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.
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.
- African and African American Studies
- American Studies
- Biological Sciences in Public Health
- Business Economics*†
- Celtic Languages and Literatures
- Chemistry and Chemical Biology
- The Classics
- Comparative Literature
- Division of Medical Sciences
- School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
- Earth and Planetary Sciences
- East Asian Languages and Civilizations
- Film and Visual Studies
- Germanic Languages and Literatures
- Health Policy†
- History of Art and Architecture
- History of Science*§
- Human Evolutionary Biology
- Middle Eastern Studies§
- Molecular and Cellular Biology*
- Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
- Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
- Organizational Behavior*†
- Political Economy and Government‡
- Public Policy‡
- Romance Languages and Literatures
- Regional Studies—Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia
- Slavic Languages and Literatures
- Social Policy
- South Asian Studies
- Systems Biology
- Women, Gender, and Sexuality†
* 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.
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Special Students FAQ
Can I affiliate with more than one department or program?
Special students should choose one department or program to affiliate with based on their academic interests.
If I was denied admission to a GSAS degree program, can I apply for special student status?
Individuals denied admission to a degree program at GSAS cannot apply as a special student for the same academic year.
Can special students transfer into a degree-seeking program?
While special students participate in coursework or a combination of coursework and research, they may not transfer to a degree-seeking program. They may, however, apply to GSAS at a later date.
If I am admitted to GSAS after I study as a special student, will my credits count toward my program?
Special students who later apply and are admitted to a GSAS degree program may petition to apply their academic and financial credit toward their degree requirements.
As a special student, do I receive priority for limited-enrollment courses?
Priority is reserved for degree-seeking students. Official enrollment into any course is always subject to the approval of the instructor.
How many courses can I audit?
You may only audit half of the total number of courses you are enrolled in.
Can I focus only on an independent research project?
An independent research project must count for no more than half of the courses you are enrolled in.
Can I conduct premedical coursework and receive advising as a special student?
The GSAS Special Students and Visiting Fellows Office does not offer a premedical advising program. Premedical students must access the career counseling and placement services offered at their undergraduate institutions.
Can special students take courses during the summer?
Special Students may not register for coursework during the summer. Those interested in taking summer courses may register through Harvard Summer School.
What about individuals who already have a doctorate or who are advanced doctoral candidates?
Scholars intending to do research who hold a doctorate, have equivalent professional experience, or are advanced doctoral candidates who have completed all required coursework, should apply for Visiting Fellow status.
I want to be a special student at another Harvard school. Can I apply through GSAS?
Harvard University offers many opportunities to engage in its academic mission. Scholars wishing to concentrate their research at a Harvard graduate school other than GSAS should contact the school’s admissions office directly to determine their policy.
I’m an undergraduate at another institution. Can I take Harvard classes?
Students currently enrolled in undergraduate programs elsewhere who wish to take undergraduate courses at Harvard should contact the Visiting Undergraduate Student Program.
Visiting Fellows FAQ
Can I affiliate with more than one department or program?
Visiting fellows should choose one department or program to affiliate with based on their academic interests.
Can I take a course for credit as a visiting fellow?
Visiting fellows may audit courses with the permission of the instructor. Those interested in taking courses for credit may apply for Special Student status.
Can I audit a class at another Harvard School or local university?
Visiting fellows may audit courses at Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Law School (Harvard Business School charges auditors a cross-registration materials fee) with instructor permission. They may also audit courses at MIT and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University with permission from the course’s instructor.
Can I take courses during the summer?
Visiting fellows may not audit courses during the summer but may register for summer courses through Harvard Summer School.
As a visiting fellow, can I apply to a degree-seeking program?
While visiting fellows maintain an affiliation with a department and seek advice from faculty, they conduct their research independently and may not apply to a degree-seeking program.
I’m a faculty member at another university. Can I register as a visiting fellow?
Faculty members from other universities whose scholarship distinguishes them in their field may be eligible for an academic appointment as visiting scholar. Contact your academic department of interest to inquire about their policy.
I want to be a visiting fellow at another Harvard School. Can I apply through GSAS?
Harvard University offers many opportunities to engage in research. Scholars wishing to concentrate their research at a Harvard graduate school other than GSAS should contact the School’s admissions office directly to determine their policy.
How many courses are international special students required to take each term?
Visa requirements specify that international special students be enrolled full time in at least four regular courses each semester while registered at GSAS.
Do audited courses or independent research study count toward my visa requirements?
Officially audited classes are counted toward the four-course load required for international students.
Will Harvard sponsor my visa?
Yes! Individuals who are not US citizens ordinarily conduct their studies on a Harvard-sponsored student (F-1) visa. A Harvard-sponsored Exchange Scholar (J-1) visa will be issued upon request based on formal exchange agreement requirements. Visa arrangements cannot be made until the applicant has been admitted and the necessary financial certification has been provided to the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Office by the student. In order to satisfy US Immigration requirements, international students must demonstrate that they can afford all expenses, including tuition, fees, and living expenses. For additional information about visa regulations please contact the Harvard International Office.
How can non-native English speakers demonstrate English proficiency?
Non-native English speakers who attended a university full-time or participated in a year-long program in which English is the language of instruction will have demonstrated English proficiency. If you do not have this experience, you will need to take the Internet-based test (iBT) of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), and request that ETS send an official score report to the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Office at the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (using Code 3478).
Alternatively, you may submit results of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test (the minimum accepted score is 7), or the Pearson Test of English (PTE) results (the minimum accepted score is 70).
If you feel that you meet this prerequisite in another way, please explain why in your application. Please note that if you require a J-1 visa and you have not taken the TOEFL nor have attended an English speaking institution, then you may be required to demonstrate adequate English proficiency by means of an official interview before acceptance into the program.
