Every student, at some point or another, wonders what Harvard, Yale, or Princeton are like. They wonder about the libraries, the classrooms, the majors (or concentrations), the parties.

Every year, however, so many students decide they aren’t good enough, their grades aren’t high enough, or their test scores aren’t exemplary enough. Because of those same insecurities, so many of those students never attempt to apply.

What if I told you those things don’t always have to matter? What if I told you Harvard can be your reach school and your safety school? Interested? Keep reading!

The Secret: Harvard Extension School

Since 1910, Harvard has had a secret weapon when it comes to education: Harvard Extension School.

Harvard Extension School, which is one of the 12 schools of Harvard University, was originally created to cater to the Boston area. The school’s focus was to serve the needs of individuals who had family or work obligations, limiting their time and resources available toward obtaining a degree.

Since its inception, Harvard Extension School has continued to evolve regarding degree options, now offering the following degrees: Associate of Arts in Extension Studies, Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies, and Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies.  The Extension School is also a great choice for those who couldn’t make it into another division of Harvard, but still want a quality education.

However, the school also has some different admissions requirements. In order to be admitted into a degree program, each degree-seeking student must pass three admission courses with a B or higher, maintain a 3.0 GPA in any other degree courses taken before applying, and maintain a good financial standing with Harvard.  They also require each student spends one semester on campus.

Perks of Harvard Extension School

The school has some unique perks that other schools within the Harvard system do not. One of those benefits, is the ability to transfer a certain amount of CLEP credits to count toward an associates or bachelor’s degree.  The school also allows for complete flexibility regarding the completion of classes.

A student can use a combination of online, formal classroom, and hybrid courses to complete their degree requirements. The school offers financial aid and tuition costs a fraction of the price a traditional Harvard education would cost.  Tuition per course can range from $1,250 for undergraduate courses to $2,200 for graduate courses. There is an additional non-refundable $50 registration fee each term.

If you already have a degree or want other options to consider, Harvard Extension Schools offers many certificates that can supplement any field of knowledge and improve any resume. Subjects include but aren’t limited to: business, environmental management, data technology, and religious studies.

For recent college graduates, the Extension School also offers a Premedical program, where a student can obtain a sponsorship in which they obtain a letter of recommendation from the Harvard Extension Premedical Program. The letter may be used in one’s application to medical school. There are also excellent summer school opportunities available for students. Students can also apply for faculty aide positions.

The Controversy

There has been some controversy regarding going to the Extension School. Many other students at Harvard and other schools claim it is not “real Harvard”, as students tend to be older and more settled, the cost is lower, students are not required to spend as much time on campus, and students at the Extension School do not have all of the same privileges the other Harvard schools do.

There have been cases of individuals who have graduated from Harvard Extension School, but have listed themselves as having graduated from Harvard College. Those cases have caused a discussion to begin about where extension students fit, how degrees should be listed on resumes, and how extension students should be promoting themselves to potentially employers. Critics have also questioned the return on investment of the degrees.

Despite some negative statements and suspicions, the extension school is continuing to do well. Harvard University was ranked as the second best university for online and distance education in 2013.  Students continue to flock to the school because of its affordable prices and flexibility.  Success stories are shared daily from Harvard Extension alumni about the value of their education and their new experiences.

Some notable alumni include Ann Romney, whose husband was the Republican nominee for the previous US Presidential election, Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. who is the ambassador to Malta and former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Colombian politician and former President of the nation from 2002 to 2010.

This strategy may not work for everyone.  Depending on one’s learning style, it may be a better choice to enroll in or remain in a traditional school environment. Distance learning requires a great deal of self-motivation. Going to Harvard Extension School is still hard work, with curriculum requiring lengthy essays, vast amounts of homework, and strict deadlines. As with any reputable school, bad grades will not be tolerated.

Check it Out Yourself

The fact of the matter is, education is a tool and a resource; it is not a guarantee of success or jobs. Education can also be big business, so people should not shy away from viewing a college investment as a financial investment with potential risks associated with it.

Much like someone might shop around for a home or a car, perhaps it is time we viewed college in a similar manner, investigating quality, price, and previous performance as a means of gauging future potential and return on investment.

Harvard University is an amazing university and Harvard Extension School has been and continues to be a blessing for many people .The future of higher learning is in the virtual world, and the extension school, with its increased popularity, is evidence of that.

So log on, get comfortable, and check it out.  Hack your way into Harvard with a mouse click.