Harvard Extension School Admissions: Is it hard?

I hear a lot of anxiety from prospective degree candidates about Harvard Extension School admissions. They are worried about whether or not they will be admitted to their respective programs at the Extension School. One recent example involved an out-of-state student who wanted to join the Museum Studies ALM program. He emailed me after reading my blog about Harvard Extension, and was clearly very worried, particularly because he felt his undergraduate GPA was too low. He also had taken classes at other educational institutions. Could he get in to the Harvard Extension School?

My response:

… Don’t worry about admissions. I have NEVER heard of anyone who meets the stated admissions requirements of an EXT degree program being rejected.

And the requirements for admission are very clear: If you meet the Extension School GPA and course requirements (3 Extension School classes, including the recommended classes, with a 3.0 average), have an accredited degree from an undergraduate institution, answer the essay questions and other admission packet requirements, and pay the fees … that means you’re in.

You graduated from [redacted] with a diploma; therefore your undergraduate GPA does not matter. Besides your undergraduate degree, as long as you have taken the required EXT classes and gotten the minimum GPA, there is nothing stopping you from matriculating.

Even if you screw up the admissions essay (unlikely for anyone who has taken the prerequisite classes and gotten a 3.0 GPA), they will send the essay back, tell you what’s wrong, and ask you to resubmit.

Your other grades from [redacted] and any other educational experience has no bearing on your application.

Seeing as that you have graduated from college, the most important thing for you to do to get into this program is to start taking the recommended EXT classes and making sure you do really well at them. You don’t have to be a Mass. resident to apply to the Extension School, but I advise any student interested in the Extension School to relocate to Cambridge in order to get a true Harvard experience and real interaction with Harvard faculty, students, and facilities. For the Museum Studies program, this is a requirement, as there are few online courses available for this major.

My piece of advice in the last paragraph about taking classes on campus applies to all programs. If you want a Harvard education, being on campus is crucial. I think the current forms of distance education at the Harvard Extension School are providing students with an incomplete Harvard experience, usually with little or no interaction with faculty and fellow students. I have written about this extensively in the past, including on my Harvard Extension School blog:

Online education is a huge growth area for the Extension School, but the technologies used today are not a suitable replacement for in-class instruction and discussion. Unlike traditional face-to-face classes at the Extension School, contact with Harvard faculty in the online classes is limited. Even though many distance education students work extremely hard on assignments and tests, watching videos on the Extension School website and participating in limited online discussions does not represent a “Harvard-caliber” academic experience, as the Extension School claims. I strongly disagree with the Extension School’s liberal online credit policies, which allow students in the undergraduate ALB and graduate ALM in IT programs to complete upwards of 90% of their coursework online, without ever sitting in the same room with their classmates or professors. Tellingly, neither Harvard College nor Harvard’s professional schools offer online classes to their own students for degree credit.

I have additional thoughts about online education at the Harvard Extension School here on the Ipso Facto blog.

One last thing: If you read the above information, and still have questions about Harvard Extension School admissions, don’t ask me. Pick up the phone, and call the Extension School to speak with an admissions advisor. It costs nothing, and will save you lots of time and unnecessary worry. The number is (617) 495-9413.



50 thoughts on “Harvard Extension School Admissions: Is it hard?

  1. Hi Ian,
    That was a wonderful insight. Thanks for all the info. The reason why I am posting this is I need a personal advice from you.

    I am a B.Sc. Mathematics (hons) undergrad from India currently in my final year. I find the Masters in Management ( Finance track) very lucrative because I want to break into investment banking. Although I have a strong major and good grades but my college isn’t globally renowned and above all I had no courses in economics or accounting or finance and nor does my college allow taking any courses.

    I wanted to ask you certain things:
    1. I will be graduating in June so when’s the best time to take pre-admission courses for me according to you? Can they be taken on campus too?

    2. I am really young girl( just 19 years old) because I got double promoted twice at schools thus ending up receiving my degree pretty early. Will that count against me as it does in normal admissions to HBS or Wharton because of lack of work experience? But I really want to stay in school till I feel confident enough to leave my studies and just work.

