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Pursuing a Certificate

Certificates are the fastest-growing post-secondary credential in the United States because learning is a lifelong pursuit. To stand out from the competition, you need to continue to update your skill set to land that next promotion or navigate a successful career change.

To support your aspirations, we offer four undergraduate certificates and 42 graduate certificates in the most sought after professional fields of Management and Finance, Information Technology, Sustainability, Life Sciences, Education, Social Sciences, Global Studies, and Arts and Literature.

Our certificates prepare you for long-term career success by offering you critical technical skills and the theoretical context behind those skills, providing both breadth and depth. This is a winning combination with nearly 90 percent of our certificate earners reporting that they are confident their certificate has prepared them for their next step!

Most important, you don’t have to wait to complete the certificate to gain immediate benefits. What you learn in class today, you’ll apply on the job tomorrow. Indeed, many certificate students report receiving a promotion or a new job while pursuing their certificate.

Read on to learn how to get started, track your progress, and successfully earn a certificate from Harvard Extension School.

man sitting down working on laptop computer

Getting Started

No formal application is required to pursue a certificate, but you can track your progress each semester by using our online Certificate Course Tracker (see below). Once you’ve completed all required courses with satisfactory grades, you can request the certificate.

Follow these three steps to get started: 

  1. Find one of our four undergraduate or 42 graduate certificates that interests you.
  2. Browse the current certificate course offerings using the corresponding search in the course catalog.
  3. Register during one of our enrollment periods (fall, January, spring or summer). When you register, be sure to select the appropriate credit status: undergraduate credit (UN) for our undergraduate certificates and graduate credit (GR) for graduate certificates.

NOTE: Our graduate certificates are not available at the undergraduate level. You must take all your certificate courses for graduate credit to earn a graduate certificate.

Can I earn a certificate online?

Most of our certificates can be completed online. But a few certificates have more limited online options.

I’m an international student. Can I take courses on campus?

Most of our certificates can be earned completely online. However, if you would like to study on campus, you may request an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for full-time study in the summer at the Harvard Summer School.

See the international student guidelines for Summer School for more details.

Note: I-20 Certificates of Eligibility for the F-1 student visa are not available for on-campus study during the fall and spring semesters, because of the part-time nature of the Harvard Extension School. If you obtain an I-20 from Harvard Summer School for an F-1 visa, it is not possible to continue studying on the F-1 at Harvard Extension School.

Grade Requirements

Students must earn a grade of B, B+, A-, or A in a certificate course in order to have it count toward the certificate. Courses in which a student has earned a grade of B- or below cannot be counted toward a certificate.

Certificate credit is not awarded for a course that duplicates the subject matter of a previous course taken at the Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School for which undergraduate or graduate credit has already been received.

If you choose to repeat a course, it will appear on your official transcript, but will not count toward the certificate.

If you earn a grade of B- or below when attempting to fulfill a specific requirement that has no alternative courses, please reach out to the certificates office to discuss your options: graduate_certificates@extension.harvard.edu or undergraduate_certificates@extension.harvard.edu.

Three Year Requirement

Students must complete courses within three years from the first day they start taking applicable courses towards their certificate. See chart below for specific start and completion semester information. 

Starting SemesterCompletion Deadline
Fall 2021Summer 2024
Spring 2022Fall 2024
Summer 2022Spring 2025

Tracking Your Certificate Progress

The Certificate Course Tracker and Request Form—available through online services—will help you keep track of the courses you have taken that are eligible to count towards your certificate of interest.

Monitor your progress by logging in to online services and choosing the Certificate Course Tracker and Request Form. This form will confirm the courses that count toward the certificate, the courses for which you are currently registered, and the courses that you’ve completed.

Will all the courses listed be offered every year?

Certificate required courses are offered each year, but the elective offerings do change slightly because of new offerings and instructor availability.

Can I substitute a course that is not listed on the certificate course search?

No. Only those courses specifically listed in the certificate course search can be counted toward the certificate. We do not accept course substitutions or transfer credit.

Continuing on to Earn a Bachelor’s

Undergraduate certificates are stand-alone academic credentials that allow you to broaden your knowledge, update your professional profile, and explore new fields of interest. Earning a certificate can be a great first step to exploring a new field of study. Undergraduate certificates stack to our Bachelor of Liberal Arts (ALB) degree—that is, your certificate courses may also meet degree requirements.

