How to Get into Harvard
Attending Harvard University is a dream shared by thousands of students in the U.S. and across the world. As one of the most elite universities, Harvard’s admissions process is notoriously competitive and difficult. While it is hard to get admitted to this famous Ivy League school, it is possible with some hard and dedicated work. If you want to go to college at Harvard, you must start preparing early while recognizing that the chances of admission are small. Graduates of Harvard are recognized as being among the top scholars and thinkers in the world, and many have gone on to achieve greatness in both their lives and the world at large.
Motto: Veritas (Truth)
School Type: Private
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Athletics: NCAA Division I – Ivy League
Nickname: Harvard Crimson
The article answers many frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Harvard that may help you determine how to gain admission to the most prestigious university in the world.
What is the acceptance rate at Harvard?
Harvard is extremely selective. For the class of 2023, Harvard received 43,330 applications and offered admission to 2,009. Out of the admitted students, 1,650 matriculated. This means that for the class of 2023, the admissions rate was just 4.6%, making Harvard one of the most selective universities in the U.S. For every 100 people who apply, fewer than five are admitted. Harvard boasts a graduation rate that averages 98%.
The highly selective nature of the school means that you will need to stand out with your grades and scores to make it past the first round. You will then need to impress the admissions officers with the remainder of your application, your letters of recommendation, your essay, your extracurriculars, athletics, and interview.
What SAT or ACT scores do I need to get into Harvard?
While some universities and colleges are moving away from using standardized test scores to make admissions decisions, these tests are still crucial if you want to pass through the first round of review of the applications at Harvard. Like your GPA, you need to get top scores on your ACT or SAT to be admitted to Harvard. While Harvard says that it does not use a score cutoff for the ACT or SAT for admission, the admissions statistics demonstrate that your scores are important. According to the College Board, admitted freshmen have the following scores on their SATs or ACTs at the 25th and 75th percentiles:
- SAT Evidence-based Reading & Writing – 25th percentile 720
- SAT Evidence-based Reading & Writing – 75th percentile 780
- SAT Math – 25th percentile 740
- SAT Math – 75th percentile 800
- ACT Composite – 25th percentile 33
- ACT Composite – 75th percentile 35
To understand these scores, the SAT has a total possible score of 1600, which represents an 800 in both the SAT EBRW and SAT math sections. The ACT composite score ranges from one to 36 with a 36 representing a perfect score. Among entering freshmen who submitted ACT scores, 95% earned scores between 30 and 36. Among those who submitted SAT scores, 85% earned scores from 700 to 800 on the EBRW test, and 88% earned scores from 700 to 800 on the math section. While it is not impossible to get into Harvard with lower scores, the chances are much lower. If you want to go to Harvard, you should aim to get the highest scores possible on the test of your choice.
You should also take some time to figure out which test to take. It is a good idea for you to take a pretest of both the ACT and the SAT to see on which test you score better. Some students do better on one test over the other while others do not show much difference between the two tests. If you take practice tests in both and see that you score much better on one, concentrate on preparing for that test as part of your preparations for gaining admission to Harvard.
Like other aspects of applying to Harvard, starting early with your test preparation is a good idea. You can and should take the PSAT in your sophomore year. This test can give you an idea of how the SAT works. Harvard also uses PSAT scores to identify promising students from across the U.S. to invite to apply. When you take the PSAT in your junior year, you will be in the running to be named as a National Merit scholar. Being named as a National Merit scholar also provides you with a scholarship that you can use to defray the costs of higher education at Harvard.
In addition to taking the ACT or SAT, you should also plan to take SAT subject tests. Harvard does not require that you take SAT subject tests, but it strongly recommends that applicants take at least two of them. Anytime that you see a recommendation, you should follow it. Take SAT subject tests in the areas in which you are most strongly interested. For example, if you think that you might want to pursue a degree in mathematics, take the SAT Math Level 1 or Level 2 test. If you are interested in physics, take a subject test in that area. Take subject tests for the courses that are your strongest to make your application stronger.
Does Harvard super score SAT and ACT results?
