Frequently Asked Questions

Application Process
Transcripts and Recommendations
If I'm Admitted
Financial Aid

Q: I don't have a background in designcan I still apply?

A: Yes. Our first professional degrees (MArch I, MLA I, MUP) do not require a previous design background, although a four-year bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree, or its equivalent, is required in order to apply. For architecture and landscape architecture you will need to submit a portfolio as part of the admissions process; however, some preparation in drawing will be needed. The Master in Urban Planning program does not require a design portfolio.

Q: Do I need to take specific courses during my undergraduate studies to prepare to apply?

A: For the first professional degree in Architecture, specific courses are required. The MArch I/MArch I AP program has 4 prerequisite courses: one semester of college-level calculus, one-semester of college-level physics, and two semesters of art or architectural history (covering the Renaissance to Modern periods). 

For the first professional degree in Landscape Architecture, specific courses are required. The MLA I/MLA I AP program has 3 prerequisite courses: one semester of college-level environmental science, one semester of visual arts, and one semester of history of the built environment.

A grade of B- or higher must be achieved in all prerequisite courses.

Q: What if I haven't met one of the course prerequisites? Can I still apply?

A: Yes, you can still apply; the prerequisites are for enrollment, not admission. If you are admitted but have not completed one of the prerequisites, you would be admitted conditionally and would need to fulfill the prerequisite before you matriculate in the fall. Keep in mind that it is in your best interest to have completed most of the prerequisites as it may be difficult to enroll in multiple courses during a summer semester.

Prerequisite courses may be taken at any accredited college or university or even online. The courses must be taken for credit, and you must be able to provide us with a transcript showing the course you took and the grade you received. 

Q: What kind of physics course (for MArch I and MArch I AP) are you looking for?

A: Algebra-based physics covering mechanics and thermodynamics. Typically the introductory physics course for science majors will fulfill the requirement. The course does not need to include a lab component.

Q: What do I need to take to fulfill the history of architecture requirement for MArch I?

A: Two semesters of the history of architecture (together covering Renaissance through Modern periods at minimum).  For example, two semesters of history of architecture survey courses covering Ancient-to-Renaissance and Renaissance-to-Modern would fulfill the prerequisites, or one history of architecture survey course that covers the Renaissance to Modern periods plus a course that focuses on a particular time period or topic in the history of architecture.  Essentially you must have two history of architecture courses, and the Renaissance through Modern periods must be covered.

Q: What kind of courses for MLA I  are you looking for?

A: For environmental science, college-level environmental science, such as ecology or plant science. For visual arts, college-level drawing course is preferred. The history of the built environment could include history of architecture, history of gardens and designed landscapes, environmental history, or urban history.

Q: Can I use AP classes to fulfill the prerequisites?

Scores of 4 or 5 on AP exams will fulfill these prerequisites only if your undergraduate school has awarded credit for these courses and the credits appear on your transcript.

Q: I will complete my undergraduate degree in May of 2016. Can I apply for Fall 2016?

A: Yes. However, if you are admitted, you will need to send us a final transcript from your school once it is available that shows the degree received and the date you receive it.


Q: I'm currently enrolled in another graduate school. Can I transfer credits?

A: No, the GSD does not accept transfer credits for work completed at another institution.

Q: Do all materials need to arrive at the GSD by the deadline?

A: Yes. All application materials and supporting documents must be submitted online and received (in the case of GRE, and TOEFL scores) by the Office of Admissions on or before the appropriate application deadline. Be sure to give your recommenders plenty of advance notice. Submission of online materials must be completed by 11:59 p.m. Boston time on the day of the deadline.

Q: I applied last year, is there a special procedure I need to follow? Do I need to resubmit all of the application materials again?

A: Regardless of whether you are applying for the first time or re-applying, all applicants must follow the same application procedure. Even if you have previously submitted an application, all materials must be resubmitted for the new application year, including all letters of recommendation. The only exception to this is test scores (as long as they are still valid - 5 years for GRE, 2 years for TOEFL). Unless you have retaken the GRE or TOEFL since your last application, you do not need to have ETS send scores again.

Q: Are interviews required?

A: Interviews are not required, although you are welcome and encouraged to visit the school. An Admissions Open House is scheduled each fall at the GSD, normally the first or second Friday in November. If you are not able to visit for Open House, the Admissions Office also conducts Information Sessions and Tours of the GSD throughout the year. Please go to the "Visiting the GSD" page of the website to view the calendar showing the dates of these sessions.

Q: When should I take the GRE?

