Eligibility and Lottery System

To participate in the option studio lottery, students must be enrolled in one of the following:

  • MArch I, 5th or 6th term
  • MArch II, any term
  • MLA I, 5th or 6th term
  • MLA II, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th term
  • MAUD or MLAUD, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th term
  • MUP, 3rd or 4th term

Students in MArch I or MLA I may take no more than one option studio outside of their department (except by Program Director approval). MAUD and MLAUD students in their second term must take a studio offered in the Department of Urban Planning and Design. MLA II students must take at least one option studio offered by the Department of Landscape Architecture. MArch II students must take at least two option studios offered by the Department of Architecture. If you have any questions concerning your eligibility, please consult your Program Director.

By way of a technique called “linear programming,” the GSD lottery is designed to assign as many students as possible to their highest-ranked studio. This computer program seeks to maximize ‘Total-Highest-Choice’ across all students, limited by available studio spaces. No priority is given based on department, degree program, or semester. The number of students in each studio is constrained by the faculty member, department guidelines which specify a maximum number of students per studio instructor, and by expense considerations.

The lottery is supervised each semester by the Program Directors and witnessed by a Student Forum representative.

For further details on the technical aspects of the lottery, please see Lottery Technique section below.

Studio Descriptions and Presentations

Descriptions for option studios are posted to the GSD Course Bulletin. You will find the studios’ scheduled meeting times there as well. Please note that the course bulletin is an active document; updates to the course bulletin will be taking place until the lottery, and in some cases, after the start of the academic term.

Option studio presentations will be prerecorded and accessible through the Option Studio Presentations page. Presentations generally consist of thorough studio descriptions, pedagogic objectives, appropriateness to students in programs outside the department offering the studio, course schedule, instructor attendance, and travel plans. Please pay close attention to these details and consider them when you rank your choices on your ballot.

Recommended Backgrounds

Not all students in all programs will possess the capabilities necessary to undertake certain projects proposed by critics. See the current semester’s Option Studio Details page for more information. This information should be taken into consideration when students rank choices on the lottery ballot. Please note that appropriate background means that a student is currently enrolled in a degree program in the discipline, or previously obtained a degree in the discipline. Failure to select studios for which a student is eligible will result in the student being randomly assigned in a studio in which they are eligible.

Studio Travel

Some studios will incorporate a trip/site visit into the studio plans. Participating in a programmed studio site visit is a requirement. Any student who is unable or unwilling to travel will be assigned alternative work in lieu of participation in the trip. Students interested in a studio with a travel component should carefully review the GSD Travel Safety and Guidelines. Please be sure to investigate and fully understand the implications of travel. Please note that travel is always accompanied by certain risks. All studio trips are subject to security and safety considerations and may be cancelled at any time.

Students are expected to cover their own meals and incidentals for all GSD related travel. Incidentals can include taxis, airport taxes, meals, fees, immunizations, and other costs associated with the trip. These costs are in addition to the amount of term bill listed. Please note that there will be one set itinerary planned and arranged for all students in a studio. Any modifications are the responsibility of the individual student (including costs incurred). For more information on specific sites for each studio, please see this semester’s Option Studio Details page.

Teaching Assistants are not permitted to travel unless they are enrolled in the course/studio that is traveling.

Lottery Ballot Procedures

You must cast your ballot online via my.Harvard. Note that you will be allowed to adjust your ballot between the time that the lottery opens and closes—please make sure your submitted choices are accurate before the deadline. The results of the lottery will be shared via my.Harvard. You will be automatically enrolled in the studio in which you are lotteried. Lottery ballot submissions and results are binding. A student’s failure to properly submit a lottery ballot will result in a random assignment to a studio.

Students are provided the opportunity to petition the results of their studio placement. Petitions will be reviewed by a committee consisting of the Program Directors, the Executive Dean, and the Director of Administration for Academic Affairs. Students should submit a written appeal to their Program Coordinators (Sarah Hutchinson for UPD, Tiffany Yee for LA and  Nicole Lasko for Arch). Exceptions are rarely granted.

While there may be an advantage in certain cases to stacking your lottery choices by placing what you think will be popular studios behind your first choice, this approach is not reliable as your perception about which studios are popular may not be accurate.

If you have questions about the lottery procedure or your eligibility, please contact your departmental Program Coordinator.

Lottery Technique

The lottery procedure uses a technique called ‘linear programming’ to find an optimum solution which minimizes ‘unhappiness’: the sum of assignments that are not first choice, weighted by how far from first choice they are–so a fourth choice is much more unhappy than a second choice, for example. (This is not the same as maximizing the number of first choices; although the effect is similar, a single first choice may be sacrificed for greater overall ‘happiness’.) Whenever there is a tie, a random choice is made.

The enrollment number for each studio may be adjusted by a small amount in iterative runs of the lottery program by the program directors to increase first choice assignments or overall ‘happiness.’ The lottery software is blind to individual students’ names, departments, or previous lottery results.

Updated 8/12/2022