Harvard University: Excellence in Academics and Research


With a history dating back to 1636, Harvard University is the oldest higher education institution in the United States. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard is renowned for both its highly selective undergraduate college and its outstanding graduate and professional schools. As one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard continues to shape minds and ideas across disciplines.

History of Harvard University

Harvard University was established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after its first benefactor, John Harvard, an English minister who immigrated to Massachusetts and left his library of 400 books and half his estate to the new institution upon his death.

In its early decades, Harvard trained Puritan ministers for the growing Massachusetts colonies and taught a traditional classical curriculum focused on Greek, Latin, rhetoric and logic. Requirements like daily chapel attendance reflected the religious foundation of colonial Harvard. The College offered only three bachelor’s degree programs in arts, divinity and medicine through most of the 18th century.

During the 18th century Enlightenment, Harvard’s curriculum began expanding beyond just ministry preparation to encompass history, math, natural philosophy, astronomy, chemistry and modern languages. Under President John Leverett, Harvard also adopted a more open enrollment policy beyond just Puritan men of means. The colonial college was transitioning into a modern American university.

The 19th century brought immense growth and reform under presidents like Edward Everett, Jared Sparks and Charles W. Eliot. Harvard abolished required religious training in favor of broader student freedom. It established new academic departments in law (1817), medicine (1847), dentistry (1867) and business (1908). Electives replaced fixed course programs, allowing student choice in studies. Harvard also expanded from an all-male college to begin admitting women in 1879.

Through alumni philanthropy, Harvard amassed an endowment that made it the wealthiest academic institution in the world by the early 20th century. Prestigious faculty appointments like biologist Louis Agassiz in 1848 boosted Harvard’s reputation as a center of learning. Student enrollment tripled from just over 600 in 1866 to close to 2000 by 1900 as Harvard became a university of national stature.

Harvard underwent further growth and change through the 20th century under presidents like Charles W. Eliot, Derek Bok and Neil Rudenstine. It reformed undergraduate education, increased research initiatives, and expanded its physical campus from 84 to over 500 acres. New libraries, museums, laboratories and academic facilities reflected Harvard’s rise to become a leading global university. Breakthrough discoveries and ideas across fields emerged from scholars affiliated with Harvard.

Today Harvard comprises twelve degree-granting faculties and schools focused on arts, sciences, medicine, law, design, divinity, government, education, business and public health. Nearly 23,000 students are enrolled across Harvard’s undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. The university has produced over 150 Nobel laureates and countless leaders in the public and private spheres. Harvard’s history mirrors the rise of higher education itself in America over nearly four centuries.

Organization and Academics

As a decentralized university, Harvard is organized into twelve degree-granting faculties and schools with considerable autonomy over their operations. These include:

– Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS)
– Harvard Medical School
– Harvard Law School
– Harvard Business School
– Harvard Graduate School of Design
– Harvard Divinity School
– Harvard Graduate School of Education
– Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
– Harvard Kennedy School of Government
– Harvard Dental School
– Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
– Harvard Engineering School

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) lies at Harvard’s historic foundation. The FAS includes Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Harvard Division of Continuing Education. Among graduate and professional schools, standouts include Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.

Joint degree programs like the MD-PhD allow students to combine studies across Harvard’s schools. Dual graduate degrees expand options, for instance pairing a Kennedy School Master’s in Public Policy with a degree in law, business, or medicine from another Harvard school.

Harvard offers 46 undergraduate concentrations (majors) spanning humanities, social sciences and natural sciences within Harvard College. At the graduate level, over 170 master’s and doctoral degree programs are available across disciplines. Harvard also grants 32 professional degrees including the MBA, MD, JD and Master’s in Education. Nearly 23,000 students are enrolled across Harvard’s degree programs as of 2022.

With over 2300 faculty members, Harvard counts many of the world’s most influential scholars and researchers across domains of human knowledge. Current faculty include pioneer of CRISPR gene editing Jennifer Doudna, string theory physicist Lisa Randall, evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, linguist Steven Pinker and critical race theorist Cornel West.

