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Harvard Extension School

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Harvard Extension School

Harvard University
Extension School
Established 1910[1]
Type Private
Parent institution
Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Division of Continuing Education[2]
Dean Huntington D. Lambert
Students 1,798 degree candidates[3]
(588 undergraduates)
(1,210 graduates)
25,000+ non-degree students
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Campus Urban

Harvard University Extension School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of the twelve degree-granting schools of Harvard University,[4] offering graduate and undergraduate liberal arts-based[5] degree programs as well as professional and continuing education in 60 fields.

The School also has a long history of offering professional and distance education, and provides a variety of amenities and opportunities to students and degree earning alumni. Since its establishment in 1910, it is estimated that 500,000 students have taken a course at the Extension School. Although most students take one of the 715 on-campus and distance-learning based courses[6] offered for professional development or personal enrichment, approximately 150 Bachelor's and 550 Master's degrees are awarded each year.[7]


  • History 1
    • Degree development 1.1
    • Deans 1.2
  • Academics 2
    • Accreditation 2.1
    • Pre-medical program 2.2
    • Distance education 2.3
      • History 2.3.1
      • Today 2.3.2
  • Academic degrees 3
    • Bachelor of Liberal Arts 3.1
      • Undergraduate admissions 3.1.1
    • Master of Liberal Arts 3.2
      • Graduate admissions 3.2.1
    • Awards and honors 3.3
  • Student life 4
  • Student demographics 5
  • Alumni 6
    • Notable alumni 6.1
  • Coat of arms 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Year[1] Enrollment
1910–11 863
1914[8] 1,034
1915[8] 1,488
1919[9] ~1,300
1922–23[10] 1,727
1930–31 1,690
1934–35 871
1942–43 808
1945–46 1,243
1946–47 1,528
1947–1948 1,955
1951–52 2,062
1952–1953 2,141
1956–57 2,890
1959–60 5,500+
1962–63 7,448
1963–64 8,435
1963–64 8,693
1971–72 10,000+
1974–75 9,677
1975–76 9,705
1977–78 ~11,677
1979–80 12,567
1981–82 17,034
1983–84 19,561
1984–85 20,366
1986–87 20,578
1990–91 ~22,500
1999–2000 ~24,000
2007–08 25,000+

Founded in 1910, by Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Harvard Extension School was designed to serve the educational interests and needs of the greater Boston community,[11] particularly those "who had the ability and desire to attend college, but also had other obligations that kept them from traditional schools."[12] It has since extended its "academic resources to the public, locally, nationally, and internationally."[13]

During the 1920s professors from Boston and Harvard Universities left the confines of their campuses and traveled to teach courses offsite.[14] While they were primarily aimed at teachers, courses were offered wherever 40 or more students expressed an interest.[14] Professors traveled on a weekly basis to places around New England and as far away as Yonkers, New York,[14] some 200 miles away.

Despite falling revenue due to the Great Depression, A. Lawrence Lowell insisted in 1931 that the will of John Lowell, Jr prevented courses from costing more than two bushels of wheat. As a result, a half year course cost could no more than $5, and a full course no more than $10.[15] Some courses cost as little as $2.50.[16]

University Extension courses were to be taught by "the most experienced teachers that can be secured."[17] In 1938 there were 28 professors for Commission faculties, including 11 full professors.[16] Early faculty included Charles Townsend Copeland, Theodore Spenser, B.J. Whiting, William Yandell Elliot, Payton S. Wild Jr., William Langer, Oscar Handlin, Kenneth B. Murdoch, Perry Miller, William Enerst Hocking, Raphael Demos, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Frank M. Carpenter.[18]

By the 50th anniversary of the University Extension in 1960, more than 1,400 courses had been offered and there had been more than 85,000 enrollments.[19] While the vast majority of classes were held on the Harvard campus, a few in the late 1960s were offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University, as well as at the Old South Meeting House.[20][21] At this time non-credit courses cost between $15 and $25, and courses for credit cost between $20 and $35.[21]

After 100 years, an estimated 500,000 students have taken courses at the Extension School.[11] While there has never been an entrance exam and fees were kept as low as possible to allow as many as possible to enroll, only .18% have ever earned a degree.[22] Including certificate earners, 2.5% have graduated.[23] Today more degrees are awarded each year than were awarded in the first 50 years combined.[23]