    3. How hard is to to get admitted in the program?

    4. I would be an international student so there some ruling like international students can take admissions to Fall courses only. In that case, I would get late coz of my impending undergrad.

    5. I would be extremely pleased to her any other words from your side !!!

    Thanks & regards,

  2. Abhilasha:

    Thanks for your message.

    As I said in the post, as long as you meet the stated admissions requirements for the program, you’re in. The requirements are very clear: Take three classes and meet the minimum average GPA. If you do that, you are automatically admitted. It doesn’t matter where you went to college. It doesn’t matter how old you are.

    I have no advice on which classes to take or when to take them. Take one now, if you can, to see if you like it and you can manage the work.

    Also, I would advise reaching out to current students in the ALM Management program to get their perspectives on classes and career opportunities. This is extremely important.

    Good luck


  3. Hi, I just learned about HES recently, I have roughly 2 years of undergraduate credit. I have a 3.4 GPA from a state school in Oregon which i found challenging. I would like an experience in Cambridge, just wondering if i’m competitive for at least a 3.0 GPA at HES, assuming i work as hard as i have at my current institution. I spoke with an adviser at HES and he said start by taking 1 class!! Is it really that difficult? I’m used to taking a full load and i don’t work a job while in school so what’s the deal? Could i at least manage 12 credits, 2/3 time? I have plenty of time to study, not a big party guy. Any advice welcome.

  4. Nick, the classes in Cambridge are definitely challenging — while I was a graduate student, most classes had an undergraduate section as well. The HES advisor’s advice is good — take one class, see how you do, and then ramp it up. On the other hand, if you have nothing else going on (such as work) you can try two.

    Good luck,


  5. Hi.

    I’m interested on taking an information Technology Master degree, I am still an undergraduate student, I will finish in 2 years, is it possible for me to take the 3 classes before graduating? and enter the program just after that?

  6. Eduardo: You will need to determine if the college degree prerequisite for the ALM in IT applies to the three courses needed for admission. Look on the HES website or contact the school directly.


  7. Hello Ian,

    I am interested in earning my ALB degree through HES. While I have understood that if I do well in my first three courses I will most likely be admitted, I stumbled upon one case where the person did well and met or surpassed the minimum GPA requirements (A, A-, and a B) but still got rejected.


    He didn’t elaborate on the rest of his application such as transcripts or essay and was only told to consider re-applying next term because of the unprecedented number of qualified candidates that year. So I am wondering whether they have quota for admitted students each term or they may actually consider other factors in the application.
    I have done five semesters of undergraduate studies with a 3.39 GPA but I kind of messed up my last semesters with two E’s and a D (the rest are mostly A’s). Do you think if I do well on my pre-admission courses, my previous undergraduate performance will hurt my chances?

    • Hello Maya,

      Pick up the phone and call the Extension School to let them know about your situation, what you need to do to gain admission, and what courses will transfer. The number is (617) 495-9413. This will save you a lot of time and unnecessary worry based on unconfirmed statements written by anonymous people on the Internet.

      Good luck


  8. Just a heads-up that only 50% of an ALB or ALM can be completed online. Also, College students or students from any other school at Harvard may take online classes through Summer and Extension Schools for credit.

  9. Hello Ian,

    As a current high school student, I was wondering how students in my situation were able to matriculate into the Extension School through a degree program(I want to be in the ALB program) right out of high school.

    When do high school students usually start taking their pre-admission courses?
    How long do the courses take?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hello Josh,

      I have two recommendations:
      1. Post this question on extensionstudent.com, as I know there are some other people in the ALB program who have taken a similar path. Be sure to ask them about the experience, not just the requirements.
      2. CALL the Extension School. The number of the ALB advisor’s office is (617) 495-9413. They will be able to quickly answer this sort of question.

      Good luck,


  10. Are all harvard extension courses that you take calculated in the pre admissions gpa even if its not part of the degree courses you want to take in an eventual masters program?

  11. I have just completed my bachelors degree in commerce and my pursuing my masters in commerce from India. My CGPA in my bachelors is low at 2.759. But simultaneously I am pursuing Chartered Accountancy (CA) and Company Secretary (CS) courses. Both of which are extremely challenging and are considered elite professions. I am in the final phase of my CA and in the intermediate stage of CS. I shall get both these degrees in January-2016. I want to study law at Harvard Law School starting Fall-2016. What are my chances of being admitted ?