Does GSAS offer a host student program?
Yes! Hosts students are continuing GSAS students who provide friendship to incoming international GSAS students as they make the transition to life in the US and to graduate studies at GSAS. Host students are available to answer general questions and to share their Harvard experiences. While not intended to be a counselor or academic advisor, a host student is someone to whom a new international student can turn for support and informal advice.
Is there an International Student Orientation at the beginning of each academic year?
Yes! All international students (including special students and visiting fellows) are invited to attend International Student Orientation during August, where they learn about life at GSAS.
If admitted, may I take any of the courses listed in the FAS course catalog?
For the most part, yes! If a course has limited enrollment, full-time undergraduates and other students in Harvard degree programs have first priority. Also, special students and visiting fellows are restricted from participating in a select group of departmental offerings.
Do I need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)?
The GRE is not a required component of the application.
How much is the application fee?
The fee is $105, payable in the online application.
What is an official vs. an unofficial transcript?
A transcript becomes unofficial once the student obtains the document. Official transcripts are typically sent directly to GSAS from your previous institutions; however, official transcripts can come directly from the student if sealed by the institution. An electronic version of your transcript sent to us directly from your institution to GSAS is also acceptable as an official transcript.
Financing Your Study FAQ
Can special students and visiting fellows benefit from Harvard-administered financial aid programs?
Unfortunately Harvard University or GSAS financial aid (including scholarships, work-study, and loans) are not available to non-degree seeking students. Non-degree seeking students who are US citizens or permanent residents are eligible for Sallie Mae loans. Non-US citizens with a cosigner who is a US citizen or permanent resident are also eligible. Please note that it may take several weeks to process a loan, and you cannot register until the funds have been applied to your term bill.
Are US special students and visiting fellows eligible for Federal Student Aid?
For US citizens to receive federal aid, they must be enrolled, or plan to enroll, in a degree program of organized instruction that leads to an academic, professional, or vocational degree or certificate. Special students and visiting fellows do not meet this criterion.
Is there anything international students should know about funding their stay?
Yes! Many international visiting fellows applying from abroad are funded by a foundation, government entity, organization, or company, as well as being self-funded. All international visiting fellows must demonstrate that they have sufficient funding before applying. Visa authorization is contingent upon the financial certification of funds to cover tuition and living expenses.
I have not attended school for quite a while. What do I do about the academic recommendations?
At least two of your three recommendations should come from teachers or professors who recently taught you in academic subjects. If you have not attended school for a number of years, you may ask employers, colleagues, or other individuals who know you well to write your recommendations. You may consider enrolling in some demanding college courses before applying. Your success in those courses will help demonstrate your academic ability and enable you to achieve the strong academic recommendations that Harvard prefers.
If I gain admission to the program, may I defer my enrollment?
Deferments are not available for this program. If you are unable to attend the semester to which you were admitted then please e-mail the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Program office immediately; you will need to create new application account and submit a new application. Because this is considered a re-application, all your previously-submitted documents are attached to the new application and no new documents are required. Please note why you were unable to attend when you reapply. If you were admitted for the full academic year but you now plan to only attend in the spring, please e-mail the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Program office.
If I am denied admission, may I reapply?
Yes! But you must submit a new application for admission in a subsequent year. You will also need to submit an additional application fee. GSAS will not accept more than three applications from any individual during the course of his or her academic career.
I’m a current non-degree student at Harvard GSAS, but I would like to extend my stay, is that possible?
Yes! While the program is intended for a short period of study, you may reapply in order to extend your program. Reapplications are considered on a case-by-case basis. You will need to create new application account and submit a new application. When reapplying, you will not need to submit new supporting materials, however, you may wish to update your statement or add transcripts.
Are visiting fellows offered office space in their affiliated department or desk space in the library?
In general, office space is extremely limited, with only a few departments providing offices to visiting fellows. However, you may request a study carrel at Widener Library by submitting a Widener Carrel Request Form. Carrels are free of charge and are assigned on a yearly basis.
Are visiting fellows offered laboratory space?
Laboratory space is also limited. Please note any special requirements in your application and discuss whether space is available with your affiliated department.
Does the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Office assist in locating housing?
Special students and visiting fellows are responsible for finding their own housing. Most visiting fellows seek off-campus, non-Harvard housing. The Harvard-Cambridge area is highly residential and close to campus. Also, much of the city of Boston (including Allston) is accessible by public transportation, as are the surrounding towns of Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Somerville, and Watertown. Harvard University Housing also has options to consider.
Do on-campus housing options exist?
Visiting fellows and special students are eligible to apply for limited campus housing at the Cronkhite Graduate Center or in the GSAS residence halls, though married couples and other family members cannot be accommodated. Housing applications may be submitted only after academic admission (non-degree students please ignore the deadline as that applies only to degree students). Visit the GSAS Office of Residential Life for more information.
Does Harvard provide health insurance?
Yes! Every registered student is automatically charged and enrolled in the Harvard University Student Health Plan (HUSHP), which the University offers through Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Massachusetts. There is also a required Harvard University Health Services fee paid each term that allows any student to take advantage of Harvard University Health Services walk-in clinic. If students provide documentation establishing that they have comparable insurance that meets pre-determined Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Harvard University Health Services standards, they many be able to waive the HUSHP coverage and associated fee.
Do I need immunizations in order to enroll?
Yes! By state law, students enrolling full-time in Massachusetts colleges and universities are required to provide proof of immunization against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, Hepatitis B, and meningococcal (or submit a waiver for the meningococcal). Proof of immunizations is compulsory prior to registration. Visit Harvard University Health Services for forms and information.
What is the best way to contact the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Office?
The office is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The best time to contact the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Office is between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.