The Best Kept Secret In Higher Education

June 23, 2015 - Max Osbon (4 mins to read)


If you or your child could get a Harvard education at 25 percent of its usual cost and with no application required, would you do it?  Do you even believe it is possible? With a dismally low acceptance rate at Harvard University and tuition bills that should only be opened while sitting down, a Harvard education just doesn’t seem attainable for even the smartest and most capable students. But it is. Here’s how.

Your mental picture of Harvard may be something of an intellectual fortress – an elitist and unreasonably expensive institution that turns away all but the top few percent of students, but there’s another side to the university, Harvard Extension. Here are 10 reasons why HarvardX is the best kept secret in higher education:

  1. 3 Bs and you’re in. There is no traditional application process at Harvard Extension, instead you start right away by taking your first three courses on Harvard campus. If you earn a B or higher, you are then invited to complete your formal application. By then it is expected, with the necessary grade of course, that you will be admitted. What greater way to get into a top university?
  2. It’s real Harvard. Of the 3,472 undergrad courses offered to traditional Harvard students, HarvardX students have access to 526, or roughly 15% of the undergraduate Harvard classes. That means you’re taking the same classes on campus with the same professors and the same students. This is definitely not a community college program in disguise.
  3. You get a physical diploma and it looks like this:

diplomaNote in the middle, “the degree of Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies”

  1. THE COST!!! Harvard undergraduate tuition for 2015-2016 is $45,278. That’s just the tuition. This means that a traditional BA will cost nearly $200,000, plus room and board, plus books. In HarvardExtension, courses taken for undergraduate credit cost between $1250 and $2200. So a BA from Harvard Extension will cost between $40,000 and $70,000. That’s a degree from one of the top universities in the world for less than 25 percent of, that’s “OF” not “OFF,” normal tuition rates. (Courses can also be taken not for credit (ungraded) at $750-$1,250 each.)
  2. It’s anti-elitist. The Harvard University undergraduate program boasts of a 5.3 percent acceptance rate, one of the toughest in the world, and it’s going DOWN every year. It is very impressive if you get in, but as an organization this is not something to be proud of. In the practical world, we need more than 5.3% of the population to have an excellent education.
  3. You’ll be in a big group of self-starters. The Extension school awarded 700 degrees in 2014, and more than 3400 in the last five years. Since 1913 Harvard Extension has awarded more than 12,000 degrees.
  4. You live in your own place. Room and board at Harvard runs about $15,000, increasing annually of course. For nine months of the year that’s ~$1700/mo. As a college student around Harvard you can easily rent a room for less than $1000/month which leaves a very healthy budget of $700/mo for food. More savings.
  5. You gain access to Harvard extras. As a HarvardX student on a degree track, you can purchase a gym membership, take advantage of limited access to the Harvard Library system and electronic portals, attend certain extracurricular lectures, dine in any of the seven dining halls and rent a residence from the Harvard Housing office.
  6. You can finish in three years. HarvardX offers intensive three week courses in January and HarvardX students are allowed to take classes at Harvard Summer School. That means you’re done and earning a living a year sooner.
  7. No one cares what you’re paying. Our researcher for this article, Michael Kahan, who is attending HarvardX, reports that students can generally tell the difference between University, HarvardX, and “just here for the experience” (no grade) students. But they don’t care so much and don’t judge. Most students seem more interested in learning than in sorting and discriminating. It’s also pretty hard so you have to focus.

HarvardX is a great example of unique, not widely known opportunities that are available for those who value creative solutions, dig a little deeper, and ask more questions. Similar to an internship, the admission structure gives a real chance for students to prove themselves a good fit beyond a paper application form. In the end HarvardX graduates are sure to leave with a world class education.

If you know of other opportunities hiding in plain sight, we’d love to hear about them.

Max Osbon –

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