Special Students bring a broad range of experiences and backgrounds to Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and their reasons for applying for Special Student status are similarly varied.  Some students wish to contribute to a degree at a home institution abroad or strengthen their academic background before applying to graduate degree programs.  Others look to change the focus of their studies and use Special Student status as an opportunity to explore new disciplines.  Special Student status is also appropriate for individuals seeking personal enrichment or to build knowledge that could enable career advancement.

In general, Special Students are much like first-year graduate students.  Special Students are officially registered and participate in coursework as a traditional graduate student would.  Special Students may obtain an official registrar's transcript of courses and grades received, but they are not candidates for any degree at Harvard University.  Individuals denied admission to a degree program in GSAS ordinarily cannot apply as a Special Student for the same academic year.

Special Students are eligible to enroll in graduate or undergraduate courses, depending on their individual academic careers to date.  Special Students do not have priority for limited-enrollment courses.  Official registration in any course is subject to the approval of the course’s instructor.  

Special Students who later apply, and are admitted, to a GSAS degree program may petition for both appropriate academic and financial credit earned as a Special Student to be applied towards satisfying the requirements of the Graduate School and of their department. Consult the Graduate School admissions information or the GSAS Handbook for details.

Students wishing to concentrate their studies in one of the other nine Harvard graduate schools (e.g., Graduate School of Education, Harvard Business School, Kennedy School of Public Policy) should contact the appropriate admissions offices directly.  Note that non-degree status varies greatly from one Faculty to another.

Scholars intending to do research who hold a doctorate, or have equivalent professional experience, or are advanced doctoral candidates having completed all required coursework, are encouraged to apply for Visiting Fellow status.  However, those who wish to develop new skills (e.g., languages, mathematics) or who would like to take courses for academic credit should apply for Special Student status, as Visiting Fellows may not enroll in courses for credit.

Cross Registration

Through a process termed “cross registration” Special Students are permitted to enroll in a limited number of courses (not more than half of one's total program per term) outside the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in other Harvard faculties or cooperating schools (including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University) by following faculty-specific cross-registration procedures.  Enrollment in such courses cannot be guaranteed in advance of registration.  The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health does not traditionally permit cross-registration by non-degree students.  To learn more about the Cross-registration process at Harvard, please visit the website.

Harvard Extension School ALB and ALM Candidates

ALB and ALM candidates at the Harvard Extension School who have been recommended by their respective Program Office may apply to be considered for Special Student status. Special Student status enables ALB and ALM candidates to enroll as a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Special Student in 2 courses per term for one academic year in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).  For consideration, candidates must complete a minimum number of Harvard Extension School credits with a specific GPA and secure recommendations from the respective program director and 2 Extension School instructors. The Extension School requires that interested candidates meet with their respective program director before applying. For more information, visit "Special Options" on the respective degree program websites.

Harvard Summer School

Special Students are not permitted to register under Special Student status for coursework during the summer.  Students may register for summer courses only through the Harvard Summer School (51 Brattle Street, 617-495-4024).

Premedical Coursework and Advising

Students seeking premedical courses should note that the Special Students and Visiting Fellows Office is unable to provide its own premedical advising program.  Premedical students must rely on their undergraduate schools for career counseling and placement services.


Students currently enrolled in undergraduate programs elsewhere who wish to take undergraduate courses at Harvard should contact the Visiting Undergraduate Office, 86 Brattle St. (617-495-9707).

To learn more about Application Requirements, Deadlines and Applying Online, click here.