Menu Harvard Graduate School of Education
banner image

Special Studies Program

The Special Studies Program is ideal for education pioneers whose interests cut across traditional master’s programs.

Do you have an idea for improving education — in urban schools, in hospitals, on sports teams, or in a remote African village — that has never been tried before? Are you an experienced educator, community organizer, social entrepreneur, physician, or musician who wants to explore an entirely new dimension of teaching and learning? The Special Studies Program (SSP) is designed for individuals with bold new ideas who are passionate about transforming society through education.

In SSP, you will join a remarkably diverse cohort of leaders and life-long learners, each pursuing ambitious social and professional goals through individualized courses of study. Current and former SSP students include:

  • A Rwandan aid worker studying curriculum development in post-conflict societies
  • A college professor exploring faculty-student engagement outside of class
  • A teacher and health policy advocate who wants to combine healthcare and education to better serve children
  • A businesswoman opening a school in Saudi Arabia

In SSP, there are no required courses or prerequisites. Instead, you will work closely with academic advisers to choose a customized sequence of courses from HGSE and other Harvard graduate schools that will equip you with the skills, knowledge, and experience to make an impact.

Vicki Jacobs, faculty director of the Special Studies Program.

Message from the Director

We warmly welcome you to the Special Studies Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Special Studies is a community of committed educators invested in making a positive impact on the lives of learners at all stages of the life cycle.  Our students come to HGSE with interests, educational objectives, and career trajectories that fall outside the bounds of HGSE’s twelve other targeted master’s programs.  For example, past Special Studies candidates have included physicians interested in understanding the education of medical students, a career military officer interested in translating classroom practices into training, social entrepreneurs leading innovative educational ventures in the U.S. and abroad, teachers and administrators interested in implementing cutting edge reform in unique settings, as well as so many others who have benefited from designing their own courses of study.

The Special Studies Program is yours to design by drawing on the deep educational resources offered at HGSE and in the Harvard community at large. We invite you to peruse the course catalog and to let us know what you hope to study, the faculty with whom you would like to work, and why this program is the right fit for you.

We look forward to hearing from and learning about you.

Jennifer Petrallia
Director, Special Studies Program
Assistant Dean for Master’s Studies



Program Highlights

SSP is a one-year, full-time master’s program for highly self-directed individuals with an unconventional combination of interests. Here are some of the program’s greatest strengths:

Highly customizable – The only requirement of SSP is that you take at least half of your courses at HGSE. Beyond that, you are free to choose courses that will enrich your understanding and prepare you to succeed.

Experienced advisors – The academic advisors in SSP are experts at navigating the expansive academic universe of Harvard. Advisors will help you identify potential faculty mentors and the best classes at HGSE and other Harvard graduate schools such as the Harvard Business School, the Harvard Kennedy School, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and even MIT.

Field experience – Many SSP students choose to complete a for-credit internship as one of their classes. The Cambridge and Boston area is a hub for education non-profits, progressive schools, education technology start-ups, and education research initiatives. Through the Field Experience Program, you will receive course credit while getting invaluable hands-on experience.

Resources for entrepreneurs – Harvard buzzes with entrepreneurial energy. If you are passionate about bringing a new idea to life, you will have access to incredible resources through the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), the MIT Media Lab, faculty mentors, fellow cohort members, and the extended HGSE alumni network.


In SSP, you design the curriculum. With an academic advising team, you will choose a custom mix of courses, including internships and independent study, that meet your specific academic and professional goals. The only conditions are that you complete 32 course credits and that at least half of your courses come from HGSE. See the full HGSE Catalog.

A Sample SSP Study Plan:

  • 4 courses at HGSE
  • 2 courses at other Harvard graduate schools
  • 1 internship through the Field Experience Program
  • 1 independent study with a faculty advisor


As an SSP student, you are encouraged to enroll in classes outside of HGSE that will strengthen your connections across traditional disciplines. Learn more about cross-registration at other Harvard schools and affiliated non-Harvard programs, including:



As an SSP student, you have the freedom to design your own course of study in close consultation with knowledgeable SSP advisors.  Additionally, you should think of the entire faculty of HGSE and all of Harvard University as your potential mentors. Many SSP students come here with the express purpose of working with specific faculty members on interdisciplinary research projects.


SSP students are drawn from a large range of academic and professional backgrounds. They have founded and run schools and non-profits in America and abroad. They are doctors, television producers, outdoor educators, former Marines, professional musicians, school principals, and classroom teachers. What binds them together as a cohort is a shared passion for education and a bold entrepreneurial spirit. SSP students arrive with a clear vision of how this highly customized HGSE education will help them make an even greater impact in their careers and communities.


The directions SSP graduates take their self-designed education are boundless. There are SSP alumni working for a nonprofit TV production company that creates reality TV shows to drive social change in Egypt and Afghanistan. Other SSP alumni own an architecture firm specializing in the design of children’s educational play spaces. We’re proud that so many SSP graduates are using their education to make a real and lasting impact in the lives of kids and adults worldwide.

Where Alumni Work


SSP is an ideal choice for self-directed individuals whose unique combination of interests is not covered by the other 12 master’s programs [1.2.2] at HGSE. When telling us your story, you should be able to clearly articulate how SSP fits into your career plans and how this customized course of study will prepare you as a leader, innovator, and change agent. Visit HGSE admissions to learn more about Ed.M. application requirements and deadlines, and to get information about financial aid. Applications are due in January of the academic year you plan to enroll.


If you have any questions about the admissions process or want to learn more about the benefits of the Special Studies Program, please contact our admissions liaison Youlim Yai at or 617-495-3414. If you have specific questions about SSP program requirements, please contact Program Administrator Karen Bottari at or 617-495-4954.

Campaign Banner

Learn to Change the World

The Campaign for Harvard Graduate School of Education enables HGSE to fulfill its vision of changing the world through education by expanding opportunity and improving outcomes.

Learn More