The Master of Liberal Arts, Biology degree field is offered online with 1 course on-campus at Harvard University. Weekend options are available for the on-campus course.
Required Course Curriculum
Online core and elective 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 program curriculum is customizable. 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 for real-time engagement with faculty and peers.
Required Core & Elective Courses
- BIOS 200 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Biology
- 4 biology courses
- 1 biology on-campus elective (weekend options available; see on-campus experience)
- 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
Tip: Seminars offer small-class discussions as well as ample opportunities to connect with faculty and peers while engaging in research. We encourage you to complete multiple seminars.
The thesis is a 9-month independent research project on a topic in biology where you work in consultation with a thesis director.
You enroll in 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
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.
Choose between the accelerated or standard on-campus experience.
Learn and network in-person with your classmates.
Nearly all courses can be taken online, but the degree requires an in-person experience at Harvard University where you complete the biology on-campus elective requirement.
Choose between two on-campus experience options:
- 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. This option is ideal for those who want a more traditional on-campus experience. HSS offers, for an additional fee, housing, meal plans, and a prolonged on-campus experience here at Harvard University. Learn more about campus life at Harvard.
International Students Who Need a Student Visa
To meet the on-campus requirement, you choose the standard on-campus option and 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-week session. 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 world), and, of course, Harvard University Commencement (May).
Confirm your initial eligibility with a 4-year bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent.
Take three courses in our unique “earn your way in” admissions process that count toward your degree.
In the semester of your third course, submit the official application for admission to the program.
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.
- 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.
- If English is your second language, you’ll need to prove English proficiency before registering for a course. We have multiple proficiency options.
Earn Your Way In — Courses Required for Admissions
To begin the admission process, you simply register — no application required — for the following three, four-credit, graduate-level degree courses (available online).
These prerequisite courses count toward your degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses. They are investments in your studies and help ensure success in the program.
- 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
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.
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 three 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.
- Avoid the delayed application fee.
- Gain access to exclusive benefits.
Eligible students who submit a complete and timely application will have nine more courses after admission to earn the degree. Applicants can register for courses in the upcoming semester before they receive their grades and while they await their admission decision.
The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility.
Search and Register for Courses
The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) offers degree courses all year round to accelerate 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 enroll full or part time. After qualifying for admission, many of our degree candidates study part time, taking 2 courses per semester (fall/spring) and 1 in the January and summer sessions.
- Most fall and spring courses meet once a week for two hours, while January and summer courses meet more frequently in a condensed format.
To Complete Your Degree
Maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Complete your courses in five years.
Earn your Harvard degree and enjoy Harvard Alumni Association benefits upon graduation.
Required GPA, Withdrawal Grades, and Repeat Courses
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: Finish Your Coursework in Under Five Years
Courses over five years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree. As stated above, the proseminar cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.
Further, 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.
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 (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.