Diversity at GSAS
Diversity at GSAS
A Warm Welcome
An environment of inclusivity is central to the mission of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and essential to maintaining the intellectual excellence of Harvard University. The mission of the Office of Diversity and Minority Affairs at GSAS is to recruit and mentor a community of scholars that reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of our society. We're also committed to expanding the pool of talented students who apply to graduate school. Please scroll down for information about our programs.
Dr. Sheila Thomas, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Minority Affairs (read more)
Stephanie Parsons, GSAS minority recruitment and student programming officer
GSAS has an active recruitment program that seeks out potential applicants from groups underrepresented in PhD programs. Efforts to attract such prospective students are detailed here, including summer programs, recruitment visits to undergraduate schools, and specific Financial Aid Opportunities for minority students. Also on this page, you'll find advice on the application process to help get you started.
Applying to Harvard, Finding Support
Expanding the Pipeline: Increasing Opportunity for
Minority Undergraduate Students
It is important to understand that the graduate admissions process is not a mechanical one based on a rigid set of criteria. The department to which you are applying, rather than the Graduate School administration, will make the decision on your application. Usually, each department has a graduate admissions committee with faculty membership rotating annually. Committee members weigh all application materials, rather than grades or test scores alone. In all probability they will pay special attention to your grades in your intended field of graduate study and/or closely related fields. Similarly, letters of recommendation by academics in your field who can comment on your scholarly work will be given considerable weight. Critical to the decision process is your Statement of Purpose. The Statement of Purpose should reflect your qualifications, enthusiasm and commitment to graduate studies in your field of interest through an intellectual discussion of your past work and the questions you wish to pursue. You may also be asked to provide a writing sample or portfolio of your work.
On Acquiring Letters of Recommendation
Definition of a Good Letter
Candidates for admission to the Graduate School will be judged on their academic abilities, their intellectual capacity and motivation, and their ability to communicate. A letter of recommendation should provide an informative and well-documented evaluation of the quality of your academic performance, furnishing detailed information that grades alone cannot reveal. GSAS requires three letters of recommendation, all of which should focus on your academic qualifications and research accomplishments. This academic focus is in contrast to letters of recommendation for undergraduate admission, where extracurricular activities and overall character are given greater weight.
Whom to Ask
On the basis of the above definition, you should choose teachers who know your work best and who have been most positive and supportive about your work. These should be professors in your field or closely related fields who are able to discuss your critical thinking skills and ability to do original research. Therefore, it is important to keep in touch with former course professors and research mentors who were supportive of your work and keep them informed of your activities in the field and your interest in doing graduate study. In addition, recommendations may come from work associates or others who can comment on your academic potential for graduate work.
How to Ask
Whenever possible, make your request for a letter in person, by appointment, or during office hours. Bring along any materials or information that could help a recommender produce a well-documented evaluation of your qualifications: a résumé or curriculum vitae, a paper or an exam that you wrote for a course, a transcript of your grades, and, if you are at the application stage, a copy of your application essay. You should also be prepared to explain why you want to do graduate work and something about your career goals.
You may want to write a thank-you note to letter writers, telling them where you were accepted and which institution you will be attending.
Waiving Your Right to See the Letters
You must decide in advance whether to waive your right to read letters of recommendation which is a right granted under the Buckley Amendment of 1974. The general wisdom in academe is that confidential letters have greater credibility than non-confidential letters, so you should seriously consider waiving this right. If you decide to keep your letters confidential (and you must make this decision for yourself) you should sign a waiver for each letter and be sure that the recommender knows in advance whether or not the letter is confidential. Finally, make it clear to the potential letter writer that if he or she has any reservations about writing the letter, you would prefer to know that in advance.
When to Ask (for Current Students and Recent Graduates)
It is wise to start acquiring general letters of recommendation from courses in your potential field of interest where your performance has been particularly strong shortly after the completion of such courses. A professor can most readily write a well-documented letter while your performance is still fresh in his or her mind. Colleges often make provisions for maintaining letters of recommendation on file, so be sure to avail yourself of this service as you start acquiring letters. (Professors may be on leave or otherwise unavailable when you need letters, so this provision can be an important insurance that you will have letters as needed.)