Several years after retiring, President Lowell wrote that the Extension courses "have given a service to the public ... which seems to me of the utmost importance."[24] In 2013, more than 100 years after its founding, the Extension Schools classes were described as "surprisingly affordable"[25] and the school itself was said to be a "thriving institution."[26]

Degree development

Harvard University currently offers two degrees in Extension Studies, the Bachelor of Liberal Arts and the Master of Liberal Arts (ALM).[27] From 1911 to 1933, the University offered an Associate in Arts, and from 1933 to 1960 they offered an Adjunct in Arts.[28] Both were considered the equivalent of a bachelor's degree.[28] From 1971 to 2014, the University offered an Associate of Arts in Extension Studies (AA), the equivalent of a two-year degree.[28]

A proposal before the Faculty of Arts and Science in 2009 and 2010 to rename the school and the degrees offered was not accepted.[29] A committee, led by Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis, proposed renaming the school the "Harvard School of Continuing and Professional Studies," and to drop the words "in Extension Studies" from degrees, so that the School would offer Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees. Some faculty objected, saying that those degrees were already offered by the College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.[30]

In 2014, Harvard University conferred four certificates on behalf of the Extension School, as well as the following academic degrees: five Associate in the Arts, 152 Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies, and 539 Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies.[7]


  • James Hardy Ropes, Chairman of Commission on Extension Courses, Dean of University Extension, 1910–1922
  • Arthur F. Whittem, Chairman of Commission on Extension Courses, Director of University Extension, 1922–1946
  • George W. Adams, Chairman of Commission on Extension Courses, Director of University Extension, 1946–1949
  • Reginald H. Phelps, Chairman of Commission on Extension Courses, Director of University Extension, 1949–1975
  • Michael Shinagel, Director of Continuing Education and University Extension, 1975–1977, and Dean of Continuing Education and University Extension, 1977–2013
  • Huntington D. Lambert, Dean of Continuing Education and University Extension, 2013–present


Year[1] Courses offered
1910 16
1915–15 24
1918–19 33
1921–22 22
1922–23[10] 27
1923–24[10] 29
1951–52 30
1956–57 37
1959–60 56
1962–63 70
1971–72 144
1974–75 135
1975–76 ~200
1979–80 316
1980–81 335
1981–82 398
1983–84 480
1984–85 527
1986–87 575
1999–2000 584
2014–15[6] 715

Harvard Extension School offers more than six-hundred on-campus and online courses,[31] taught by both Harvard faculty and instructors from the Greater Boston community.[32] Harvard Extension School is overseen by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences,[2] and students take courses with Harvard professors, including Nobel laureates as well as faculty from Boston-area universities and business professionals and community leaders in various fields.[33][34] Most of the courses at the Extension School are "virtually identical"[33][35][36] to courses offered to the traditional students at Harvard College, with "the only significant difference" being that the classes are taught at night instead of during the day.[33][35] However, many daytime Harvard College courses are offered to Extension students through asynchronous online platforms.[34] Extension degree candidates who meet required criteria may also apply for "Special Student status" in order to take classes that are offered only to Harvard College students.[37]

Students may enroll full or part-time, and classes may be taken on campus, via distance-learning, or both. In order to earn an academic degree, students must complete a minimum number of on-campus-only credits at Harvard.[38][39] Non-degree seeking students have access to resources through Harvard's Grossman library, electronic resources through the Harvard Libraries Portal and select computer facilities.[40] A professor at both the Extension School and Harvard College has opined that the open enrollment system "'give[s] a lot' to the institution by permitting an atmosphere of valuable diversity that does not exist at any of Harvard's other schools."[41]


Harvard Extension School is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges as one of the twelve degree-granting schools of Harvard University.[31]

Pre-medical program

A pre-med program was established at the Extension School in 1980.[42] Two years later, in 1982, five students applied to medical school, and 3 were accepted at the University of Massachusetts, Tufts University, and New York University.[43] Of the 19 students who applied to medical schools in 1985, 15 were admitted, including two women to Harvard Medical School.[44]

All 27 graduates who applied to medical school in 1989 were accepted, including three to Harvard Medical School and nine to the University of Massachusetts.[45] Five years later, 90% of students were accepted to medical school, including 5 to Harvard. Only one in three were accepted nationwide.[46] The Health Careers Program has sponsored nearly 1,000 students for admission to medical school since it was started in 1979–80, and more than 845 were accepted. This 85% success rate far exceeds the national acceptance rate of 35%.[47]

