Frequently Asked Questions

When should you study abroad?

As a Social Studies concentrator, you can study abroad during either the fall or spring of your junior year. If you study abroad junior fall, you won’t submit your focus field until you return for the spring semester, and you’ll be back on campus on time to submit grant applications for summer thesis research and locate a thesis supervisor. If you study abroad junior spring, then you 
will want to make sure that you’ve already begun the process of settling on a thesis topic and supervisor before you leave campus at the end of your junior fall semester. You’ll also need to submit your grant applications for thesis research funding from abroad. However, you’ll also have the advantage of using your study abroad to complete coursework related to your thesis and may even be able to begin thesis research. Many students stay abroad to complete thesis research through the summer following spring study abroad. The Social Studies at King’s College Program at the University of Cambridge is only available during the spring semester.

What kind of study abroad program should you choose?

As you narrow down your program choices for study abroad, you should keep in mind that there are different kinds of programs to consider. Options include programs run by Harvard University or Harvard University Institutes, such as the Semester Study Abroad Programs in Cuba, Chile, or Argentina run by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Research (DRCLAS); programs run by other colleges or universities, such as Middlebury College; or programs run through agencies that specialize in organizing study abroad, such as the School for International Training (SIT). Some Social Studies students also choose to directly enroll in pre-approved universities abroad, but students who choose this option should be independent and well-organized, as they will need to work out all bureaucratic issues, including locating housing abroad, on their own. A full listing of Harvard College pre-approved study abroad programs and foreign universities is available through the Office of International Education.

Where should you study abroad?

Social Studies students study abroad in all regions of the world—including Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. As you think about where you would like to go, and how that decision may be linked to your Social Studies focus field, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want to acquire proficiency in a particular foreign language?
  • Do you want to lay the foundations for future thesis research in a particular region or 
  • country?
  • Do you want to develop historical, economic, political, or other academic expertise in the world area you’re studying as part of your Social Studies focus field?
  • Do you want to gain real world experience in the world area you’ve been studying from an academic perspective?
  • Do you want an academically rigorous opportunity to work one-on-one with theorists and other scholars at King’s College, Cambridge? Do you wantto experience living outside the U.S., even if you have a focus field about some aspect of United States history, society, or politics?
  • Do you want to explore a thematic aspect of your focus field (for example, health and development, or social justice) through a study abroad program that also highlights that theme?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’ve got good reason to think that there will be a good academic “fit” between your plan of study in Social Studies and your plan to study abroad. A “yes” answer to any of these questions also gives you a good indication of which regions of the world you should (or shouldn’t!) be considering as potential study abroad locations.

How does study abroad fit with Social Studies concentration requirements?

The Social Studies curriculum is designed to encourage students to gain expertise both in political and social theory and also in an independently designed area of academic interest, what we call the “focus field.” Students’ focus fields cover a broad range of topics in history and the social sciences but are grounded both in a theme of study and also a regional area. Many students choose study abroad programs that complement their focus fields—by choosing either to study in a region related to their focus field interests, or to participate in a study abroad program with a thematic focus related to their focus field interests. In many cases, students return to the area where they’ve studied abroad to complete thesis research between their junior and senior years. Other students apply to go to the Social Studies at King’s Program at Cambridge University in England, where they can work one-on-one with Cambridge University faculty to complete coursework directly related to their focus field and thesis. (King’s is particularly recommended for students who are interested in furthering their studies of political theory and/or development.) In all cases, you’ll need to complete your study abroad during your junior year, so that you can be at Harvard your sophomore and senior years to complete your full year requirements of the Social Studies sophomore tutorial (SS10) and senior thesis (SS99).

Who will be my academic advisor in Social Studies?

First-semester sophomores will be advised in their houses, but are also encouraged to consult their sophomore tutor or members of our freshmen-sophomore advising team: Dr. Bonnie Talbert, the Assistant Director of Studies for Freshmen and Sophomores, and Kate Anable, our Undergraduate Program Administrator.

As soon as a student is admitted to Social Studies, he or she will be assigned an academic advisor. In the sophomore year, the academic advisor is the student’s sophomore tutor. At the end of the sophomore year, students can keep their current advisor or may ask for a new academic advisor.

What is a Focus Field? What is a Plan of Study?

A focus field is an interdisciplinary area of study chosen in the junior year and refined in the senior year; it should be associated with the student’s senior thesis topic. Students will be asked to submit an advisor-approved description of their focus field and their plan of study to the Social Studies Board of Instruction around October 1st of their junior year. The plan of study should include a minimum of four half-courses, normally drawn from at least two social science departments, and including at least one half-course on an historical topic. Members of the Board of Instruction will review this plan and may request revisions; students must have an approved plan on file by November 15th of their junior year.

Students will be allowed to make changes to their plans of study and will be asked to file their updated plan of study around October 1st of their senior year; the updated plan must be approved by November 15th. The senior plan of study must include the student’s senior thesis topic.

Students applying to Social Studies will be asked to describe a potential interdisciplinary focus field on their application, but will not be held to this focus field. 

Which courses automatically count in Social Studies?

Social Studies will count all courses in Anthropology, Economics, Government, History, and Sociology, as well as courses the General Education areas Ethical Reasoning, Societies of the World, and United States and the World, whether or not they are part of a student’s focus field in Social Studies.

Please note that for purposes of calculating honors we will include the grades in all courses you have taken that are acceptable for concentration credit, not just the courses you designate towards your plan of study or towards a specific concentration requirement.

Can I do a secondary field?

Yes, as long as the secondary field is substantially different from your focus field in Social Studies. Harvard College allows only one course to overlap between the primary and secondary fields, and Social Studies counts all social science and history courses for concentration credit. But students can petition to “unconc” (not count) courses in one of these departments at the beginning of their senior year, as long as they are submitting a plan of study that does not overlap with these courses, and as long as the discipline or disciplines they are covering in their thesis does not overlap with the courses they seek to “unconc.”

For example, a student who is writing on the political economy of Latin America, but has done significant coursework in history, can petition Social Studies to “unconc” a set of history courses, with the exception of one or more courses in Latin American history, which will count towards the focus field. But that student will not be allowed to “unconc” courses in economics or government, because the student’s thesis is drawing on those disciplines.

A student who is studying social theory and wants to take a secondary field in economics can petition Social Studies to “unconc” a set of economics courses, except for the one that will count towards the economics requirement in Social Studies.