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Biology Degree Requirements

The Master of Liberal Arts, Biology degree field is offered online with 1 course on-campus here at Harvard University. Weekend options are available for the on-campus course.

Getting Started

Registration for January and Spring 2024 opens on November 6.

Browse degree courses offered in Fall 2023.

Explore Degree Requirements

Required Courses

12 Graduate Courses (48 credits)

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

The degree is customizable. Within the program curriculum, you choose the biology and elective courses that meet your learning goals.

With online courses offered in both synchronous and asynchronous formats, you can participate in some courses on demand and others live that offer real-time engagement with faculty and peers.


  • BIOS 200 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Biology
  • 4 biology courses
  • 1 biology on-campus elective (weekend options available)
  • 1 biology seminar
  • 1 statistics course
  • 1 biology general elective
    • EXPO 42c Writing in the Sciences is an elective option
  • BIOS 497 Crafting the Thesis Proposal in Biology Tutorial


BIOS 499AB ALM in Biology Thesis (8 credits)

Recent Thesis Topics:
  • The Impact of Sleep Debt and Disturbances on Emotion Regulation and Reactivity in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Patients
  • Neuroprotective Roles of Sex Hormones in Parkinson’s Disease
  • Genetic Pre-aetiologies and How the Patterns of Incidence in Cancer Risk Alleles Might Suggest a Non-genetic Origin for Genetic Cancers

Additional Requirements

Harvard Instructor Requirement

Eight of the above courses (32 credits) need to be taught by instructors with the Harvard instructor designation. The thesis course is ordinarily taught by a Harvard instructor.

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 32-credit Harvard instructor requirement prior to thesis registration by choosing Harvard instructor taught core, non-thesis requirements.

The Harvard On-Campus Experience (1 Course)

Nearly all courses can be taken online, but the degree requires an in-person experience here at Harvard University where you complete the biology on-campus elective requirement.

  • Accelerated on-campus option: Complete the requirement via an online course with a required weekend on campus (fall or spring).
  • Standard on-campus option: Complete the biology elective via a 3-week Harvard Summer School course. Learn more about campus life at Harvard.

The Standard option is ideal for those who want a more traditional on-campus experience. HSS offers housing, meal plans, and a prolonged on-campus experience here at Harvard University.

International Students Who Need a Student Visa

  • To meet the on-campus requirement, you choose the Standard on-campus option. You can easily request an I-20 for the F-1 student visa for Harvard Summer School’s 3-week sessions. For more details, see International Student Study Options for important visa information.
  • While your research question will be developed in consultation with your Harvard Extension School (HES) research advisor, you will be responsible for finding a lab in your home country. HES cannot sign institutional agreements.

In-Person Co-Curricular Events

Come to Cambridge for Convocation (fall) to celebrate your hard-earned admission, Harvard career fairs offered throughout the year, HES alumni networking events (here at Harvard and around the globe), and, of course, Harvard Commencement (May).


Below are our initial eligibility requirements and an overview of our unique admissions process to help get you started. Be sure to visit Degree Program Admissions for full details.

Initial Eligibility

  • Prior to enrolling in any degree-applicable courses, you must possess a 4-year regionally accredited US bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent. Foreign bachelor’s degrees must be evaluated for equivalency.
  • You cannot already have or be in the process of earning a master’s degree in biology or a related field. Check your eligibility.

Earning Your Way In: Courses for Admission

The path to your degree begins before you apply to the program. To begin, you simply register—no application needed—for the following 3, four-credit, graduate-level degree courses (available online):

  • BIOS 200 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Biology
    • 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 2 attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.
  • 1 biology course
  • 1 biology, statistics, or elective (e.g., EXPO 42c) course

All 3, four-credit courses, including EXPO 42c, are investments in your studies and help ensure success in the program. They count toward your degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses.

Course sequencing and grading. While the 3 courses don’t need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, we recommend that you start with the proseminar (or the prerequisite EXPO 42c). All 3 courses must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

Search and Register for Courses

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) offers degree courses all year round to supported accelerated degree completion.

  • You can study in fall, January, and spring terms through Harvard Extension School (HES) and during the summer through Harvard Summer School (HSS).
  • You can choose to enroll either full or part-time with many degree candidates, after qualifying for admission, choosing 2 courses per semester (fall/spring) and 1 in the January term as well as summer.
  • Most fall and spring courses meet once a week for two hours, while January and summer courses meet more frequently in a condensed format.

Applying to the Degree Program

During the semester of your third degree course, submit the official application to the program. 

Don’t delay! You must prioritize the 3 degree courses for admission and apply before completing subsequent courses. By doing so, you’ll:

  • avoid the loss of credit due to expired course work or changes to admission and degree requirements.
  • ensure your enrollment in critical and timely degree-candidate-only courses.
  • pay the standard versus delayed application fee.
  • gain access to exclusive benefits (see bottom of page).

Eligible students who submit a complete and timely application will have 9 more courses after admission to earn the degree.

The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility. For details about full eligibility and the application process, visit Degree Program Admissions.

To Complete Your Degree

Required 3.0 GPA, 2 Withdrawal Grade Limit, and Repeat Course Policy

GPA. You need to earn a B or higher in each of the 3 degree courses required for admission and a B– or higher in each of the subsequent courses. In addition, your cumulative GPA cannot dip below 3.0.

Withdrawal Grades. You are allowed to receive 2 withdrawal (WD) grades without them affecting your GPA. Any additional WD grades count as zero in your cumulative GPA. Please note that a WD grade from a two-credit course will count as 1 of your 2 allowed WD grades. See Academic Standing.

Repeat Courses. We advise you to review the ALM program’s strict policies about repeating courses. Generally speaking, you may not repeat a course to improve your GPA or to fulfill a degree requirement (if the minimum grade was not initially achieved). Nor can you repeat a course for graduate credit that you’ve previously completed at Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School at the undergraduate level.

Courses Expire: Apply On Time and Finish Your Coursework in Under 5 Years

Courses over 5  years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree. As stated above, the proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.

Further, you have 5 years to complete your degree requirements. The 5-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any 3 degree applicable courses, regardless of whether or not you have been admitted to a degree program.

Additionally, admission eligibility will be jeopardized if, at the point of application to the program, the five-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied (i.e., too many courses to complete in the time remaining).

Potential degree candidates must submit timely applications or they risk losing degree credit for completed course work.

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 Candidate Exclusive Benefits

When you become an officially admitted degree candidate, you have access to a rich variety of exclusive benefits to support your academic journey. To learn more, visit degree candidate academic opportunities and privileges.