Understanding the AB Degree from Harvard: What You Need to Know

The pursuit of higher education has always been a significant endeavor, and obtaining a degree from a prestigious institution like Harvard University often stands out as a remarkable achievement. One particular degree that piques the …

The pursuit of higher education has always been a significant endeavor, and obtaining a degree from a prestigious institution like Harvard University often stands out as a remarkable achievement. One particular degree that piques the interest of many prospective students is the A.B. degree. Often shrouded in curiosity and sometimes confusion, the A.B. degree from Harvard is a topic worth delving into. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what the A.B. degree entails, its history and evolution, curriculum and course requirements, how it stands apart from other degrees, the admissions process, potential career opportunities, notable alumni, and a list of frequently asked questions.

Overview of the A.B. Degree at Harvard

The A.B. degree at Harvard stands for “Artium Baccalaureus,” which is the Latin term for Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). Harvard, being steeped in tradition, often uses Latin terminology for its degrees, and hence, the A.B. degree is equivalent to what many other universities refer to as a B.A. This undergraduate degree is aimed at providing students with a comprehensive education in the liberal arts and sciences, equipping them with critical thinking skills, a broad knowledge base, and the intellectual flexibility valued in many different career paths.

History and Evolution of the A.B. Degree

The A.B. degree has a rich history that dates back to the founding of Harvard College in 1636. The curriculum and focus of the degree have evolved significantly over the centuries, transitioning from a strict, classical education grounded in Latin, Greek, and theology, to a more expansive and inclusive curriculum. The degree has adapted to changing educational philosophies while maintaining its core principles of fostering a well-rounded liberal arts education. Through various reforms and the incorporation of modern academic disciplines, the A.B. degree has managed to stay relevant and prestigious in contemporary education.

Curriculum and Course Requirements

The curriculum for the A.B. degree at Harvard is designed to ensure that students receive a broad and diverse educational experience. This typically includes:

General Education Requirements

Students must complete courses in different areas of study, ensuring they gain knowledge across a range of disciplines. These areas often include humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and quantitative reasoning.


Every student pursuing an A.B. degree must select a concentration, akin to a major, in which they will take a series of advanced courses. Harvard offers a wide array of concentrations, from classics and literature to computer science and economics.


The elective courses give students the flexibility to explore subjects outside their chosen concentration, allowing for a well-rounded academic experience.

Capstone or Thesis Project

Many concentrations require students to complete a capstone project or thesis, which involves independent research and the application of knowledge acquired during their studies.

How the A.B. Degree Differs from Other Degrees

Understanding how the A.B. degree differs from other degrees is crucial for prospective students. Here is how it stands out:

Broad-Based Education

Unlike degrees that focus narrowly on vocational training, the A.B. degree aims to provide a broad intellectual foundation.


The A.B. degree allows for significant flexibility in course selection, enabling students to tailor their education according to their interests and goals.

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Research Opportunities

Harvard’s emphasis on research and critical inquiry means that A.B. students often engage in meaningful research projects, even at the undergraduate level.

Admissions Process for the A.B. Degree

Getting admitted to Harvard College to pursue an A.B. degree is highly competitive. The admissions process typically involves:


Prospective students must submit an application through the Common Application, Coalition Application, or Universal College Application platforms.

Standardized Tests

While recent changes have made standardized tests like the SAT or ACT optional, strong scores can still bolster an application.

Essays and Recommendations

Applicants are required to write personal essays and submit letters of recommendation, which provide insight into their character and academic potential.


An interview may also be part of the process, conducted by alumni or admissions officers.

Evaluating candidates holistically, Harvard looks at academic achievements, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and personal qualities.

Career Opportunities for A.B. Graduates

An A.B. degree from Harvard opens the door to a multitude of career opportunities. Due to the emphasis on critical thinking, analytical skills, and broad knowledge base, A.B. graduates find success in various fields including:

  • Law: Many A.B. graduates go on to attend law school and pursue careers in the legal field.
  • Business: Graduates often find roles in management consulting, finance, and entrepreneurship.
  • Academia and Research: Some alumni pursue further studies and contribute to academic and scientific research.
  • Public Service: Many graduates serve in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and advocacy groups.

Employers in diverse sectors value the versatile skill set and intellectual rigor that an A.B. degree from Harvard signifies.

Alumni Success Stories

The list of notable alumni who have earned the A.B. degree from Harvard is extensive and impressive. Here are a few:

  • Barack Obama: Before becoming the 44th President of the United States, Obama earned an A.B. in Political Science.
  • Natalie Portman: The acclaimed actress graduated with an A.B. in Psychology.
  • Bill Gates: Though he famously dropped out, Gates was initially pursuing an A.B. in Computer Science before founding Microsoft.
  • Sheryl Sandberg: The COO of Facebook holds an A.B. in Economics.

These individuals exemplify the diverse paths one can take with an A.B. degree, demonstrating the degree’s versatility and enduring value.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an A.B. degree from Harvard?

An A.B. degree from Harvard stands for “Artium Baccalaureus,” the Latin term for Bachelor of Arts. It offers a comprehensive liberal arts education.

How long does it take to complete the A.B. degree?

The A.B. degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete.

Is the A.B. degree only available at Harvard?

While the use of the term “A.B.” is unique and historically significant at Harvard and a few other institutions, the degree is equivalent to a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) offered at many universities.

