Course Credit Without Letter Grades

Freshman Seminars (Graded SAT/UNS)

Courses Taken by Cross-Registration

Courses Graded Pass/Fail

Courses Graded SAT/UNS

Independent Study (Graded Pass/Fail)

Students enrolling in courses without letter grades are reminded of the following requirements:

  • Each term students must take for credit at least one letter-graded course offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Courses taken in the Graduate School of Education under the UTEP Program constitute an exception to this rule.
  • Of the 128 credits students must pass to receive the degree, at least 84 credits (96 credits for a degree with honors) must be letter-graded C– or higher and be given by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The only non-letter grade that may be counted towards the requirement of 84 satisfactory letter-graded credits is Satisfactory (SAT). Please see the section below on Courses Graded SAT/UNS for an explanation of which SAT courses may be considered. 
  • General Education, writing, foreign language, and certain concentration requirements can only be satisfied by letter-graded courses.
  • Ordinarily, no freshman or sophomore may take fewer than three letter-graded courses (4 credits per course) in any term.

Transfer and Advanced Standing students should see Credit Requirements for the Degree and other previous sections referring to them.

Freshman Seminars (Graded SAT/UNS)

Freshmen admitted to Freshman Seminars may earn non-letter-grade credit up to a maximum of 2 courses (4 credits per course). Freshmen may not ordinarily enroll in both a Freshman Seminar and another non-letter-graded course in any one term. A Satisfactory (SAT) grade in a Freshman Seminar may not be counted towards the requirement of 84 satisfactory letter-graded credits unless the Seminar fulfills a concentration requirement.

Courses Taken by Cross-Registration

Courses taken either by cross-registration or out of residence for degree credit will not be counted toward the letter-graded credit requirement and will not factor into the grade point average (GPA) unless they are applied toward concentration requirements or the requirements for the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP). (See Cross-Registration

Courses Graded Pass/Fail

Any undergraduate may, with the permission of the instructor, enroll in a course on a Pass/ Fail basis. There is no limit on the number of courses a student may take Pass/Fail as long as the student satisfies the requirements for letter-graded courses as outlined above. To enroll in a course on this basis, a student must submit a Pass/Fail form to the Registrar’s Office and obtain the signature of the course instructor by the deadline indicated on the form. Refer to the Registrar's website for more information. No course may be added Pass/Fail nor may the grading status of a course be changed after the fifth Monday of the term. 

Courses Graded SAT/UNS

Some courses, most notably tutorial courses (see Non-Letter Grades) and Freshman Seminars, are graded SAT/ UNS. In addition, House Seminars may be graded SAT/UNS at the option of the course instructor and with the approval of the Committee on Freshman Seminars. When so graded, House Seminars will not count toward the 84 satisfactory letter-graded credit requirement. A Freshman Seminar will not count towards the 84 satisfactory letter-graded credit requirement unless it is being used to fulfill a concentration requirement. Only one year-long (8 credit) senior tutorial course graded Satisfactory (SAT) may be counted towards the requirement of 84 satisfactory letter-graded credits.

Independent Study (Graded Pass/Fail)

Independent Study is designed to provide credit for field research, academic study not available in regular course work, or practice or performance in the arts. It is not suitable for group instruction, paid work, or activities outside the competence or concern of one of Harvard’s departments.

For example, studying the financial accounting system of a business firm might be an appropriate project, but working in an accounting office to gain business experience would not by itself merit academic credit. Investigating child development through observation in a day care center could qualify, but simply tutoring a child would not. Analyzing the organization of a political group might be a suitable subject, whereas organizing a political campaign would not alone suffice. In each case what distinguishes the suitable project is the application of analytical skills to the object of the Independent Study, not the intrinsic worthiness or instructiveness of the experience itself.

Any sophomore, junior, or senior whose previous record is satisfactory may petition to undertake Independent Study for non-letter-graded credit. A student may petition to take up to a total of 16 credits of Independent Study. Independent Study courses are subject to the same rules for dropping and withdrawing as any other course.

A petition to undertake Independent Study, available on the Office of Undergraduate Education website, requires two signatures:

  1. That of a qualified adviser (ordinarily a voting member of a Harvard Faculty) who must be an officer of the University, and whose professional competence is appropriate for the subject area of the Independent Study. In those exceptional cases where the adviser is not a Faculty member—for example, a teaching fellow—the petition must also be supported by an appropriate academic department or unit.
  2. That of the Resident Dean which signifies that the proposal satisfies the guidelines and has been signed by the adviser.

The petition also requires an outline of the student’s proposed project. It must be submitted to the Resident Dean for approval, ordinarily in the first week of the term. In addition, the Resident Dean must approve the course. A separate petition, properly completed, must be filed for each Independent Study course.

The adviser will assist the student in the development of a plan for Independent Study and provide guidance but not regular instruction. Independent Study does not imply regular formal instruction and should not be confused with tutorials or House Seminars or Supervised Reading and Research courses offered by several academic departments and committees. A student enrolled in Independent Study must undertake to work independently. Classroom work, regular instruction, and group projects are inadmissible. Students whose projects include interviews or research involving human subjects should contact the Harvard Committee on the Use of Human Subjects (Institutional Review Board).

The adviser will submit a midterm progress report based on a preliminary written report by the student of the student's activities. By the fourth day of Reading Period, the student must submit to the adviser an analytical paper concerning the term’s work. A simple description or report of the term’s activities is not by itself adequate. In the case of artistic practice or performance, evidence of substantial accomplishment should be supplied in lieu of written work.

The granting of credit will be determined by the adviser. In those cases where the adviser is not a voting member of a Harvard Faculty, the Chair or Head Tutor/Director of Undergraduate Studies of the department, or equivalent officer with voting membership in a Harvard Faculty, must review and approve the petition and the grade assigned by the adviser. Independent Study is graded “Pass” or “Fail.” The adviser will submit a copy of the student’s paper and a brief statement about the student's work for inclusion in the student’s folder in the Resident Dean’s office, ordinarily by the first day of the Examination Period.

Independent Study is not counted toward General Education requirements and is not normally counted toward concentration or secondary field requirements.

First-year students may not enroll in Independent Study. They may, however, seek special permission from their Resident Dean to enroll in one Supervised Reading and Research course within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (91r- and 910r-level course category) if an appropriate member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has indicated a willingness to supervise.