A Student’s Perspective
By TUSHAR DWIVEDI
As a Teaching Assistant for Math23a, a mathematics class intended for first or second year Harvard students interested in proofs, it was initially slightly disconcerting, and admittedly intimidating, to have a 30-year old ask questions — rapid fire. Having split their time between adult family life, professional work experience, as well as classes taken at Harvard (such as math23), such a Harvard Extension School student must balance a challenging schedule. Similar to Columbia’s School of General Studies, the Extension school is offered to those adults seeking a non-traditional educational experience post-undergrad.
The misconceptions regarding the Extension school abound, both within Harvard’s undergraduate campus, as well as outside its gates. After interviewing a series of students around campus, general ideas were varying:
“I think it’s an great opportunity – it’s our version of MIT’s OCW and we should be more inclusive as a community as a whole.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that they didn’t have to go through our whole admissions process and still get access to all the same resources that we do – including OCR”
“It’s just a money-making scheme by Harvard University; they’re trying to charge huge tuition to these individuals while providing them a fragment of what the actual Harvard education system looks like. I think it’s totally unfair”
The Harvard Education School, as claimed by their website, was “founded on the radical idea of making a high-quality education accessible and affordable to many.” This concept is debatable, as courses tend to cost between $1550 to 2700 per 4-credit class, and requires a significant opportunity cost as well, in that professionals are giving time up from their work and from their families. The key question is: what exactly do the Extension School Students get in return? This question brought about another series of interesting ideas from students regarding the purpose of the Extension School. Students claimed:
“People are just trying to get a Harvard brand name on their resume without actually putting in the full work it takes for us. Can you imagine putting in half the work, paying half the cost, and walking out of here being able to tell people that you went to Harvard? It’s unbelievable.”
This misconception, however, is one that is widely propagated, but far from the truth. While Harvard Extension School students do indeed receive a Harvard Degree (after taking Harvard classes, such as Math23), the degree title is altered to indicate a difference. After scouring Linkedin titles, it became clear that rarely ever was an Extension school degree substituted for a classic Harvard degree.
The fundamental question regarding the selectivity of the program: “do you even have to try to get in?” is not completely answered by the program descriptions online. At the end of the day, completing the Extension School program requires and demands the best from individuals “who juggle carpools and careers and competing life interests to come prepared for discussion.” The self-selective nature of the program limits the number of students who are able to excel. In 2016, 800 students, with an average age of 36, graduated from the program. They came from over 30 countries and 40 states within the US. The sheer diversity the program, as well as doors opened for almost a thousand non-traditional students each year, adds a significance often overlooked by the “gatekeeper” mentality that resides within Harvard’s Yard.
Articles online frequently question the legitimacy of the program: “Did I really go to Harvard If I got my Degree Taking Online Classes” is the title of an Atlantic article published in 2013, and statements from students who have completed the program def
ending its legitimacy are scattered across the internet. One student’s sentiment captured the nature of the extension school best:
“At the end of the day, who’re we to question another person’s journey and education? The more educated our population, the better — so why complain? Why question it? Live and let live.”
Tushar Dwivedi ‘20 ([email protected]) is still struggling to answer questions fast enough for the HES Students!