Special Students

Individuals with academic or professional reasons for pursuing graduate-level study without entering a degree program may register as special students and engage in coursework or a combination of coursework and research for academic credit, for one term or one year only. While they are not candidates for any degree, special students are much like first-year graduate students; they participate in coursework and may request an official Harvard transcript of courses and grades received.

As a special student, you are admitted to GSAS and have access to most student privileges. You are eligible to enroll in graduate or undergraduate courses, depending on your academic record. You must hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and must present evidence of fitness for admission at the graduate level. Full tuition is charged and you are not eligible for institutional financial aid. Tuition cannot be waived or reduced.

Harvard Extension School ALB and ALM Candidates

Harvard Extension School students working toward an ALB or ALM degree who wish to take courses not offered at Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School may enroll as a GSAS special student, taking two courses per term for one academic year.

To qualify, candidates must earn a minimum number of Harvard Extension School credits with a specific GPA and obtain recommendations from their program director and two Harvard Extension School instructors. For more information, ALM candidates should review the Special Student Information Sheet [PDF] and ALB candidates should review Special Student Procedures.

Visiting Fellows

Scholars intending to conduct independent research who hold a doctorate, have equivalent professional experience, or are advanced doctoral candidates who have completed all required coursework, may register at GSAS as a visiting fellow. Visiting fellows are considered full-time research students, with access to Harvard University’s libraries and facilities, and may apply for membership in the Harvard Faculty Club. While visiting fellows do not take courses for academic credit, they may audit courses with the approval of the instructor and seek faculty guidance as they conduct independent research. Please note that visiting fellows are normally not permitted to audit basic skills courses such as beginning languages or computer science.

In order to be considered for visiting fellow status, a scholar should note in their application the name of any faculty members with whom they intend to work and reference any communication with faculty members or academic departments. While visiting fellows are occasionally invited by departments or research centers to participate in seminars or other organized activities, they are expected to conduct their research independently.

Visiting fellows are charged Reduced Tuition, which may not be waived, and they are not eligible for institutional financial aid. Please note that visiting fellow status is full time.

Programs of Study and Course Selection

Before applying for special student or visiting fellow status, scholars should select one department to affiliate with based on their academic interests. While applicants seeking more interdisciplinary opportunities may choose the General Studies Program, GSAS reserves the right to send an application to a specific admissions committee if a candidate’s experience and interests are more suited to a particular department.

* Applicants must have the confirmed support of at least one faculty member to be considered.
† Accepts applications for visiting fellow status only.

The Department of Government and the committees on Public Policy and on Political Economy and Government do not permit affiliation as a special student if you plan to apply for PhD study within 18 months.
§ Only special student applications are considered; research students should inquire directly with the department.

Course Selection

To review the courses offered during a particular term, access the Public Course Catalog. Courses marked with an asterisk require instructor approval before you can register and those in brackets are not offered during the current term, but may be offered in the future. Special students are restricted from participating in a select group of departmental offerings.

Special students may audit coursework upon securing approval of the course instructor, who determines the level of participation. A grade is not received for the course, but the student’s transcript will reference “TIME-A.” Full tuition is charged for an officially audited course.

Special students may also participate in a supervised independent research project in lieu of a half-course, after securing approval from a faculty member. While a grade is not received for the course, the student’s transcript will reference “TIME-C.” Full tuition is charged.

Cross Registration

Special students may enroll in a limited number of courses (not more than half of one’s total program per term) in other Harvard faculties or cooperating schools. Learn more by reviewing Harvard’s cross-registration procedures. Enrollment cannot be guaranteed in advance of registration.

Admissions Checklist—Special Students and Visiting Fellows In your application, you should demonstrate strong educational reasons for studying at GSAS, providing evidence of academic strength, personal integrity, and your level of academic preparation, demonstrated in your statement of...Read more
We've collected a list of frequently asked questions to help you with your transition to GSAS. Special Students Can I affiliate with more than one department or program? Special student applicants must choose one department or program with which to affiliate based on their...Read more