  12. Shalin: The blog post above refers to admissions processes and policies at the Harvard Extension School, which is not associated with the Harvard Law School. To learn more about Harvard Law School admissions, you should visit the Harvard Law School website or directly contact the Harvard Law School.

    Good luck,


  13. Thank you so much Ian for your prompt response. If I take up a course at HES will that CGPA be considered for admissions to HLS and does that give any advantage ?

  14. Shalin: I have no idea what Harvard Law School considers when evaluating an application, or what Law School admissions officers think of Extension School degrees. You really should talk with someone experienced with Harvard Law School admissions, or contact the Law School directly.

    You can also post a message on the Extension Student online forum to see if other Harvard Extension School students or alumni have attempted to apply to Harvard Law School.

    Good luck,


  15. Hiya,

    My name is Jamani Botch, I am from Mississippi, but I decided to attend a community college at Kansas for its rigorous classes. I am a liberal arts major, and I choose a community college because I wanted to be challenged. While working 10 hours a week, and taking 9 college credits, I remained in good academic standing with a 2.579 GPA. My future goals is to actualy attend Harvard Law school. Do you think that by taking two classes at HES and achieving a 3.0, I would be accepted to Harvard Law school. I am very outgoing and not shy. Any tips?

    Ps: My backup schools are Yale Law school, Stanford Law and Kansas Law school.

    • I am taking 7 courses, which include 4 from Johns Hopkins Engineer school, 2 from HES finance, 1 from The university of Chicago (project management). I still can remain a gpa with 3.5.

      By the way, I have a company and an organization, so work harder.

    • No. Your qualifications are embarrassingly low, and I would not advertise them. Assuming this is a legitimate question. But, you COULD get into the extension school, assuming you make a 3.0 in your first 3 courses. Do not waste your time (or anybody else’s) if you find community college to be difficult.

  16. I’m a bit confused. What exactly are the requirements? If I have a 2.5 gpa and I am looking to use this program as a means of improving my chances for further study, what are my chances of getting in?

    • Sara: Your GPA elsewhere does not matter. To be admitted to the Extension School, you need to take classes at the Extension School and get a minimum average GPA. This proves that you are capable of doing the work and pursuing a degree at the Extension School. Visit the Extension School website for more information, or call (617) 495-9413.

      Good luck,


        • Sara: All registration questions can be answered by looking at the Extension School website. If you have questions, call them.



  17. Hi,
    I had recently completed my high school with good grades. Now i want to take admission in HES for bachelor in business management. I have no idea about admission procedure.
    Could u please help me for which i will be thankful to u.

  18. whenever i call no answer was there.most of the contact nos are fake. plz give me an appropriate contact no from where i can get an appropriate response

  19. Can we take the three courses on campus before we get admitted? or we have to take them online? Do we pay for those courses? If we meet the 3.33 CGPA criteria, are we guaranteed admission ?

    • Sam: All of the answers to your questions can be found on the Harvard Extension School website.



  20. What courses shall i take for MLA Management program before i can apply for admission. They have mentioned economics accounting and org ebhavior but there is no sepcific course number. I found a number of accounting econ and prg behavior courses online.

    Also i am still not clear if students can take classes on campus before they apply for admission ? The website doesnt say anything about it.

    • Sam: If you cannot find the information on the website, call the Extension School directly. The number is (617) 495-9413.

      Good luck,


  21. I was approached by a student who is taking a graduate level class in Economics through Harvard Extension and wanted help on the online exam. I was shocked to hear the grade in the class is based almost entirely on 2 exams, both online. Does Harvard really allow students to take distance learning exams without having to prove they are actually the individual taking the test? My understanding with distance learning at accredited, well known universities, is the tests are administered through careful and strict guidelines at the student’s local university or college. The syllabus and content was excellent, but who knows who will actually be taking the class. I believe in online education, I think it offers great potential, yet there has to be some protocol. That’s just my 2 cents. jd fox

    • I don’t know how the Extension School handles it, but for the one distance education class I took through UC Berkeley the exam was proctored locally – had to pay $75 to a prof or administrator at New England College of Finance in Boston while I took the final exam. She verified my drivers license, but there was another problem: The proctor wasn’t even in the room (she let me take it in an empty office). It would have been very easy to cheat, and of course there must be many students who take advantage of loose proctoring.

