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Course Requirements Overview

  • Graded 4-credit courses:  4 minimum by the end of the second year and 6 minimum by the end of the third year.
  • Prescription courses: number to be determined by the Prescription Committee. Prescriptions count toward course total and are usually at the 100- or 200-level.
  • Grade Minimum for graded courses:  B-
  • Additional Courses:  With advisor approval, students may opt to take courses beyond their 4-course requirement.

Prescription courses are personalized to ensure that students have a strong, well-rounded academic background. In recent years, the procedure by which students are assigned these courses has changed. Upon your arrival, expect to receive a tentative list of courses which have been determined by the Prescription Committee.  Regardless of prescriptions, each student must take at least four graded courses prior to graduation.

Each student should confer with his/her advisor to:

  • Determine if there are any courses on the tentative list which may not be necessary 
  • Prepare a tentative course of study beyond the required prescription courses

If all are in agreement with the list you receive, it is not necessary to meet with the Prescription committee. However, if you would like to petition for a change, you will need to consult with the committee to make your request. Based on your prior training, an appropriate course of study will then be decided.

The Committee will require you to meet the content of the following Harvard courses before your Qualifying Examination. These requirements may be met by courses you have taken before admission to the graduate program, or be prescribed for you by the committee.
--Mathematics - college-level calculus
--A reasonable combination of courses in cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, and evolutionary biology
--'Kingdom' course - A course that deals with the systematics, structure, function and ecology of at least one major group of animals or plants.

Courses Within OEB

OEB course listings can be found in the Harvard Course Catalog. To aid in your course search, Q guides course evaluation data (HarvardKey required) are helpful in supplying student feedback about courses.

Courses Outside OEB

Harvard OEB offers a cross-registration policy with several other schools including MIT.  The Harvard Medical School and the School of Public Health offers courses, as well as night courses offered through the University. 

Before enrolling in a non-Harvard course to fulfill a prescription, check with the graduate committee to see if some of these courses fulfill prescription requirements.

Interdisciplinary Courses

Molecules, Cells and Organisms Training Program - A New Interdisciplinary Life Science Training Program

If you are interested in exploring a broad spectrum of fundamental biological problems in disciplines as diverse as human evolution, single-molecule biophysics, or the intersection of chemical biology and theoretical chemistry, please explore the possibilities that the MCO Training Program has to offer.  In this interdepartmental undertaking, graduate students are prepared for a future in science that requires interdisciplinary breadth as well as depth in specific disciplines.  Graduate students in MCO take advantage of the wide range of faculty expertise and laboratory options from the Departments of Molecular and Cellular BiologyChemistry and Chemical BiologyOrganismic and Evolutionary Biology , and Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, as well as the Center for Brain Science, the Microbial Sciences Initiative, and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

OEB does not administer the MCO training grant. Students interested in this Ph.D. program can learn more by going to the MCO website or by contacting the Graduate Programs Office in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at (617) 384-7507, (617) 495-3293, or  If you are interested in applying to the graduate program in MCO, please visit their application page (scroll down and click "Applying").

List of OEB Courses

Please consult the Courses of Instruction (updated mid-June) for a listing of all OEB courses.