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Harvard Extension School Unveils New Academic Gap Year, Undergraduate Certificate Programs

The Harvard Extension School Office sits on Brattle Street in Cambridge. Students and faculty are already familiar with the now-widespread Zoom online conferencing interface.
The Harvard Extension School Office sits on Brattle Street in Cambridge. Students and faculty are already familiar with the now-widespread Zoom online conferencing interface. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Extension School unveiled a slew of new programs in June, including a new Academic Gap Year and undergraduate certificates, which were designed for its ever-increasing remote-learning student base, according to the school’s website.

The two programs join Harvard Extension School’s wide variety of programming which, even before the coronavirus pandemic forced many Harvard students to learn remotely, included hundreds of online courses each semester.

The Extension School designed the Academic Gap Year program for students of a typical undergraduate age to explore academic interests through Extension School courses. Candidates for Extension School degree programs must have graduated from high school at least five years prior to matriculation into the Academic Gap Year program.

Extension School spokesperson Harry J. Pierre said the Extension School developed the program after it “recognized the need to kind of help a whole different set of learners during the pandemic.” Nearly 500 students have enrolled in the Academic Gap Year program, which also offers career mentorship and personal development opportunities, Pierre said.

“We saw it as an educational opportunity for the traditional four-year college students who were disrupted by the global pandemic, but we still wanted to maintain a high academic term-time commitment on a part-time basis,” Pierre said. “We essentially saw this academic gap year as an extension of DCE’s tradition of accessible, affordable quality education.”

As part of the program, students spend a semester “engaged in challenging online courses with Harvard faculty and industry experts,” per the Extension School’s website. The program’s website features personal development seminar topics such as “Getting Your Groove on as a Student” and “The Not-So-Secret Secrets to Successful Online Learning.”

Students have the option of enrolling in courses for credit or opting out of college credit at a reduced cost. Students who participate in the Academic Gap Year program are not eligible, however, to transfer their earned credits to Harvard College.

Also new this year is the undergraduate certificates program, which allows nontraditional students to obtain certification in coding, web development, communications, or social justice by completing just three course credits. Pierre said the Extension School chose the four initial fields for their relevance and high demand.

“The social justice certificate, right now, is a way to empower students to really look at and actively engage in the important social movements of our time,” Pierre said. “Information technology has big interest and huge demand at Extension. So we’re always looking at ways to meet that demand for people who are asking for more and more courses in those fields.”

Pierre added that it is too early to predict what the level of interest in the certificate program will be, noting that 1,500 students are enrolled in graduate certificate programs, which cover 40 different fields of graduate study.

Regardless of which program a student is enrolled in, Pierre said, the Extension School is committed to creating camaraderie among students.

“We’re always looking to foster a sense of community amongst all of our learners, so whether they're abroad or on campus, we have a multitude of various different offerings and programs and services that we have for our students so that they can feel the sense of community,” he said.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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