Students who successfully complete the pre-medical program are eligible for sponsorship through the program and a committee letter of support in their applications to medical school.[48][49]

Distance education


Harvard Extension was a pioneer in distance education. Beginning on December 5, 1949, courses were offered on the Lowell Institute's new radio station. New Englanders could go to college six nights a week at 7:30 in their living rooms simply by tuning into courses on psychology, world history, and economics.[50] The first course on radio was by Peter A. Bertocci of Boston University. For 30 years he taught Extension courses, with never fewer than 100 students. He often taught over 300 students per course and once had over 400. Over the years Bertocci had at least 7,000 Extension students, "surely a record in the annals of Extension at Harvard."[51]

The radio courses proved to be so successful that when the television station WGBH went on the air in October 1951 they began broadcasting an Extension class every weekday at 3:30 and 7:30.[52] The first course, offered by Robert G. Albion, was on European Imperialism on Monday and Thursday evenings.[53] In the late 1960s, three of the televised courses were offered in the Deer Island Prison.[54] Students who watched the courses on television could attend six "conferences" and take a mid-term and a final exam at Harvard in order to gain credit for the class.[53]


As of 2014, distance-learning courses at Harvard Extension School are offered in two formats: asynchronous video courses (lectures are recorded and uploaded within 24 hours of on-campus class meetings); and live web-conference courses (courses are streamed live, and typically allow for synchronous participation from students via a secondary online platform).[55]

Academic degrees

Extension offers open enrollment courses, but its degree programs are not "open admission". Students are "presumed capable" but then must "prove that presumption with actual performance."[56] The "democratic admissions policy for its degree programs ... is based on proof that a student is capable of Harvard-level work, giving degree and certificate candidates the chance to prove themselves."[41] The "most relevant predictor" of success for students is a students' "ability to do honors-level work at Harvard."[56]

Students who wish to earn degrees must be formally admitted to the Extension School by the Admissions Committee.[56] Admitted degree candidates are granted full privileges to Harvard's libraries, facilities, student resources, as well as access to Harvard's museums and academic workshops.[57]

An Extension School professor asserts that undergraduate HES students "are brilliantly milking the cow of Harvard University," as they "get a very similar experience and then have the Harvard name on [their] résumé."[58] A professor at both the Extension School and Harvard College has opined that the open enrolment system "'give[s] a lot' to the institution by permitting an atmosphere of valuable diversity that does not exist at any of Harvard's other schools."[41]

Bachelor of Liberal Arts

Undergraduate degree programs are based upon the curriculum for Harvard College students; degree requirements include expository writing, quantitative reasoning, foreign language, moral reasoning, writing-intensive classes, and courses in the student's area of concentration.[59] The expository writing class is known as a "gatekeeper course" as it will typically "determine whether [students] are prepared for the intensive and demanding curriculum."[56]

Once admitted as an ALB degree candidate, students must successfully complete 128 credits[60] (Harvard courses are typically 4 credits each) and maintain good academic standing (3.0 GPA) to meet graduation requirements.[61] Upon admission into the ALB program, students may petition to transfer up to a maximum of 64 credits from other accredited post-secondary institutions, but 64 credits must be completed at Harvard University (Extension School, Summer School, or the Faculty of Arts and Sciences).[61] Students must also select one of three 'areas of concentration' including: Sciences; Social Sciences; or Humanities. Students must earn 40 credits with at least a B– in their areas of concentration.[62]

ALB degree candidates are also required to complete a minimum of 16 on-campus-only credits at Harvard;[63] students must also complete a minimum of 12 credits in "Writing intensive" courses, and earn a minimum of 52 credits in courses that are taught by Harvard instructors.[60] In addition to a concentration, degree candidates have the option to pursue one of twenty 'Fields of study', (akin to a traditional major). In order to successfully complete a field of study, students must earn a B– or higher in 32 Harvard credits in one field, and maintain a B average in the field. Students may also complement their field of study with a maximum of one liberal arts minor.[62]

Undergraduate admissions

Undergraduate degree programs require pre-admission courses as well as a formal application process.[64] Students applying for degree candidacy must first complete three 4-credit liberal arts courses at Harvard (Extension School, Summer School, or the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) with at least a B grade in each, and maintain a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA.[31] One of these three pre-admission courses must be EXPO E-25, the equivalent of Harvard College's mandatory and "notoriously difficult" expository writing course.[65] To enroll in this course, students must pass a placement test, which measures critical reading and writing skills.[66] Students failing to earn at least a B in a class can retake it once. Students who meet all these criteria are then eligible for admission in the Extension School's undergraduate degree programs.[31]

