Frequently Asked Questions

I’m interested in Special Concentrations. How do I start?

Read this website thoroughly!  Then, attend an information session, or visit office hours to talk through your ideas with our staff.  Talk to faculty, tutors, and TFs from courses that you liked, and who have some expertise in your proposed field.  Tell them what you are interested in, ask if they think it can be done in an existing program, and ask them who else to talk with.  Talk to Directors of Undergraduate Studies in departments that might work with your interests.  Tell them what you are interested in, ask if they think it can be done in an existing program, and ask them who else to talk with.  Make a list of courses that you want to take over your four years at Harvard, and see if they fall into a particular program or not.  Start writing your statement of purpose, but continually revise it as you gather more information.  Share this with faculty, tutors, and TFs.  Work on your “elevator pitch:” you have one minute to tell someone what you study at Harvard, what do you say?  Be prepared to find out that your course of study might just work in an existing concentration or joint concentration, a combination of concentration and secondary field, or a path of research including departmental tutorials and senior thesis.

Can I declare Special Concentrations as my concentration before I apply?

No.  You must have an approved petition on file before you can declare Special Concentrations.  There are three deadlines each year; two in the fall and one in the spring.  Although there are exceptions, most successful Special Concentration applications have been submitted by upperclassmen who have spent one or two terms studying in one of the College’s established concentrations.

Who will approve my courses each semester?

Your courses should be reviewed and approved by both your Faculty Adviser and the Director of Studies for Special Concentrations. The same is true for any changes you make to your course selection, i.e. drops, adds or withdrawals.  You will be asked to confirm your plan of study each semester.  The Director of Studies for Special Concentrations will lift the advising hold on your study card.

As a transfer from another college, can I receive any credit toward degree requirements in Special Concentrations for previous course work?

Yes, you will receive credit towards fulfillment of requirements for those courses which are (1) approved for Harvard credit by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and then (2) approved for Special Concentrations credit at the time you apply to the concentration. (The grades received for courses taken elsewhere do not contribute to a student's Special Concentrations grade average.)

Can I do a creative project for my senior thesis?

Yes. Special Concentrations is often the landing place for students who are unable to fulfill their goals of a creative thesis in another department. Students considering a creative thesis should be able to demonstrate, however, that their thesis is solidly rooted in scholarship and is the culmination of a coherent, in-depth plan of study in their field.  The Faculty Adviser or Thesis Adviser (may or may not be the same individual) will be the arbiter of what constitutes a sufficient thesis.