Skip to main content


Last Updated

Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 


The doctoral program is divided into three segments.

  1. Coursework and general exams: The first four semesters, defined as "academic residence" for administrative purposes, are largely devoted to seminars, lecture/reading courses, and independent reading (totaling 16 four-credit courses) in preparation for the general examinations (normally taken by the end of the fourth semester and before the beginning of the fifth semester). While all these formats are designed to broaden experience of the cultures and languages needed for the degree, the seminars form the core of the department's program of graduate education. Summers are spent reading to prepare for examinations, conducting fieldwork, or participating in summer study abroad.
  2. Special exams: In the fifth and sixth semester, students prepare for their special examinations in three chosen categories, enroll in the teaching colloquium, and begin to gain experience teaching, which the department regards as an essential part of graduate preparation.
  3. Dissertation: In the seventh semester and beyond, students continue to teach but otherwise work towards the completion of the degree, especially the writing of the dissertation. For the final two semesters of the program, students can apply for a dissertation completion fellowship from Harvard Griffin 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 four semesters of full-time study (16 applicable courses) will qualify for the degree of AM in the appropriate area. No examinations beyond those required in the courses are mandated. 

Course Requirements

  • A combination of 16 four-credit courses in the first four semesters.
  • 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 fifth semester. Teaching normally consists of elementary and intermediate language courses, junior tutorials, and discussion sections in courses offered by the departmental faculty.


Incoming students are assigned a faculty member as a mentor who is expected to provide guidance to the lower G-years in navigating the beginning of their program, from selecting their courses to beginning discussions about later stages of the program, research interests, and more. Additionally, students meet regularly with the Graduate Advising Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies.

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

From the beginning of the dissertation stage, the role of special individual advisor is assumed by the dissertation director in collaboration with the dissertation committee, which meets with the students at least once a year.

General Examinations

All students, normally by the end of their fourth semester and before the beginning of their fifth semester, will take general examinations as described on the departmental website. Each of these examinations may be repeated only once in the event of failure.

Special Examinations

By the end of the sixth semester, 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.

Dissertation Regulations

  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 should reflect preliminary research working towards a student’s dissertation topic. Its purpose is to ensure that the candidate has done enough work to determine that (a) the project is coherent, is of suitable scope, and has not been done before in the same way, and (b) the candidate has the knowledge and skills to carry it out in reasonable time. The prospectus should include an account of the issues to be investigated, a concise statement of the motivations for the proposed research, a brief overview of previous scholarship, an outline of the approach that will be taken (e.g., methodologies and theories), a breakdown of the proposed chapters, a research bibliography for the project (for which the director will determine the length and style), 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 12 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.). 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. The dissertation shall be completed in conformity with the guidelines set out in Harvard Griffin GSAS Policies, and the following procedure shall be followed for the submission and defense of the dissertation: Examination of the dissertation may take one of two forms. PhD candidates can choose to have a private final conversation at which the candidate presents the dissertation only to members of the dissertation committee, or a public defense at which the candidate presents the dissertation to the committee, other members of the department, and any invited guests. In these regulations, “examination” refers to both the private final conversation and the public defense.
  6. When the candidate and the committee agree that the dissertation is ready to be examined, the candidate shall share the entire dissertation with the committee. Candidates must submit their drafts not later than two weeks before the degree application due date specified on the degree calendar in Haravrd Griffin GSAS Policies 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 and shall decide by majority vote whether the dissertation examination 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. A positive committee vote implies that a majority of committee members are prepared to approve the dissertation as it is or with minor revisions. If, in the view of the committee members, substantial work remains to be done on the dissertation, the examination 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 examination 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. Examinations of the dissertation for all degree candidates must be held before the Harvard Griffin GSAS deadline for the submission of dissertations to ProQuest. The examination, whether in the form of a private final conversation or in the form of a public 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. 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. Harvard Griffin GSAS rules require at least three signatures on the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate.

    For details on public and private examinations, please see the department website.

  9. After the successful examination, all candidates should produce a summary not over 600 words and submit it directly to for publication in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology.

Satisfactory Progress

PhD students in classics need to fulfill the satisfactory academic progress requirement of the graduate school and the program in order to remain enrolled and therefore eligible for financial aid and teaching. Students must be checked in, registered, and enrolled (or have applied for non-resident status) at the beginning of each semester by published deadlines, achieve a minimum grade point average of B (3.0), and work towards the completion of their requirements. The department uses the following provisions as definitions of satisfactory progress towards the completion of departmental requirements:

  1. During the first four semesters of graduate study, any student who is registered full-time, working towards fulfilling their program requirements, and has achieved a minimum grade-point average of B (3.0) (see Policies: Grade and Examination Requirements) is considered to be making satisfactory progress.
  2. If a student receives an INC, the student must complete the work of the course before the end of the next regular term. For example, if a student receives an INC during the fall term, the student must complete the coursework during the subsequent spring term by submitting work before the final day of the spring term (see Policies: Grade and Examination Requirements). Students who do not resolve an INC grade within the expected timeframe are not considered to be making satisfactory progress. In exceptional circumstances, an INC is acceptable for a course that is not needed to meet a program requirement.
  3. By the end of the fifth semester, a student should ordinarily have passed the general examinations.
  4. Special examinations should ordinarily be completed by the start of the seventh semester.
  5. Before the end of the semester following the special examinations, a student should ordinarily have passed the dissertation prospectus.
  6. By the end of the ninth and tenth semesters, and each subsequent year during which a student is allowed to register, they must have produced at least one acceptable chapter of the dissertation or equivalent thereof as detailed in the yearly written summary of the dissertation committee annual meeting prepared by the dissertation director and shared with the student and the Director of Graduate Studies. (See dissertation regulations.)

Students are guaranteed financial support in the form of tuition and health fees coverage for at least five years. When students have completed a minimum of two dissertation chapters, they are eligible for funding through Harvard Griffin GSAS’s Dissertation Completion Fellowship. Students who are making academic progress but cannot apply for the Dissertation Completion Fellowship in their G6 year and who require support to cover tuition and health fees may petition the graduate committee for an extension.

Contact Info

The Classics Website

Let us know your thoughts

Was This Helpful?

I found what I was looking for.
I couldn't find what I needed.
Events Calendar