When the time comes to apply, select letters from those professors who have shown the strongest interest and most sustained support for your future goals as a graduate student. At this point, you may want to have the professor customize the recommendation for the program to which you are applying. If it is not already on file, be sure to ask for the letter at least one month in advance of the application deadline since a good letter takes time to write. If you are also applying for graduate fellowships, you should request those letters at the same time, keeping in mind that fellowship deadlines are normally earlier than admissions deadlines.
The Statement of Purpose
Candidates can find it difficult to talk about themselves or to describe their reasons and motivations for pursuing a graduate degree. Furthermore, they often worry that the required statement of purpose asks for their future dissertation topic or for a precise area of specialization. (Most graduate programs, in fact, are designed to allow graduate students one or two years for exploration before choosing a dissertation topic or specialization.)
Your statement of purpose should be a focused and informative essay, one that conveys your interests and qualifications in a scholarly manner. One effective approach is to proceed from what you have already done, showing the impact of past intellectual experiences on your goals for the future. Some students find it best to present their academic experiences as a series of intellectual turning points; others focus on a single culminating one—often the undergraduate thesis. These experiences can be used to show why you wish to continue exploring a certain theme or why you wish to turn in a new direction. In either case, the discussion should provide a vivid picture of your intellectual profile: how you formulate research topics, how you pursue them, and how you articulate any interesting findings. As you convey this information, be sure to emphasize how these experiences have influenced both your decision to undertake graduate study and your goals within a graduate program.
It is also helpful at this point to say why you wish to study in a particular department or with a particular faculty member. The essay can include discussion of your personal background, but it should be confined to those aspects that have had an impact on your scholarly goals.
In addition, the essay can be used to explain any ambiguities or weaknesses in your undergraduate record. In doing so, be careful not to let this dominate the essay or overshadow your strengths, which should be the main topic of discussion. Also, try to present the issue in as positive a light as possible. For example, a candidate concentrating in English but applying in psychology with only a few psychology courses as background, could give specific examples of ways in which English papers and courses helped to sharpen his or her psychological insights. The candidate might even show through these experiences and others, that psychology was a longstanding interest. In another example, a candidate whose grades suffered while he or she worked on the college newspaper could stress how his or her future goals in graduate study were shaped by valuable experiences at that newspaper.
The statement of purpose is also an important display of your writing skills. Be sure that it is a tightly organized and highly polished piece of work. When you have completed a draft of your essay, read it over closely and ask others to look at it. Be sure to have someone else check your final draft for typographical and grammatical errors.
Taking the GRE
The General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required of all candidates. Some departments also require or recommend the Subject Test or may accept the GMAT (Graduate Management Aptitude Test). GRE scores may not be more than five years old. GRE registration forms, fee waiver applications, and information on how to prepare for the exams may be available at your school or can be downloaded from the GRE Web site: www.ets.org/gre.
US registration fees are currently $160 for the General Test and $140 for the Subject Test. A limited number of fee waivers are available. In addition, be sure to take advantage of any programs on your campus that offer financial assistance in applying to graduate school, including funding for test-preparation courses.
Implications of Test Scores
As noted earlier, no single factor determines admissions success at Harvard. There is also no minimum test score that will ensure admission to the program of your choice. Common sense suggests that a score might make a greater difference if it is exceptionally high or low, or if other factors in your academic record are ambiguous.
If you have questions about your specific score results or whether or not you should consider retaking the test, consult with your professors or other advisors who are familiar with the graduate admissions process in the arts and sciences. Additionally, the graduate department to which you are applying may be helpful.
- Gather application materials; visit or contact Harvard GSAS
- Take the GRE General Test; Subject Test may be taken earlier
- Begin drafting Statement of Purpose
- Ask for letters of recommendation; request official transcripts
- Apply for national fellowships
Note: Many national fellowship applications are due before the Graduate School’s application deadlines and require the same set of materials.
- Submit application materials. (GSAS does not have rolling admissions.) Deadlines for admission and financial aid applications are December 1, 15 or 31, 2011, depending on the program.
- Contact the Admissions Office to check that your application is complete.
- Decisions are mailed between mid-February and mid-March. Reply forms are due by April 15.
- Visit campus.
Campus and Conference Visits
Representatives from GSAS travel to selected colleges and universities to meet with students individually and during recruitment fairs. They also attend conferences of national organizations where there are likely to be a high number of interested minority applicants.
