We've collected a list of frequently asked questions to help you with your transition to GSAS.
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 proposed plan of study. If you demonstrate that your academic interests are truly interdisciplinary, you may choose general studies, however, very few students will be admitted from this category.
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, can I register in limited-enrollment courses?
Priority is reserved for degree-seeking students. Official enrollment into any course is always subject to the approval of the instructor.
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?
GSAS does not offer coursework during the summer. Those interested in taking summer courses may register through Harvard Summer School.
Can special students enroll in courses at another Harvard school?
Yes. Special students may, with instructor consent, enroll in courses at other Harvard schools via the cross-registration process. However, students may not take more than 50 percent of their classes outside of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
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.
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.
If I was denied admission to a GSAS degree program, can I apply for visiting fellow status?
Individuals denied admission to a degree program at GSAS cannot apply as a visiting fellow for the same academic year.
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.
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.
International Students and Fellows
How many courses are international special students required to take each term?
Visa requirements specify that international special students must be enrolled full time while registered at GSAS, which equates to 16 credits, or four semester-long courses.
Do audited courses or independent research study count toward my visa requirements?
Officially audited classes are counted toward the four-courses required for international students; you may audit no more than half of the courses you are enrolled in.
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 (a department code is not required). Applicants must receive a minimum score of 80; some programs may require a higher score.
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.
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.
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.
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 may 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.
Financing Your Study
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 email the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Program office immediately; you will need to create a 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 email 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. Please be aware that GSAS will not accept more than three unsuccessful applications from any individual during the course of their academic career.
I’m a current non-degree student at Harvard GSAS, but I would like to extend my stay, is that possible?
Possibly. 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 a 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. 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.