Over 150 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with Harvard highlighting the university’s role generating breakthrough insights. Pioneering Harvard scholars from history include George Santayana, W.E.B. Du Bois, Gertrude Stein, Henry Kissinger and Helen Keller among countless other luminaries who taught at Harvard.

As an institution, Harvard prizes both teaching and research with annual research expenditures exceeding $1 billion. Harvard consistently ranks #1 or #2 among universities worldwide for both quality of education and research output across disciplines. Its library system also stands as the largest academic library worldwide with over 20 million volumes across 100 libraries on campus.

Student Life and Culture

Harvard College emphasizes student independence and self-direction academically through its curriculum centered on electives. Undergraduates build their own concentration (major) through choosing four to six courses from over 5000 options reflecting individual interests and goals. Distribution requirements encourage breadth across humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

First-year students live together in one of twelve residential houses integrating academic, social and community aspects of college life. Each house becomes students’ home on campus, with dorms, faculty deans, gathering spaces, sports teams and long-held traditions. Ranging from Victorian mansions to modern high-rises, Harvard’s houses foster identity and belonging within a large university enrollment.

The House System forms the heart of Harvard’s undergraduate experience, promoting bonding between students, faculty and staff. Houses host lectures, concerts, dinners and events throughout the academic year. Freshman entryways facilitate first-year bonding through shared dorms, common rooms and advising. Many undergrads remain in their House all four years, assuming student leadership roles as seniors.

Outside class, Harvard undergraduates enjoy a rich array of over 400 student organizations spanning interests from journalism and activism to arts, music, drama, and athletics. Harvard fields 42 Division I varsity teams competing in the Ivy League conference, with legendary rivalries like the annual Harvard-Yale football game. The sights and culture of nearby Boston also provide constant entertainment.

Between their academics, House life and extracurricular activities, Harvard students bond through shared adventures and growth during their four-year journey. Lifelong ties often form with classmates who become trusted friends and future collaborators after graduation. A worldwide network of over 350,000 living alumni connects students to opportunities and support even after leaving campus.

Campus and Facilities

Harvard’s campus spans around 500 acres in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts across the Charles River from downtown Boston. Historical architecture including the John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard complements modern facilities created by leading architects like Frank Gehry.

Harvard Yard holds old dorms, halls and buildings dating to the 17th century heart of Harvard College. Nearby quadrangles house freshman dorms, while Radcliffe Yard has administrative and library buildings for the former women’s college. Modern additions around Harvard Square include science and research centers along with libraries like the concrete-and-glass Cabot Science Library.

Harvard’s professional schools occupy different campuses around Cambridge and Boston. Harvard Medical School and related hospitals are located in the Longwood Medical Area. Harvard Business School resides across the river in Allston, as does Harvard’s innovation complex encompassing science, engineering and design. Harvard Law School anchors Harvard’s campus near central Cambridge beside the undergraduate houses.

Arts venues include the Victorian-style Sanders Theatre, Loeb Drama Center, and museums like the Fogg, Sackler and Natural History. Athletic facilities include Harvard Stadium housing the football team, Lavietes Pavilion for basketball, and the Bright Hockey Center. Amenities supporting campus life range from lecture halls to cafes to student services in University Hall.

Harvard’s Widener Library constitutes the university’s main library housing over 3 million volumes. The library system overall encompasses 79 libraries across faculties holding over 20 million items including rare books, manuscripts, photographs, microforms and more. Harvard’s library resources underpin research and scholarship across all academic disciplines pursued at the university.

Global Reach and Influence

With over 23,000 students combined across its degree programs, Harvard builds global connections through a diverse student body representing over 100 countries. Nearly 10% of undergraduates are international students, while others represent all 50 U.S. states. Comprehensive financial aid opens Harvard’s doors to promising students regardless of economic background.

Over 70% of Harvard undergraduates receive need-based scholarships averaging over $50,000. Over 20% of students qualify for Pell Grants, and 17% are first-generation college attendees, showing that economic diversity thrives at Harvard. The Harvard name may confer prestige, but the university aims to shape leaders committed to public interest and progress worldwide.

Legacies of leadership among Harvard alumni include eight U.S. presidents, more than 30 international heads of state, and many CEOs of major global corporations like Microsoft and Goldman Sachs. Harvard’s graduate schools have educated leaders across law, medicine and policy who rise to influence domestically and abroad.