For prospective candidates: If you would like to visit the Harvard campus, meet with faculty and students, and sit in on a class, your first point of contact is the department of interest. You should determine which faculty member(s) you would like to meet. Then, contact the department’s administrator who can tell you the best time to visit, whether it is appropriate to contact faculty directly, and how best to do so. If you would like lodging information or a tour of campus, contact the Harvard Events and Information Center at 617-495-1573 or at
. Or visit their FAQ website.
For admitted candidates: You will be invited to visit campus as our guest for several days of informational and social meetings with departments, administrators, and current minority students. This visit is intended to give you a more complete picture of the Harvard experience, and will help you make an informed decision about whether to accept the offer of admission.
(Click to view GSAS degree programs and requirements.)
Graduate Fellowship Opportunities
All admitted PhD candidates are awarded full financial support, typically for the first four years of study as well as the completion year. Support comes from a range of resources, including internal and external grants, research fellowships, teaching fellowships and research assistanceships. In 2011-2012, the maximum award includes payment of tuition and required medical and insurance fees, plus a stipend of $23,690.
Students are also encouraged to apply for non-Harvard fellowships. Other non-Harvard fellowships, such as the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships, are listed in The Graduate Guide to Grants, published annually by GSAS.
Outside Funding — Major Fellowships
Even if you are expecting to receive Harvard University funding, you are encouraged to apply for outside sources of funding. Not only may some of these funds supplement or supplant what the Graduate School offers, but winning a national fellowship competition can improve a candidate’s competitive standing. Some well-known fellowships available to entering graduate students are listed below. Keep in mind that many deadlines fall before the Graduate School’s application deadlines.
- The Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships for Minorities
- The National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships
- The American Political Science Association Graduate Fellowships for Latino, Native American, and African American Students
- The American Sociological Association Minority Fellowships Program
- The National Physical Science Consortium (NPSC) Fellowships in the Physical Sciences
- Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans
- National GEM Consortium
- The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship Program
- The Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowship in Biological Sciences
- AT&T Labs Fellowship Program
- The Fund for Theological Education
Students of color find academic and social support through many student organizations at Harvard, and the GSAS Office of Diversity and Minority Affairs (along with the Office of Student Affairs) sponsors events and activities to expand that support and to assist members of Harvard's minority community in achieving their goals. For many minority students, the W.E.B. Du Bois Graduate Society (named for the first African-American to receive the Harvard PhD) has been a critical link between themselves and other students. The Society — founded to minimize the frustration and isolation often associated with graduate school — sponsors numerous activities, such as orientation meetings, student-faculty lunches, and social events.
Du Bois Graduate Society
The W.E.B. Du Bois Graduate Society sponsors numerous activities and meets with GSAS administrators to address issues of concern to Harvard’s minority community. Named for the first African American to receive the PhD at Harvard, the Du Bois Society is a multicultural student group and plans such varied activities as potluck dinners, student research forums, and faculty-student lunches.
Minority Biomedical Students at Harvard (MBSH)
Minority Biomedical Students at Harvard is a student organization of the Division of Medical Sciences, the Graduate School’s interfaculty PhD program with Harvard Medical School. The mission of MBSH is to create a sense of community amongst the minority graduate and postdoctoral scholars working in the biomedical sciences. It publishes a weekly newsletter that includes links to numerous events of interest, including research seminars, seminars for professional development, job postings, and updates on accomplishments of MBSH members.
For students whose intellectual interests involve issues of race and ethnicity, Harvard offers a wide range of relevant research groups and programs including the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Studies, a multidisciplinary program entitled Inequality and Social Policy, the Harvard University Native American Program, and the Center for the Study of World Religions. To find out more about student life or GSAS support services, please consult the following websites:
• Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Graduate Students at Harvard
• Office of Work/Life Resources
• Accessible Education Office
• Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning
Harvard University is made up of ten separate faculties, including the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which encompasses GSAS, Harvard College, and the Division of Continuing Education. The name and address of the admissions offices of the University’s other graduate schools are listed below; a minority recruitment contact is listed where applicable. GSAS offers joint PhD programs with the Schools of Dental Medicine, Design, Divinity, Business Administration, Government, Medicine, and Public Health.
