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My thesis took a very long time. The actual writing part didn’t take too long, but getting the thesis proposal approved and locating a thesis director took years. Off-campus students seem to have a bit more trouble getting a thesis director assigned. (I think they have made some changes to help fix this, now.) First, you submit a thesis proposal and get it approved by the research adviser for your area of study. Then a thesis director is assigned. The director is the one who will give you your final grade–there isn’t a thesis committee. The research adviser does review your thesis to make sure it meets Harvard’s standards for clarity, organization and formatting. Harvard does a good job of giving you what you need to complete the thesis. There are Microsoft Word templates for the Thesis Proposal and the actual Thesis that make it very easy to deal with the citations, various tables of content, etc.

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Participating in commencement is an option, but given the distance from Kansas to Massachusetts and the prospect of traveling with a baby, we opted not to go. So, for all practical purposes, my graduation was on March 10th when I received this email:

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When you are doing things remotely, the thesis work involves a lot of emailing documents back and forth. I ran into some problems getting Word on a Mac to show images correctly when they were transferred to Windows. (It turns out, images don’t embed properly if you just drag them into the document.) So my thesis director would print the PDF I sent him, mark it up, scan it back in and send back the PDF image of the scan. Later on we started using the editing features in Word.

Yes they can, but pay special attention to the residency requirement.

Some employers are upset because they interview people who claim they went to Harvard when all they did was enroll in (and not necessarily complete) a course through the Extension School. I’m sure there are people misrepresenting their degrees or coursework on their resume, but I’m sure this happens with most universities. I know it sometimes happens with universities that are completely fictitious.

I will be eagerly awaiting your response.

As mentioned before, only 3% of people who take classes through the Extension School end up with a degree. By comparison, Harvard College (where students get their undergrad degree) generally accepts around 7% of applicants in a given year. So the Extension School lets everyone try, but is selective in the academic quality of people who achieve passing grades. Harvard College is selective in who they allow into the school in the first place. Since the peer experience is a very important part of Harvard College, this makes sense. It is a much less important part of the Extension School.

Thank you once again Sir for sharing your experience.

I’m emailing to let you know that you can come by the Professional Programs Office, 7th floor, 51 Brattle Street, to pick up your hard-earned diploma or certificate. Our office is open Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. Please email me so we know when to expect you!

I’m glad it was useful. Best wishes on your new startup company.

On the other hand, graduates of the Harvard Extension School who worked full-time while getting their master’s degrees might complain that the students who were able to go to school full-time had things too easy. Holding down a full-time job while maintaining the discipline to complete an online master’s degree from an academically rigorous school is very difficult. It is much harder to sit alone in a room late at night after work watching lectures and doing problem sets than it is to attend class with your peers. The skills that will let you pull that off will generally go a long way toward helping you succeed.