Harvard does not super score your results on the SAT or ACT. The admissions officers will instead note the highest scores that you received on each section of the SAT on different test dates or the highest composite ACT score that you achieved.
What GPA do I need to get into Harvard?
To be considered for admission to Harvard, you must earn top grades in high school. The Harvard Crimson reports that the average reported GPA of entering freshmen in the class of 2022 was 3.90 on a 4.0 unweighted scale. According to College Data, the average weighted GPA of freshmen matriculates is 4.18. This demonstrates that you need to strive to graduate in the top 5% of your class. It is even better if you can graduate at the top of your class. Throughout high school, check your class rank and be prepared to put in the hard work it takes to earn top marks.
The quality of the classes that you take is also important. If you earn straight As in easy classes in high school, that will not impress the admissions officers at Harvard. They will want to see that you have earned As in difficult courses.
What classes should I take in high school to get into Harvard?
Harvard states that there isn’t a single path of academics that all applicants are expected to follow in high school. However, the school says that the strongest applicants take the most difficult courses that their schools have to offer. Harvard recommends that students should complete the following secondary coursework:
- Four years of English with a strong writing component
- Four years of mathematics
- Four years of science, including biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course
- Three years of history, including European and U.S. history
- Four years of the same foreign language
If your school does not offer some of the subjects on this list, there is no reason to be concerned. Harvard wants you to take the most challenging courses that are available at your school but does not count off if your school does not offer additional courses. For example, if your school only offers two years of French, and you take French I and II, that should suffice. Similarly, if your high school does not offer an advanced course in biology, chemistry, or physics, take what you can and do your best. You can also take supplemental courses at your local community college or university to make up for what your school might lack.
If your school offers the advanced placement or AP courses, you should take them instead of opting for the regular versions. Taking AP biology, getting an A, and then taking the AP biology test and scoring a five will look much better than taking a regular biology class and getting an A. While Harvard will not grant college credit for your AP tests, the school does want to see that you have taken advantage of all of the opportunities that are available to you, including AP courses and tests.
Some schools offer international baccalaureate classes. Like AP classes, these courses are more challenging than typical high school classes. Take IB courses if they are offered at your school, and take the IB exams. Like the AP tests, Harvard will not grant college credit for your IB exams, but taking them and scoring highly can strengthen your application.
Finally, some high schools do not offer many AP or IB classes or any at all. If your high school does not offer these types of classes, take the most difficult curriculum that is offered at your school. Some schools partner with local colleges or universities to offer dual credit or dual enrollment courses. If this option is available to you, take as many dual credit or dual enrollment classes as you can while you are in high school. This can show your preparedness for college and your self-motivation. When you do take difficult classes at your high school or through your local college, remember the importance of your grades. Harvard expects you to take difficult courses and to do well in them.
If you start taking a class in high school and notice that you are struggling with it, hire a tutor as soon as possible to help you. Often, a tutor can help you to understand concepts that are difficult for you so that you can achieve a great grade in hard classes. A tutor might also help to unlock subjects for you in such a way that you might find that you enjoy a subject that you previously avoided.
Does Harvard accept AP credit?
Harvard does not grant credit for college coursework that you have completed before you matriculate at the school. In other words, if you have credit from your AP tests, IB exams, or dual credit classes in high school, you will not be granted credit at Harvard. The school also no longer has advanced standing exams, so all students enter the college on equal footing. Prior coursework can help to strengthen your application, however, so you should not refrain from taking classes that lead to college credit in high school.
Getting into Harvard is not easy, but it is possible. Being admitted will require dedication, focus, perseverance, and organization. It is best if you can start preparing to apply for Harvard as early as possible. To learn more about how the professionals at Going Ivy can help, schedule a consultation today.
What extracurricular activities should I participate in to get into Harvard?
