Ideally, the doctoral program is conceived as lasting six years, divided into three segments.

  1. The first two years, defined as "academic residence" for administrative purposes, are largely devoted to seminars, to lecture/reading courses, and to independent reading (totaling sixteen four-credit courses) in preparation for the General Examinations (normally taken at the end of the second year). While all these formats are designed to broaden experience of the languages and literature needed for the degree, the seminars form the core of the department's program of graduate education. Summers are often spent in reading to prepare for examinations.
  2. In the third year, students prepare for their special examinations in three chosen categories, and begin to gain experience of teaching, which the department regards as an essential part of graduate preparation.
  3. In the fourth and fifth years, students continue to teach, but otherwise work towards the completion of the degree, especially the writing of the dissertation. Students of ancient history and classical archaeology are required to spend time abroad.
  4. For the final year, they may also apply for a one-year dissertation completion fellowship from GSAS (see also Graduate Funding). 

The department's graduate program is chiefly designed to prepare students for the degree of doctor of philosophy (PhD); the department will not admit applicants for the degree of Master of Arts (AM) only. However, any student who has completed with honor two years of full-time study (16 applicable courses) will qualify for the degree of AM in the appropriate area as a level of attainment, which the department will normally recommend upon application by the student. No examinations beyond those required in the courses are mandated. Prerequisites are the same as for the PhD.

Course Requirements

  • A combination of sixteen four-credit courses in the first two years.
  • The requirements for the seven different tracks (in ancient history, Byzantine Greek, classical archaeology, classical philology, classical philosophy, medieval Latin, and modern Greek), and the stages at which they need to be completed, are set out on the departmental website.
  • Policy on Incompletes: A student may carry a grade of Incomplete (INC) for coursework not completed by the end of the term, but only until the last day of the following term, unless with special permission of the graduate committee. Accumulation of Incompletes is strongly discouraged.


Teaching is considered part of a student’s preparation for eventual employment, and candidates are normally expected to be involved in undergraduate teaching beginning in their third year. Teaching may consist of assisting in a large lecture course in the General Education curriculum or in a departmental literature survey, in conducting an undergraduate tutorial, or in full responsibility for undergraduate language courses under the guidance of a faculty mentor.


All graduate students throughout their program receive general advising from the graduate committee, which meets formally with each student every term.

In the course of their preparation for the special examinations, students work closely with three faculty members who direct their special authors and special field.

From the beginning of the dissertation stage, the role of special individual advisor is assumed by the dissertation director.

In the event of a disagreement or dispute between student and dissertation director, mediation will be provided through the director of graduate studies and the chair of the department.

General Examinations

All students will, normally by the end of their second year, take general examinations as described on the departmental website.

Special Examinations

By the end of the third or, at the latest, the fourth graduate year, the candidate must take a two-hour oral examination in three chosen categories, as set out on the departmental website. The choice of categories should be submitted for approval by the graduate committee at the time of the general examinations or within a month following them. Preparation for this examination will be by independent study, with regular supervision by a faculty member for each part of the examination. These examinations may be repeated only once in the event of failure.


  1. At the end of the special examinations, or at the latest within one month thereafter, the candidate should specify the area in which the dissertation is to be written and the name of the dissertation director. This person shall be a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.
  2. The candidate, after consultation with the director, and within two months of the special examinations, will then invite two other faculty members to serve as readers. In exceptional cases, and with the prior approval of the graduate committee, one of these two members may be drawn from another department, another university, or an equivalent institution.
  3. Before the end of the term following the special examinations, the candidate shall meet with the director and the two readers for approval of the prospectus of the dissertation. The prospectus can take many forms, and its scope is various. The purpose is to ensure that the candidate has done enough work to determine that (a) the project is manageable, is of suitable scope, and has not been done before in the same way, and (b) the candidate has the knowledge and skills to make an original contribution on the topic. The prospectus should include an account of the issue to be investigated, an outline of the approach to be taken, an annotated bibliography, and a timetable for completion. The recommended length is 20–25 pages. The director shall promptly, by means of the appropriate form (available in the department office), notify the graduate committee of the approved title and the name of the members of the dissertation committee.
  4. The director and other members of the dissertation committee shall, by May 15 of each year, or within twelve months of the prospectus meeting, and on annual occasions thereafter, meet with the candidate to reflect on the progress towards the dissertation, and on other aspects of the candidate’s professional profile (teaching, attending conferences, giving papers, publishing articles, etc.). External members of the committee shall normally be physically present at these annual meetings, but may be present via conference call, Skype, or video-conferencing. The candidate shall submit to the committee a self-report in advance of this meeting, detailing progress towards the dissertation, any problems or setbacks, reflections on teaching, and remarks on professional development in general. After the meeting, the advisor shall prepare a written summary of the discussion, and this report will be made available to the student and the director of graduate studies.
  5. Not later than the end of the sixth graduate year (except by permission of the graduate committee), the candidate must present a dissertation as evidence of independent research. The dissertation shall be completed in conformity with the guidelines set out in GSAS policies on dissertations, and the following procedure shall be followed for the submission and defense of the dissertation:
  6. When the candidate and the committee deem that the dissertation is ready to be examined, the candidate shall present three unbound copies of the entire dissertation not later than two weeks before the degree application due date specified on the GSAS Degree Calendar for that year. The members of the committee shall have not less than two weeks in which to read the dissertation, after which they shall confer, either in person or by other means, and shall decide, by majority vote, whether the dissertation defense should proceed. If the decision is positive, the committee members shall also agree on the changes and revisions needed for the dissertation to be approved. If, in the view of the committee members, substantial work remains to be done on the dissertation, the defense will be postponed to a later date. The director shall communicate the results of the committee discussion to the candidate.
  7. If the committee decides that the defense can proceed, the candidate shall normally have up to four weeks in which to make such changes and revisions as may have been specified by the committee and to submit a revised draft of the dissertation. The committee members shall have at least one week to review this revised draft before the defense takes place.
  8. The defense shall consist of a full and frank discussion of the dissertation, including plans for eventual publication of the results in article or monograph form. External members of the committee shall normally be physically present at the defense, but may be present via conference call, or video-conferencing. Following the discussion, the members of the committee shall decide, by majority vote, whether to approve the dissertation, and, if the result is positive, shall sign the dissertation acceptance certificate.
  9. The dissertation as approved shall be accompanied by two copies of a summary not over 1,200 words, which the director will promptly forward to the editor of Harvard Studies in Classical Philology for publication.