Harvard College

Harvard College is the undergraduate liberal arts college of Harvard University, a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States[2] and one of the most prestigious in the world.[3]

Harvard College
TypePrivate nonprofit college

Part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard College is Harvard University's only traditional undergraduate program, offering A.B. and S.B. degrees. It is highly selective, with less than five percent of applicants being offered admission in recent years.[4][5] Harvard College students participate in more than 450 extracurricular organizations[6] and nearly all live on campus  first-year students in or near Harvard Yard, and upperclassmen in community-oriented "houses."

The college has produced many distinguished alumni such as politicians (including 5 U.S. Presidents), academics, and business leaders.


The school came into existence in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony—though without a single building, instructor, or student. In 1638, the college became home for North America's first known printing press, carried by the ship John of London.[7][8] Three years later, the college was renamed in honor of deceased Charlestown minister John Harvard (1607–1638) who had bequeathed to the school his entire library and half of his monetary estate.

Harvard's first instructor was schoolmaster Nathaniel Eaton (1610–1674); in 1639, he also became its first instructor to be dismissed, for overstrict discipline.[9] The school's first students were graduated in 1642. In 1665, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck (c. 1643–1666) "from the Wampanoag … did graduate from Harvard, the first Indian to do so in the colonial period."[10]

The colleges of England's Oxford and Cambridge Universities are communities within the larger university, each an association of scholars sharing room and board. Harvard's founders may have envisioned it as the first in a series of sibling colleges on the English model which would eventually constitute a university—though no further colleges materialized in colonial times. The Indian College was active from 1640 to no later than 1693, but it was a minor addition not operated in federation with Harvard according to the English model. Harvard began granting higher degrees in the late eighteenth century, and it was increasingly styled Harvard University, even as Harvard College was increasingly thought of as the university's undergraduate division in particular.

Currently, Harvard College is responsible for undergraduate admissions, advising, housing, student life, and athletics  generally all undergraduate matters except instruction, which is the purview of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The body known as the President and Fellows of Harvard College retains its traditional name despite having governance of the entire University. Radcliffe College, established in 1879, originally paid Harvard faculty to repeat their lectures for women.[11] Since the 1970s, Harvard has been responsible for undergraduate matters for women, though women were formally admitted to and graduated from Radcliffe until a final merger in 1999.[12]


About 2,000 students are admitted each year, representing less than five percent of those applying; of those admitted, more than four-fifths choose to attend.[13][14][15] Very few transfers are accepted.[16]

Midway through the second year, most undergraduates join one of fifty fields of concentration (what most schools call majors); many also declare a secondary field (called minors elsewhere). Joint concentrations (combining the requirements of two concentrations) and special concentrations (of the student's own design) are also possible.[17]

Most Harvard College concentrations lead to the Artium Baccalaureus (A.B.), normally completed in four years. A smaller number receive the Scientiarum Baccalaureus (S.B.). There are also dual degree music programs, which are five-year programs integrating a Harvard A.B. with a Master of Music (M.M.) from either the New England Conservatory of Music or the Berklee College of Music.[18]

Undergraduates must also fulfill the general education requirement of coursework in a few designated fields. Each student's exposure to a range of intellectual areas, while pursuing a chosen concentration in depth, fulfills the injunction of Harvard past-president Abbott Lawrence Lowell that liberal education should produce "men who know a little of everything and something well."[19] While some introductory courses have large enrollments, most courses are small: the median class size is just 12 students.[20]

With Harvard University being a preeminent research institution, students have access to abundant research opportunities as early as their freshman year.[21] Undergraduate research can be conducted in science and engineering, the social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities, among other academic disciplines.[21] Numerous mechanisms for funding and faculty mentorship are available for both the term and the summer.[21]

In 2012, dozens of students were disciplined for cheating on a take-home exam in one course.[22] The university instituted an honor code beginning in the fall of 2015.[23][24]

For the 2019-2020 academic year, tuition was about $48,000, contributing to about $70,000 in billed costs.[25] Harvard offers one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country, with need-blind admission and 100% of demonstrated financial need met for both domestic and international students.[25] Families with incomes below $65,000 pay nothing for their children to attend, and families earning between $65,000 and $150,000 pay no more than 10% of their annual incomes.[25] Financial aid is solely based on need; no merit or athletic scholarships are offered.[25]

