Advice for First-Year Students

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!

Introductory 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. Please feel free to make an advising appointment with the staff in the Undergraduate Program office to discuss your options. Another resource for freshmen 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: These freshman seminars may be counted as a Government concentration elective:

  • FS 40I: The Supreme Court in History (Richard Fallon)
  • FS 40L: Free Speech (Sanford Ungar)
  • FS 41P: American Presidential Campaigns and Elections 1960-2016 (Maxine Isaacs)
  • FS41R: Media in American Politics (Matthew Baum)
  • FS 42N:  From the Arab Spring to ISIS: National Security Challenges in the Mideast (Chuck Freilich)
  • FS 48K: Political Legitimacy and Resistance (Arthur Applbaum) 
  • FS71H: Political Philosophy in Swift's Gulliver's Travels (Harvey Mansfield)
  • FS 71L: Can Democracy be Saved? (Daniel Ziblatt)

General Education Courses: The following Gen Ed courses also count as a Government concentration elective or fulfill a subfield requirement:

  • Ethical Reasoning 39: Money, Markets, and Morals (Michael Sandel): Political Theory
  • Ethical Reasoning 44: The Theory and Practice of Republican Government (Daniel Carpenter): American Politics
  • US and the World 15: Race, Ethnicity and Immigrations: From Obama to Trump (Jennifer Hochschild): American Politics
  • US and the World 31: American Society and Public Policy (Theda Skocpol and Mary Waters): American Politics

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: Introduction to Political Science Research Methods (required of concentrators)

We recommend that those planning to concentrate in Government take Gov 50: Introduction to Political Science Research Methods 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.

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:

  • 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.