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Departments Court Prospective Concentrators Amid Remote Fall

By Madison A. Shirazi
By Meera S. Nair, Crimson Staff Writer

As undergraduate classes pass the midpoint of a second virtual semester, department leaders within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences say they are unsure how the coronavirus will affect students’ concentration choices.

The deadline for sophomores to declare a concentration on the my.harvard online portal is November 19, though students can still switch after that date.

Within the Department of Computer Science, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies Adam C. Hesterberg said the pandemic has increased the number of students taking leaves of absence; many concentrators chose to pursue remote internships or research instead of virtual coursework.

In 2019, Economics held the lead in total undergraduate concentrators with 612, followed by Computer Science and Government at 503 and 328, respectively.

History Director of Undergraduate Studies Lisa M. McGirr noted a similar trend in her department. She said several concentrators chose to work on political campaigns during the 2020 United States election cycle.

“We have definitely had a number of leaves of absences among our juniors and seniors, and I think that it will be interesting to see in turn with the sophomores what that might mean in terms of concentration numbers,” she said.

Ruth S. Lingford, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies, wrote in an emailed statement that the pandemic has thrown a wrench into post-graduation job market prospects, though she does not believe this will necessarily affect concentration interest.

“It is undoubtedly a difficult time in the arts at present, though there are unexpected areas of growth, such as Animation, which is having something of a boom in lockdown,” Lingford wrote. “But I think there has never been a time when students have felt a greater need to make their voices heard, to express themselves and to experience the catharsis and satisfaction of creative work.”

McGirr said that while students taking class this fall have missed the usual in-person experiences of mingling with peers and receiving word-of-mouth encouragement to take classes, she believes the department’s decision to offer timely course material has attracted a large number of students and given them a taste of the department.

“I’m thrilled that so many students are enrolled in history courses,” McGirr said. “We have a lot of courses that are thinking about topics that are really relevant to the current moment, such as looking at the pandemic or looking at institutional racism, and it seems many students have been excited by them.”

“History has never mattered more than now, and students are interested in looking to history to help find answers to things that are happening in the world today,” McGirr added.

Sophia L. Campbell ’23, who declared a concentration this fall in Human Evolutionary Biology, said the remote semester has provided some logistical benefits when it comes to deciding a course of study, such as “not having to walk really far” for advising meetings.

However, Campbell said pandemic-related pressures may have increased stress around choosing a concentration, especially for those students making a last-minute decision.

“The pandemic, the election, Zoom fatigue, where you’re living, all those are broad issues, but also the lack of social interaction because of the pandemic is a really big factor,” Campbell said. “I know a lot of people de-stress by speaking to friends or being with other people, but most of us, especially sophomores, are at home, which can make it more difficult.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at

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