Saturday, July 02, 2005

Questions from a prospective Harvard Extension School student

I have been having an email exchange with a prospective student of the ALB program (Harvard Extension School's undergraduate degree). Although I am an ALM candidate, I had a lot of interaction with ALB students. Lecture classes allow both undergraduate and graduate students to attend, albeit with different coursework and writing responsibilties. In addition, I have several former colleagues who got an ALB degree, or were in the process of getting one, so I heard a lot about the program from them. In any case, the email exchange might help others who are considering coming to the Harvard Extension School:

I guess my first specific question is: How did you find the program to be in terms of quality of instruction and rigor?

The quality has always been good, in the seven classes I have taken. These are taught by Harvard professors, or Harvard-affiliated researchers, and sometimes Harvard PhDs. For the one class that I took in which the prof did not have any Harvard affiliation (beyond his Extension School association), he was a professor at Boston College and the recognized leading expert in his field (Thomas O'Connor, who until last year taught the History of Boston).

The level of rigor has been mixed. Three classes I took were extremely difficult, in terms of reading, writing, and discussion. Of those three, two were seminar classes, and the prof expected you to be able to not only be able to discuss the readings (typically one scholarly book or packet of journal articles per week) but also actively debate some of the ideas and issues.

One of the seven classes I took was not rigorous at all, beyond the final paper and oral presentation, which seems to be required for many of the seminar-style classes, for both ALB and ALM. I know that some of my classmates could have skipped most of the readings and even some of the classes, and as long as they wrote a good paper, they probably got a B.

Since I'm an "adult" learner, my first concern is that I don't enter into a program that grants degrees to anyone with a tuition fee.

No way, this is not the case at the Extension School. For ALB program, and ALM, it is a quality education that really takes a lot of work.

How much flak do you get from the traditional "Harvard" students? My general impression is that they aren't too keen on the part-timers getting degrees with the word Harvard on them.

I think most don't think much about the Extension School; the only time we come into contact is in some lectures and at graduation.

They can complain about part-timers, but you know what? We study under the same professors, do a lot of difficult coursework and research, and have career and family responsibilities to boot. It's true that Harvard College and some of the Harvard's graduate schools have very rigorous admissions criteria, but the Extension School has its own set of criteria (for the ALM program, it's an extremely difficult seminar which requires at least a B to pass). At the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the acceptance rate is around 60%, and they don't even require a thesis to graduate.

Third, how were your classmates? One person commented that some truly weird people are drawn to classes at HES specifically because it's Harvard. As a result, you get some interesting characters in the student population.

You get all kinds of people in the classes. Some may be weird, but all are serious about learning.

One last piece of information I would like to give you is to verify how much previous credit you can carry over to the ALB program. It may not be much ... I remember hearing something about a time limit, and I know they do not accept certain external classwork because there is no equivalent at the Extension School.


Cybersam said...

I would like to add another point to the discussion. Another benefit of being associated with a top tier school, at least for me, is that I felt motivated to learn as much as possible so that I don't sound or look stupid in my profession after graduating from Harvard. There's always a higher expectation from a Harvard grad. :-)

Anonymous said...

from a former Extension ALM Grad: to quote Shakespeare: It is not what is written in the stars, but what is written in our minds that make us inferior. What do I mean? If you complete the program (in ALM most do not :1 in 10) then you ARE a Harvard graduate. With that comes the responsibility to help mankind in your own way. Complete your book. Study something important and make a difference. Stand with your head held high. You deserve it.

I Lamont said...

Anon: Where did you get the 1 in 10 stat?

Anonymous said...

I have to add to the first author's comments regarding having contact with the day school crowd. If you are an ALB/ALM student who is not simply taking classes at the ES, but actually accepted into the program, you will run into a lot of Harvard people at the different libraries, such as Widener, Lamont, etc. These people can be profs, students from the College/FAS, or one of the many grad schools, or perhaps a special borrower. Nobody seems to care where you are from because we're all there with the same thing in mind... studying or research.

Anonymous said...

Another point that needs to be made is that although they are quite on par academically, the Extension School does not follow the rich social traditions of the College.
The Extension school is meant for those of us who have distinct social aspects of our life that fills the void that is the remainder of our time away from academia.
In the College, the academic and social life is very intertwined, with traditions and functions which are solely geared towards a population that consists mostly of adolescents in the prime of their youth who can benefit from such interaction.
As a 30 year old ALB student, I do not have the time nor do I care for such social functions, as I have a family to go home to every night. If you are a younger student, you might want to think twice about the Extension School due to this fact.

Anonymous said...

Hi I am planning on taking the ALM in history and was wondering how people fare in PhD applications after graduation? I already have a research MA in philosophy from a top university (but foreign) and need something extra for my applications. Is the ALM suitable for this, I am planning on taking some courses as a special student in the GSAS as well if it'll make any difference. From everything I have read the ALM and HES is what you make of it and people who work hard will get a lot out of what they put in. I'm looking to do Ph.D in Philosophy or History so after this I'll have a clearer picture.
Do people make it into top programs regularly? Of the people who actually graduate and finish the thesis what would be a rough estimate? Any info would be must appreciated. (Although I'm pretty set on doing this so it'll be hard to distract me!)

I Lamont said...

I can't answer your first question ("how people fare in PhD applications?") because I have no idea how many ALM grads go onto PhD programs, or what their success rate is in terms of getting accepted, but I do know that at least a few have gone onto PhD programs at Harvard, Brown, and other Ivies, and/or have become professors in their respective fields. Do not consider the ALM a guarantee of application success; much depends on factors ranging from your own success as a student, your thesis topic, and the program particulars of the destination university.