Advanced Placement and Advanced Standing

Harvard recognizes the advanced work of students prior to matriculation in several ways. Students may use certain Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores (or other international credentials) to meet certain requirements or prerequisites. In addition, students receiving qualifying scores on a given number of such exams may be eligible for Advanced Standing. Please visit the Office of Undergraduate Education website for more detailed information on Advanced Placement and Advanced Standing.

What is Advanced Standing?

Students who completed a full year’s worth of advanced work in high school – as documented by certain AP exams, an International Baccalaureate diploma, or other international credentials – may be eligible for Advanced Standing. The College will grant a full year’s worth of generic credit to students who choose to declare Advanced Standing, allowing them, as they choose, to graduate in six or seven terms or to complete a Master’s degree in their fourth year.  (Only certain fields offer this option.)

Approximately a third of every incoming class is eligible for Advanced Standing, but very few students declare it, preferring instead to have a full four-year college experience; to graduate with their class; or to have sufficient flexibility in their programs to pursue such opportunities as study abroad, research, or writing a senior thesis.

Students who do declare Advanced Standing have the option of rescinding it and remaining in the College for the full four years. Please visit the Office of Undergraduate Education website for more information. 

How do I know if I am eligible for Advanced Standing?

The “Reports and Documents” center on your student page in my.Harvard includes a report titled “Advanced Standing Report”.  This report tells you whether or not you are Advanced Standing eligible and, for students who are, on what grounds.

What are the eligibility requirements for Advanced Standing?

Students may qualify for Advanced Standing on account of scores they received on AP exams (administered by the College Board) or international exams, but not on account of a combination of AP scores and other test scores (with the exception of certain Harvard language placement tests).

AP exams: qualifying incoming non-transfer students must have received a score of 5 on a minimum of 4 qualifying AP tests (more in the case of exams that test material covered in only one term).

IB diploma: qualifying students must have a complete IB diploma that notes a score of 7 on at least 3 Higher Level exams.

Other recognized international exams: students who would like the College to consider whether scores they received on such exams as the British A-levels, the French Baccalauréat, or the German Abitur qualify them for Advanced Standing should speak with the Advanced Standing advisers in the Office of Undergraduate Education.

Read more about Advanced Standing eligibility requirements.

What are the degree requirements for Advanced Standing?

Ordinarily students must complete 32 four-credit courses to earn their Bachelor’s degree. Harvard College grants a full year of generic credit (the equivalent of 8 four-credit courses) – towards students’ overall degree credit requirement – to students who declare Advanced Standing.  

It is important to note that awarded Advanced Standing credit cannot be counted towards specific degree requirements. Students who declare Advanced Standing must still satisfy all specific degree requirements, namely, concentration requirements, the expository writing requirement, the foreign language requirement, and the General Education requirement (although the total number of Gen Ed courses they must complete will be reduced by one for each term of Advanced Standing they receive).

How should I decide whether to pursue Advanced Standing?

Pursuing Advanced Standing requires early planning. Students who decide to declare Advanced Standing generally do so in their fourth semester (or fifth if they plan to graduate in seven terms), once their academic plans are more firmly set. Typically, however, they will need to make choices in the first year pursuant to those plans. If you are seriously thinking of pursuing Advanced Standing, you will need to work closely, in the first year, with Advanced Standing advisers in the Office of Undergraduate Education, advisers in the concentration(s) you’re considering, as well as your freshman adviser.

To the extent possible, spend your first term exploring the rich academic opportunities that Harvard offers and forming the outlines of a long-term plan of study.  Is the plan you’re forming one that would allow you to achieve your goals for college?  Discuss your thinking with a variety of advisers.

If you are thinking of activating Advanced Standing, you will need to speak with concentration advisers about meeting your concentration requirements in a 6 or (as the case may be) 7 semester time frame. If you are considering doing one of the 4th-year Master’s programs, speak with departmental advisers about any foundational courses that may be required for the program.

