Concentration FAQs

The questions listed below are designed to help address common questions and issues, but it is not an exhaustive list. You should always talk to your concentration adviser or resident dean to discuss your interests and personal questions.

How do PSY 1900 and 1901 differ?

Psychology 1900 is a required course for all concentrators, no matter which track you are in, and it focuses on the basics of statistical analysis. This gives you the tools to understand psychology research so that you can evaluate the literature and formulate your own ideas and questions about what you’ve read. Psychology 1901 is required for students who are planning to write a thesis, and builds on Psy 1900. For students who are not sure if they are going to write a thesis, but are considering it, we strongly suggest that you take Psy 1901. You will learn more advanced statistical techniques and discuss research methodology, and apply this information to a research project. Taking Psy 1901 is also one of the ways to fulfill the Research Methods requirement for students who are not writing a thesis

Can any of my non-departmental courses count toward the concentration or secondary field?

It depends. Most concentrators will be permitted to count one or two non-departmental courses depending on which track they are pursuing (click here for more information). Concentrators may request to count a non-departmental expedited course by sending us an email to psychology@wjh.harvard.edu; concentrators may petition a course not on this list. In contrast, very few courses from other departments count toward the secondary field; only those listed on the Foundational or Departmental Courses list can count for secondary field students.

Please be aware that there are petition deadlines each semester. Make sure you are aware of the deadlines by checking the undergraduate website and by talking to your Concentration Adviser

Can I pick my sophomore tutorial instructor or topic?

Generally, no. You should choose between 971 and 975 based on the track you are most likely to complete. Although everyone will sign up for either Psychology 971 or Psychology 975, the tutorials are taught entirely in sections that are run by different instructors. You will be assigned to a tutorial based on a combination of your house affiliation and schedule, and will be informed of your tutorial assignment after the first day of classes. Be sure to attend the first meeting of 971 and 975 to fill out important paperwork and learn about the two tutorials. If you cannot make this meeting, please e-mail psychology at wjh dot harvard dot edu to let us know that you are interested in the course so that we can assign you to a tutorial. 

We expect that you will make the class a scheduling priority. However, if you have an unavoidable circumstance that bars you from being able to attend the time set by your house-based tutor, you may petition to be reassigned to a different section. 

Additionally, students may find that the topics covered in their tutorial are not topics they feel they would be interested in, and wish to switch tutorial sections based on their interests. Because it is impossible to take everyone’s interests into account when scheduling, the department does not assign students to tutorials based on interest. However, we strongly suggest using tutorial as a way of branching out and getting experience with a new area of the field. You might find that you like it!

Can I take Stat 100, 102, or Stat 104 instead of PSY 1900 or Stat 101?

Generally,  no. If you are enrolled as a psychology concentrator, you are expected to take Psychology 1900 or Stat 101. As of Spring 2010, PSY 1900 meets the Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning requirement for General Education. If you have already taken Stat 100 or Stat 104 before declaring psychology as your concentration, you may petition to have that count as your basic methods requirement.

Can I waive the Introductory Course requirement?

If you have a 5 on the Advanced Placement psychology exam or a 7 on the International Baccalaureate psychology exam, you can waive the Introductory Course requirement. How this will affect your remaining requirements and meeting prerequisites for other courses is detailed here. If your score does not appear on your student record, you must provide documentation to the Psychology Undergraduate Office.

How do I know which lab is right for me?

Your interests will determine which lab to explore. What areas of psychology fascinate you most? Many students have multiple areas of interest, so narrowing this down is difficult. Read about research opportunities and specific faculty members' work.

Once you’ve figured out your area of interest, consult the lab contact (often a graduate student or research assistant, but sometimes the professor) by e-mail or by phone . Ask them about the current research and about the lab course’s requirements. Ask them what your role in the lab will be and how it is graded. Once you have the information you need, you can determine if the lab meets your interests. Your Concentration Adviser can help you weigh the various options you have identified

I want to study abroad. Can I take psychology classes abroad?

It depends on where you’re going. Some universities have psychology departments much like Harvard’s, and there are many courses available there that are empirically based and can be approved for credit, but some universities offer few to no courses that meet approval. Before you go, be sure to get the course syllabus from the university where you plan to study so that you, your concentration advisor, and the department can evaluate whether or not the class can count toward the concentration. In recent years, most concentrators studying abroad have received some concentration credit for courses taken while away. Please see our Study Out Of Residence page for more information on studying abroad

I’m not very good at math. Should I worry about taking PSY 1900?

Generally, no. The class is meant to be challenging, but as with all classes at Harvard, if you work hard and are communicative with the professor and TFs, you should have the skills to pass the course. In addition, many students seek out tutors or form study groups to help them better absorb the material. Be proactive in the learning process and you will see results

Should I pursue a joint concentration? What about psychology as a secondary field?

We are no longer accepting applications for joint concentrations for the Class of 2010 and later. Students with an interest in more than one field should consider pursuing a concentration in one field and a secondary field in the other field. Our faculty are happy to consult on theses for students in other concentrations, allowing a student to complete a thesis on an interdisciplinary topic in one concentration, and use coursework and mentors from the secondary field to inform their thesis research

Should I write a thesis?

Many students enter into the concentration hoping that they will have the option of writing a thesis. However, many students choose not to do a thesis later on for many academic and personal reasons. Consider if a thesis is right for you with your resident dean, your Concentration Adviser, and with anyone else who knows you and can objectively evaluate your ability to successfully complete a thesis. You will want to think about the following questions: What are your research interests? What kind of research question do you plan to pursue? Is your research project feasible? Do you have sufficient background in the topic that you wish to explore? 