There is no one, magic extracurricular activity the Harvard admissions department wants in students. Harvard is less interested in the number of extracurricular activities in which you are involved and more in the quality of the ones that you have chosen. College-bound high school students across the U.S. have likely been told that they need to be as well-rounded as possible to get into the colleges or universities of their choice. This leads students to overcommit to extracurricular activities and to sign up for as many as possible. Instead of signing up for everything, participate in quality extracurricular activities that accurately reflect your areas of interest. You should also seek leadership roles in the clubs or organizations that you join for your extracurriculars. If your school does not have a club that reflects your interests, talk to your principal about starting your own.
In addition to extracurricular activities through your school, consider participating in activities outside of school. Think about some of the problems in your community and what you might do to help. Showing a spirit of volunteerism and concern for others can help to demonstrate the quality of your character. If you can come up with an innovative solution to a social ill in your community, that is even better.
What should I write in my personal statement for Harvard?
As a part of your application, you will be asked to write a personal essay. This essay allows you to tell the admissions officers more about you so that they can understand why you should be admitted to Harvard. Resist the urge to recite your accomplishments in your essay. It should not be a regurgitation of your high school resume. Instead, it should be personal and demonstrate the person that you are.
You should anticipate writing multiple drafts of your essay. Continue working on it until it is the best that it can be. Do not allow your parents to write your essay for you. Admissions officers can tell when a parent has written an applicant’s essay, and it is a quick way to get denied. The admissions officers want to hear your voice and see the world through your eyes. Consider having someone you respect such as a teacher or college admissions counselor read your essay so that he or she can provide some objective criticism. Be prepared to rewrite it as many times as you need to so that it will be compelling. In some cases, a great essay can push an otherwise average application over the top to admission.
Who should write my Harvard letter of recommendation?
You should select a recommender who knows you well and who will dedicate the time necessary for a strong recommendation. Your letters of recommendation are important because they allow the admissions officers at Harvard to see who you are through the eyes of others. Ask teachers who know you well on both a personal and academic basis to write letters of recommendation for you. You will not be able to read what they write about you, so choose carefully. Harvard asks for two teacher reports to be submitted on your behalf. There will be a link in your confirmation email to send to your teachers for recommendations. The teachers you choose should be in different academic subjects.
When should I start preparing to apply to Harvard?
If you think that you might want to attend Harvard, you should start preparing as early as possible. If you are still in junior high, you are at an advantage with preparing for Harvard. If you are in high school, start preparing during your freshman year if possible. Harvard will want to see that you have been a stellar student during your entire high school career.
If you are a sophomore, junior, or senior, it does not mean that it is too late. Your time frame will be shortened, and you will have much more to do in less time. Juniors and seniors who have decided that they want to attend Harvard will not be able to do much to raise their GPAs. If you are at this point in your high school career, you hopefully will have earned top grades and can concentrate on preparing for and taking the standardized admissions tests of your choice. Seniors who have earned good grades and test scores will need to concentrate on their applications and keeping their grades up during their senior year.
The key to having enough time to prepare for applying to Harvard is to start as early as possible. If you are reading this article, you have hopefully already begun. If you haven’t, start preparing now.
Does Harvard require an interview as part of its application process?
Harvard strives to interview applicants. If an interview can be arranged in your area, you will be contacted by a Harvard alum by email, phone, or letter. You should respond promptly if you are asked for an interview. All applicants can’t be interviewed. If you are not asked for an interview, this does not mean that your application will be harmed.
If you are chosen for an interview, you should prepare for it. There are numerous blogs about these interviews online. You should also try talking to people who have gone through a Harvard application interview to get an idea of the questions that you might be asked. Prepare for the questions that you anticipate. However, you should not give rote answers that sound rehearsed. You will want to be as relaxed as possible and answer the questions that you are asked.
On the date of your interview, give yourself enough time to arrive early. You should never be late for an interview with a Harvard alum or to any interview you might have in your life. Dress appropriately for the location where you are meeting. You do not need to overdress.
Finally, some students go to their interviews with their parents in tow. Do not do this. Showing up to your interview with a parent makes you look like you are not independent and that you lack confidence. It also makes your parents look like they are overbearing. Go alone, and be yourself. Be prepared to ask your interviewer any questions that you might have.
