What employers think about Harvard Extension School degrees

For more than 10 years, I have received questions from prospective Harvard Extension School students (and some current students) about whether or not Harvard Extension School degrees will help them get a job, and what employers think about them. Here’s a typical query:

I am considering the Harvard Extension School for Management. I really want your opinion if this will be worth doing in terms of getting a job. I am an international student and have one year of business experience. Do you get an internship in summer? Does the Harvard brand help?

The short answer is “maybe.” Aside from the Harvard or Harvard Extension School brand, there are a few factors employers typically consider:

  1. It depends on the person and what else he or she brings to the table in terms of job experience, specific technical/work skills, and whether or not he or she will be a good fit for the team.
  2. It depends on the field/location/position. It will matter less in a highly competitive field in a big city compared to a less competitive market in a rural area or overseas.
  3. It depends on the person’s network.

As for the brand: By itself, the Harvard Extension School degree is not an automatic signal to “hire this person because he/she has ‘Harvard’ in his educational background.” But it may help you get noticed. My ALM thesis director (a tenured professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) said the Harvard association and reputation — even for Extension School students — carries a lot of weight, and will help open doors that might otherwise be closed. He actually offered to help me find work related to my research (Chinese foreign policy analysis using computer-based research) if I was interested. I wasn’t — at the time I had a pretty good job in tech media and a young family, and becoming an analyst required moving to Washington, D.C.

Another thing that may help graduates get noticed are automated resume processing programs that search for specific keywords or phrases, which may include the name of famous universities … such as Harvard.

But when the resume gets passed to an HR screener or hiring manager, things start to get tricky for many HES grads. A lot of people do not make it clear that they attended the Extension School, and instead list “Harvard University” on their resumes, either in a misguided justification to hide the Extension School affiliation, or an outright misleading attempt to make it seem as if they graduated from Harvard College, the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), or the Harvard Business School. Here are just a few examples from LinkedIn:

Harvard BiologyHarvard ALB economicsHarvard ALM digital media

Not everyone does this, of course. It’s also possible to find people who proudly list their Extension School degrees on LinkedIn:

Harvard Extension ALM nonprofits

I’ve covered the issue of how to represent your Extension School diploma in the past, and it has been debated by hundreds of people on this blog and elsewhere. You can read more at Harvard Extension School résumé guidelines are bogus.

In short, a Harvard Extension Degree is NOT a Harvard College AB degree, a Harvard Business School MBA degree, or a GSAS AM degree. The former has a rigorous process that makes students prove they can do the work before they are admitted, but the others are among the most highly selective undergraduate and graduate programs in the United States. Students are in classrooms with other high-achievers, which raises the level of discourse and focus. Yes, HES gets some high achievers as well, but the classrooms are also filled with casual class-takers who don’t have the same focus as degree candidates.

The curricula and graduation requirements are also completely different. The most obvious is the Extension School’s use of distance education for course credit and for many of the professional programs,  the fact that there is no requirement to take classes taught by faculty with actual teaching appointments at Harvard.

What this means is McKinsey or Bain won’t regard an HES ALB or ALM in Management grad the same way they will treat a recent Harvard College AB or HBS MBA recipient.

What HR and hiring managers think about Extension School grads

Several people involved in hiring decisions have commented how they regard HES grads compared to their counterparts from other schools. I’ll start with the positive evaluations, followed by some of the negative takes:


I’m a hiring manager and I would hire an HES graduate any day of the week.


As the president and founder of our company with final say in hiring/firing, the choice is clear. Being only book smart is not nearly enough to cut it as there are already too many book smart people out there to choose from. Candidate B’s qualities along with street smarts are harder to find and what the real world is looking for.


If I had to hire one of two applicants for my accounting firm and one said hire me because I got good grades in high school and was active in the community (real Harvard applicant), and the other said I have years of experience in accounting and will work for three months to prove myself to you and if you don’t like what you see I will leave (HES applicant) I would hire the latter.