But perhaps the most important question is: Why do you want to do a thesis?Students should only do a thesis if they are truly interested in pursuing a research question. Many students believe that a thesis will “look good” on their resumes, or that a thesis will guarantee them honors. Neither of these beliefs should drive a student to pursue a thesis. In fact, a thesis motivated by these beliefs will only result in a long, difficult struggle between you, your advisor, and your project. 

And, because many students simply feel they “should” write a thesis, it is important to remember that a thesis is not the right choice for everyone. In fact, less than a quarter of all psychology seniors choose to do a thesis. Students who opt not to do a thesis often find that they have space in their class schedule to explore new areas of interest both within psychology and in other departments, and find it much easier to study abroad during their junior year. They can spend more time with an extracurricular group or get involved in other enriching activities that may be more relevant to their future careers. Or, they may choose to focus on improving their overall GPA, on their job search, or on applications for law school, medical school, etc. Additionally, students can often still gain research experience outside the context of a thesis -- just talk to your lab advisor for ideas. 

The department has set up a very comprehensive guide for students interested in learning about the thesis.

What happened to the courses that were on the Affiliate Electives list?

The courses that were on the Affiliate Electives list in 2010-11 have been moved to the list of Expedited Courses. Concentrators may still count these courses, but will now need to email us at psychology@wjh.harvard.edu in order for the course to be counted for concentration credit. As of Fall 2011, secondary field students can no longer count non-departmental courses, and can only count one course from the former Affiliate Electives list if taken in 2010-11 or earlier. Find FAQ's.

What is Sophomore Tutorial? Which version should I take?

Sophomore tutorial is a small, one-semester seminar course. In it, you will explore a variety of areas of contemporary psychology by reading primary sources such as journal articles. You will hone your analytic skills in weekly discussions and you will be introduced to scientific writing. You will be expected to produce a Sophomore Essay at the end of the course. Concentrators must complete this course by the end of their sophomore year (or, if switching into psychology after sophomore year, in the first full term after they switch). 

Two versions of sophomore tutorial are offered. Most students take Psychology 971, in which students explore multiple areas of the field and to supplement reading and discussion with activities and demonstrations. If you are interested in the General or the Cognitive Science (MBB) tracks, you should enroll in Psychology 971. 

If you are considering pursuing the Cognitive Neuroscience & Evolutionary Psychology track (Life Sciences track - formerly Social & Cognitive Neuroscience), you should take Psychology 975. The format of this course is very similar to Psychology 971, but the topics covered will be more closely related to the life sciences.                                       

Both types of tutorial will be offered in fall and spring semesters. Sophomores who have not yet declared their concentration but who are fairly certain they want to become psychology concentrators may take this course in fall semester, and should attend the first meeting of the course. If students cannot attend the first meeting, they should e-mail psychology at wjh dot harvard dot edu as soon as possible during the first week of class to secure a spot in the course. Please indicate in this e-mail in which tutorial you would like to enroll

What is the Research Methods requirement for the Class of 2015 and beyond?

Under the Class of 2015 and beyond requirements, non-thesis students in all tracks can fulfill the Research Methods requirement by taking Psychology 1901 OR a lab course from list. Students who are planning to write a thesis must take Psychology 1901 AND a lab course from list in order to fulfill the Research Methods requirement. See the Class of 2015 requirements. Students in the Class of 2014 only can petition to switch to the Class of 2015 requirements by emailing us at psychology@wjh.harvard.edu. Students in the Classes of 2013 and earlier as well as students in the Class of 2014 who do not request to switch to the 2015 requirements must follow the requirements for their graduating year (based on the year they would have graduated when they entered Harvard).

Who are my advisers within the psychology department?

Each house has a Concentration Adviser that advises all the psychology concentrators in that house, and can also answer questions for pre-concentrators and students pursuing a secondary field in psychology. When you declare psychology as your concentration, the Concentration Adviser in your house will become your official adviser and will sign your Plan of Study and your study card. Your Concentration Adviser will contact you at the start of each semester and you can contact them any time. Your Concentration Adviser is your go-to person within the department – they will help you select courses, discuss your overall progress in the field, talk about your interests and make you aware of opportunities at and outside of Harvard, and your adviser is your main source of information (second to the website!) about the concentration

Why do I have to take a lab course? Does PSY 910r count?

Only students pursuing a thesis must take a lab course. Many professors require that students take their lab course as a prerequisite for conducting thesis work in that lab. A lab course can also fulfill the Research Methods requirement for students in the Class of 2015 and beyond who are not planning on writing a thesis. See the Class of 2015 requirements. Students can enroll in one of the lab courses offered; most faculty have one and you should consult the lab contact (often a graduate student or research assistant, but sometimes the professor) by e-mail or by phone directly to see if there is space available in the lab course. These are not regular courses, but are mostly time in the lab with a paper or project included.

If you are unable to find a lab course that meets your interests, you can consider enrolling in Psychology 910r to count toward the lab course requirement. Psy 910r requires an application due to the Undergraduate Office prior to Study Card day. Students in Psy 910r will be required to conduct research and write a substantive research paper at the end of the semester. You will be expected to complete background readings in the area you are studying, and meet regularly with a graduate student or faculty member who is sponsoring your work. Generally, if a lab has a lab course, you should take that instead of Psy 910r

Why is there a GPA requirement to write a thesis?

Because the department does not have the resources for every student to do a thesis, students must have a 3.5 overall college GPA in order to be eligible to write a thesis. Students who are just below the cutoff may petition to be eligible if they have strong faculty support. This GPA cutoff is designed to help faculty evaluate which students are likely to complete a thesis successfully. In addition, honors are not guaranteed if you write a thesis, and in our experience, it is unlikely that students with a GPA below 3.5 will receive College honors (i.e. Latin honors).