Course Selection Week

Harvard gives you a week at the start of each term to decide which courses you want to enroll in.  This is a unique opportunity (most schools require students to pre-register for courses).  

How can I prepare for course selection week?

By going into it with an open mind and a spirit of adventure, and by doing your homework in advance:

  • Review the recommended gateway courses on the Concentrations Website or in The 49 Book
  • Search for courses in my.Harvard by subject, field, keyword, or other criteria
  • Check out course websites on my.Harvard course pages
  • Check out course syllabi
  • Read about courses you’re interested in in the Q Guide (but take what you read with a due grain of salt!)
  • Browse course readings by walking the aisles of the Coop (this is one of the best – and most fun – ways of forming a first impression of different Harvard courses, even whole fields of study; you’ll be amazed to see how many fascinating and unexpected cross-connections there are across Harvard’s curriculum)
  • Discuss your course ideas with your advisers

As you’re researching possibilities, make a list of the courses that interest you.  Some of them may be advanced courses or have prerequisites.  Note them for future reference.  Others you should plan on “shopping” now.  As a rule of thumb, for every available course slot on your schedule, you should plan to check out at least 3 different classes.  If you’re really ambitious (and have a pair of sneakers) though, you should check out even more.   

(First-year and transfer students: it may seem awkward to get up and leave in the middle of class or to arrive halfway through a lecture.  Don’t worry.  Just do your best to minimize any disruptions.  Faculty understand that students come and go from classes during course selection week.)

What are the benefits of course selection week?

Your first job in course selection week is to finalize your plan of study for the term, but you can also use this time to

  • check out concentration courses you plan on taking in future terms
  • check out elective courses you may be interested in taking in future terms
  • see particular professors in action, and perhaps introduce yourself (regardless of whether you plan to take their courses now)
  • form a first impression of different fields of study (whether out of possible concentration interest or simple curiosity)

Checking out a lot of courses will expand your overall Harvard course exposure from 32 to a much higher number of your choosing.  It will also maximize the likelihood that the study plan you put together each term will be one you’re that truly engages you.

What if I can't decide on courses during course selection week?

By the course registration deadline, you will need to enroll in 4 courses.  Before the deadline, you can keep as many courses ‘in play’ as you like.  Note: instructors start assigning work at the beginning of the term, often after the first lecture.  While you’re checking out courses, it’s important to keep up with assignments in any courses you’re considering.

After course selection week, you still have an opportunity to change your course enrollment.  Students can drop courses and – with instructor permission – add different courses up until the 5th Monday of the term.  In practice, it gets increasingly difficult to add a course a few weeks into the term if you haven’t been keeping up with course assignments.  (You will generally be held responsible for completing all course assignments.)  But the flexibility of Harvard’s add/drop policy gives you a kind of extended course selection period: in the event a course you enrolled in no longer appeals to you (for whatever reason), up until the 5th Monday you have the option of letting it go and – with instructor permission – taking a different one (preferably one whose lectures you’ve been attending since the start of term).