How to Get Into Harvard University

Four Parts:Demonstrate Academic ExcellenceHave Impressive Extra-Curricular ActivitiesPrepare a Stellar ApplicationSend in Your Application

Harvard is the oldest college in the United States and perhaps the most prestigious, too. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard has produced U.S. presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, and Academy Award-winning actors. Harvard's admission standards are rigorous, and the competition for acceptance to the school is fierce. Students hoping to go to Harvard one day must lay a solid foundation of academic and extracurricular achievements early in their high-school careers and maintain that level of excellence until graduation. If you want to get into Harvard, follow these steps.

Part 1
Demonstrate Academic Excellence

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    Maintain a high GPA. Though admissions officers won't be breaking down your door just because you have a near-perfect GPA, having excellent grades will keep you in the running for admissions to the college. Most Harvard applicants fall within the top 10-15% of their class, so you should aim to be within this range to be seriously considered. If your GPA is well below this range, the other parts of your application will have to be incredibly impressive to make up for it.
    • Maintaining excellent grades in high school tells admissions officers that you are a hard worker and that you will be able to keep up with the rigor of the courses at Harvard. You can show that you can stand out in other parts of the application.
    • You should demonstrate excellence in all of your academic subjects. Though you can be stronger in some subjects and weaker than others, you should be an exceptional student in almost every class.
    • Don't be discouraged if your GPA isn't quite as high as you wanted it to be. If your grades have improved from your freshman year until the time you apply, officers will be impressed, and if there was a dip in your grades because of a personal situation, you can explain it in your essay.
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    Get high scores on the SAT or ACT and AP tests. Doing extremely well on your SAT or ACT and AP tests will show admissions officers that you are a hard worker with stellar academic achievements. Just like having a perfect GPA won't make you a shoo-in, a high SAT score and strong AP test results won't guarantee you a spot in Harvard, but it will keep admissions officers interested in your application.
    • Don't be worried if your school doesn't offer a ton of AP tests. Not every school offers 20 different AP tests, and the admissions officers will know if your high school does not. Just try to do well on the tests that your school does offer.
    • Make sure to take your tests at the right time. If you want to impress Harvard with your SAT score, you'll have to take it well before the application is due. Take the test during your junior year to give yourself enough time to retake it if it's necessary.
    • Check Harvard's requirements for the last possible test date for the ACT or SAT. It's always just a week or a few weeks after the application due date, but you should already have an excellent score when you apply.
    • Harvard also requires you to take two SAT II tests.
    • Don't forget to have your score reports sent directly to the Harvard admissions office.

Part 2
Have Impressive Extra-Curricular Activities

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    Demonstrate excellence through your participation in a club. Though your grades and scores will prove that you are capable of academic excellence, your extra curricular activities will make you stand out as a unique individual who is invested in pursuing his interests. Finding two or three clubs you're interested in and making an effort to excel in those areas and even reaching a leadership role will show that you are a dedicated, well-rounded individual.
    • Remember to have quality over quantity. Really standing out in just one or two clubs is much more impressive than joining five or six clubs just so you could mention them on your college application.
    • Become a leader. Don't just join a club, but run for secretary, or even president. In most clubs, you'll have to work your way up from a smaller leadership role to the head role.
    • Start your commitment during your freshman year. You should join clubs and other activities early on so you can show a record of dedication and commitment.
    • Show your leadership skills by joining the Student Council and working your way up to be the president of your class.
    • If you like writing or using technology, join the school paper or yearbook.
    • If you like politics or debating, join the Model United Nations team or debate team.
    • If you love languages, join the French or Spanish club.
    • If you love to act, be a part of the school's theatre troupe (theater).
    • You can also join a club or organization outside of your school that has to do with a religious institution or your local community.
    • Don't be discouraged if you don't have a lot of time to pursue interests outside of school because you have to work after school. Though you should still do the best you can, you will be able to put your work experience on your application as well.
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    Stand out by joining a sport or the school band. Though you don't have to be an Olympic athlete or a world-class musician to get into Harvard, participating in a sport or joining the school band will make you stand out. Though clubs can be time consuming, taking a sport or playing an instrument requires for you to practice or compete almost every day after school so it shows a deep level of dedication.
    • If you join a sport, try to work up to a leadership position. Remember that you don't often have to be the best athlete to be the team captain. You have to be the most dedicated or most well-liked.
    • Remember that while many sports require ten or more hours of commitment a week, you can also do a sport for just one or two of the three sports seasons. For example, you can run cross country in the fall, but take the winter off to focus on your studies and clubs, and then run spring track the next season.
    • If you play an instrument, you should also strive to gain a leadership position in your team's band.
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    Volunteer in your community. Volunteering in your community is a great way to show your generosity and your big heart. It is also a great way to impress admissions officers. There are countless ways to volunteer in your community, whether you're doing it through your school's Key Club, or finding opportunities through your local youth center or nearby charities. Here are some great things to do:
    • Volunteer to help children learn to read in your local library.
    • Volunteer in an old age or veteran's home in your area.
    • Volunteer in a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
    • Volunteer to clean up your community at a local park clean-up event.
    • Help build homes for Habitat for Humanity.
    • Spend your summer volunteering or building homes in a foreign country.
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    Pursue your interests over the summer. Though your summer is supposed to be a vacation, if you really want to impress Harvard, you can't just spend the summer lounging around in your bathing suit and watching reality TV. Though you should take some time to decompress from all the hard work you've done, you should also find a way to continue following your dreams and pursuing your interests. If you do nothing over the summer, admissions officers may think that you don't take initiative unless you're actually in school. Here are some things that you can do:
    • Travel to a foreign country or a language camp to pursue your interest in a foreign language.
    • Take a summer class in something you like at a local college.
    • Spend more time developing your talents. Go to band camp or boot camp for soccer players.
    • Get an internship at a place that relates to your interests. If you like science, try to get work in a lab.
    • Get a job and work hard. Admissions are often impressed at students who take the initiative to pay their own way into college rather than relying on their parents to cover the exorbitant costs.