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Harvard Business School
Dillon House, Soldiers Field Road, Boston, MA 02163
Harvard School of Dental Medicine
188 Longwood Avenue Boston, MA 02115
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Longfellow Hall 111, Appian Way, Cambridge, MA 02138
Harvard Kennedy School
79 J.F.K. Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Alexandra Martinez, assistant dean of student diversity and inclusion
(Note: Political science is also studied in the Department of Government in GSAS.)
Harvard Law School
Austin Hall, 1515 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
Harvard Medical School
25 Shattuck Street, Building A, Room 210, Boston, MA 02115-6092
Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs
260 Longwood Avenue, TMEC-244, Boston, MA 02115
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue, Room G4, Boston, MA 02115
Kerri Noonan, assistant director of admissions
Harvard Divinity School
Divinity Hall, 218 14 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
Maritza Hernandez, director of admissions and financial aid
Harvard sponsors or takes part in a variety of paid summer internship programs designed to encourage talented minority students and increase the pool of minority students entering PhD programs.
The SHURP Program of the Division of Medical Sciences
The Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program (SHURP), begun in 1991, is intended primarily for college science students who are seriously interested in research and who are members of racial or ethnic groups under-represented in biological sciences. SHURP students spend about 85 percent of their time pursuing research projects in the laboratories of Medical School and Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) faculty members. Students also participate in informal weekly seminars to teach each other about their research projects and in weekly career development discussions. SHURP student groups are paired with groups of graduate and MD/PhD students for informal peer mentoring. Past participants have found that the Program gives them an opportunity to apply what they have learned in coursework to their research. They also have a chance to build self-confidence in their science skills and in the career decisions they are making.
Harvard School of Public Health Summer Program in Biological Sciences in Public Health
This intensive 9 week laboratory-based biological research program is for undergraduate students during the summer following their sophomore or junior year. Interns apply state-of-the art technology in their own research projects, which focus on biological science questions that are important to the prevention of disease, under the direction of a Harvard faculty member. Internships are awarded by competitive process and interns receive a generous stipend, travel allowance, and free dormitory housing. Applicants should be a first-generation college student, low-income college student, or a member of a group that is underrepresented in graduate education. For complete eligibility requirements and application instructions please visit the program website. All application materials must be postmarked by February 1, 2012. Notification of selection will be made in early March.
Research Experience for Undergraduates at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program is a mechanism for integrating a broad spectrum of undergraduates into bioengineering, materials research, nanoscience, and engineering. REU provides its interns with a coordinated, educational and dynamic research community to inspire and encourage them to continue on to graduate school. Summer research opportunities for undergraduates are arranged in conjunction with the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC), as well as other Harvard-based engineering and science entities. Professional development workshops, faculty seminars on research and ethics, and community activities are integrated into the program. Students receive a summer stipend, and housing is provided.
Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard (SROH)
Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard (SROH) is offered for currently-enrolled undergraduates who are considering Ph.D. careers in the humanities, social sciences, and life/physical sciences and who have already had at least one upper-level course in their field of study. U.S. citizenship or permanent residency is required. This 10 week program will be held in conjunction with the Harvard MCO, Systems Biology, and Summer School Programs, in partnership with the Harvard University's Senior Vice Provost Office for Faculty Development & Diversity (FD&D) and the Leadership Alliance Consortium. SROH interns are placed in faculty labs in Cambridge spanning fields in the life and physical sciences, and their activities include weekly faculty lectures from departments in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences (FAS), weekly group meeting discussions of student research projects, and joint field trips with other Harvard summer programs. Students in the program will live in Harvard Summer School housing. The program will provide all research and course related expenses, room and board, travel to and from the program, as well as a stipend.
Links to more biological and other science summer programs can be found on the HILS website at http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/hils/summerinternships.html
Institute for Recruitment of Teachers
Located at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) identifies talented minority students in their junior year of college and encourages them to pursue graduate degrees and careers in teaching. IRT offers an intensive four-week Summer Workshop to prepare students for the GRE and for the rigors of graduate school. At the conclusion of the workshop, IRT will continue to provide extensive help throughout the graduate school application process.
The Leadership Alliance
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
350 Holyoke Center
1350 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138