Harvard College

From Academic Kids

Today Harvard College is the undergraduate portion of Harvard University. Undergraduate students are members of the college, which is headed by the "Dean of Harvard College." He reports to the "Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences" since students of Harvard College, along with those of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, receive instruction from that faculty.

In accordance with the American norm, the college remains the emotional heart of the university, and people often conflate the two; therefore, see Harvard University for more information relevant to life, academics, etc. at Harvard College.


The name Harvard College dates to 1638. In that year, the two-year-old school, which had yet to graduate its first students, was named in honor of the recently deceased John Harvard, a minister from nearby Charlestown, who in his will had bequeathed to it his library and a sum of money. In the understanding of its members at the time, the name "Harvard College" probably referred to the first (as they foresaw it) of a number of colleges which would someday make up a university along the lines of Oxford or Cambridge. The American usage of the word college had not yet developed: to the founders of Harvard, a college was an association of teachers and scholars for education, room, and board. Only a university could examine for and grant degrees; nonetheless, unhampered by this technicality, Harvard graduated its first students in 1642.

But no further colleges were founded beside it; and as Harvard began to grant higher degrees in the late eighteenth century, people started to call it "Harvard University." "Harvard College" survived, nonetheless; in accordance with the newly-emerging American usage of the words, it was the undergraduate division of the university—which was not a collection of similar colleges, but a collection of unique schools, each teaching a different subject.

Harvard's principal governing board (which happens to be the oldest continuous corporation in the western hemisphere) still goes by its original name of "The President and Fellows of Harvard College" even though it has charge of the entire university and the "fellows" today are simply external trustees such as those who govern most American educational bodies—not residential educators like the fellows of an Oxbridge college.

House system

Nearly all students at Harvard College live on campus. First-year students live in dormitories in or near Harvard Yard. Upperclass students live mainly in a system of twelve residential "Houses", which serve as administrative units of the College as well as dormitories. Each house is presided over by a "Master"—a senior faculty member who is responsible for guiding the social life and community of the House—and a "Senior Tutor", who acts as dean of the students in the House in its administrative role.

The House system was instituted by Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell in the 1930s, although the number of Houses, their demographics, and the methods by which students are assigned to particular Houses have all changed drastically since the founding of the system. Lowell modeled it on the system of constituent colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and the Houses borrow terminology from Oxford and Cambridge such as Junior Common Room (the set of undergraduates affiliated with a House) and Senior Common Room (the Master, Senior Tutor, and other faculty members, advisors, and graduate students associated with the House). Non-faculty members of the Senior Common Room of a House are given the title "Tutor".

Nine of the Houses are situated south of Harvard Yard, near the busy commercial district of Harvard Square, along or close to the northern banks of the Charles River, and so are known colloquially as the River Houses. These are:

The remainder of the residential Houses are located around Harvard's Quadrangle (or "the Quad", formerly the "Radcliffe Quadrangle"), in a more suburban residential neighborhood half a mile (800 m) northwest of Harvard Yard. These housed Radcliffe College students until Radcliffe merged its residential system with Harvard. They are:

  • Cabot House, previously called South House, renamed in 1983 for Harvard donors Thomas Dudley Cabot and Virginia Cabot;
  • Currier House, named for Radcliffe alumna Audrey Bruce Currier;
  • Pforzheimer House, often called PfoHo for short, previously called North House, renamed in 1995 for Harvard donors Carl and Carol Pforzheimer

There is a thirteenth House, Dudley House [4] (http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~dudley/), which is nonresidential but fulfills, for some graduate students and off-campus undergraduates (including members of the Dudley Co-op (http://hcs.harvard.edu/~dudcoop/)) the same administrative and social functions as the residential Houses do for undergraduates who live on campus. It is named after Thomas Dudley, who signed the charter of Harvard College when he was Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Tentative plans have been proposed for expanding the House system using land owned by Harvard in Allston, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from the River Houses. Suggestions include moving the Quadrangle Houses to Allston and building up to eight new Houses there. It has not yet been decided whether any of these proposals will be adopted.

Harvard's residential houses are paired with Yale's residential colleges in sister relationships; see the Harvard-Yale sister colleges article for more information.


Majors at Harvard College are known as concentrations. As of 2003, Harvard College offered 41 different concentrations:



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