Part 3
Prepare a Stellar Application

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    Write an essay on a topic important to you. Your essay should do two main things: it should show the admissions officers what an original, interesting, and driven person you are, and that you have top-notch writing skills. You should take the time to write an essay that is meaningful to you and leave enough time for yourself to proofread it when you're finished. You can find the guidelines for the essay on the last page of the application. It should be 250-500 words long. Here are some tips. [1]
    • Be original. Write something that only you could write. Show what makes you special.
    • Show your strong character. Tell a story that demonstrates your persistence, work ethic, creativity, or even your ability to learn from your mistakes.
    • Be compelling. Hook the admissions officers from your opening line, and keep their interests with your lively language, varied sentences, and engaging topic.
    • Be concise. Don't go over the word limit. Admissions officers will be reading thousands of essays, and they won't appreciate it if you can't follow directions.
    • Some popular admissions essay topics include writing about your achievements in a club or a sport, describing your family and background, or writing about a life-changing experience.
    • Get feedback. Run your essay by a trusted friend or family member and your English teacher, if you can. They can help you catch grammar mistakes, and they can also tell your essay had its intended effect.
    • Always proofread your work. When you're done, check your essay for grammar and punctuation mistakes. Remember that admissions officers aren't just interested in the content of your essay, but also by how well you can write.
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    Have the best teacher evaluations. Harvard requires you to submit two teacher evaluations to give more insight into your performance in the classroom. Pick two teachers who know you well and have a unique perspective on your strengths in your classroom and your character.
    • A teacher can describe your excellence in his or her classroom, as well as your contributions to the class discussion. Pick a teacher who has really seen you at your academic best. If your teacher is also your athletic coach or club leader, he can add even more dimension to the recommendation.
    • Pick two teachers from two different subjects. Don't ask your sophomore and junior year English teachers to write recommendations, or it may look like you only excel in one subject.
    • Pick someone who you know will write a knockout recommendation. Ask older students if they recommend a certain teacher, or if there's a teacher who has a reputation of being late with the recommendations or not writing anything too specific. You should not only pick a teacher or person who has a close connection to you, but someone who you know will write something detailed and positive.
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    Add supplementary materials if they are necessary. Though you should generally avoid making your application bulkier than it needs to be, if you really feel that you have an exceptional talent to show Harvard that does not fall into the traditional application, send it along. Remember to show discretion. Only share these materials if you feel that you are truly exceptional in some way.
    • If you are an exceptional musician, you can send a tape of yourself playing music.
    • If you're an amazing actress, send along a tape of yourself in your latest school play.
    • If you're an award-winning creative writer, send along a short story.
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    Fill out the actual application in a thoughtful manner. You will have to fill out either the Common Application or the Universal College Application for Harvard. This is the place where you will provide information about your biography, your family, your extra-curricular activities and work experience, and your honors, activities, and work experience. Do this thoughtfully and in a way that shows you know how to follow directions.
    • Be thorough. Fill out all of the space you are given without going over the limit.
    • Write neatly. If you're filling out your application by hand, demonstrate your diligence through good handwriting.
    • Be impressive. Describe your activities and honors in the most impressive way possible. You don't have to lie to make the most of your accomplishments.
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    Make sure that all aspects of your application are completed before you put it in the mail. If you forget at item of the application, you will not be considered for candidacy. Keep a checklist of all the items you need before you mail your application in or submit it online. Here's what you need:[2]
    • The application.[3]
    • Your essay.
    • Your SAT or ACT score report. You should arrange to have the testing company send the scores directly to Harvard's admissions office.
    • Your two SAT II score reports. Again, these should be sent to the admissions office by the testing company.
    • Two teacher reports (recommendations).
    • The Harvard supplement. This is a short application that will provide more information about your academic and extra-curricular interests.
    • Your financial aid application (if you qualify).
    • The school report and mid-year school report. Fill out the information on the top of these and hand them to your school guidance counselor. The school report should be turned in by your counselor before your application is due, and your mid-year report should be turned in in early February.
      • Remember that if you are accepted to Harvard, your final school report will also be turned in, so you should maintain a record of excellence.
    • Your application fee or application fee waver. The application fee is $75.

