Choosing Courses for First-Year Students

How Do I Determine What Courses I Need To Take? How Do I Fit In The Courses I Want To Take?

Course selection is a balance between pursuing your academic interests and exploring new academic areas, while keeping requirements and academic policies in mind. You will discuss your course selection with your academic adviser who will "sign" your Crimson Cart before you can enroll in your courses.

How Should I Start Thinking About What Courses I Want To Take?

There are two main considerations when choosing courses during your first year (two semesters) at Harvard: 

  1. What Are My Academic Interests?

While this question certainly suggests a focus on your “concentration” interests, it is also important to think about all of the things that you would like to study while you are at Harvard. What are the subjects that you studied previously and would like to continue studying? What are new subjects that you have the opportunity to pursue at Harvard? What areas do you think would be helpful in your future career pursuits? What skills and experiences would you like to have as part of your Harvard coursework? What faculty have you dreamed about studying with?  

2. How Will I Meet the College Requirements?

What Tools Do I Have Access To For Course Selection?

  • My.harvard Course Search Tool
  • Syllabus Explorer - This tool allows you to look for courses using search terms that may be found on a course syllabus. You can search by topics, texts, or people. 
  • Curricle - This tool allows you to search for courses in a variety of different ways. It allows for some of the serendipity in course searching that formerly existed with the print catalog.

How Will I Know What To Take?

  1. Take the Placement Exams
  2. Report any scores from the College Board (AP, SAT II)
  3. Review your Placement and Test Scores Report which can be found in the “Documents” section of my.harvard. Course recommendations, including your Expository Writing and your language requirement status, are included in this report.
  4. Review the Placement Exam Advising Resources for information about how to connect with relevant advising around your course recommendations. 

How to Enroll in Courses

General Information and Policies

  • Students typically take 16 credits each term (4 courses, 4 credits per course). Students wishing to take more than 20 credits in a term must obtain the approval of their Resident Dean.
  • First-year students who wish to take more than 16 credits (four courses, 4 credits per course) in their first term must obtain the approval of their Resident Dean. 
  • Students may not enroll in more than 24 credits (six courses, 4 credits per course) in one term without Administrative Board approval.
  • First-year students may not cross-register for courses at other Harvard schools in the first term so that they may fully engage with the curriculum in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Course Decision Trees

In addition, the decision trees that are linked below can help you identify the courses that you may take in your first year. They are divided into the most common courses and areas that most first-year students pursue. 
Note: Click each image to expand. The underlined words in the boxes are helpful links!

exploratory courses decision tree
Do I know what I want to study at Harvard? (text-only version)

language decision tree
Do I want to study language at Harvard? (text-only version)

freshman seminar decision tree
Do I want to take a freshman seminar? (text-only version)

expos decision tree
What semester am I assigned to
take Expos? (text-only version)

math decision tree
Am I interested in a concentration with a
math requirement? (text-only version