The Hardest Courses at Harvard

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By Flyby Blog

For the novice freshman or the unsure upperclassman looking for an ego (but perhaps not the GPA) boost, Flyby has put together the ultimate shopping list, arguably the toughest schedule possible this semester at Harvard. So readers, fill up that study card and stop bitching about your 1-page response paper when you have friends in one of these epically difficult classes.

Physics 16: Mechanics and Special Relativity

A course certain to oscillate between love and hate for any first-year Physics concentration prospect, Physics 16 nonetheless exerts certain forces of attraction over its sizable alumni base year-after-year. Sure, the p-sets linger into the night with an undue momentum, but who never said that time wasn’t the fourth dimension? It will likely feel so when accelerating toward each week’s p-set end into the wee hours of the early morning in Leverett D-hall, home to the course’s Professor Howard Georgi '67, who is also the Leverett House Master.

Economics 1011a: Microeconomic Theory

For the utility optimizing agent, by mid-semester Economics 1011a is sure to cause at least a small dent in that indifference curve tradeoff between work and leisure. Consistently berated in the Q Guide as “notoriously difficult,” the course owes much to its always-maximizing course head, Professor Edward L. Glaeser. Second-order conditions for concavity certainly always hold, allowing this class to be the obvious local maximum when it comes to difficulty in the Economics department’s Fall undergraduate offerings. But in the end, it is a class that separates the true stars from the slugs of Harvard’s Economics department.

Chemistry 30: Organic Chemistry

Homogenous with respect to the number of undiluted chemistry concentrators in this one, few others will gain the activation energy necessary to fuel completion of this course. Catalyzed with un-dissolving desire for all things carbon, the only truly relevant mixtures will be the caffeine concoctions keeping Chem 30ers precipitating through the night on p-sets and grueling lab.

Social Studies 10

If all history hitherto were a history of course struggles, the quintessential Harvard tutorial Social Studies 10 postulates all issues of coursework inequality when stacked against the often ridiculed societal inferiors of Harvard’s science and math courses—the humanities. Endowed with a free market vengeance for assigning thick stacks of reading serving justice to the greatest good of the greatest number of history’s social thinkers, Social Studies 10 promises to inspire our generation’s Leviathan of social critiques—sure to be found among the concentration’s required Senior Theses.

ES181: Engineering Thermodynamics

Sure to slowly expand and diffuse into all aspects of your life once enrolled, ES 181 promises a heat(ed) transfer of words among your study group. Stress and enthalpy are always increasing in this course, where the only option is just blow off a little steam after having spent upwards of 10 to 15 hours on problem sets. Go for it, try out one of these p-sets, and you’ll know the true meaning of “work.”

Math 55a: Honors Abstract Algebra

Proven by exhaustion as “most difficult undergraduate math class in the country,” Math 55a rounds out Flyby’s set defined as the hardest courses at Harvard, again proven by exhaustion. A full survey of undergraduate mathematics in a single year, Math 55a includes only the subset of the few and proud of each year’s freshman class. With problem sets demanding 25 to 60 hours per week, don’t expect to find many 55ers out partying on a Thursday night, loitering around at your dorm study break, or taking that extra trip out to Brain Break. These kids work best in their own domain: it is all about eat, sleep, differentiate, and derive in these study “groups.”

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