Part 4
Send in Your Application

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    Turn your application in on time (or early). The Harvard application process involves a series of steps accomplished over a period of several months. If you're applying for admission for a fall term early or for the regular admissions deadline, you need to turn in your application on time. The application will be available by mid-August, and you should get a head start on it. Here are some important dates to remember:[4]
    • Early Action candidates should apply by November 1 and will receive notice by December 13th. Harvard recommends that these candidates turn in their application by October 15th.
    • Regular Decision candidates should apply by January 1st and will receive notice by March 28th. Harvard recommends that these candidates turn in their application by December 15th.
    • If you really want to go to Harvard, apply early. The decision is non-binding, so you'll have until May 1st to make your decision and to compare financial aid packages from colleges if they are necessary. Though Harvard states that you will not get an advantage for applying early, you should do so to show your commitment to Harvard. You'll also feel more at ease if you know you've been accepted to Harvard early!
    • If you apply Early Action, you won't be able to apply to any other colleges early. The only exception is if you also apply to your local public institution.
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    Meet for an interview if you are selected to do so. Once you apply to Harvard, you may be asked to meet an alum for an interview in your local area. You should go to this meeting to show that you are truly interested. It won't make or break your chances of getting in, but if you really want to go to Harvard, then you should do everything you possibly can to make your Harvard dream a reality.
    • Be prompt, polite, courteous, and engaging if you do meet.
    • Prepare a few questions to ask about the Harvard experience.
    • Don't worry if you're not asked to have an interview. This could just be because it was difficult to arrange a meeting between you and someone in your area.
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    Wait for a decision. Once you've turned in your application, there's not much that you can do but wait for the decision. You can state whether you'd like your decision via email or an official letter on your application. In the meantime, here's what you can do:
    • Maintain a record of excellence. Though you can relax a little bit, this is not the time to slack off, cut class, or stop being a stellar student. Harvard will take your mid-year and (if you're accepted) final reports seriously.
    • Plan a campus visit. If you haven't already visited the campus, check it out to see if it feels like a good fit for you.
    • Apply to other colleges. Harvard is a dream school for even the most amazing student, so make sure you're applying to some safety schools as well as other ivy league and prestigious colleges.
    • Don't obsess. There's nothing you can do to change the decision once your application is in the mail, so enjoy your senior year and do what you normally do.
    • React appropriately. If you get in, throw yourself a big party! And if not, don't sweat it. It may feel like your dream school, but you'll be having the time of your life at another amazing institution before you know it. Of the 34,303 students who applied for Harvard's class of 2016, just 2,706 were admitted. Don't be discouraged if you feel like you've met every requirement and still didn't make the cut.


  • Be respectful and show a genuine interest in the school, not just the name. If you're lucky, you will have something in common with your interviewer; even if you don't, you can still ask about their experience at the school. They have seen hundreds, possibly thousands, of kids with the same scores and the same activities and the same everything: so what makes you unique? Why do you want to go to that specific school? Why do you want an education?
  • Always check out Harvard's website for the latest information about admissions timelines and requirements.
  • Make copies of all of your application materials so you have them just in case.
  • If you really want to go to Harvard, start your game plan as soon as you enter high school. You should start your plans for academic excellence and extra-curricular involvement as early as possible.
  • If you have legacy status at Harvard, remember to mention it on your application.


  • No matter how confident you feel about your potential to be a Harvard student, apply to a variety of schools so you keep your options open.
  • Don't misrepresent your scores or achievements on your application. If Harvard finds out, you will be disqualified and in serious trouble.
  • Don't do anything regrettable after you get into Harvard. If you cheat on your high school exams or engage in serious misconduct, your status as a Harvard student will be revoked.

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education