Degree Programs

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) offers doctoral and master’s degree programs that lie at the interfaces of engineering, the applied sciences (from biology to physics), and technology. Particular areas of academic focus include applied mathematics, applied physics, bioengineering, computer science, computational science and engineering, electrical engineering, environmental science and engineering, and mechanical engineering and materials science.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of modern research, SEAS does not have traditional academic departments and does not award degrees by specific research area.

Students may instead work towards a Master of Science, Master of Engineering, and Doctor of Philosophy degree in one of four subjects—Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering Sciences. Students may also work toward a Master of Science or a Master of Engineering in Computational Science and Engineering. 

The faculty members in the SEAS, nearly 30 percent of whom have joint appointments in other research areas, have close ties with the science departments (especially Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Earth and Planetary Sciences) in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and increasing ties to Harvard’s professional schools (including business, law, medicine, and the Kennedy School of Government). Students may also pursue collaborative options through the Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) program, which is part of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

The majority of the course offerings, most of which span across disciplines, are listed in the Courses of Instruction under the following broad headings: applied computation, applied mathematics, applied physics, , computer science, and engineering sciences. In addition to lecture courses and seminars, students may take directed reading and research courses in connection with their dissertations and, on occasion, use them to explore topics not covered in regular courses. Programs that include work in one or more science departments are common. Students may supplement their studies by cross-registering in other Harvard graduate schools or at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Certain limitations apply)

Degree Requirements

Master of Science (SM)

The master of science (SM) degree is awarded for the successful completion of eight semester length courses at Harvard. The SM degree is non-research based degree and no dissertation, foreign language, or general examination is required. Upon successful completion of the SM degree, any student planning to pursue the PhD degree must formally apply to the PhD program (see below). No preferential treatment is given to SM degree holders seeking admission to the PhD program. Students admitted to the PhD program can apply for and receive SM on completion of the requirements for the master’s degree en route to the PhD.

Master of Engineering (ME)

Students who wish to pursue more advanced formal training without undertaking the research required for the PhD degree may earn the M.E. degree by successfully completing eight half courses, plus eight additional research-oriented courses at the 300-level that result in the completion of the required ME thesis.

An ME student will be expected to take eight non-300 level courses (including up to one 299r) and eight 300 level research courses. ME students may take additional non-300 level courses if doing so is helpful for the student’s thesis; the ME advisor must support the enrollment in these additional courses and doing so may not extend the time to degree beyond two years.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The PhD requires a minimum academic residency of two years beyond the bachelor’s degree. Programs are individually tailored and approved by a committee on higher degrees. Normally, students spend one-and-one-half to two years on coursework—ten semester length courses, including at least eight disciplinary courses, are required. Depth and breadth of knowledge are important guiding principles in the PhD program.

The first year is ordinarily spent principally on coursework, although some students may begin research. The second year is usually divided between coursework and research, with coursework completed during the third year if necessary. As soon as coursework is completed, students conduct research full time. Original research culminating in the dissertation is usually completed in the fourth or fifth year. No foreign language is required.

Oral Qualifying Examination: Preparation in the major field is evaluated in an oral examination by a qualifying committee. The examination has the dual purpose of verifying the adequacy of the student’s preparation for undertaking research in a chosen field and of assessing the student’s ability to synthesize knowledge already acquired. Students are expected to complete the qualifying exam by the end of their second year in the PhD program.

Dissertation: Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, a committee chaired by the research supervisor is constituted to oversee the dissertation research. The dissertation must, in the judgment of the research committee, meet the standards of significant and original research.

Final Oral Examination: This public examination devoted to the field of the dissertation is conducted by the student’s research committee. It includes, but is not restricted to, a defense of the dissertation itself.

Part-Time Study

Under unusual circumstances, full-time candidates for graduate degrees may petition for permission to study part-time, ordinarily at a rate of two half-courses per term. Similarly, candidates for the master’s degree who need fewer than four semester-length courses to complete the requirements for the degree can arrange to be charged tuition on a per course basis. Visa regulations prohibit foreign nationals who are not permanent residents of the US from registering for part-time study.

Admission

Students with bachelor’s degrees in the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering are invited to apply for admission. Since the undergraduate programs of entering students are diverse, the courses students must take to round out their training are extremely varied, and a committee on higher degrees helps students design appropriate plans of study.

Students begin graduate study only in the fall term. Completed applications should be submitted as early as possible in the fall of the preceding academic year and not later than December 15, the application deadline. SEAS does not accept late applications.

Applicants must take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test. Although the GRE Subject Test is not required, performance on the relevant GRE Subject Test will be considered if it is available. Our experience indicates that the results of this test can be especially helpful in the case of foreign applicants. Students whose native language is not English and who have not received an undergraduate degree from an institution where English is the language of instruction must submit, as part of their application, the results of the test of English as a foreign language, administered by the Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey.

