Stat 104 Emerges As Harvard's Top-Enrolled Course This Spring

Shane R. Bouchard

For the first time in recent years, Statistics 104 has become the most popular class at Harvard with 642 students, beating Economics 10 by 15 students. Other popular courses include Sociology 190 and Computer Science 51.

There has been a deviation in Harvard’s most popular course.

This spring, 642 students have enrolled in Statistics 104: “Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Economics,” making it Harvard’s biggest course for the first time in recent memory, according to course enrollment data on the website of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar’s Office.

Stat 104 narrowly beat Economics 10: “Principles of Economics,” a perennial contender for the title of top-enrolled course of the semester. Ec 10, economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s introductory economics course, drew an enrollment of 627.

This is the first time that Stat 104 has trumped Ec 10, which was formerly titled Social Analysis 10, since the first semester of course enrollment data available online dating back to the fall of 1999. That fall, 817 students took Ec 10, while only 34 took Stat 104.

Statistics lecturer Michael I. Parzen, instructor of Stat 104, attributed the course’s growth to quality teaching and a popular subject matter.

“I think the enrollments reflect the hard work of our teaching staff, our attempt to make the course as organized as possible, and the increasing visibility of statistics in the private sector,” Parzen wrote in an email. He added that the course’s teaching staff is considering greater use of technology in class to handle the increased enrollment numbers.

Pre-Term Planning predictions significantly underestimated the turnout for Stat 104. An additional 238 students signed up for the course than projected by Pre-Term Planning. The course enrollment planning tool was relatively accurate for Ec 10, overestimating actual enrollment by just 18 students.

Sociology 190: “Life and Death in the US: Medicine and Disease in Social Context” also saw a significant increase in enrollment this spring. The 408 students who signed up for the course surpass both the Pre-Term Planning prediction of 172 and last spring’s enrollment of 265.

In an email, the course’s instructor, sociology professor Nicholas A. Christakis, noted that Sociology 190 has experienced a trend of growing enrollment since he first began teaching it seven years ago.

But he attributed this year’s dramatic jump in enrollment to the fact that this is the last year he is offering the course at Harvard. Christakis, who is also the Co-House Master of Pforzheimer, will leave Harvard for Yale this summer.

To accommodate the increased number of students, Christakis wrote that he is looking for a new location for the class, which last week was held in Science Center C.

Computer Science 51: “Introduction to Computer Science II” and Engineering Sciences 50: “Introduction to Electrical Engineering” also registered unusually high enrollment. Engineering Sciences 50 went from 71 students last spring to 173 this semester, a 144 percent increase, while Computer Science 51 jumped from an enrollment of 192 last spring to 240 this semester.

—John P. Finnegan contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Francesca Annicchiarico can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @FRAnnicchiarico.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.