Master of Liberal Arts

The Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies (ALM) includes 19 liberal arts fields of study and seven professional degree programs (Biotechnology, Information Technology, Journalism, Management, Mathematics for Teaching, Museum Studies, & Sustainability and Environmental Management).[27] ALM candidates must complete 10 to 12 courses including a thesis or capstone project depending on their degree program, which must be crafted under the direction of an instructor or Harvard faculty member holding a teaching appointment in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.[39]

Graduate admissions

Generally, admission into a graduate degree program at Harvard Extension School requires a minimum of an accredited bachelor's degree (or foreign equivalent), as well as completion of three pre-admission courses with grades of B+ or higher and a minimum of 3.0 overall GPA. One of the three pre-admission courses must be the "Proseminar" course for the intended area of study, which is akin to a traditional research methods course, and prior to registering for a proseminar students must pass a qualification test to assess graduate-level critical reading and writing skills.[66] Certain disciplines have other specified pre-admission coursework, while some have specific coursework that is required before submitting a master's thesis proposal (e.g. biology and psychology fields must take a specific graduate statistics course). Students who meet these criteria are then eligible to submit an application for admission into the graduate degree programs.[31]

Once a student has met the three course requirement, he or she is then eligible to formally apply to the ALM program. Typically applicants must submit a completed application, proof of an accredited bachelor's degree (or foreign equivalent) plus transcripts, resume, two essays, and a nonrefundable application fee. Some programs require additional specific classes to be part of the initial three before formal admission.[67] Students will be denied admission indefinitely if they fail to earn a grade of B after twice enrolling in the Proseminar course.

Some programs have additional requirements, including specific pre-admission courses and supplemental application materials. For instance, the Literature and Creative writing candidates must submit original manuscripts.[68] For example, the ALM in Management, offering a concentration in either General Management or Finance, requires a higher coursework GPA for admission than other ALM degree programs. A minimum GPA of 3.33 (B+) must be maintained while achieving no lower than a B in three specific classes (organizational behavior, economics, and accounting for the Management Track; organization behavior, financial accounting, and finance for the Finance Track) taken before being considered for admission.[69]

Awards and honors

ALB students may graduate with the Latin honors, cum laude, but magna- and summa- cum laude are not offered. ALM students may, upon graduation, be included in the ALM Dean's list for Academic achievement, based on GPA requirements.

The Dean's Prize for Outstanding Master of Liberal Arts thesis is awarded during commencement ceremonies, and includes a medal, a certificate, and a monetary award. It is awarded to a student whose graduate thesis "embodies the highest level of imaginative scholarship."[70] In addition to the Dean's Prize for Outstanding ALM Thesis, there are four other major academic prizes — the Phelps, Crite, Langlois, and Small prizes — as well as the Aurelio, Yang, and Wood prizes.[71]

The Derek Bok Public Service Prizes are awards are presented at Commencement. They consist of a cash prize along with a citation and a medal given to two graduating Extension School students. The award recognizes creative initiatives in community service or long-standing records of civic achievement.[72]

Student life

Beginning in the 1960s, the University began providing additional facitilites for Extension students. Study spaces, conferences rooms, library facilities, and a dining hall were set up in Lehman Hall for students in 1964.[73] In addition, there was a television lounge were students could watch the WGBH programs.[20]

Today, admitted degree candidates are granted access to Harvard's athletic facilities, dining services, on and off campus apartment housing, career services and student life organizations.[57] Students have "nearly unfettered access to some of Harvard's most prized resources—world-renowned libraries, a distinguished faculty, and an impressive body of speakers."[41]

ALB candidates are eligible for membership in the Harvard Extension Student Association (HESA). Established in 2001, the HESA's mission is to build and maintain a sense of community among Extension students. In partnership with many other organizations on campus, HESA provides a variety of social activities, educational events, and forums that enrich student life and experience. All degree and diploma candidates in good standing at Harvard Extension School are voting members of HESA.[74] Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honors society for nontraditional students, established the Phi Beta chapter in 2002–03.[75] The Harvard Extension School Pre-Health Society offers advising, events, and networking for students who wish to go to medical school or to pursue a career in the health care industry.[76][77]

