Degree Requirements

Required Courses

The Master of Liberal Arts, Biology degree field consists of 12 courses (48 credits), three of which are required on campus.

12 Graduate Courses

The degree assumes an academic background in biology (e.g., Molecular and Cellular Biology and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology) and laboratory research experience.

Core

  • Proseminar
  • 5 biology courses
  • 1 biology seminar
  • 1 statistics course
  • 1 elective
    • EXPO 42c is an elective option

Thesis

  • Thesis proposal tutorial
  • Master’s Thesis part one
  • Master's Thesis part two

Eight of the above courses need to be taught by instructors with the Harvard instructor designation. The thesis courses are ordinarily taught by a Harvard instructor. However, if you work in a lab outside of Harvard University and wish to pursue your thesis research there, then you will need to complete the Harvard instructor requirement through the core requirements.

Search Biology Degree Courses

Admissions: Earn Your Way In

To begin the admission process, you simply register—no application required—for the following three, four-credit, graduate-level degree courses:

  • BIOS 200 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies and Scholarly Writing in the Biological Sciences
    • Before registering, you'll need to pass our online test of critical reading and writing skills test or earn a B or higher in EXPO 42c Writing in the Sciences.
    • You have two registration attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar, which cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.
  • 1 biology course
  • 1 biology course or elective (e.g., EXPO 42c)

The three courses don't need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, but each course must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

Eligibility: Before enrolling in any degree-applicable courses, you need to possess a four-year, US regionally accredited bachelor's degree or its foreign equivalent. You cannot already have or be in the process of earning a master's degree in biology or related field.

Applying to the Degree Program

During the semester of your third degree course, submit the official application to the program. Don't delay! It is critical to your successful admission and degree completion to prioritize the three degree courses for admission and apply before completing subsequent courses. We have fall, spring, and summer admission cycles.

If you submit a complete and timely application—which includes required Harvard courses, grades, and cumulative GPA—you will be admitted, after which you’ll have nine more courses to take to earn the degree.

For more details about eligibility, the application process, and the delayed application fee, visit Admissions.

Admissions

The Harvard On-Campus Experience

Many courses can be taken online, but the degree requires a Harvard campus experience. You come to Cambridge for at least three courses (12 credits), which offers you in-person access to faculty, campus resources, and the academic community.

On-campus course requirements are typically completed through:

  • 15-week fall or spring semester courses that meet only on campus. Courses with the format "on campus or online" do not fulfill this requirement.
  • Courses that combine weekly online classes over a semester with an intensive weekend on campus.
  • Three-week January session courses that meet only on campus.
  • Three- or seven-week summer courses that meet only on campus.

International Students Who Need a Student Visa

To meet the on campus requirement, you study with us in the summer. You can easily request an I-20 for the F-1 student visa through Harvard Summer School's three- or seven-week sessions. For more information, see the important visa information on the International Student Study Options page.

To Complete Your Degree

Achieve an Average Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.0 or Higher

Earn a B or better in each of the three admission courses and a B– or better in each of the subsequent courses. Be sure to maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 (B) or higher. You are allowed two withdrawal (WD) grades. Any additional WD grades count as zero in your cumulative GPA.  See Academic Standing.

Finish Your Coursework in Under Five Years

You have five years to complete your degree requirements. The five-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any three degree applicable courses, regardless of whether or not you have been admitted to a degree program. Moreover, courses over 5 years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree.

Potential degree candidates must plan accordingly and submit their applications to comply with the five-year course expiration policy or they risk losing degree credit for completed course work. Additionally, admission eligibility will be jeopardized if, at the point of application to the program, the five-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied.

Graduate with Your Harvard Degree

When you have fulfilled all degree requirements, you will earn your Harvard University degree: Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) in Extension Studies, Field: Biology. Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May, with the annual Harvard Commencement ceremony in May. 

Degree Guidelines and Policies

For information special academic opportunities, student privileges, and policies, see Completing Your Degree.