  22. Hi ya,

    Update: So I took Harvard Extension Classes. You all might assume, I did wonderfully due to my past academic record. Sadly, I did not. I failed the critical writing exam. I was by mistake placed in Expo-15 ( Equilivent to my English 101 in Kansas Community College which I scored a B+) I failed the class 2 times. The professors are friendly, dedicated, and even with all my involvement during the class lectures. I failed. Harvard is Harvard. Don’t do it unless you are ready! I’ve decided to explore different programs at Ivy’s, and I heard Yale’s is easier. I will be moving to New Heaven, CT. I would love to discuss my experience. Ask questions, leave thoughts, and I can guide you through the Harvard Extension program. I since then graduated from Kansas with a 2.7 and in hopes of achieving my BA from an Ivy — Yale or Top Tier— Stanford.

    Remember schools like this look for more than grades.

    • Hi Jamani,

      I failed Expo-15 (Failing buddies) I do think I made an academically intellectual mistake. I spend $1350 on a course. I asked for a refund and was denied. I took Expo-5 and failed. It’s not fair we have worked hard in the past. I was a B+ average student in my college in Alaska. I don’t recommend Harvard Extension unless you are mentally and physically ready to not sleep for days to finish a novel and complete 3-5 page papers in 2 week.

      • Hi, Matilda and Jamani!

        I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I failed the entrance exam for the humanities ALM expo (after running out of time and only writing one paragraph); so, I ended up taking the undergraduate level expo-42a. It has the same expectations as the graduate version, so I thought it would be a good indicator of preparedness for me. I also simultaneously took a graduate level writing intensive course in philosophy, for a total of two course (or 8 units).

        I found them to be extremely manageable. Beyond lecture, I spent an average of two hours a week total on coursework (about an hour per class). An A is relatively easy, so long as you follow instructions, talk with your TA and professor(s), and get constant feedback on your assignments to assure that you are on the right track.

        To contextualize, I was an average student (3.3 GPA) at a top 20 research university (University of California). The classes at HES are about the same in difficulty and expectations, though I actually found some of them to be easier due to better teaching approaches!

        Also, 2 weeks to complete a 3-5 page paper is generous at many universities. Many schools I’ve been to also have classes that require 200 pages of reading weekly. That is the norm. So, readers, if you think that’s asking for too much, an Ivy League (or even top 100) school is not for you.



  23. Hi, i am interested in strategic management certification from HES. Could you please tell me average no of class sessions in each credit course (5 for this certification) that would be delivered by the faculty during the on campus sessions.

    • Hello Gary,

      I don’t have an answer to that question. My advice is to call the school, someone will be able to answer your question. The number is (617) 495-9413.

      Good luck,


  24. I have my bachelor’s degree from China more than 30 years ago and have been doing business in USA for almost 30 years. Should I take any exams before taking the three required courses?


    • Hello Nancy,

      There is no need to take any exam prior to starting the three required courses. Good luck, Ian

      • Though, it should be remembered that CRWS will have to be passed before the Proseminar can be taken.

  25. The Wiki page says 15-20 percent for Extension. Much lower than some other schools/programs at Harvard, higher than others. So it’s no cakewalk and you have to remember that many students in the program already have masters or PhDs.

  26. Hi Ian, I have Bachelors Degree in Political Science from India and a Post Grad in Social Communications which equates to 4 Years of Undergraduate study in the US with 120 credits and a 3.3 GPA. My degrees when evaluated did not equate to a US Bachelors Degree. Will this be an issue in the admission for a Masters Program at the HES?

  27. I am currently in the ALM program in Government and about to graduate next year May 2023. And you are correct in stating that you need to come on campus to get the Harvard experience. Harvard Extension School started offering in-person classes again in the summer of 2022 and I ended up taking a seminar class for that summer session, which definitely was a different experience from taking a class over zoom.

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