After speaking with advisers and before enrolling in first-term courses, it would be a very good idea to prepare a draft Plan of Study, a tentative/hypothetical blueprint of your academic program for the next 3 or (as the case may be) 4 years. The process of plotting out, semester by semester, which interests to pursue and which ones you may need to forego, and of planning how to meet all your degree requirements, can help clarify the relative advantages and disadvantages of pursuing Advanced Standing.

If, in the first year, your academic interests do converge on a particular field, or on related fields, consider enrolling in concentration courses, in particular (where applicable and feasible) departmental sophomore tutorials. Tutorials can give a more accurate impression of a concentration than introductory classes that are aimed – in whole or in part – at non-specialists.

Here are some additional things to consider:

  • Pursuing Advanced Standing may necessitate that you choose a concentration and start fulfilling concentration requirements in your first year.
  • If you are undecided about the field of study you wish to pursue or are weighing multiple fields, the decision to graduate in fewer than eight terms could impact your ability to explore your options and to make a fully-considered decision about your concentration.
  • If you decide to pursue Advanced Standing on account of an academic passion you brought with you to college, but your passion subsequently wanes, you may find yourself locked into an unsatisfying course of study.
  • Some students who plan to attend medical school may be particularly eager to accelerate their undergraduate education. Be sure to discuss the wisdom of this thinking with premed advisers in the Office of Career Services.  In addition to scientific skill, medical schools prize those qualities of mind and character that are fostered by a liberal education. In an accelerated degree program, it can be very challenging to balance premed courses with other curricular and extracurricular commitments. Students interested in combining premed coursework with a non-science concentration can find it especially difficult to accommodate all of their interests in an accelerated program of study.
  • Graduating early can put you at a disadvantage in applying for certain fellowships, prizes, or awards that are tied to class year. You may find yourself competing with more advanced students whose background and experiences make them more viable candidates.

Learn more about pursuing Advanced Standing.

What are A.B./A.M. or S.M. degrees?

If you are very seriously committed to a particular field of study from the outset of your undergraduate career, and you are also eligible for Advanced Standing, then deciding to declare your Advanced Standing could open a door for you to pursue a unique opportunity: a 4th -year Master of Arts or Science degree.  (Only certain fields at Harvard offer this option.)  Although the demands of undergraduate degree programs that include a 4th-year Master’s are high, there can be immense satisfactions in pursuing them. Learn more about Harvard’s A.B./A.M. or S.M programs.

How do I declare Advanced Standing?

Students who decide to declare their Advanced Standing typically do so in the fourth or fifth term. For more information, click here.

Where can I get advice about Advanced Standing?

If you are seriously thinking about activating Advanced Standing, it is essential that you speak with advisers early on, even before enrolling in your first classes. Talk about your options and about long-term academic planning with your freshman adviser.  Meet with advisers in the concentrations you’re interested in to discuss any courses you should consider taking now, and to begin mapping out possible concentration plans.  (Contact information for concentration advisers can be found on the Concentrations Website).  And speak with the Advanced Standing advisers in the Office of Undergraduate Education.

Does Harvard recognize advanced work I did in high school in other ways?

Only students who declare Advanced Standing receive degree credit for such work.  However, advanced work is recognized in other ways. Students who receive a score of 5 on certain Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate language exams can place out of the language requirement. In addition, a score of 5 often satisfies the prerequisites for more advanced coursework, allowing students to delve more deeply, more quickly, into their concentrations.

In some cases, qualifying scores can preclude the need for students to undertake foundational coursework.  For instance, a score of 5 on either the AP Calculus AB or BC exam satisfies the foundational math requirement in the Economics concentration. In others, they yield a recommended course placement. For instance, a score of 5 on the AP Economics exam or of 7 in A-levels or on IB exams allows students to skip either or both semesters of Economics 10.  (In this case, unlike the one above, students who concentrate in Economics are expected to complete elective coursework in the concentration in lieu of Ec 10.)

To learn how specific concentrations treat advanced placement, go to their entries in Fields of Concentration in the Handbook for Students.