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COVID-19 and Fall 2020 FAQ

This page describes information related to COVID-19 and the Harvard Computer Science undergraduate program. For Harvard University information about COVID-19 see https://www.harvard.edu/coronavirus; For Harvard College, see https://dso.college.harvard.edu/coronavirus.

This page last updated: Friday August 14th. We will continue to update this page with new information; if you have a question that isn’t addressed below, please contact us!

What courses will be offered in Fall 2020?

As of 7/6/2020, here are the non-300-level courses that Harvard CS plans to offer in Fall 2020:

Course Number Course Title F’20 Instructors
CS 50 Introduction to Computer Science Malan, David
CS 61 Systems Programming and Machine Organization Kohler, Eddie
Yu, Minlan
CS 91r Supervised Reading and Research Various
CS 96 System Design Projects Gajos, Krzysztof
CS 105 Privacy and Technology Waldo, James
CS 107 Systems Development for Computational Science Sondak, David
CS 109a Data Science 1: Introduction to Data Science Protopapas, Pavlos
Tanner, Christopher
Rader, Kevin
CS 121 Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science Sudan, Madhu
Hesterberg, Adam
CS 126 Fairness, Privacy, and Validity in Data Analysis Dwork, Cynthia
Minow, Martha
CS 143 Computer Networks Kung, H. T.
CS 171 Visualization Pfister, Hanspeter
CS 182 Artificial Intelligence Tambe, Milind
Barak, Boaz
CS 187 Computational Linguistics Shieber, Stuart
CS 222 Algorithms at the Ends of the Wire Mitzenmacher, Michael
CS 229r Algorithmic Spectral Graph Theory Vadhan, Salil
CS 249r Tiny Machine Learning Janapa Reddi, Vijay
CS 252r Advanced Topics in Programming Languages: PL + AI Amin, Nada
CS 263 Systems Security Mickens, James
CS 279 Research Topics in Human-Computer Interaction Glassman, Elena
CS 286 Multi-Robot Systems: Control, Communication, and Security Gil, Stephanie

There are also additional Harvard courses offered outside of Computer Science that are permitted to count towards concentration requirements. We will list here the courses that we know are being offered in Fall 2020:

Course Number Course Title F’20 Instructors Notes
ES 143 Computer Vision Zickler, Todd Can be used in place of CS 17x course
Stat 110 Introduction to Probability Blitzstein, Joe Statistics/Probability Math or Tech Elective
AM 22a Solving and Optimizing Gortler, Steve Linear Alegebra Requirement in CS
That course list seems different from what it looked like in March/April. Why?

We thought carefully about the best way to present a set of courses for the fall semester that could help students meet graduation requirements while providing a good online experience. Several professors also opted to push back sabbaticals and were then available to teach.

How do I shop Fall 2020 CS Courses?
How will courses meet online?

Fall courses may offer a wide range of interaction modes. These can include lectures, sections, office hours, as well as meeting in smaller groups. Some of these components will be recorded and can be viewed asynchronously, while others will be live and interactive. Instructors will make an effort to schedule those components of courses that must be accessed synchronously to accommodate students’ time zones. You should check the courses’ webpage for more information on the schedule of each course.

Will there be a shopping week?

Shopping period will run from August 17 to August 21. During this time, Canvas sites will be live, syllabi will be posted, and instructors will find some way to give students a sense of their courses and their teaching styles. Students will register for courses by August 26, and the semester will begin on September 2. After that, students may add or drop courses until October 5.

More information is at https://registrar.fas.harvard.edu/shopping-week-registration.

How will remote learning be better than it was at the end of the Spring semester?

Computer Science is planning on having higher faculty-to-student ratios than we usually do. Core courses with high expected enrollments will be team-taught (CS 61, CS 121, CS 182). Unlike the spring, we have now had time to prepare, and structure the courses to optimize for the online experience and better address issues such as students dispersed in many time zones. The Office of Undergraduate Education is training faculty in best practices for online learning over the summer.

Will there be extra support for students?

Yes, the TF-student ratio will be lower and several CS courses will be co-taught.

We are working on other programs, including expanding our Patel Fellows program and the Peer Concentration Advising program.

Will the courses be letter graded or Pass/Fail or Sat/Unsat?

In the fall, courses will be letter graded as in standard semesters. As always, you can, with instructor permission, take a course Pass/Fail. And CS50 can be taken either for a letter grade of Sat/Unsat. However, any course in Fall 2020 used to satisfy CS concentration requirements must be taken for a letter grade, with the sole exception of CS50, which can be taken Sat/Unsat.

How will we have a CS Community?

We appreciate that community is critical, and we will strive to ensure that we build community for students in Harvard CS and provide opportunities for students to interact with faculty, staff, and other Harvard CS students. Computer Science will work with the Peer Concentration Advisors and other groups to find ways to build community. We are also interested in having CS Nights return. This is work in progress, and we are open to your ideas and feedback for how we can best build community! Please let us know your ideas!

If you haven’t yet joined the CS Undergrad Piazza Forum, we encourage you to do so!

Can I continue/get involved in research?

Many of our faculty can provide remote research opportunities for students. As always, please refer to our research group Google Sheet for information faculty research interests and how to join their groups. https://csadvising.seas.harvard.edu/research/

Please note that the only undergraduates allowed to enter FAS or SEAS research labs will be seniors who are living on campus and working on their thesis. Students who are on leave may not enter the lab and may not be hired for on-campus lab research.
This guidance only applies to labs in FAS or SEAS buildings. SEAS and the Division of Science discourage students from working in labs at Longwood or other local institutions during Fall 2020.

Note that if you are on a Leave of Absence, then you will need Ad Board approval to be engaged in research, even if remote. See the FAQ below about Leave of Absences.

