Campus & Community

Online course catalog eases cross-registration

4 min read

A new online course catalog is poised to make life a bit easier for the more than 2,200 graduate and undergraduate students who cross school boundaries to register for courses each academic year.

The Provost’s Office, in conjunction with registrars across the University, has created a searchable online course catalog that provides course information, including descriptions, locations, and schedules for classes in all of Harvard’s schools and colleges.

The effort, begun over a year ago, should not only ease the administrative trials of graduate students cross-registering for courses at Harvard, but could also boost interfaculty collaboration by providing information on courses at all the schools and colleges to the staff of the several interfaculty initiatives.

“I think it’s an enormous savings of staff time and makes it easier for students,” said Sean Buffington, assistant provost for interfaculty programs. “It doesn’t solve every problem but it puts in one place all the course information at different schools.”

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Arlene Becella said the new database will not only help current students looking for courses across the University, but it will help prospective students as well. She said she often gets calls from people interested in attending Harvard who are exploring the University’s course offerings. The task can be a daunting one, she said, if required to gather course data from all the schools and colleges.

“I’ve often gotten the question, ‘Can you tell me all the courses dealing with policy,’ for example,” Becella said. “Immediately now, they’ll be able to go online, put in the word ‘policy’ and it will show them the course, date, and time. It helps people building a schedule of courses.”

Becella said having the offerings easily available will also help Harvard faculty as they advise students on what courses to take.

The system not only provides course information, it also provides information on registration procedures and deadlines at the different schools, according to Susan Walsh, executive director for information technology infrastructure at University Information Systems. It includes a petition form – required for cross-registration – that graduate students can fill out online. Though the form can be printed after it is filled in, it cannot be submitted electronically, Walsh said. That is because the form has to be signed by the faculty member teaching the course before the student can be admitted.

“Some of the barriers [to cross-registration] are just knowing what the school’s procedures are,” Walsh said. “With the help of the registrars, this is really an information site.”

Teri Chisholm, the project manager for the online catalog, said she is pleased with how the effort turned out, particularly because she had her doubts that the diverse course numbering systems, academic calendars, policies, and procedures in place at the different schools could be coordinated into a single online catalog.

“When we first began to discuss the possibility of a University-wide catalog, I must say I was somewhat doubtful that we would pull it off,” Chisholm said. “As we began the work, we began to see many consistencies in how each school operates and found opportunities to develop more common guidelines and definitions relating to [graduate student] cross-registration.

“The registrars are a great group to work with collaboratively. Without their support this project would never have come together,” Chisholm said.

While Chisholm said graduate students – who do the most cross-registration – may benefit most from the online catalog, the benefits are quite broad, extending to undergraduates, prospective students, faculty, and even members of the media and others seeking information about Harvard’s offerings.

“The course catalog benefits are far-reaching,” Chisholm said. “Until now, there has not been a comprehensive University-wide catalog of course offerings and related information. The University-wide catalog supports Harvard’s commitment to providing students with access to the full range of educational opportunities throughout the University and supports the University’s commitment to interdisciplinary study.”

Chisholm said it took the efforts of many people over more than a year to develop the catalog, with the registrars and their information technology staff playing a key role. Other critical work was done by the Harvard Data Warehouse Group and several groups within University Information Systems.

“This was a truly collaborative effort,” Chisholm said.

The catalog can be found at