Why? Simple, the latter has shown they can complete a course of study, are working to better themselves and have decided to take on a great amount of additional responsibility.

But there are more than a few managers out there who have been burned by HES grads misrepresenting their degrees:

As somebody who has personally on-boarded somebody claiming an HES degree as a HGSAS degree, I can tell you that this is pure bullwack. What a complete waste of time and energy her fraud was. I wasted a ton of time looking into the issue. Harvard’s own standards have always made it clear to grads that their HES degree is not a Harvard College degree. Period… It’s willful ignorance on the part of HES grads that it will be overlooked. Anyone who doesn’t know how to represent an HES degree on a resume is a liar.

Another example:

It happens every few years where my firm gets an HES grad misrepresenting their degree. The latest “MA Anthropology – Harvard,” which after a little checking (we have learned to ALWAYS be suspicious), ends up being an MLA with a concentration from HES. When confronted they always plead ignorance and make the same BS argument about how they took classes on campus at Harvard taught by faculty and blah, blah, blah. Some are otherwise good candidates, but they are still committing resume fraud. I would take an honest UMass or UConn grad over HES any day. Had they listed their true HES credential on the resume and sold it in the interview, they would be fine.

As I have said many times in the past, HES grads should be proud of what they have accomplished and be proud to list “Harvard Extension School” on their resumes. If enough people do so and do as well in their careers as they did while at HES, the reputation of the Harvard Extension School will grow … making it easier for all Extension School grads to leverage ALB and ALM degrees to advance their careers.


13 thoughts on “What employers think about Harvard Extension School degrees

  1. Hello, ALM (Software Engineering) candidate here. I work for a Google-backed startup and am pretty sure my studies at Harvard helped me get my job.

    This identity crisis topic has gotten so much unwarranted attention over the years, I’ve noticed, and people on the internet wind themselves up SO MUCH about the Extension School vs GSAS vs College vs Whatever hand-wringing, I just have to pitch in here:

    It’s way overblown and everyone would be happier and more productive if they stop trying to pigeonhole themselves and others so much.

    All of the seven courses I’ve taken so far have been from tenured (or tenure track) Harvard professors. I’ve had the privilege of attending class with a bunch of razor-sharp students. I fly to campus a couple of weeks every semester to attend in person and I’m treated like a royal guest by the profs and my classmates from GSAS or the College. AND IT’S GREAT – I can’t think of a better use of time and money!

    Professionally, I am open about being a student in the Extension program (when people want more information) and I’ve never been treated like I’m a walking forgery or any of those silly things that people fret over.

    Here’s the key: if you want to attend Harvard to improve yourself, don’t spend time thinking about it, just GET IT DONE. Spend your time thinking about what you’re studying and gaining knowledge. Don’t worry about how people regard the Extension School – instead, spend that time making yourself better through education.

    Look, territoriality is EVERYWHERE. Quick story: When I was a newly-matriculated MBA student at University of Chicago years ago, one of the student in their prestigious college actually gave me a hard time about it because I wasn’t part of the “real” University of Chicago. I couldn’t help but laugh at him – someone who doesn’t know me who had never met me before wants to pick a fight with me over my educational choices? Talk about insecure…

    • Dear DK –

      You have my infinite thanks for your comment. Sometime we need to be reminded of what is important, and as you said, the most important thing is getting it done.

  2. I have had all my classes taught by established Harvard Professors. I am happy to tell people I am a student at the extension school. I choose the extension school because I am getting a great education at a reasonable price.

  3. My employer hires graduates of the College as well as HES graduates. There is no difference in their eyes and some HES grads are in upper-level positions. Recently, graduates of the College have also achieved these higher ranks.

  4. What a crock of bull. Hiring managers, Harvard and people in general are creating second class students. The Harvard University Extension program offers Graduate and Undergraduate degrees that require on campus time. You sit in the same classrooms as “regular” Harvard students and you put in the same time. By claiming that you somehow have earned a “different” type of Harvard degree is underhanded and seriously elitist. I would have no problem putting on a resume that I earned an MA in such and such from Harvard University Extension. And, since I get alumni status I better well be treated equally.