Plan ahead

If you think you want to pursue this path, make sure to do your research. You will need to plan ahead to ensure your certificate courses count toward your specific degree requirements. If you know you would like to pursue an ALB degree, we encourage you to apply to the degree program first and earn your certificate along the way.

It’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • ALB degree students must hold a high school diploma or equivalent earned at least five years prior to enrolling in any ALB degree-applicable courses. If you do not meet this requirement, your undergraduate certificate coursework will not stack toward our bachelor’s degree.
  • Prospective ALB students may not be enrolled as an undergraduate, degree-seeking student at another institution at the time of admission or during your Extension School degree candidacy.
  • Use both the certificate course search and degree course search to see which requirements your courses meet for each credential.
  • If you already possess a bachelor’s degree, you are not able to pursue another at Harvard Extension School.

For more information please see the ALB degree requirements website.

Continuing on to Earn a Master’s

Graduate certificates are stand-alone academic credentials that allow you to broaden your knowledge, update your professional profile, and advance your career.

Earning a certificate can also be a great first step to exploring a new field of study. Most of our certificates stack toward at least one Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) degree. The courses you take to earn a certificate may count toward a graduate degree.

Plan ahead

If you think you want to pursue this path, make sure to do your research. You will need to plan ahead to ensure your certificate courses count toward your specific degree requirements.

If you know you would like to pursue a degree program, we encourage you to apply to the degree program first and earn your certificate along the way.

It’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • ALM degree students must hold a four-year U.S. bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, with a degree conferral date that precedes enrollment in graduate-level courses taken at Harvard Extension School. If you do not meet this requirement, your graduate certificate coursework will not stack toward one of our master’s degrees.
  • Not every certificate course counts toward a degree. Use both the certificate course search and degree course search to see which requirements are met through your courses.
  • We recommend you complete the degree pre-admission courses, if they are part of your certificate.
  • ALM Degree Programs:
    • Have five-year completion deadlines
    • Require a Harvard On-Campus Experience
    • May require a certain number of courses to be taught by instructors with a current Harvard University teaching appointment
  • Undergraduate certificates do not stack to our ALM Degrees.

For more information please see your specific degree requirements website.

How do certificates differ from degrees?

Certificates offer concentrated academic pathways—3 to 5 courses to complete—for students looking to enhance a specific set of skills or fill a knowledge gap. Earning a certificate demonstrates to employers your proficiency in a topic, as well as your determination and discipline to succeed academically. You are awarded a certificate upon completion.

Our ALB and graduate degrees are a more comprehensive, long-term academic commitment. You must complete specific admissions requirements and application to pursue a degree.

Earning Multiple Certificates

If you plan to pursue multiple certificates, keep in mind that your courses can only count toward one certificate. Each certificate is carefully designed to include a distinct set of courses to ensure its academic and professional value.

Financing Your Certificate

You may be eligible for scholarship funds, including Lowell Scholarships for Boston-area middle and high school teachers, community scholarships, and private student loans. Federal or state aid is only available to students who have been admitted to a degree program.

Resources for Certificate Students

As a certificate student you gain access to numerous resources to aid in your success.

Certificate Advising

When you have questions about the process of earning your graduate certificate, know we are here. We offer weekly Open Virtual Office Hours where students can drop in and ask questions. Visit the site for dates and more information, or email us at graduate_certificates@extension.harvard.edu for graduate certificate questions or undergraduate_certificates@extension.harvard.edu for undergraduate certificate questions.

Career Resources

We are here for you and your success. Certificate students have access to the Career and Academic Resource Center (CARC), where you can participate in online webinars on career planning and academic skills. CARC offers monthly call-in career counseling for all certificate students. You can also participate in our annual Harvard Extension School Career Fair, held during the spring semester.

Library Access

To reduce campus density during the COVID-19 pandemic, new and replacement class participant library cards will not be available to Extension School students for the fall 2021 or spring 2022 term. For questions, please contact idcards@extension.harvard.edu.

Visit our Library Resources page for more information.

Additional Student Resources

Visit our Support and Services page for additional resources such as computer labs, writing center, and the Math Question Center.

front of Widener Library

Who are certificate students?

  • Most—78%—are working full-time while pursuing a certificate.
  • The average age of a certificate student is 36.
  • Fifty-three percent of certificate students have a Master’s, Ph.D., or other advanced degree.
  • Most pursue a certificate for professional reasons, but many are exploring personal interests or preparing for further studies.