A: GRE scores must be received by the Office of Admissions on or before the deadline for the program to which you are applying. Please allow sufficient time for scores to reach us. Results of the computer-based examinations are mailed to the GSD approximately 10-15 days after testing; results of paper-based examinations take a minimum of eight weeks to reach the GSD. When requesting that scores be sent to the GSD, applicants should use the institution code for the Graduate School of Design (3455); a department code is not needed.

Q: The new version of the GRE came out in August 2011. Will the GSD still accept the old version? Do you prefer one version over the other?

A: Yes, the old version of the GRE will continue to be acceptable for applications to the GSD as long as the scores are still valid (within the past 5 years). For the Fall 2014 application, there is no preference for the new version over the old.

Q: How will scores from the new GRE (130-170 score range) be evaluated as compared to the old 200-800 scoring system?

A: ETS, the organization that administers the GRE, has published a conversion chart to relate new scores to old scores. GSD admission committees will be using the conversion chart this year in order to evaluate all students equally, regardless of which version of the GRE was submitted.

Q: Can I waive the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)? Can I substitute another exam? How important is the GRE?

A: It is not possible to waive the GRE. All applicants must take it, although applicants to the area of Real Estate and the Built Environment in the Master in Design Studies degree program  may submit the GRE or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Test scores are one tool by which the committee evaluates an applicant. Keep in mind that they are also looking closely at transcripts, recommendations, essays, resumes, and portfolios.

Q: Is there a cut-off point for GPA or GRE scores?

A: We do not have a cut-off point for GPA or GRE scores, although successful applicants typically have at least a 3.4 GPA. The average GRE scores for the 2015 incoming class were 158 for the verbal, 157 for the quantitative, and 4.0 for the analytical writing sections. We encourage you to apply whether or not you meet these guidelines. Keep in mind that all components of the application are taken into consideration.

Q: For international students, is there a minimum TOEFL score that must be achieved?

A: Yes. On the TOEFL iBT, our minimum required score is 92, with minimum section requirements of 23. The preferred TOEFL iBT score is 104, with individual section scores of 26 or above. If your score falls between the minimum and preferred, you will be required to take an English language course at Harvard the summer before you enroll. The English language course (English for Design) runs from late June through mid-August.

The TOEFL paper-based test (PBT) is accepted by the GSD if it is the only option offered where an applicant lives. If it is possible to take the iBT instead of the PBT, that is the format of the TOEFL that should be chosen. When requesting that scores be sent to Harvard University, applicants should use the institution code for the Graduate School of Design (3455); a department code is not needed.

Q: Can other tests of English proficiency, such as the IELTS, be substituted for the TOEFL?

A: No. The only test of English proficiency that we accept is the TOEFL.

Q: Can I apply for more than one program at the same time?

A: Yes. You will need to submit a separate application and supporting materials (including the portfolio) for each program. The only exceptions are official score reports for the GRE and TOEFL and letters of recommendation; duplicate copies of these do not need to be provided. In the online application, you may import submitted letters of recommendation from one application to another.

If you are applying to multiple programs, please indicate your first choice on the application. If you wish to be considered for a concurrent degree, please indicate this information on the application. 

Q: Can I do two degrees at the same time?

A: It is possible to do two GSD degrees (concurrent degrees) or two degrees within Harvard (joint degrees). In both instances, you need to apply to each program and be admitted independently to each program. If you are admitted to two GSD degree programs and decide to do both, you would work with the academic programs to plan a course of study, which must be approved by both departments. Your program would be, at minimum, one year longer than the longest program.

The GSD has officially sanctioned joint degree programs with the Harvard Law School (MUP/JD) and with the Harvard Kennedy School (MUP/MPP and MUP/MPA).  If you are admitted to either of these Harvard graduate schools, you must confer with the Registrar at each school to work out an acceptable plan of study.

More information on concurrent and joint degrees is available on the concurrent and joint degree webpage.


Q: How do I submit my transcript(s)? Do I need to send an official copy with my application?

A: Transcripts must be submitted electronically through the online application. Applicants should scan a copy of their transcript(s) and upload it into the online application (for more detailed instructions on how to complete the upload process, please see the documents/essays step in the online application). The application process is conducted online, any hardcopy application materials will not be considered.

Applicants are only required to submit official transcripts, sent directly from their previous institution to the GSD, after they are admitted and decide to enroll at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Q: How should I submit letters of recommendation to the GSD? Is there a form that goes with the letter?

A: All letters of recommendation must be submitted electronically through the online application. In the online application, under Recommendations, applicants are given the opportunity to register recommenders. Once a recommender has been registered, the online application will automatically send them an email message indicating the recommendation request and giving them the necessary instructions and links to complete the recommendation. They will be directed to complete an online form and given the opportunity to upload a letter. 