Applications from minorities and women are particularly welcome. SEAS requires electronic submission of the application and strongly prefers electronic submission of the letters of recommendation. Please visit GSAS Admissions for more information about the application process and to link to the application.

NOTE: For prospective students interested in applying/entering S.M./M.E. programs for matriculation in the Fall of 2015:

  • All SEAS areas will continue to admit A.B./S.M. applicants from Harvard College.
  • Applied Math, Applied Physics, Environmental Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and Bioengineering will not be admitting terminal S.M. or M.E. students.
  • Electrical Engineering, and Computational Science and Engineering will be admitting terminal S.M. and M.E. students.

Financial Aid

Typically all students admitted to the PhD program in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences receive full financial support, comprising tuition, fees, and a cost of living stipend ($2767per month before taxes in 2014–15), independent of need as long as they are in good academic standing and making satisfactory progress toward their PhD degree. Students are expected to complete their PhD requirements in four to six years.

All PhD students participate in the School’s educational program for about ten hours a week for one term—usually as a quarter time teaching fellow.

To provide full support throughout the program for all PhD candidates, SEAS anticipates that a certain number of entering students will gain financial support from sources outside of Harvard. Applicants are therefore expected to apply for all non-Harvard scholarships for which they are eligible

SEAS’s offer of financial support will necessarily be modified if a student receives a National Science Foundation Fellowship, or other open, competitive fellowship funding support. Students who bring in open, competitive external fellowships that are equal to 50% or more of total their support (tuition/fees + stipend) will receive a supplemental fellowship of $3,000 in the first year of the external fellowship.

Recipients of partial fellowships made on the basis of open competition may receive a supplemental fellowship of $1,000 in the first year of the award.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and SEAS require that all students accept any outside aid they are awarded. Students are required to formally notify GSAS of any such aid at the time they receive it. This aid will be applied toward the student’s tuition and/or stipend support. Aid that is paid directly to the student must be disclosed upon receipt of funds.

Financial support takes several forms: grants-in-aid (fellowships), teaching fellowships, and research assistantships. Ordinarily, first-year PhD students are supported with full fellowships so that they may devote all their time to coursework. Beyond the first year, when students are in a better position to teach and assist in research, support is ordinarily provided through research assistantships, or a combination of a teaching fellowship and a research assistantship.

Candidates for PhD and master’s degrees can occasionally be employed as technical assistants on one of the numerous research projects in SEAS or in a similar capacity in other parts of the University. During the academic year, full-time students may not accept employment inside or outside the University, which involves a commitment of more than ten hours per week without special permission other than teaching fellowship or research assistantships.

Candidates for master’s degrees are not eligible for financial aid from SEAS.

Collaborative Programs with the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology

Medical Engineering and Medical Physics Program

The five- to six-year Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) program leads to the PhD or ScD in Medical Engineering or Medical Physics awarded by MIT, or the PhD awarded by Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The MEMP curriculum gives students hands-on experience in biomedical sciences and engineering to allow them to explore the fundamental principles underlying human biology and diseases, discover new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, and ultimately ameliorate human suffering. The range of interests of students in the program is vast; a small sampling of topics includes molecular biology, modeling of biological systems, medical imaging and visualization, instrumentation, biomaterials, and cellular biomechanics.

Requirements and Dissertation: Although pathways through the MEMP program are intended to be individualized and therefore vary widely, there is a broad curricular and administrative structure that is common to all paths within MEMP. Curricular requirements fall roughly into three segments: pre-qualifying, clinical, and dissertation. Curricular tracks within MEMP are Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Systems Physiology and Medicine.

Applying to MEMP through Harvard

Harvard collaborating departments include the following: Biophysics, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Physics. To apply to MEMP through Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, use the standard application available from the Graduate Schools of Arts and Sciences’ (GSAS) website. Submit one original application to the GSAS Admissions Office and a copy of the application, plus original transcripts, letters, and other supporting documentation, to HST Admissions, MIT E25-518, Cambridge, MA 02139.

Please note that applicants are responsible for knowing the application deadline to HST, which may be different than the SEAS application deadline. All MEMP applications via Harvard must be received at HST by the HST application deadline.

Special Students

Courses offered by SEAS and departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are open to students who hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, who are able to present evidence of fitness for admission at the graduate level, but who are registered as Special Students and are advised by the director of Special Students, GSAS, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center 350, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-495-5392.

Special Students are not degree candidates. Credit for a limited number of acceptable semester-length courses can, however, be transferred into a degree program if the student is later admitted to graduate study. Special Student status ordinarily is limited to a maximum of two terms, with extension possible only by reapplication.

Further Information

Further information regarding programs of study, research, financial aid, and admission may be obtained by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; or by visiting the SEAS website.