Although some Harvard College students question Extension students' affiliation to the Harvard community,[78] President Faust said that "the Extension School is a critical part of the University"[79] and "students increasingly should come to see themselves as full-fledged members of not just an individual school but Harvard as a university."[80]

Student demographics

In 2000 there were 14,216 students with the youngest in their early teens and the oldest in their late 80s.[81][56] There is often a span of 60 years between the oldest and youngest students,[82] and students as young as 11 years old have taken courses alongside those old enough to be their parents or grandparents.[83] Of the students enrolled at the turn of the century, 75% had a bachelor's degree, and 20% had a graduate degree. More than 1,700 were staff members using the Tuition Assistance Program, and an estimated 10%-15% were exclusively online students. Of the 255 Certificate of Special Studies graduates that year, 163 were international students hailing from 39 countries.[81]

In the early 2000s there were 208 students under the age of 18. Most attended local high schools, but a growing number of them were home schooled. Professor Paul Bamberg taught a class with both Extension and Harvard College students, and the top two students were from the Extension School, with the top student being a home schooled teenager.[84]

Harvard Extension School accepts international students. To be admitted to courses or degrees, a student must prove proficiency in the English language. If English is not a student's native language then he or she must submit an official TOEFL or IELTS score with a minimum score of 100 for the TOEFL or a minimum score of 7.0 for the IELTS. International students must also meet the on-campus-only course requirements as outlined above. The Extension School does not issue I-20s for the F-1 visa but the Summer School does.[85] In 2007–08, more than 2,500 international students and nearly 2,000 employees were enrolled in classes.[86] In 2013, students came from 118 countries and 46 states.[56]


Year[1] Associate Bachelors Masters
1913–1933 120* n/a n/a
1934–1936 24* n/a n/a
1937–1952 78* n/a n/a
1953 6* n/a n/a
1954–1962 57* n/a n/a
1963 n/a 14 n/a
1964 n/a 22 n/a
1966 n/a 35 n/a
1967 n/a 31 n/a
1968 n/a 48 n/a
1971 n/a 38 n/a
1972 44 54 n/a
1975 37 42 n/a
1976** <82 <82 n/a
1980 n/a ? 1
1981 n/a ? 3
1982 n/a 91 15
1985** n/a <158 <158
1987** n/a <143 <143
2000** <226 <226 <226
2008 7 111 91
2014[7] 5 152 539

Upon graduation, students are eligible for membership in the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA)[87] and the Harvard Extension Alumni Association (HEAA).[88] Graduates also take part in the commencement ceremonies with all other schools of Harvard.[89]

The HEAA was founded in 1967–68 by Ella Smith and Edgar Grossman, both members of the class of 1966.[73] Extension School alumni have been admitted to all of the graduate schools at Harvard.[41]

(*From 1913 until 1932 Harvard offered Associate in Arts Degrees, and from 1933 until 1962 they awarded Adjunct in Arts degrees. Both were considered the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, but without the residency requirement.)

(** Only aggregate numbers were reported for these years.)

Notable alumni

Both the oldest and youngest graduates in the more than 375-year history of Harvard University received their degrees from the Extension School. In 1997 Mary Fasano became the oldest undergraduate degree recipient,[90] and in 1983 Thomas Small became the oldest student to ever earn a master's degree.[91] Both were in their 90th year. The youngest degree earner in Harvard history was 18-year-old Amit Chatterjee who earned an ALB in 2002.[92]

One of Small's classmates, Christopher Lohse, was selected to give the graduate commencement address. His speech, the 10,000 Ghosts of Harvard, was a play on both University's fight song and the fact that classes are taught after dark.[91] In 1989 another ALM graduate gave the commencement address. Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. began his studies as a Providence city councilor, and at the time of his speech he was the Mayor of Providence. He went on to become Ambassador to Malta.

In 1936 one person had taken courses for 26 consecutive years, and two others had been students for 24 years.[93]

Coat of arms

The Coat of Arms for the Extension School was approved in 1983. At the top of the shield the three books spelling out Veritas represent graduate education, as the same device is found on the arms of the other graduate schools. Instead of a straight line separating it from the rest of the shield, as is found in the other schools, a line with six arcs pointing up was used instead. A silver chevron was used to represent undergraduate education, a device used in the shield of the College in the 17th to 19th centuries. Two bushels of wheat are included to represent John Lowell's stipulation that courses should not cost more than two bushels of wheat. A golden lamp is included to represent both learning and the fact that classes are taught at night.[94]


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External links

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