Please make your recommenders aware that the email will come from Harvard Graduate School of Design,

Applications may be submitted before recommendations are received. The deadline for recommendations is the same as the application deadline. 

Q: One of my recommenders prefers to send a paper letter as opposed to submitting online. Is this an option?

A: All letters of recommendation for GSD programs must be submitted through the electronic process outlined in the online application. The Admissions Committee reviews applications electronically, so letters submitted by paper will not be able to be viewed in the online application evaluation. Please see the answer to the previous question for information on what recommenders should expect to see when going through the process. 

Q: Can I submit more than three recommendations? On the online application form there are only three slots to type in names.

A: Yes. Up to five recommendations may be submitted. You are able to register up to five in the Recommendations section of the online application.

Q: I'm a re-applicant. Do I need to submit recommendations for this year's application if they were submitted last year? Do I need to ask different recommenders?

A: The new application procedure does not allow us to transfer old application material to the current application, so all recommendations must be resubmitted if you are re-applying. If you wish, you are welcome to ask the same recommenders as last year, and they are welcome to submit the same or a similar letter as the one they previously wrote.


Q: How do I submit my portfolio to the GSD?

A: Portfolios must be submitted through the online application. 

Q: Can I mail in a hard copy of my portfolio? Is submitting a digital copy required?

A: All portfolios must be submitted through the online system. Applicants may not send portfolios to the GSD through the mail. The application process is conducted online, any hardcopy application materials will not be considered.

Q: Where can I find instructions on how to submit my portfolio?

A: The instructions for applying for admission, which include the portfolio instructions, are located both on the GSD Admissions website and within the online application. You can access the directions by logging into your online application and clicking on the Instructions tab on the upper left side of the screen.

Q: How are spreads viewed?

A: The Admissions Committee will view each page of the PDF separately. If you wish to maintain the spread, we suggest that you turn a two-page spread into a single page in a PDF. Otherwise, what would have been two pages in a printed portfolio will be two pages in the PDF. 

Q: If I’m applying to two programs, do I need to submit two portfolios?

A: Yes, you do need to make two portfolio submissions if you are applying to two programs. These submissions can be identical copies of the same portfolio if the content is applicable to both programs, or you can submit two separate portfolios tailored for each individual program. Two submissions are needed because each program has its own distinct Admissions Committee, and the members of the committee only have access to the portfolios submitted to their program.

Q: Does the GSD have any sample portfolios?

A: No, we do not have any sample portfolios. A wide variety of design work and portfolio styles are submitted; there is no one type of correct or successful portfolio.


Q: When will I hear?

A: Applicants will receive their decision by early March. Admitted students will also receive financial aid information (if they applied for financial aid) along with a variety of materials about housing, student groups, etc. Students offered admission must let us know their decision by April 15. An open house for admitted students is scheduled every April.

Q: Is it possible to defer?

A: No, the GSD does not grant deferrals. If you are admitted but unable to attend, you would need to reapply.

Q: I've been admitted to the MArch I program, and I do not have a design background. Does the GSD offer any basic design courses over the summer?

A: The GSD offers an optional digital skills course for incoming students, which is required for all entering MArch I students without an undergraduate degree in architecture. Scheduled in August for the two weeks before classes begin, the course is taught by upper-level GSD students and provides an introduction to basic knowledge of the workflows and digital techniques used in the context of studios: 3D software basics, rendering basics, data-transfer from 3D software, output and model building techniques using CAD/CAM facilities. 

Information about this course will be sent to incoming students in May.

Q: Where do most students live? Are there dorms?

A: Most students live off-campus in apartments in Cambridge or a nearby town. The GSD has 40 rooms available to its students in the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dorms. Information on how to apply for a dorm room is included in admission packets. Returning students are also eligible to apply for those dorm rooms, although preference is given to incoming students. Another graduate dorm, Cronkhite, is also available to our students, as is university-owned housing. The Harvard Housing Office handles university-owned housing. Harvard Housing also has listings of apartments that are available locally (not Harvard-owned). Many students find housing through these listings.


Q: How can I start gathering information on financial aid and scholarships?

A: The GSD Financial Aid Offices website is a great place to start. There are separate sections for US masters students and international masters students, as well as a section for those looking to pursue doctoral studies (both US and international students).

Q: How much will it cost to do one of the programs at the GSD?

