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Harvard. M.A. and Ph.D. requirements in Economics, 1958

Some economists keep more extensive files from their departmental lives than others. John Kenneth Galbraith not only wrote faster than most folks read, but routine departmental business is laced with his  wit (when he writes) and fortified with other people’s memos and supplements that have been filed with as great a care as successive drafts of Galbraith’s own writings and correspondence.

For new visitors to Economics in the Rear-view Mirror, I should mention that my principal focus is the history of the organization and content of economics graduate education. Today we have an addition to the collection of “rules and regulations” governing the degree requirements for economists. It is only coincidental that this artifact has been recovered from the Galbraith papers. 


Department of Economics, Littauer M-8

September 18, 1958

Dear Sir:

Enclosed is a copy of the latest departmental supplement. It includes all the latest revisions. Note especially the new requirement of the written General Examination, pp. 3-4.

Seymour E. Harris



Supplement to the General Announcement*

[*To be read in conjunction with the Excerpts from the General Announcement and/or the General Announcement.]


Higher Degrees under the Department of Economics

The graduate program of the Department of Economics is designed both to provide students with a general graduate education in economics and to train them to undertake research in particular fields. While the Department has always stressed the importance of economic theory, history and statistics, its interest in abstract economics has always been tempered by its realization of the need to apply economics to the resolution of practical issues; it offers work also in mathematical economics and econometrics. As part of its empirical work, the Department, in cooperation with other branches of the University, operates and advanced statistical laboratory with the latest types of computational machines.

Students in economics are eligible for the regular Graduate School scholarships (see Excerpts from the General Announcement). The Henry Lee Memorial Scholarship is reserved specifically for students in Political Economy. At present, there are available ten to twenty scholarships yielding from $800 to $3,000. In addition, the Department hires annually about ten teaching fellows with stipends ranging from $880 to a maximum of $2,640. Ordinarily these appointments are available on a competitive basis to able student who have completed two years of graduate study in this Department.

The David A. Wells Prize is awarded annually for the best thesis on a subject which lies within the field of economics and is acceptable to the Department of Economics. Further details are available in the Department Office.

The Economics Club organized by graduate students meets regularly to hear speakers and to discuss problems of common interest.


Master of Arts (A.M.)

Prerequisites for Admission—Normally a distinguished undergraduate record and competence in a foreign language. Concentration in economics is not demanded, however, and persons with honor grades in their undergraduate work are welcomed. All applicants are urged to take the Aptitude Test of the Graduate Record Examination.

Residence—A minimum of two years: see General Announcement. The Department may waive up to one year of this requirement if a student has done graduate work elsewhere.

Program of Study—Four fields selected as follows from the fields listed below. Two fields, including Economic Theory, must be selected from Group A, and two must be chosen from Groups A, B and C (not more than one from group C).


(1) Economic Theory and Its History, with special reference to the Development of Economic Thought since 1776.
(2) Economic History since 1750, or some other approved field in Economic History.
(3) Statistical Method and Its Application.



(4) Money and Banking
(5) Economic Fluctuations and Forecasting.
(6) Transportation.
(7) Business Organization and Control.
(8) Public Finance.
(9) International Trade and Tariff Policies.
(10) Economics of Agriculture or Land Economics.
(11) Labor Problems.
(12) Socialism and Social Reform.
(13) Economic History before 1750.
(14) Consumption, Distribution, and Prices.
(15) Economics of Public Utilities.
(16) Social Security.
(17) Location and Regional Economics.
(18) Economics of Underdeveloped Areas.
(19) Forestry Economics.
(20) Any of the historical fields defined under requirements for the Ph.D. in History.
(21) Certain fields in Political Science listed under requirements for the Ph.D. in Political Science.



(22) Jurisprudence (selected topics).
(23) Anthropology.
(24) Philosophy (selected topics).
(25) History of Political Theory.
(26) International Law.
(27) Certain fields in Sociology defined under the requirements for the Ph.D. in Sociology.

Each student is required to submit for Departmental approval a plan showing four fields. The plan must be filed at the beginning of the third term of study on an official departmental form. Students may present for consideration of the Department reasonable substitutes for any of the fields named in the several groups.

Generally, students will take six courses, including one or two seminars, and two reading courses. During their first year of graduate study, students will normally take formal courses in theory, history, and statistics; but during their second year they are encouraged to take reading courses. These may consist of work under the direction of a member of the Faculty, or of independent work; in the latter case, the student must secure the approval of the Chairman of the Department.

Languages—A fluent reading knowledge, to be tested by a rigorous two-hour written examination, of advanced economic texts in one of the following languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, a Scandinavian language, or Russian.

A student may substitute mathematics for this requirement, in which case he must take an examination to show his capacity to read and understand the more elementary mathematics used in economics. This includes knowledge of analytic geometry and differential and integral calculus.

Examinations are given by the Department in the first week of November and March. This requirement should be fulfilled during the first term of residence, and must be fulfilled before the General Written Examination. A student who has twice failed a language or mathematics examination must present to the Department proof of further study before he can take the examination a third time.

