the field of concentration. Students ordinarily must fulfill concentration requirements as they were defined in Fields of Concentration and Secondary Fields the year the Plan of Study was approved, although in those situations in which a concentration subsequently changes its requirements, the Head Tutor or Director of Undergraduate Studies may allow students to substitute the new requirements.

Students who entered as freshmen in the fall of 2006 or later must submit a completed Declaration of Concentration and Plan of Study near the end of the fall term of their second year (see “Academic Calendar” for specific deadlines). Students who are out of sequence because of leaves or withdrawals must submit a completed Declaration of Concentration and Plan of Study no later than two weeks before the end of classes of their third term of enrollment. An overdue submission of this form will make the student liable for a late fee of $25 for the first week, $50 thereafter, and for disciplinary action.

As preparation for choosing a concentration, every student is required to have a documented advising conversation with a representative from one or more prospective concentrations near the end of the second term of enrollment. In order to facilitate these conversations, the Advising Programs Office works in conjunction with the concentrations to hold advising conversation events during Advising Fortnight, which begins one week after the conclusion of spring recess. These advising conversations do not indicate any binding decision on the part of the student. Concentrations choose their own criteria for defining these advising conversations, so the form and context may vary from program to program. Please consult the Advising Programs Office for more information at advising@fas.harvard.edu.

Changing Concentrations

After submitting a Declaration of Concentration and Plan of Study, students may change concentrations or add or delete a field that forms part of a joint concentration by filing an approved Change of Field of Concentration petition with the Registrar. Because there are implications with respect to a student’s overall academic program when changing the field of concentration, students should consult with and have the petition approved by both the Head Tutor or Director of Undergraduate Studies of the proposed new concentration and their Allston Burr Assistant Dean before formally filing a change of concentration.

A change of field on the student record and transcript is not complete until the Registrar has received the approved Change of Field of Concentration petition.

After the deadline for degree applications in a student’s final term in the College, a change of concentration will be granted only with the approval of the Administrative Board. Ordinarily, approval will be granted to facilitate a student’s completion of degree requirements, but not to enhance the level of honors awarded.

Joint Concentrations

Every year, some students find that their interests are best accommodated by pursuing a joint concentration that combines two fields. The two fields combined in a joint concentration must each be an undergraduate concentration offered in its own right. A joint concentration is meant to integrate the two fields into a coherent plan of study and ordinarily culminates in an interdisciplinary thesis written while enrolled in the thesis tutorial of one concentration only. Some concentrations do not participate in joint concentration programs. Students should consult with the Head Tutor or Director of Undergraduate Study in the relevant fields for more information.

For students who do not wish to integrate the work of two separate fields into one coherent program, but wish still to pursue a second disciplinary area, a secondary field option may be more appropriate (see Fields of Concentration and Secondary Fields).

Students who wish to combine two fields in a joint concentration must file with the Registrar a Declaration of Concentration and Plan of Study that designates the two fields and has been approved by both concentrations. One of the concentrations is designated the primary concentration. To grant approval, both of the participating concentrations must be satisfied with the coherence and merit of the student’s plan and be prepared to supervise the program in detail. Nevertheless, students who undertake joint concentrations often find that they themselves must take some initiative in ensuring communication between the advisers of the two fields and in keeping these advisers apprised of their progress and their needs. Any student combining fields who wishes to change or eliminate one of the fields must file a Change of Field of Concentration petition with the Registrar by the degree application deadline in the student’s final term at the College.

Special Concentrations

Each year there are a few students whose particular objectives require that they pursue a program of their own design. Under the guidance of an Allston Burr Assistant Dean and faculty advisers, and with the cooperation of the appropriate departments, these students may propose concentration programs to the Faculty Standing Committee on Degrees in Special Concentrations (see Special Concentrations in Fields of Concentration). In making its decisions, the committee looks for coherence in the program as well as an appropriate balance of breadth and depth, the student’s ability to thrive outside the standard concentration structures, and the availability of appropriate academic resources. Students often find it useful to enter such programs in the junior year after spending part of the sophomore year in one of the established concentrations.

Students interested in pursuing a Special Concentration should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Special Concentrations, who can provide advice about constructing a plan of study and about the application process. The committee meets to consider applications three times per year. Those students whose applications are accepted must register a Change of Field of Concentration petition with the Registrar.

Tutorial

Each field of concentration has jurisdiction, within FAS guidelines, over its own tutorial program. These programs are outlined under the individual requirements for each field in Fields of Concentration and Secondary Fields. Except for those tutorial courses graded SAT/UNS (see Non-Letter Grades for more information), letter grades ordinarily are reported for tutorials given for credit. A field of concentration may bar any student from the tutorial program because of unsatisfactory work.

Ordinarily, the work in a senior tutorial centers on the writing of a thesis. A student who does not complete the thesis but nevertheless wishes to receive credit for the tutorial course may be required by the concentration to submit a paper or other substantial piece of work before any credit can be awarded. Students are advised to learn in advance whether their concentration has such a requirement.

General Examinations

Some concentrations require that students pass a General Examination before being recommended for the degree or being recommended for the degree with honors in the field. These examinations are often designed to test a student’s understanding of the entire field of concentration rather than detailed knowledge of the subject matter of such courses as have been taken in that field. Through their courses, independent reading, or any other effective means, students are expected to have attained a grasp of the intellectual approaches underpinning their field of concentration and to be able to apply that thinking. No student concentrating in a field where General Examinations are required is eligible for the degree, whatever the student’s record in courses may be, until he or she has passed this examination to the satisfaction of the concentration.

Students in concentrations with General Examinations should consult with the concentration's tutorial office about the scheduling of these examinations. In some cases, General Examinations are scheduled for the spring term only. As a result, students who will complete all other academic requirements (including the thesis) in the fall term and do not plan to enroll for the spring term may need to speak with their concentration, their Allston Burr Assistant Dean and the Registrar in order to sit for the General Examination.