Will visiting Harvard help me get in?
Visiting Harvard can indirectly increase your chances of admission by demonstrating interest and giving your material for your personal essay. If you can, you should schedule a visit to Harvard. Visiting the campus allows you to gain a sense of the campus and the community, and it allows you to see why it may be the right fit. Harvard offers information sessions and tours for students and family members who visit. If you cannot afford to visit Harvard, you can still take a virtual tour of the campus.
High school seniors are also able to schedule an overnight stay at Harvard. During the stay, you will be hosted by an undergraduate student. This can give you an idea of what it’s like to live and study at Harvard. You can also schedule a time to sit in on a class at Harvard during your visit. Finally, if you are interested in the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, you can request a supplemental tour of the school.
The admissions officers at Harvard travel around the country two times per year to conduct information sessions all across the U.S. If you are unable to travel to Harvard for a visit, you can plan to attend an information session near you. This can allow you to learn more about the admissions process and to ask any questions that you might have.
What does Harvard look for in applicants?
Harvard states that it reviews each applicant individually to search for students who will inspire their classmates and faculty in college and beyond. The school states that the admissions officers keep the following characteristics in mind when they review an application:
- Growth and potential to grow
- Your activities and interests
- Your character
- Your ability to contribute to the Harvard community
We will take a look at each of these characteristics to give you a better idea of what Harvard is looking for in applicants for admission. This overview can provide you with information about the characteristics of people who might have a better chance of gaining admission to Harvard.Growth and potential to grow. Harvard admissions officers consider several questions when they evaluate your growth and potential to grow. They will assess whether you have reached your maximum growth potential both personally and in academics and whether you have tried to stretch yourself. They will want to know how you have spent your time and whether you have worked to your potential in school, your job, or other areas of your life. They will also consider whether you appear to have power in reserve and if you have initiative and motivation. The officers will consider who you are today and the type of person that you might be in the future. Harvard wants to see that you are a motivated person who is willing to work to your potential. The school prefers people who are self-motivated and are driven to achieve success in the pursuits in which they engage. They also want to see that you have the potential to grow and develop even more to become the person you were meant to be.
Activities and interests. Harvard wants to know if you have any interests about which you care deeply. The admissions officers will also want to know if you have learned anything from pursuing your interests and whether you have been successful or have failed. If you have experienced failure, they will want to see that you have learned from it and have continued to pursue your interests in spite of it. The school will also want to know whether you have taken full advantage of your activities and if you will have time to spend at Harvard enjoying your activities beyond the classroom. Harvard is more interested in the quality of your activities and interests rather than in the quantity of them.
Personal character. Your character is highly important if you want to become a part of the Harvard community. The admissions officers will want to know the choices that you have made and the reasons that you made them. They will also want to see that you have demonstrated concern for others, are mature, and can be graceful while you are under pressure. They look for applicants who are open to learning new ideas and meeting new people. If you have top grades and test scores but demonstrate that you have a poor character, you will be unlikely to be admitted to Harvard. This makes it important for you to treat others with kindness and demonstrate that you care for others in addition to caring for yourself.
Ability to contribute to the Harvard community. As an elite institution, attending Harvard comes with pressure. The admissions officers will evaluate whether you will be able to withstand the pressures and rigors of college at Harvard, both in the classroom and outside of it. They will want to see that you will contribute to the Harvard community and benefit from your experience. They will also want to see that you are the type of person that other students would want to get to know and to work together with you on teams or in close-knit groups.
What did the 2018 Harvard admissions lawsuit show?
Harvard is notoriously difficult to get into. However, some applicants may have an easier time with the admissions process as revealed by evidence in the Harvard admissions lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by a group of Asian-American students who argued that Harvard discriminated against them in the school’s admissions process. The school denied that it discriminated against Asian-American students.
In a decision that was issued by the federal judge who heard the case on Oct. 1, 2019, the court found that Harvard’s admissions process did not discriminate against Asian-American students. The court did find that Harvard should take steps to correct for the unconscious biases that its admissions officers might have, however.
