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Buying Your Way Into Harvard

When people ask me how I got into Harvard I half jokingly tell them I bought my way in. Harvard allows “non-degree candidates” to take classes via their extension school for a nominal fee of three grand or so. Pass some extra hard “gatekeeper” courses with a B average and they’ll let you into a full on degree program. They’ll even let you try again (for another nominal tuition fee of three grand) if you fail the gatekeeper courses the first time, though you’ll have to get your GPA up with more classes if you fail. Any why shouldn’t you be able to? Perseverance is a virtue after all.

In all seriousness this program is excellent. It has a flexible schedule and allows those of us with less than stellar GPAs to earn our way in. Everyone I’ve met at the extension school has been brilliant. Most of them are already in a career. I’ve met lawyers, augmented reality designers, and Harvard researchers as fellow students in my degree program (ALM Software Engineering).

The secret right now with the COVID pandemic is that they’ve waived the residency requirement. Usually one must attend classes in person for at least part of their degree. If you want a Harvard degree without quitting your job or taking a three week vacation, now is the time. However, residency is a blast. If you’re under 30, I highly recommend the Summer School for your residency. It was an absolute never ending party and you get to live in the Harvard housing system.

Alright but is this a “real Harvard degree?” Honestly, the only people I’ve met that trashes the extension school are not part of the Harvard community. If your degree raises some eyebrows during an interview, tell them to forget Harvard and explain all the amazing things you got out of your education. It is after all, an amazing education.

My one complaint: the degree naming. The diploma itself is in latin so no one will be able to read it but your degree will be in “Extension Studies”. For example “Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies”. Though no one studies “Extension Studies” at the extension school and the liberal arts education of my program consisted of one business writing class outside of the other 10 or so computer science courses, this naming scheme somehow prevails with very real consequences for people who need to meet strict hiring qualifications. If their intent was to separate extension degrees from the other 11 Harvard schools literally watermarking EXTENSION across the diploma and transcript would have been a better approach than misrepresenting the concentration.