A: The GSD sets tuition and fees on a yearly basis and also establishes a budget that provides estimations of other items, such as room and board for the academic year. The current year’s figures can be found on the GSD website under annual costs. To get an approximate idea of what the full cost of a program will be, just multiply the total amount of the budget by the length of the program in years (i.e. MArch II is 2 years, so estimated cost of MArch II = budget x 2). All master’s students follow the same budget, but there is a separate budget for doctoral students.

Q: Is there financial aid available for International Students?

A: Yes, the GSD does have a need-based grant program available for international students who qualify.

Q: I'm an international student; how do I apply for financial aid?

A: The GSD Financial Aid Office has its own financial aid application for international students. This application is made available to current applicants during the month of January and is due in early February; it can be found on the financial aid website.

Q: I'm a US student (citizen or permanent resident), is there a GSD specific financial aid application for me to apply?

A: No, US students should apply by using the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). By submitting this application, students are considered for both grant and loan awards. The FAFSA can be found online and should be submitted by early February. Students may obtain more information about submitting the FAFSA on the GSD website. 

Q: What does it mean to qualify for financial aid? How do I know if I qualify?

A: The majority of GSD financial aid funds are need-based awards, which means that funding is given based on the financial situation of the student. The only way to know if you will get financial aid is to apply. Since situations change from year to year and there are many variables involved, we cannot quote a specific level where students will or will not qualify for aid.

Q: The website says that financial aid applications are due by early February. Does this mean that I have to apply for financial aid before I know if I am admitted?

A: Yes, do not wait until you receive your admissions letter to apply for aid.

Q: If I am admitted to the GSD, will my financial aid package be included with my admissions letter?

A: As long as you apply for financial aid by the February deadline, you should get your financial aid package at the same time as your admissions letter. Please keep in mind that this also depends on the applicant filling out the financial aid application completely. An incomplete application can result in the financial aid package being delayed.

Q: I missed the financial aid application deadline. Does this mean I cannot get financial aid?!

A: Most likely, you will still be able to get financial aid (as long as you qualify). However, late applications may be subject to processing delays, so it is likely that you won’t receive your financial aid package with your admission letter. It is important to note that some sources of financial aid are limited, so timely applications are encouraged. If you notice that you have missed the deadline, it is best to apply as soon as possible.

Q: Does Harvard offer scholarships?

A: Yes, the Harvard Committee on General Scholarships offers a wide variety of awards for both US and international students. These scholarships require a separate application to apply. Some applicants need to submit additional materials to accompany the application. Please visit the Harvard Committee on General Scholarships for more information and instructions on how to apply.

Q: The Harvard Committee on General Scholarships website says I need to apply through my school?  What does this mean?

A: For these scholarships, you will need to refer to the Application for Restricted Scholarships website. This application should be mailed to the GSD Office of Financial Assistance.

Q: I missed the deadline for a scholarship. Does this mean I cannot apply for it?

A: Unlike the financial aid deadline, scholarship deadlines are firm. It is unlikely that late scholarship applications will be considered.


Q: Will I be able to be a teaching fellow?

A: Doctoral students are eligible to serve as teaching fellows in lecture courses. Master's students are eligible to work as teaching assistants, helping faculty in both studio and lecture courses. Research assistants work with faculty on sponsored projects.

Q: I would like to take a few courses at the GSD. Is this possible?

A: You must be enrolled in a full-time degree program in order to take courses at the GSD. However, the school does offer intensive courses and workshops for GSD graduates and other design professionals through the Executive Education programs. And for those considering a career in design, Career Discovery is an intensive, six-week summer program that allows you to experience what education and work are like in the design professions.

Q: What are the student demographics of the GSD?

A: The GSD has over 800 students. About half of our students are women; one-quarter are minority; and one-third are international. The average age is 28.

Q: How can I earn money while I'm a student?

A: There are a number of work opportunities for students: work-study jobs in GSD and other Harvard offices; working with practitioners in local firms; teaching in the summer Career Discovery program; serving as teaching fellows in lecture courses (doctoral students only); working as a teaching assistant to faculty in both studio and lecture courses, or as a research assistant to faculty working on sponsored projects; resident assistant in the dorm during the summer Career Discovery program; the Summer Community Service program provides approximately 20 students with jobs in agencies and community grassroots organizations.

Q: Is there any career advising or help finding a job once I graduate?

A: The Career Services Office provides a variety of resources and services to students.


Q: If I have additional questions, how can I contact the GSD Admissions Office?

A: The best way to get in touch with us is via email. You can also call our office at 617.495.5453. The office is open Monday–Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., excluding holidays.


Admissions: Applying to the GSD: Frequently Asked Questions

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