For reasons of health and safety, the in-person Design Discovery Program will not be held in 2021. However, we are excited to launch Design Discovery Virtual, a 4-week remote program that allows you to be a part of our GSD Community from anywhere with an internet connection. We look forward to meeting you online and sharing with you this rich virtual experience.


The Program

Design Discovery is a six-week summer program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). We welcome people — from recent high school and college graduates to seasoned professionals — who want to explore the possibilities. Some of our participants are considering a career in design or planning, but not all. Design Discovery appeals to people with a broad spectrum of interests and remarkably diverse plans and goals.

Join our mailing list by completing this online form.

Introductory Video



The Experience

Participants in our program commit themselves fully to a path of intensive studio work, lectures, workshops, and field trips. Deeply immersed in a culture that is both challenging and rewarding, they experience what education and work are like in the design and planning professions. They emerge — many of them exhilarated — with a more profound understanding of the possibilities ahead and the choices they will make.

Studio Format

Design Discovery studios focus on short, intensive projects similar to first-year graduate school projects. This involves one-on-one guidance from instructors, group discussions and reviews, training sessions in graphics and related skills, and individual presentations to instructors and guest professionals. Participants have direct access to the GSD’s Frances Loeb Library — one of the country’s foremost design and planning libraries.

Field Trips

Participants have the opportunity to visit professional firms in the Boston area and view first-hand the region’s landmark examples of architecture and design.


As a Design Discovery student, you will engage in an iterative exploratory design process of drawing and model making within the context of a design studio. This process will help build your ability to translate observations about the world into visual and spatial language. You will receive instruction in the fundamental design methodologies specific to each of the following disciplines, and you will select one of them as your program concentration:

  • Architecture is the design of individual buildings and their settings, with the understanding that buildings are the choreographers of dynamic conditions inside their walls and in their outside surroundings.
  • Landscape Architecture is the planning, design, and preservation of built and natural landscapes, from rural landscapes to urban parks and infrastructure projects.
  • Urban Planning & Design is the analysis and synthesis of forces that shape and reshape the built environment, with a focus on envisioning and illustrating places that reflect and support the diverse needs of society.


An Example of A Typical Design Discovery Week

Most students work evenings and weekends in the studio.


Certificate and Academic Credit

Each successful Design Discovery participant receives a written evaluation from his or her instructor and a certificate from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Although the GSD cannot offer undergraduate academic credit for Design Discovery, some colleges and universities will award academic credit for a student’s participation in our program.

Click here for more information and to request a copy of your evaluation.


Frequently Asked Questions



Video content: To hear about the following subjects, scroll to the video timestamp indicated. 00:06: Introduction 00:45: Program History 03:52: What do you learn in the six-weeks? 04:40: What does a designer do? How does a designer solve a problem? 06:55: Pedagogical format/What do you mean when you talk about studio? 11:57: Who are the instructors? 13:40: Trajectory of the six weeks 16:30: What do people do after the program? 22:10: When is the best time to enroll in Design Discovery? 24:03: How is the program funded? 26:25: Is there financial aid? 27:37: Do participants receive credit? 28:45: Questions and Answers

Q: How old do I have to be to apply to Design Discovery?
A: Applicants must be at least 18 years old and must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. A high level of academic skill is necessary to take full advantage of our rigorous program.

Q: How do I submit my transcript(s)? Do I need to send an official copy with my application?
A: Transcripts should be submitted electronically through the online application. Applicants should scan a copy of their transcript(s) and upload these documents into the online application. During the application process, it is not necessary to send an official transcript.

Q: Does my transcript need to be official, or can I scan an unofficial version?
A: Scanned transcripts can be unofficial or official. If we need further information, we may ask for an official transcript to be sent to our office for review.

Q: I am having technical difficulties with the online application (such as uploading a transcript). What do I do?
A: Contact the Design Discovery office by emailing

Q: I don’t have a background in design—can I apply?
A: Yes. Design Discovery is a program designed to introduce Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning & Design to those who have interest in the areas but have little to no experience with the disciplines.

Q: Can I apply for more than one concentration at the same time?
A: Participants of the program are exposed to all three concentrations through lectures, but your studio work will focus on only one chosen concentration. Participants have one week to switch concentrations once the program has begun.

Q: Do you teach design thinking?
A: That is exactly what we teach. The program is as much about the ‘mindset’ as it is about the ‘toolset’ of designers. Many of our students have gone on to other disciplines, taking with them what is now called ‘design thinking’; the processes, mental habits, and methods of research and collaboration that are second-nature to designers which can be beneficially applied to all fields and areas of study.

Q: When are admissions decisions made?
A: Beginning in January, admissions decisions are made on a rolling basis. Applicants will be notified of decisions by email. Only completed applications will be reviewed.

Q: Where do most students live? Are there dorms?
A: A good portion of participants live on campus in dormitories provided by the Harvard Law School. Others live within walking distance of the school.

Q: What kind of computer resources are there?
A: Participants are given access to all programs on the GSD network. It is required that all participants bring a laptop. Wireless internet is available in Gund Hall as well as in the dormitories.

Q. After completing the program, how do I request a Design Discovery transcript?
A: To request a copy of your evaluation, follow the instructions above under Certificate and Academic Credit.

Q: Can I be removed from your program’s mailing list?
A: To unsubscribe from our mailing list, email a request to with your name and address as they appear on the mailing label.