General Examinations—Each student will take a General Written and a General Oral Examination, normally during his fourth term of residence.

The General Written Examination precedes the General Oral Examination and will consist of a four-hour comprehensive test in Economic Theory and its History. This examination will be given in March. A student whose graduate record at Harvard does not average at least B will not be allowed to take the General Written Examination.

The General Oral Examination is a two-hour examination in four fields selected in accordance with the rules stated under Program of Study. In his preparation for the examination, the student’s main purpose should be to provide himself with tools of analysis, to be aware of the contributions that theory, history, and statistics can make to the solution of economic problems, and to appreciate the relation of economics to other disciplines. A student who has not passed the General Written Examination cannot present himself for the General Oral Examination.

The General Oral Examinations are held throughout the academic year. The student should consult the Secretary of the Department six weeks in advance of the date upon which he proposes to be examined.

Thesis—None required.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Prerequisites for Admission—In general, same as for the A.M.

Residence—Minimum of two years; see General Announcement.

Program of Study—Same as for the A.M., except that five fields are required, to be selected as follows. The three subjects in Group A are required, and two subjects from Groups B and C (not more than one from Group C). The student should include as one of his five fields the subject within which his thesis falls.

Languages—Two foreign languages selected from those listed under the requirements for the A.M. A test in one language must be passed before taking the General Written Examination and the other passed at least six months before the Special Examination. All candidates must offer French or German.

Mathematics may be substituted for the second language. For such substitution refer to rules for the A.M.

A student whose native language is not English may petition the Department to be excused from examination in the second language. He will then normally be examined in either French or German before taking his General Written Examination. In considering such petitions, account is taken of the amount of original economic literature in the student’s native language as well as of his general academic standing.

            General Examinations—Same as for the A.M. except that the General Oral Examination will cover five fields. The requirement of the fifth field is usually fulfilled by completing a full-year graduate course, other than Theory, in the Department of Economics at Harvard with the grade of B+ or higher. Seminars offered by the Graduate School of Public Administration are not acceptable for such “write-off” purposes. One half-course must have been completed in the write-off field with a grade of B+ or higher before the General Oral Examination. If the requirement for the write-off is not met prior to the General Oral Examination, all five fields must be offered.

Ordinarily students who have completed three terms of residence at Harvard are excused from the final examination in courses included in the fields presented for the General Oral Examination, provided it is passed after December 1 in the fall term, or after April 1 in the spring term, and before final course examinations are held, and provided it is passed with at least a grade of “Good”.

Thesis—The thesis should be written in one of the fields offered in the General Oral Examination and must show an original treatment of the subject and give evidence of independent research. The candidate must obtain written consent for his proposed topic from the faculty member who has agreed to supervise his thesis and must submit it to the Chairman within six months after passing the General Oral Examination. A student must make a report of progress on his thesis to the Department once a year until the thesis is submitted for approval. The thesis in final form together with a brief summary (4-10pp.) must be submitted within five years from the date of the General Oral Examination. Two bound copies of the thesis (the original and first copy) must be in the hands of the Department by December 1 for a degree at Mid-year and March 1 for a degree at Commencement.

Special Examination—After approval of the thesis, the candidate must pass an oral examination of one and one-half hours, not less than one-half hour to be devoted to intensive examination in the special field without primary reference to the thesis. No examinations are held during the summer.



The purpose of this degree is to combine the more general training in Economics with the technical training in business courses and to prepare students to teach in schools of business administration.

Prerequisites for Admission—Same as for the Ph.D. in Economics.

Residence—Same as for the Ph.D. in Economics.

Program of Study—The student should prepare himself in five fields chosen from the groups given below. Only two fields, including Economic Theory and its History, may ordinarily be chosen from Group A. In all cases the program of study must be approved by the Chairman of the Department of Economics. For advice on courses relating to business subjects, students should see Professor John Lintner of the Business School.



(1) Economic Theory and Its History, with special reference to the Development of the History of Economic Thought since 1776.
(2) Economic History since 1750.
(3) Public Finance and Taxation.
(4) Economics of Agriculture.



(5) Accounting.
(6) Marketing.
(7) Foreign Trade.
(8) Production.
(9) Money and Banking.
(10) Business Organization and Control.
(11) Transportation.
(12) Insurance.
(13) Statistical Method and Its Application.
(14) Economics of Public Utilities.
(15) Labor.


Languages—Same as for the Ph.D. in Economics.

General Examinations—Same as for the Ph.D. in Economics.

Thesis—Same as for the Ph.D. in Economics.

Special Examination—Same as for the Ph.D. in Economics.

Further information regarding courses and programs of study in Economics may be obtained by writing directly to the Chairman, Department of Economics, M-8 Littauer Center, Cambridge 38, Massachusetts. Inquiries concerning admission and scholarships should be addressed to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge 38, Massachusetts.


Source:  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. John Kenneth Galbraith Papers, Series 5 Harvard University File, 1949-1990, Box 525, Folder “Harvard Dept of Econ: [Departmental Documents]”.


Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier

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