I'm a senior and I'm writing a senior thesis. Can I do this remotely?

Many of the CS senior thesis writers will be able to conduct their research remotely. However, some may need to do laboratory or practice-based work that cannot be done remotely. If you are in this situation, you should fill in the Learning Environment Questionnaire (linked to from https://college.harvard.edu/ourpathforward), by Monday July 13. You will need to provide some information about why your research needs to be conducted on the Harvard campus. Even if you missed the July 13 deadline, you should fill in the form: late applications will be considered.

Harvard CS will support students through the thesis process, even remotely. We will once again host a thesis seminar series to help with the thesis-writing process. Look for more information in the fall.

Access to libraries for enrolled students writing a thesis will be addressed at the University level. The University’s latest guidance on libraries is here, and the Office of Undergraduate Education has promised to host library town halls (Fall Advising information, including library research town halls, will be here)

What about concentration advising?

Advising Faculty and the DUS team will continue to have remote office hours in the Fall.

SEAS, Computer Science, and the Peer Concentration Advisors will continue to host advising events throughout the Fall semester.

I don't have a suitable learning environment at home.

If you are not in the cohort that will automatically be invited to return to campus, you can apply to return to campus. More information is at https://dso.college.harvard.edu/ourpathforward. Please note that the deadline for the Learning Environment Questionnaire is July 13. Even if you missed the July 13 deadline, you should fill in the form: late applications will be considered.

More information is at https://college.harvard.edu/ourpathforward.

I'm an international student; will I be able to return to campus?

The Department of Homeland Security and ICE have rescinded their policy that barred international students from taking only online courses.

There was a webinar for international Harvard College students on Wednesday July 8. The recording will be available at https://oie.fas.harvard.edu/international-student-advising. That page also links to an FAQ for international students.

Regardless, if you’re wanting to apply to be invited back to campus, you should fill in the Learning Environment Questionnaire (linked to from https://college.harvard.edu/ourpathforward). Even if you missed the July 13 deadline, you should fill in the form: late applications will be considered.

I'm considering a Leave of Absence. Can I still be a TF or do research?

Current OUE policy is that Harvard students must be enrolled to be CAs or TFs. That is, under current policy, if you are on a Leave of Absence, you can not be a CA or TF. You should plan accordingly. If this policy changes, we will update this FAQ and post on Piazza.

Regarding research: while on a Leave of Absence you would need Ad Board approval to be able to engage in research. See the relevant section of the Student Handbook. While on Leave you will not be able to enter research lab buildings. From https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/coronavirus/advice-faculty: “The only undergraduates allowed to enter the FAS and SEAS research lab buildings will be seniors who are living on campus and conducting research for their senior thesis or comparable capstone project.”

More information about Leaves of Absence is at https://college.harvard.edu/ourpathforward#leave-of-absence-advising.

We strongly enocourage you to write to fall2020advising@fas.harvard.edu with any questions so that you receive a centralized response, and so that they know what questions are being asked.

Will I be able to cross-register for courses at MIT?

Yes! The Registrar’s Office has confirmed that Harvard students will be able to cross register at MIT in Fall 2020, as usual. Students can begin cross registration at the start of classes and the deadline is the 5th Monday. More information is available here.

Can I talk with the DUS’s over the summer?

Yes! You can always email us at cs-dus@seas.harvard.edu and both DUS’s have office hours, see https://www.boazbarak.org/contact/ and https://people.seas.harvard.edu/~chong/ .

How do Spring 2020 Emergency Sat/Unsat grades affect my concentration GPA and honors?

Background: There are two types of honors for undergraduates: Latin honors (summa, magna, cum laude) are determined by the College and English honors (highest honors, high honors, honors) are determined by concentrations. See this page for more. The College Coronavirus FAQ has information about how Latin honors are affected by SEM grades. It is up to each concentration to determine how SEM grades will affect English honors.

Harvard CS will strive to ensure that SEM/UEM grading in Spring 2020 does not adversely affect students’ eligibility for English honors. Recall that English honors involve an objective GPA cutoff and a vote based on a holistic view of the student’s academic and scientific achievements. SEM/UEM grading will change our treatment of GPA.


  1. If a student’s concentration GPA (calculated without Spring 2020 courses) is above the threshold, then the student will be eligible for honors.
  2. If the student’s concentration GPA is close to the threshold (i.e., would be above the threshold if the student had received A’s in Spring 2020 concentration courses), then we will consider other criteria, including qualitative feedback from Spring 2020 courses.
How do the Spring 2020 Emergency Sat/Unsat grades affect my AB/SM degree?

SEM/UEM graded courses from Spring 2020 can be used to satisfy requirements of a Computer Science SM. Note also that appropriate MIT courses graded P/F in Spring 2020 will be able to count towards SM requirements.

How do Summer School 2020 courses count towards a CS concentration or secondary?

Computer Science will count the following Summer 2020 courses at Harvard Summer School for concentration credit (and, where relevant, for secondary credit):

  • CSCI S-20: Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science (treated as equivalent to CS20)
  • CSCI S-50: Intensive Introduction to Computer Science (treated as equivalent to CS50)
  • CSCI S-91r: Reading and Research Course (equivalent to CS 91r)
  • CSCI S-109A: Introduction to Data Science (treated as equivalent to CS109A)
  • CSCI S-111: Intensive Introduction to Computer Science Using Java (treated as equivalent to CS50)
How has the hiring freeze affected the CS faculty searches that were in place?

We were able to move forward with some of our searches to make offers, though not as many offers as we would have if the school’s financial situation was good.

I have a question that isn't answered here!

Please post more questions on Piazza or email cs-dus@seas.harvard.edu.

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This is a form for anonymous feedback, for your ideas for CS to consider, or to let us know how you’re doing: CS Feedback.


If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to help and support you however we can.