During the trial, evidence was introduced about the admissions process itself that gave some insight into Harvard’s rather opaque process. This evidence revealed that students from specific backgrounds or areas of the country had a better chance of being admitted to Harvard than other applicants. The students who have a leg up in Harvard’s admissions process include the following:
- Students from one of the 20 rural states that Harvard deems as “sparse country”
- Athletes, Legacies, Director’s or Dean’s interest list applicants, and children of staff and faculty or A.L.D.C.s
- Students with unusually appealing personal traits
- Students with compelling stories and backgrounds
Each of these factors is explored in more detail below.
Does being from a rural part of the country help you get into Harvard?
Harvard is interested in recruiting students from areas of the country from which few students apply. It has identified 20 largely-rural states from which it receives very few applicants each year. The school engages in a recruitment process based on students’ PSAT scores when they take the PSAT in their sophomore or junior years. While Harvard identifies students for possible recruitment based on their PSAT scores from all parts of the U.S., the scores that trigger recruitment activities in “sparse country” are lower on average than the scores of students from states that have more applicants. Evidence at the 2018 trial about the Harvard admissions process revealed that white students from “sparse country” had a cutoff score for recruitment of 1310.
Does my race or ethnicity impact my chances of getting into Harvard?
Harvard considers race and ethnicity in its admission process. The 2018 trial about the school’s practices revealed that Black, Hispanic, Native American, and other minority students had a cutoff score for recruitment of 1100 regardless of their locations. By contrast, white and Asian-American women outside of rural “sparse country” areas had a cutoff score of 1350 to receive an invitation to apply, and white and Asian-American men had a cutoff score of 1380 to receive an invitation to apply. Students who are invited to apply and do so are twice as likely to be accepted than students who did not receive invitations.
Does being the son or daughter of a Harvard graduate (legacy status) help you get into Harvard?
Legacy status makes a difference. Athletes, legacies, applicants on the director’s or dean’s interest list, and the children of Harvard faculty or staff are also much likelier to be admitted than other applicants. A 2018 trial about Harvard admissions policies showed that, while A.L.D.C.s comprise just around 5% of the applicant pool, they represent 30% of the student body at Harvard. The evidence at the trial revealed that A.L.D.C.s have a 45% chance of being admitted to Harvard as compared to the overall admissions rate of less than 5%.
Will participating in athletics help me get into Harvard?
While recruited athletes might stand a better chance of being admitted to Harvard, participating in high school sports will not give your application a green light for admission unless you are among the top high school athletes in your sport in the nation. If you are highly talented in your sport, you might be contacted by one of the coaches from Harvard beginning in your sophomore year. You can then go through the recruitment process while continuing to excel in both your sport and in your classes. Even if you are an elite athlete that is going through the Harvard recruitment process, you should continue to get the best grades possible and work to achieve top scores on your SAT or ACT.
Does being an extrovert increase your chances of getting into Harvard?
Being an extrovert may help you get into Harvard. Admissions officers give applicants personal ratings, which represent an evaluation of their personalities. Evidence from a 2018 lawsuit about Harvard’s admissions policies shows that unusually extroverted students were likelier to receive higher personal ratings. However, Harvard issued guidelines for its admissions officers to also give students who showed reflectiveness and introspection higher personal ratings.
Are students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to get into Harvard?
The final category of applicants that evidence revealed were given preference were those who had compelling stories or came from disadvantaged backgrounds. While poor students were given more consideration, students who were able to overcome other types of challenges were also likelier to gain admission. This means that you should not avoid talking about obstacles that you have faced in your life and how you were able to overcome them.
If you do not fall into one of these four categories of applicants that have a greater chance of being admitted to Harvard, that does not mean that you will not be admitted. If you are in one of these categories, it likewise does not mean that you will be admitted. Regardless of your background, you must take certain steps to increase your chances of being admitted to Harvard if you truly want to attend this institution.
How should I prepare to apply to Harvard?
