Special Concentrations are for serious students whose academic interests cross departmental lines. Students have the opportunity to design their own program of study with the advice and consent of various members of the faculty and administration. Special Concentrations can address educational objectives not already accommodated by existing concentrations or combinations of programs.
Special Concentrations is not for everyone. It is not for students who wish to avoid particular departmental requirements or who hope to create a broad, unfocused concentration that could be described as “general studies.” Nor is it for students who do not know precisely what they want to study and who have trouble narrowing their interests to a single field. Rather, it is for students who know quite clearly what they wish to investigate, as it requires integrating courses and research from more than one area. Although there are exceptions, most successful Special Concentrations applications have been submitted by upperclassmen who have already spent one or two terms studying in one of the College’s established concentrations.
The Standing Committee on Special Concentrations, composed of faculty from a wide range of disciplines, sets the general policies and educational guidelines for the program, and individually considers each petition submitted. The committee must be convinced not only of the quality, rigor, and legitimacy of the topic, but also of the applicant’s high level of self-motivation, perseverance, and conscientiousness. This level of commitment is critical, because without an existing departmental structure, the success of each Special Concentration depends on the drive and determination of the individual student.
Students should begin by consulting with faculty members who are expert in their areas of interest to determine what direction would be best to follow. Although most special concentration proposals include a full tutorial program culminating in a senior thesis for honors candidates, Special Concentrations is also open to students who prefer a basic course of study. Each approved Special Concentration exists as a small committee within our program. The detailed administration of each student’s course of study is supervised by his or her faculty adviser and by the director of studies for the program. Plans of Study for individual concentrations are unique, but all are deeply interdisciplinary. For example, several current programs deal with science and society, combining coursework from history and science, engineering, and sociology to name just a few departments. A burgeoning interest in urban studies lately has produced several Special Concentrations, some emphasizing city planning, others leaning toward government or economics. The possibilities of Special Concentrations are limited only by the student's imagination, and the resources available at Harvard.
Special Concentrations represents a small but critical portion of undergraduate concentrators. It is best for those students who have not only an unusual interest, but who also have a clear grasp of the direction in which they are heading. If this sounds like you, find out how to apply here.