  5. (I didn’t attend HES but am looking into a certificate program.) I’m a little confused as to why this is an issue in the first place. On my resume, for example, I list my degree as University Name, B.S. in Computer Science. Why wouldn’t someone simply put “Harvard University, Degree Name” on their resume? When a potential employer calls to verify an applicant’s education, will they not call the same number as they would for a “normal” Harvard student? I guess I understand the concern for a fresh new grad with no experience, but as an experienced professional, I’d be taken aback if someone wanted to know the specifics of which college my degree came from. Just me though…

    • The degrees have completely different names and are not the same as those given if you were accepted into the University as a non-online student.

    • Yes, it’s perfectly fine to put “Harvard University, Degree Name”.
      But do remember that the degree name is “Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies”. It would be very hard to explain to your prospective employer why Extension Studies showed up on your background check but you didn’t put that on your resume.

    • The issue is that Harvard University is synonymous with Harvard College. If you went to the Harvard Extension School it should be proudly listed on your resume as such. Almost all employers will assume you went to Harvard college when they read “Harvard University” and when they ask for a verification of your degree they will see that it has been misrepresented on your resume. They are both fantastic schools in their own way but an extension school degree is not the same as a Harvard college degree. Once again, the degree is from the college you attended. For example someone who attended Harvard Law should not try to mislead people that he has a degree from any other college of Harvard University.

  6. Getting into the Extension School is easier than getting into the regular AB, MBA, etc. programs. As stated elsewhere, those are likely to be populated by high achieving students with a lot of intensity. That said, we have access to professors who are regular faculty at Harvard, so the opportunity to learn and achieve at the highest level is there, if the student wishes to take advantage of it.

    Much of the success of Harvard students comes from the fact that they were high achievers anyway, they are likely to come from families with other social benefits such as money, connections, and general know-how, and they form connections at school that can last a lifetime. So, when someone puts down the “Harvard”, he or she is implying all of these other benefits that are only partially available, especially to distance students.

    Perhaps someday the Extension school could set up monthly or bimonthly Extension weekends where some of this could occur.

  7. I completely agree with DK that the most important thing about higher education is the learning itself. It would be nice if the brand can give you a little lift during interviews, but at the end of day, it is still more about your attitude, your personality, your experience and your capability. The brand can help for sure, but it’s never just and only about that. All the negative comments from hiring managers in the article are not about HES itself, they are mostly about “lying and hiding” which I totally agree. Again, the degree alone doesn’t define you so just be confident and list HES on your resume! If any hiring manager questions about it, explain it proudly and they will see YOUR value as a honest and positive candidate.

  8. College degrees are mostly about signaling theory nowadays – class, iq, and conformity within a rigorous program. Without a strict admission process, the value is greatly minimized. For everyone who wants to learn practical skills or to simply better themselves, I am thankful that HES exists. However, I would first ask the candidate to reconsider if this is an attempt at resume deception or simple knowledge acquisition. If the latter, maybe coursera will help you save for your retirement a little quicker.

    I would bet that simply having harvard on the resume does move the needle a bit, even when the extension is clearly spelled out. We’ll have to wait for a social science phd to run a resume study and compare the two in a job search scenario.

    Much of the value of advanced practical degrees are the career services and networking with 1%’er students with prestigious families and connections. Do HES students have the chance to network with “normal” students on campus, or are they always segregated? I would be very interested if there are any placement programs set to help extension students with their career.

    • Mike, there are opportunities to join cross-campus student groups and other activities, but you have to work at it. I participated in a technology publication while I was a student, and I know others have joined arts or student government groups. I remember when Zuckerberg visited the campus a few years ago anyone studying computer science was welcome to attend, including HES students.

      The Extension School does have a career services office and some activities such as job fairs, but I don’t know how effective they are.

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