Preparing to apply for Harvard will require you to get organized and remain organized. To adequately prepare, you will need to figure out how to schedule in enough time to study for your classes, seek help from tutors if you need it, participate in extracurriculars, and pursue your interests and other activities outside of school. Trying to fit all of this in can be overwhelming if you are not organized. You can start by creating an action plan with incremental steps. This can help you to see the progress that you make along the way as you go through your high school years to be admitted to Harvard. A college admissions counselor can help you to develop an individualized plan that incorporates your unique needs, interests, and goals to help you to focus on what to do at each point along the way.
Being organized has the added benefit of freeing up your time. You do not want to spend your high school years studying without having any time to have fun. Developing strong organizational skills can also help you to do better in your coursework both during high school and in college. Organizational skills will benefit you in your future career and throughout your life.
Will participating in enrichment activities help me get into Harvard?
Participating in enrichment opportunities can help you to grow, but they will not necessarily help your application. Many students spend summers abroad in enrichment programs with the idea that doing so will improve their chances of getting into Harvard. You do not need to head overseas to impress the admissions officers. Participate in enrichment opportunities in your community or by attending summer enrichment camps in your area of interest. If your family can’t afford to pay for enrichment opportunities, you can still demonstrate your personal growth by working during the summer months and volunteering through local organizations.
How do I apply to Harvard?
Harvard accepts the Coalition Application, the Common Application, and the Universal Application, and it does not have a preference for one. You need to complete and submit your application as early as possible. If you opt for the Common Application, you have to submit it before the secondary materials, including your teacher reports and secondary school report, can be sent to Harvard.
Start your application early so that you will have plenty of time to perfect it. You should make certain to answer all of the questions with thought. Your application and other materials should be error-free. It is a good idea to have someone else look over everything before you submit it. If your family cannot afford the application fee, you can request a waiver. After your application has been received by Harvard, the school will send an email confirmation to you within two weeks. If you do not receive a confirmation email, contact the admissions office at 617-495-1551.
Harvard has two different admissions processes, including early action and regular action. The early action application program is non-binding, but it is restrictive. If you choose to apply through the Early Action process, you will not be required to enroll at Harvard if you are admitted. However, you will be restricted from applying to any other private U.S. institution through its early action application process. The deadline for Harvard’s Early Action application process is Nov. 1.
The regular action application process has a deadline of Jan. 1, which gives you more time to submit all of your application materials. The school says that applying early action will not give you a greater chance of being accepted to Harvard. However, more students are accepted through early action than through regular action. Harvard says that this reflects the quality of the applicants who choose early action. If you need to take the SAT or ACT another time to increase your scores, waiting to apply to Harvard through the regular action process might be a good idea. Students who apply through the early action process will be notified of Harvard’s admission decision in mid-December. Students who are deferred to regular action and those who applied through the regular process will be notified by the end of March or the beginning of April.
Can my social media history hurt my chances of getting into Harvard?
Yes, your social media history can keep you from gaining admission to Harvard. Over the past few years, there have been a couple of high-profile incidents in which Harvard withdrew offers of admittance to students because of their activities on social media. In 2017, 10 students who participated in a secret group of incoming Harvard freshmen had their offers of admittance rescinded after they engaged in racially and sexually offensive talk. More recently, Harvard rescinded the offer of admission that had been extended to Kyle Kashuv, a graduate of Parkland High School in Florida. Kashuv had made a name for himself for his pro-gun stance following the massacre at the school. His offer of admission was rescinded after Harvard discovered racist posts and statements that he had made in the past.
Most students and adults actively participate in social media. It is easy for people to get carried away on their Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media pages and groups. You should be careful about what you put on social media. It stays with you and can have a detrimental impact on your life, including impacting your chances of getting into Harvard. The above examples should serve as a sobering reminder that you should be careful about what you post on social media. Even if you scrub your page, people can still take screenshots and send them to schools to which you apply. You should be on your best behavior at all times, both online and off.
When does Harvard notify applicants about its decision?
Early action applicants will be notified in mid-December by Harvard. Regular decision applicants and people who were deferred from the early to the regular process will be notified around the end of March or the very beginning of April.