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Biology Degree Requirements

The Master of Liberal Arts, Biology degree field consists of 12 courses (48 credits), 3 of which are required on campus here at Harvard University.

Getting Started

  1. Review the required course curriculum.
  2. Determine your initial admission eligibility.
  3. Learn about the 3 degree courses required for admission.
  4. Search and register for courses.

Required Courses

12 Graduate Courses

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.

Core

  • BIOS 200 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Biology
  • 5 biology courses
  • 1 biology seminar
  • 1 statistics course
  • 1 biology elective
    • EXPO 42c is an elective option
  • BIOS 497 Crafting the Thesis Proposal in Biology Tutorial

Thesis

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

8 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 (3 Courses)

Although many courses can be taken online, the degree requires a Harvard University campus experience. You come to Cambridge for at least 3 courses (12 credits), which offers you in-person access to faculty, campus resources, and the academic community.

We strongly recommend that you pursue electives for the on-campus requirement to offer you the greatest selection of courses from which to choose.

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.
  • 3-week January session courses that meet only on campus.
  • 3- or 7-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 for Harvard Summer School’s 3- and 7-week courses. For more details, see International Student Study Options for important visa information.
  • Research note. 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, nor does the school provide research funding.

Admissions

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.

The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility.

Earning Your Way In: Courses for Admission

To begin the admission process, you simply register—no application required—for the following 3 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 two attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.
  • 1 biology course
  • 1 biology, statistics, or elective (e.g., EXPO 42c) course

The courses above, including EXPO 42c, count toward the degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses.

Course sequence. While the 3 courses (12 credits) don’t need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, we highly 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. You can study in fall, January, and spring terms through Harvard Extension School (HES) and during the summer through Harvard Summer School (HSS).

To find degree courses in the DCE Course Search and Registration platform:

  • Under Search Classes, scroll to Browse by Degree, Certificate, or Premedical Program.
  • Select Graduate Degrees
  • Choose Biology to explore program courses.

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 delayed application fee or the loss of credit for expired course work.
  • ensure your enrollment in critical and timely degree-candidate-only courses.
  • 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.

For details about full eligibility, the application process, and application fees, 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. 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: 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.

Potential degree candidates must plan accordingly and submit their applications to comply with the 5-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 5-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied (i.e., too many courses to complete in the time remaining).

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.