House system

Nearly all undergraduates live on campus, for the first year in dormitories in or near Harvard Yard and later in the upperclass houses—administrative subdivisions of the college as well as living quarters, providing a sense of community in what might otherwise be a socially incohesive and administratively daunting university environment. Each house is presided over by two faculty deans, while its Allston Burr Resident Dean—usually a junior faculty member—supervises undergraduates' day-to-day academic and disciplinary well-being.

The faculty deans and resident dean are assisted by other members of the Senior Common Room—select graduate students (tutors), faculty, and university officials brought into voluntary association with each house. The faculty deans and resident dean reside in the house, as do resident tutors. Terms like tutor, Senior Common Room, and Junior Common Room reflect a debt to the residential college systems at Oxford and Cambridge from which Harvard's system took inspiration.[26]

The houses were created by President Lowell in the 1930s to combat what he saw as pernicious social stratification engendered by the private, off-campus living arrangements of many undergraduates at that time. Lowell's solution was to provide every man—Harvard was male-only at the time—with on-campus accommodations throughout his time at the college; Lowell also saw great benefits in other features of the house system, such as the relaxed discussions—academic or otherwise—which he hoped would take place among undergraduates and members of the Senior Common Room over meals in each house's dining hall.[27]

The way in which students come to live in particular houses has changed greatly over time. Under the original "draft" system, masters negotiated privately over the assignment of students, considered most or least promising. From the 1960s to the mid-1990s, each student ranked the houses according to personal preference, with an impersonal lottery resolving the oversubscription of more popular houses. Today, groups of one to eight freshmen form a block which is then assigned, essentially at random, to an upperclass house.

A total of nine "River Houses" are located south of Harvard Yard, near the Charles River: Adams, Dunster, Eliot, Kirkland, Leverett, Lowell, Mather, Quincy, and Winthrop. Their construction was financed largely by a 1928 gift from Yale alumnus Edward Harkness, who, frustrated in his attempts to initiate a similar project at his alma mater, eventually offered $11 million to Harvard.[lower-alpha 1][31] Two of the houses, Dunster and Lowell, were completed in 1930.[28]

Construction of the first houses began in 1929,[28] but the land on which they were built had been assembled decades before. After graduating from Harvard in 1895, Edward W. Forbes found himself inspired by the Oxford and Cambridge systems during two years of study in England; on returning to the United States he set out to acquire the land between Harvard Yard and the Charles River that was not already owned by Harvard or an associated entity. By 1918, that ambition had been largely fulfilled and the assembled land transferred to Harvard.[32][33]

The three "Quad Houses" enjoy a residential setting half a mile northwest of Harvard Yard. These were built by Radcliffe College and housed Radcliffe College students until the Harvard and Radcliffe residential systems merged in 1977.[34] They are Cabot, Currier, and Pforzheimer House. A thirteenth house, Dudley House, is nonresidential but fulfills, for some graduate students and the (very few) undergraduates living off campus, the administrative and social functions provided to on-campus residents by the other twelve houses. Harvard's residential houses are paired with Yale's residential colleges in sister relationships.


By the late 19th century, critics of intercollegiate athletics, including Harvard president Charles William Eliot, believed that sports had become over-commercialized and took students away from their studies. They called for reform and limitations on all sports.

This opposition prompted Harvard's athletic committee to target "minor" sports—basketball and hockey—for reform and regulation in order to deflect attention from the major sports: football, baseball, track, and crew. The committee made it difficult for the basketball team to operate by denying financial assistance and limiting the number of overnight away games in which the team could participate.

Originating in 1852, the Harvard–Yale Regatta is the oldest intercollegiate athletic rivalry in the United States. Also well known is the Harvard–Yale football rivalry.

Student organizations

Harvard has more than 450 undergraduate student organizations.[6][35] The Phillips Brooks House Association acts as an umbrella service organization.