The Harvard Kennedy School in particular trains leaders seeking careers in public service and governance. Its alumni include the current U.N. Secretary General plus over 100 past and present heads of state. Through such influence, Harvard advances its ideals of positive world impact in the realms of policy, business, law, technology and more.

Looking abroad, Harvard builds partnerships globally through research collaborations, faculty exchanges and study abroad options. The Harvard Center Shanghai represents one outpost promoting scholarly exchange between the U.S. and China. Harvard also belongs to academic consortiums like Universitas 21 and the Global University Leaders Forum facilitating cooperation between top universities internationally.

Through its global community and sphere of influence, Harvard contributes significantly to knowledge sharing and progress worldwide. The university lives up to its original motto ‘Truth’ as it brings people together across borders in the shared search for answers that uplift humanity.

Campus Life and Traditions

Beyond academics, Harvard students partake in a rich campus life including arts, athletics, organizations and annual traditions. Extracurricular activities provide balance alongside academic pressures. Harvard’s houses foster social connection through events, bonding and house pride.

Arts scene highlights include the Office for the Arts supporting student arts groups and performances. Options range from classical music with the Bach Society Orchestra to theater productions in the Loeb Drama Center. The Harvard Art Museums offer free admission to students plus programming like sketching in the galleries.

Harvard athletics comprise 42 Division I varsity teams competing in the Ivy League. The Harvard Crimson name encompasses men’s and women’s sports from crew to swimming, fencing to volleyball. The Harvard-Yale football rivalry represents the nation’s oldest collegiate rivalry dating to 1875. Harvard has won national championships in sports from football to women’s hockey.

Clubs and activities cater to all student interests. Some favorites include the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine, The Harvard Crimson newspaper, Harvard Model Congress, Harvard College Consulting Group and Harvard Undergraduate Drummers. Religious, cultural, identity-based, and political clubs encompass the diversity of campus. Performing groups, Design Studio and 200+ more organizations round out opportunities.

Cherished traditions help mark the seasons and milestones of university life. Highlights include Freshman Parents’ Weekend each fall, the Harvard-Yale Game followed by The Game parties, and festive Wintersession activities before exams. Harvard students share bonds and memories through these traditions.

The Future of Harvard

Heading into its fifth century, Harvard University continues pursuing truth, academic excellence and positive impact worldwide. The university blends tradition with constant renewal as it pushes boundaries of teaching, research and innovation.

Harvard evolves its academic programs to delve into emerging fields like data science, human-centered AI, genetics and computational biology. Cutting-edge institutes like the Harvard Data Science Initiative involve cross-disciplinary collaboration to solve pressing global problems. Expanding diversity and affordability remain priorities as well.

The Harvard Campaign culminating in 2026 aims to raise $9 billion further supporting students, faculty, research and campus renewal. New centers like the Harvard ArtLab encourage creativity across disciplines. Partnerships with industry and government address real-world issues from medicine to education to sustainability.

Through its outstanding faculty, brilliant students, dedicated alumni and spirit of progress, Harvard persists as a model of excellence that other universities worldwide aspire to match. As new generations pass through its gates, Harvard’s light shines ever brighter guiding humanity forward through reason and discovery. The university’s motto ‘Truth’ carries Harvard ahead through its fifth century and beyond.


As the oldest institution of higher learning in America, Harvard University has achieved preeminence through nearly 400 years of commitment to education, research and public leadership. With graduate and professional schools setting standards across law, medicine, business and public policy, Harvard prepares talented minds to make transformation contributions to the world.

The university upholds excellence across liberal arts and sciences disciplines, allowing students to pursue their intellectual passions. Student freedom and self-direction have defined the Harvard College experience since the 19th century. Its residential house system builds community across Harvard’s student diversity.

Through its faculty, students, graduates, discoveries and global influence, Harvard has impacted the advancement of human knowledge and progress like few other academic institutions. As a focal point for ambition, innovation and service to society, Harvard represents the enduring promise of higher education to shape humanity’s brightest future. The university continues pursuing this vision today and beyond as it builds upon nearly four centuries of history at the forefront of education.

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