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About

aerial photo of Harvard College campus
degree earners at Harvard Extension School commencement
Harvard University MBTA train station

We are Harvard—extended to the world for every type of adult learner. We serve students seeking part-time, online courses and nonresidential programs to advance their career or pursue an academic passion.

We are a fully accredited Harvard school. Our degrees and certificates are adorned with the Harvard University insignia. They carry the weight of that lineage. Our graduates walk at University commencement and become members of the Harvard Alumni Association.

As one of 12 degree-granting institutions at Harvard University, we teach to the largest and most eclectic student body. Our students come to us from every time zone, every culture and career background, every age from 18 to 89.

Our students have one thing in common: the motivation to take the next challenging step in their lives. They find that challenge here, where our academic standards are high and our resources extensive. 

Is Harvard Extension School the right fit for you? 

Whatever your learning goals, Harvard Extension School can help you achieve them.

Our History

The origin of Harvard Extension School can be traced back to 1835—when John Lowell Jr. founded the Lowell Institute. 

In his will, Lowell Jr. funded an organization that provided Boston with free public lectures on a variety of subjects. The institute quickly gained an influential presence. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a lecturer at the institute, remarked, “No nobler or more helpful institution exists in America than Boston’s Lowell Institute.”

In 1906–07, A. Lawrence Lowell, a trustee of the Lowell Institute and Harvard professor of government, revealed a plan to offer public courses in collaboration with Harvard University. In 1909, when Lowell became president of Harvard, he made that vision a reality. 

In 1910 Lowell founded the Commission on Extension Courses—hailed by the Boston Evening Transcript as “a new milestone” in education. He saw the commission as an experiment in “popular education.” The goal was to serve those in the community who had the ability and desire to attend college, but had other obligations that kept them from traditional schools.

We have held steadfast to Lowell’s vision for over a century. Today, more than 14,000 students join us in our classrooms and more than 800 degrees and 1,000 certificates are awarded each year.

Timeline of Harvard Extension School

1835

John Lowell Jr. revises his will, leaving half of his estate to endow public lectures. This became the endowment for the Lowell Institute of Boston.

1839

Lowell Institute inaugurated.

1900

A. Lawrence Lowell becomes trustee of Lowell Institute.

1910

Harvard Overseers approve a Department of University Extension on February 23.

1913

In June, two graduates receive the first Harvard University Extension degrees.

1949

  • Reginald H. Phelps directs and expands Harvard University Extension, stepping down in 1975.
  • University Extension courses are offered on radio.

1956

First Harvard University Extension course is offered on television.

1960

1975

Michael Shinagel becomes dean of Harvard University Extension School.

1976

Tuition Assistance Program begins for Harvard staff.

1977

Certificate of Advanced Study offered.

1979

  • Harvard University Extension introduces an ALM (master of liberal arts) degree.
  • Health Careers Program (premedical) starts.

1980

First annual Lowell Lecture is given by McGeorge Bundy.

1983

  • Harvard University Extension establishes a coat of arms.
  • Grossman Library for University Extension moves to Sever Hall.

1985

  • University Extension becomes Harvard Extension School.
  • The Harvard Division of Continuing Education (including Harvard Extension School, Harvard Summer School, and Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement) is formally established.
  • Harvard Extension offers its first computer-based distance learning course (“teleteaching”).

1989

The first Harvard Extension “teleteaching” course is offered in China.

1996

Career and Academic Resources Center opens.

1997

  • Harvard has 100 “distance learners” in Alaska, Hawaii, and other states.
  • Distance education moves to streaming video and audio.

1999

Distance education strategic plan implemented.

2003

Harvard Extension offers Alpha Sigma Lambda honors to ALB graduates.

2005

First distance education courses offered as podcasts.

2007

First collaborative-learning courses open, mixing in-class and online learners.

2013

Huntington D. Lambert becomes the dean of the Division of Continuing Education and University Extension.

2015

HBX, Harvard Business School’s online digital education initiative, and Harvard Extension School, partner to offer college-level credit for students taking the HBX Credential of Readiness (CORe).

2016

Smithsonian Institute and Harvard Extension partner to offer Museum Studies students the opportunity to take courses with Smithsonian staff and study on-site in Washington D.C.

Our Commitment to the Future of Education

As our world transitions fully to the knowledge economy, Harvard Extension School stands at the forefront of the greatest wave in education—that of open access and active learning.

No one knows precisely what universities of the future will look like, but we can predict with some confidence that they will emphasize what we already value: increased quality and clear satisfaction of student expectations, with some combination of online and on-campus interaction—recognizing that different students learn in different ways.

Our end goal is the creation of new knowledge and the preservation of academic freedoms. We uphold the great liberal arts tradition, which challenges students to think deeply and critically—an asset in any pursuit. 

We’re also expanding access to higher education through online courses, summer courses and hybrid courses (which blend online and on campus) to meet the diverse needs of you, our students.

In this regard, Harvard Extension School can serve as a working model for our field. What matters to us is your commitment—not only to your own growth, but to our global society.

Together, we can make future generations stronger, more informed, and ready for the challenges ahead.