Social Studies is a great concentration for students who are interested in studying a social science topic from an interdisciplinary perspective. Students craft their own plans of study, drawing courses from across the college and, frequently, from the graduate schools. We offer small tutorials, one-on-one advising, and a vibrant and supportive intellectual community. Social Studies students develop excellent analytical, research, and writing skills, and they devote their senior year to writing a thesis, which serves both as a capstone to their undergraduate education and a chance to develop and complete a major independent project.
You don’t need to know what you want to study to declare Social Studies, but you do need to be committed to actively shaping your undergraduate education and to working closely with your adviser to identify and pursue your academic interests. Our curriculum is sufficiently flexible that students can change their focus fields, if necessary, up to the beginning of their senior year. Our curriculum is also flexible enough to allow students to complete pre-medical requirements or to complete secondary fields in areas that are different from their focus fields.
First-year students considering Social Studies may want to take Economics 10 or any upper level course for which Economics 10 is a prerequisite. They may also want to take an ethical reasoning or philosophy course to determine whether they enjoy social theory. Most importantly, students should take social science courses in areas that interest them. For example, a student who is interested in development in East Asia should take a course on that region to learn more about the history, economics, or politics of at least one of the countries in that area of the world. A student who is interested in poverty in the United States should take a course on a related topic, such as a sociology course on urban poverty or a course on social problems in the American economy.
Potential concentrators must enroll in Social Studies 10a, which is a prerequisite for applying to the concentration. Sophomores should take courses in economics and statistics, especially if they are planning to study abroad their junior year, and should continue to take social science courses in areas that interest them.
High school students who are interested in applying to Harvard College should contact Harvard College Admissions with any questions. Members of the Social Studies Committee will be happy to advise you after you have been accepted to Harvard and have enrolled in classes as a first-year student.
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.
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.
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.
You should petition the Board of Instruction to count this course when you submit your plan of study. Typically, courses that have substantial social science, historical, or social theoretical content (e.g., more than half of the topics covered) can be counted, as can courses taught by faculty members with Ph.D.s in the social sciences, history, or continental philosophy.
Yes. If you change thesis topics, and your new topic does not follow from your original focus field courses, you will need develop a new plan of study and, if necessary, take courses during your senior year to complete it.