Can A.B. graduates pursue graduate studies?

Yes, A.B. graduates often continue their education in various graduate programs, including law, medicine, business, and doctoral studies.

What kind of financial aid is available for A.B. students?

Harvard offers need-based financial aid to ensure that admitted students can attend regardless of financial circumstances.

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In sum, understanding the A.B. degree from Harvard involves appreciating its rich history, comprehensive curriculum, flexible structure, and the myriad opportunities it unlocks for graduates. The degree offers a unique blend of tradition and modern academic rigor that prepares students for success in diverse fields.

Benefits of Pursuing an A.B. Degree at Harvard

Pursuing an A.B. (Artium Baccalaureus) degree at Harvard offers a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond the prestigious title. One significant advantage is the comprehensive liberal arts education Harvard provides. This broad-based approach ensures that students are well-versed in various fields such as humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, fostering critical thinking, effective communication, and problem-solving skills.

Another benefit is Harvard’s world-class faculty and resources. Students have the opportunity to learn from leading experts in their respective fields, engage in cutting-edge research, and have access to state-of-the-art facilities. The university’s extensive library system, which includes the famed Widener Library, provides vast resources for academic exploration and research.

Networking is another key benefit of earning an A.B. degree from Harvard. The university’s extensive alumni network includes leaders in various industries across the globe, providing students with valuable connections that can open doors to internships, job opportunities, and career advancements. Furthermore, Harvard’s reputation can significantly enhance a graduate’s resume, making them more attractive to prospective employers.

Harvard also offers numerous extracurricular activities and student organizations, allowing A.B. students to gain leadership experience, develop new skills, and build lasting friendships. From academic clubs to sports teams, there are countless ways to get involved and enhance the overall college experience.

Lastly, Harvard emphasizes fostering a diverse and inclusive environment. The university attracts students from all walks of life and various cultural backgrounds, enriching the educational experience through diverse perspectives and ideas. This diversity prepares students for a globalized world, enhancing their ability to work and thrive in multicultural settings.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Harvard A.B. Students

One of the major concerns for prospective students is the cost of attending a prestigious institution like Harvard. However, Harvard offers one of the most generous financial aid programs in the world, ensuring that the cost of an A.B. degree does not impede talented students from enrolling. The university operates on a need-blind admissions policy, meaning that financial need does not affect the admissions decision.

Harvard commits to meeting 100% of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students. This is achieved through a combination of scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. Notably, Harvard primarily uses grants and scholarships which do not need to be repaid, rather than student loans, which means that students can graduate debt-free.

Steps in the Financial Aid Process

  • Submit the necessary financial documents, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Profile.
  • Harvard’s financial aid office evaluates each family’s financial situation to determine the amount of aid required.
  • The aid package considers factors such as family income, assets, family size, and number of siblings attending college.
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In addition to need-based aid, Harvard also offers numerous scholarships based on merit, specific fields of study, and other criteria. For instance, there are scholarships sponsored by various alumni associations, organizations, and benefactors that target students with specific academic interests or extracurricular achievements. These scholarships can further reduce the cost of attendance.

Harvard also provides financial support for other essential aspects of student life, such as textbooks, health insurance, travel expenses for international students, and even funding for summer research or internships. This comprehensive support system ensures that all students, regardless of their financial background, have access to the full breadth of opportunities available at Harvard.

For prospective A.B. students, the combination of Harvard’s generous financial aid packages and the potential for various scholarships means that the dream of attending Harvard can become a reality. Families are encouraged to explore all available options and engage with the financial aid office to understand the specific opportunities that can make paying for college more manageable.



Sure, here are five FAQs based on the article titled “Understanding the A.B. Degree from Harvard: What You Need to Know”:

1. What does A.B. stand for in the context of Harvard University?
– The A.B. degree at Harvard stands for “Artium Baccalaureus,” which is the Latin term for Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). This designation reflects the university’s tradition of using Latin for its degree titles.

2. How is an A.B. degree different from a B.S. degree at Harvard?
– An A.B. (Artium Baccalaureus) degree focuses on a broad-based liberal arts education and is usually awarded in fields such as humanities, social sciences, and some natural sciences. A B.S. (Bachelor of Science) degree, on the other hand, is more specialized and typically offered in science and technology disciplines, emphasizing more intensive laboratory and technical coursework.

3. Can students at Harvard choose between an A.B. and a B.S. degree?
– Yes, students at Harvard can choose between an A.B. and a B.S. degree depending on their concentration (major). Certain concentrations offer only an A.B. or B.S. degree, but some fields allow students to opt for either, depending on their academic interests and plans.

4. What are some of the key benefits of pursuing an A.B. degree at Harvard?
– Pursuing an A.B. degree at Harvard offers several benefits, including a well-rounded liberal arts education that fosters critical thinking, analytical skills, and intellectual versatility. It prepares students for a wide range of careers and graduate studies by emphasizing interdisciplinary learning and the development of a broad knowledge base.

5. How long does it typically take to complete an A.B. degree at Harvard?
– Typically, it takes four years to complete an A.B. degree at Harvard. Students must fulfill specific general education requirements, concentration courses, and elective credits to graduate, although some may finish in a shorter or longer timeframe depending on their academic progress and any advanced standing credits they may have.

These FAQs address key aspects of the A.B. degree at Harvard, providing a concise overview for prospective and current students.

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