Advice for First-Year Students

**First-Year Information Session for Spring 2023**

If you missed the information session on Jan 10th, you can listen to a recording of it here. 

Your initial semesters at Harvard are a time for exploration and discovery, with an eye towards choosing a concentration that speaks to your passions, serves your interests, and points you toward a future career. We offer a variety of ways to explore your interest in politics:

Events: One way to find out if Government is the best concentration for you is to attend events that we sponsor especially for students. If you would like to be informed of upcoming events of particular interest to concentrators or potential concentrators, (such as our popular “have lunch with a professor to talk about urgent political events of the day”), please click here and we’ll add you to our list!

Courses: There is no single course that begins a Government concentration. With limited space in your schedule, of course, you’ll want to know which courses will give you a feel for the concentration and the Department. Karen Kaletka serves as the advisor for first-year outreach; please contact her with questions or if you'd like to set up an advising meeting. 

Another resource for first-year students looking for advice about Government courses or the concentration in general is to ask one of our Peer Concentration Counselors (PCCs). These students are Government concentrators who have volunteered to act as peer advisers. 

In the meantime, consider the following courses, which previous students have found to be good gateways into a Government concentration:

Freshman Seminars: The following freshman seminars offered during AY 2022 may count toward the Government concentration elective requirement:  

  • FS 41R: Media in American Politics (fall) (Matthew Baum)
  • FS 48K: Political Legitimacy and Resistance (fall) (Arthur Applbaum)
  • FS 72W: Is Privacy Dead? Privacy, Surveillance, and Freedom in the Digital Age (fall) (Lowry Pressly)
  • FS 72X: Holding Politicians Accountable (spring) (Julie Weaver) 

(Please note that each concentrator is allowed to count only one non-letter-graded course toward the Gov elective requirement. All Freshman Seminars are graded SAT/UNSAT.)

General Education Courses: The following Gen Ed courses offered during AY 2022 count as a Government concentration elective, and some can be used to fulfill a subfield requirement, as noted:

  • Gen Ed 1032: Res Publica: A History of Representative Government (Daniel Carpenter) (may count for American Politics subfield
  • Gen Ed 1052: Race in a Polarized America (Jennifer Hochschild) (may count for American Politics subfield
  • Gen Ed 1181: Meritocracy and its Critics (Michael Sandel) (may count for Political Theory subfield)
  • Gen Ed 1123: Islam and Politics in the Modern Middle East (Malika Zeghal)

Foundational Courses: These introductory courses in the Government department provide an overview of the different subfields in political science:

  • Gov 10: Foundations of Political Thought
  • Gov 20: Foundations of Comparative Politics
  • Gov 30: American Government: A New Perspective
  • Gov 40: International Conflict and Cooperation in the Modern World
  • Gov 50: Data Science for the Social Sciences (required of concentrators)

We recommend that those planning to concentrate in Government take Gov 50 before the end of the sophomore year. This course introduces basic statistical techniques used in quantitative political methodology. Topics covered include descriptive statistics, sampling, estimation, hypothesis tests, and applied linear and logistic regression. Gov 50 is meant to help you achieve “literacy” in political science, so that you can understand what many political scientists are saying and how they verify their claims.

1000-level Courses: Finally, if you already have specific interests that you want to explore, many of the 1000-level courses in the Government department have no prerequisites and are appropriate for first-year students, including the following: 

  • Gov 1249: Authoritarianism (fall) (Sarah Hummel) 
  • Gov 1280: Government & Politics of China (spring) (Yuhua Wang)
  • Gov 1290: Democracy & Authoritarianism (fall) (Steve Levitsky)
  • Gov 1295: Comparative Politics of Latin America (spring) (Steve Levitsky)
  • Gov 1433: Tech Science: From Democracy to Technocracy and Back (fall) (Latanya Sweeney) 
  • Gov 1540: The American Presidency (fall) (Roger Porter) 
  • Gov 1759: Behavioral Insights & Public Policy: Nudging for Good (spring) (Michael Hiscox)
  • Gov 1790: American Foreign Policy (fall) (Joshua Kertzer)

Intensive Summer Language Programs: Many government students want to focus on studying the politics and society of specific regions of the world (usually done through the comparative politics subfield). We strongly encourage these students to become proficient in the language of that region, which is a valuable skill for research and for seeking jobs in that region after graduation. Harvard Summer School runs a variety of intensive summer language programs that help students learn languages more quickly than is possible during a regular semester. In years' past, the following programs have been offered: 

  • Arabic: Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Chinese: Beijing
  • Czech: Prague
  • French: Aix-en-Provence
  • German: Vienna & Berlin
  • Korean: Seoul
  • Italian: Calabria
  • Russian: Tblisi, Georgia
  • Spanish: Buenos Aires

Financial aid is available for many of these programs through the Office of Career Services.