Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,800 undergraduate students and about 14,000 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States’ oldest institution of higher learning. Its history, influence, wealth, and academic reputation have made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
The Harvard Corporation, chartered in 1650, is the governing body of Harvard. In its early years, Harvard College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy, although it has never been formally affiliated with any denomination. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century, Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites.
Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot’s long tenure (1869-1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. A. Lawrence Lowell, who succeeded Eliot, further reformed the undergraduate curriculum and undertook aggressive expansion of Harvard’s land holdings and physical campus. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II; he began to liberalize admissions after the war.
Teaching and learning
The four-year, full-time undergraduate program has an arts and sciences instructional focus. Between 1978 and 2008, entering students were required to complete a core curriculum of seven classes outside of their concentration. Between 2008 and 2019, undergraduate students were required to complete courses in eight General Education categories: Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding, Culture and Belief, Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning, Ethical Reasoning, Science of Living Systems, Science of the Physical Universe, Societies of the World, and United States in the World.
In 2019, a new General Education program was implemented with four categories: “Aesthetics and Culture,” “Ethics and Civics,” “Histories, Societies, Individuals,” and “Science and Technology in Society.” While some introductory courses have large enrollments, most courses are small: the median class size is just 12 students. Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The university has been accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges since 1929 and offers 50 undergraduate concentrations (majors), 134 graduate degrees, and 32 professional degrees. For the 2018-2019 academic year, Harvard granted 1,665 baccalaureate degrees, 1,013 graduate degrees, and 5,695 professional degrees.
Harvard is a founding member of the Association of American Universities and remains a preeminent research university with “very high” research activity (R1) and a “comprehensive” doctoral program across the arts, sciences, engineering, and medicine according to the Carnegie Classification. Research and development expenditures in 2016 totaled $1.08 billion, eighth among American universities.
With Harvard Medical School consistently ranking first among medical schools for research, biomedical research is an area of particular strength for the university. More than 11,000 faculty members and over 1,600 medical and graduate students contribute to research and innovation at Harvard Medical School as well as its affiliated hospitals and research institutes, which include Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, McLean Hospital, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Research opportunities are available to undergraduates as well, as early as their freshman year. Numerous mechanisms for funding and faculty mentorship are available during both term-time and the summer.