In an effort to marginalize organizations that "contribute to a social life and a student culture that for many on our campus is disempowering and exclusionary,"[36] students entering in the fall of 2017 and beyond joining unrecognized single-sex organizations (such as single-sex "final clubs," fraternities, and sororities) will be barred from campus leadership positions such as team captaincies, as well as from receiving recommendation letters from Harvard requisite for certain scholarships and fellowships.[37]

Notable alumni

Buckminster Fuller (expelled)
Philip Johnson
Ellen Harvey
Alex Kahn
Waldo Peirce
Marina Rosenfeld
Stephanie Wilson
Andrew Fraknoi
Craig Adams
Matt Birk
Emily Cross
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Bobby Jones
Jeremy Lin
Esther Lofgren
Dominic Moore
Christopher Nowinski
Ryan Max Riley
Paul Wylie
Harold M. Weintraub
Steve Ballmer
Lloyd Blankfein
Jim Cramer
Bill Gates (did not graduate)
James Halperin (did not graduate)
Trip Hawkins
William Randolph Hearst (rusticated)
Sumner Redstone
Mark Zuckerberg (did not graduate)
Ben Bernanke
Martin Feldstein
Jason Furman
Steven Levitt
Merton Miller
Eduardo Saverin
Robert M. Solow
James Tobin
Prince Lucien Campbell
John Phillips
Edwin H. Baker Pratt
Harry Cross
Nelson Denis
Hendrik Hertzberg
Nicholas D. Kristof
Anthony Lewis
Walter Lippmann
Leon Neyfakh
Sylvia Poggioli
David E. Sanger
Sanford J. Ungar
Harry Blackmun
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
John Roberts
David Souter
James Agee
William S. Burroughs
Michael Crichton
E. E. Cummings
John Dos Passos
W. E. B. Du Bois
T. S. Eliot
Jean Kwok
Norman Mailer
Edmund Pearson
Max Perkins
Erich Segal
Wallace Stevens
John Updike
Manjul Bhargava
Buddy Fletcher
Theodore Kaczynski
Tom Lehrer
Performing arts
Charlie Albright
Darren Aronofsky
Paris Barclay
Leonard Bernstein
Andy Borowitz
Amy Brenneman
Carter Burwell
Nestor Carbonell
Rivers Cuomo
Matt Damon (did not graduate)
Nelson Denis
Fred Gwynne
Hao Huang
Rashida Jones
Tommy Lee Jones
Colin Jost
Jack Lemmon
Ryan Leslie
John Lithgow
Donal Logue
Yo-Yo Ma
Terrence Malick
Lorenzo Mariani
Tom Morello
Dean Norris
Conan O'Brien
Natalie Portman
Joshua Redman
Meredith Salenger
Elisabeth Shue
Michael Stern
Whit Stillman
Mira Sorvino
James Toback
Donald Davidson
Daniel Dennett
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Charles Sanders Peirce
W.V.O. Quine
George Santayana
Henry David Thoreau
Philip Warren Anderson
Theodore Hall
Thomas S. Kuhn
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Neil deGrasse Tyson
John Adams
John Quincy Adams
Samuel Adams
Charlie Baker
Benazir Bhutto
Pedro Albizu Campos
Sir George Downing
Al Franken
Rahul Gandhi
Elbridge Gerry
Al Gore
John Hancock
Edward M. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
Robert F. Kennedy
Henry Kissinger
Matthew Mayhew
Masako Owada
Deval Patrick
Tom Ridge
Jay Rockefeller
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Chuck Schumer
Meshech Weare
John Weston
Joseph Stevens Buckminster
Aga Khan IV
Cotton Mather
Increase Mather
Jonathan Mayhew
Theodore Parker
Samuel Parris


  1. [28][29] Harkness' gift was anonymous, at least at first. "I have forgotten the gentleman's name," Harvard's President Lowell told the faculty in making the initial announcement. "I told him I would."[30]


