Program in General Education

This page was updated in January 2018 to reflect the new start date for the new College requirements, which include a new General Education requirement

Harvard has long required that students take a set of courses outside of their concentration in order to ensure that their undergraduate education encompasses a broad range of topics and approaches. The Program in General Education aligns these requirements with the educational needs of Harvard College students at the dawn of the twenty-first century. General Education seeks explicitly to “connect a student’s liberal education – that is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry, rewarding in its own right – to life beyond college.” In addition, the Program seeks to provide new opportunities for students to learn – and for faculty to teach – in ways that cut across traditional departmental and intra-University lines.

Complementing the rest of the curriculum, this program aims to achieve four goals that link the undergraduate experience to the lives students will lead after Harvard:

  • to prepare students for civic engagement;
  • to teach students to understand themselves as products of, and participants in, traditions of art, ideas, and values;
  • to enable students to respond critically and constructively to change; and
  • to develop students’ understanding of the ethical dimensions of what they say and do.

Students in the class of 2019 or earlier who entered under these rules must complete one letter-graded course in each of the following eight General Education categories:

  • Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding
  • Culture and Belief
  • Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning
  • Ethical Reasoning
  • Science of Living Systems
  • Science of the Physical Universe
  • Societies of the World
  • United States in the World 

 Additionally, one of these eight courses must engage substantially with the Study of the Past.

Students in the class of 2020 or later will be transitioned to new College requirements - which include a new General Education requirement - in Fall 2019, not Fall 2018. 

In general, students should plan to take one General Education course per term. There are, however, no constraints regarding the timing of the requirements as long as all are completed by graduation. First-year students often find that General Education courses are useful for exploring potential concentrations. Other students use the General Education requirements to add some variety to their course of study.