  1. As of 1 March 2018. "Harvard at a Glance". Harvard University. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  2. Rudolph, Frederick (1961). The American College and University. University of Georgia Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-8203-1285-1.
  3. Keller, Morton; Keller, Phyllis (2001). Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University. Oxford University Press. pp. 463–481. ISBN 0-19-514457-0. Harvard's professional schools... won world prestige of a sort rarely seen among social institutions. (...) Harvard's age, wealth, quality, and prestige may well shield it from any conceivable vicissitudes.
    Spaulding, Christina (1989). "Sexual Shakedown". In Trumpbour, John (ed.). How Harvard Rules: Reason in the Service of Empire. South End Press. pp. 326–336. ISBN 0-89608-284-9. ...[Harvard's] tremendous institutional power and prestige (...) Within the nation's (arguably) most prestigious institution of higher learning...
  4. "Record-Low 4.59 Percent of Applicants Accepted to Harvard Class of 2022". The Harvard Crimson. 29 March 2018. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  5. "Record-Low 4.5 Percent of Harvard College Applicants Accepted to Class of 2023". The Harvard Crimson. 29 March 2019. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  6. "Student Activities". Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  7. "The instrument behind New England's first literary flowering". Harvard University. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
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  9. Samuel Eliot Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636–1936 (1986)
  10. Monaghan, E. J., 2005, p. 55, 59
  11. Schwager, Sally (2004). "Taking up the Challenge: The Origins of Radcliffe". In Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (ed.). Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 87–115. ISBN 1403960984.
  12. Radcliffe Enters Historic Merger With Harvard. The Harvard Crimson (Report). Retrieved May 6, 2016.
  13. "Record-Low 4.59 Percent of Applicants Accepted to Harvard Class of 2022". The Harvard Crimson. 29 March 2018. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  14. "Record-Low 4.5 Percent of Harvard College Applicants Accepted to Class of 2023". The Harvard Crimson. 29 March 2019. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  15. 83 Percent of Harvard College Admits Accept Spots in Class of 2023 – Harvard News Office
  16. Menz, Petey. "The Real 1%: Harvard Admits 15 Transfer Students". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  17. "Liberal Arts & Sciences". Harvard College. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  18. "Dual Degree Music Programs". Harvard College. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  19. Lewis, Harry R. (2007). Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?. PublicAffairs. p. 48. ISBN 9781586485375.
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  21. "Research". Harvard College. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  22. Perez-Pena, Richard (February 1, 2013). "Students Disciplined in Harvard Scandal". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  23. Patel, Dev A.; Watros, Steven R. (May 7, 2014). "Faculty Approves College's First Honor Code, Likely Effective Fall 2015". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 10, 2015. "Likely beginning in the fall of 2015, all College students will be required to make a regular affirmation of integrity, the nature and frequency of which will be determined next year"...
  24. Harrington, Rebecca (September 14, 2012). "Song of the Cheaters". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2013. "...an honor code, a system ... Harvard has long resisted
  25. "How Aid Works". Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  26. Harvard College Office of Residential Life (2008). "History of the House System". Retrieved 2008-04-20.
  27. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1936). Three Centuries of Harvard: 1636–1936. pp. 476–478.
  28. Bethell, John (1998). Harvard Observed: An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 9780674377332.
  29. "Gifts – 1928–1929" (Press release). Harvard University News Office. June 20, 1929. HU 37.5, Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, Massachusetts "This figure [of gifts and legacies received during the year] includes $5,444,000 received from E. S. Harkness to defray the expenses of constructing the first Harvard houses."
  30. John B. Fox, Jr. (2007). The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, 1686–1933. President and Fellows of Harvard College. p. 142.
  31. "Harkness and History". Harvard Magazine. November 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
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  33. Sacks, Benjamin J. "Harvard's 'Constructed Utopia' and the Culture of Deception: the Expansion toward the Charles River, 1902–1932," The New England Quarterly 84.2 (June 2011): 286–317.
  34. Sofen, Adam A. "Radcliffe Enters Historic Merger With Harvard, April 21, 1999.
  35. "Student Organization List". osl.fas.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2016-01-13.
  36. Khurana, Rakesh. "Letter concerning membership in unrecognized single-gender social organizations" (PDF).
  37. Saul, Stephanie (May 6, 2016). "Harvard Restrictions Could Reshape Exclusive Student Clubs". The New York Times.

Further reading

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