How To Get Into Harvard: The Ultimate Guide

Harvard University retail store sign
December 21, 2022
About HarvardHarvard RequirementsHarvard Acceptance RateHarvard Class ProfileHarvard EssaysSeven Tips for Writing Your EssayHow to Prepare for the Harvard InterviewHow to Apply to HarvardHarvard Application Process and DeadlinesShould I apply to Harvard? FAQs and Conclusion


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/3/22

As a household name, Harvard University’s prestige makes it an attractive institution for those sifting through undergraduate programs. The world-class education that Harvard provides to its students can help set you up for success in your career and personal endeavors after graduation. 

This guide will provide you with the background knowledge you need to understand how you may stack up to other applicants, including Harvard’s applicant requirements, class profile information, and how to apply. You will find advice and tips for writing the mandatory essays masterfully and in a way that authentically represents you. You will also learn how to prepare for the Harvard interview process. 

According to U.S. News’ recent ranking, Harvard University is ranked as the second-best university in the United States. Crafting the perfect application can feel like a daunting task, especially when you’re applying to a top-ranked school. However, if your dream is to attend a world-renowned school, this guide will teach you everything you need to know. Your seat at Harvard awaits.

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About Harvard 

Harvard University

Harvard University was established in 1636, making it the oldest university in the United States. Located in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University’s main campus lies next to the picturesque Charles River, offering students the blended experience of scenic views and the excitement of the bustling city. 

Harvard Square is filled with delights for students and tourists alike, boasting unique establishments including the Harvard Book Store, Brattle Theatre, Harvard Film Archive, Club Passim, and more. The neighborhoods of Boston are just a short public transportation ride away, where you can see museums, cultural attractions, and the iconic brownstones of the city. 

The expansive Harvard University encompasses 12 graduate and professional schools, including the infamous Harvard Business School, the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and the undergraduate Harvard College. Approximately 23,000 students are enrolled in Harvard’s multiple schools annually, with a network of over 400,000 alumni worldwide. 

Harvard College

Harvard College states that it provides “an undergraduate experience like no other” to its students, emphasizing an inclusive and community-centered environment complete with a world-class faculty and exciting research opportunities. 

The college has numerous resources available to students, including library and museum collections. At the heart of the campus are the Houses where 98% of undergraduates live during their studies. There are 12 Houses in total that Harvard students are sorted into (and no, there are no Houses named Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff, or a sorting hat for that matter). 

Within each of the Houses, students “live and learn alongside their peers, faculty members, and graduate students.” Each House facilitates a profound feeling of community within its inhabitants, offering an enriching supportive environment. 

Harvard College’s mission is to “educate future leaders…woven throughout the Harvard College experience, inspiring every member of our community to strive toward a more just, fair, and promising world.” The college aspires to succeed in this mission by offering transformative liberal arts and sciences education to its students. 

The college hopes that students will traverse a journey of intellectual transformation in their time at Harvard as they get exposed to new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking as they learn and mingle with their peers. The goal is for students to “tbegin to fashion their lives by gaining a sense of what they want to do with their gifts and talents, assessing their values and interests, and learning how they can best serve the world.”

Overall, Harvard College’s vision is to sustain the conditions that allow its students to self-discovery through their educational journey in a way that shapes them intellectually, socially, and personally.

Harvard Requirements

Harvard admissions requirements

You will need to submit your school reports, teacher evaluations, and standardized test scores from high school as part of Harvard’s application process. 

Midyear School Reports 

If you are still in secondary school at the time of your application, it’s likely that your school will send your transcripts to Harvard with few or no senior grades. Because of this, Harvard asks that applicants request their school counselor or designated official to send a “midyear school report.” This midyear report allows the admissions committee to check the first half of your senior year academic performance. 

If you have already graduated from secondary school, you will not have to submit a midyear school report and can instead ask your school to send a final school report. If you’re applying Early Restrictive Action, which we will cover later in this guide, you will not be required to submit the midyear school report by the November deadline. 

If you are an international student applying to Harvard College, the admissions committee expects that your school will send predicted grades “based on your current classroom work and the results of any internal or mock exams you have taken up to that point.” However, if your school does not issue official or mock midyear grades in your senior year, you are not required to send a midyear report. 

GPA Requirements

Unfortunately, there is no magic GPA to guarantee your acceptance into Harvard. The admissions committee maintains that “there is no such thing as ‘a typical Harvard student,’” and carefully examines each application as a whole. 

However, due to Harvard’s competitiveness, submitting a GPA that falls somewhere around the average of admitted students or higher can undoubtedly bolster your application.

Even if you have already graduated high school and your GPA is not as high as you’d like it to be, don’t let it discourage you. Prospective students are accepted every day to top universities even without astounding GPAs because they had other vital components to share on their applications. 

Teacher Recommendations

As part of your application, you need two teachers in two different academic subjects to complete teacher evaluation forms. Ideally, these teachers should know you quite well and should be able to speak to your character. 

The teacher evaluation forms will ask that your recommenders write whatever they think is essential about you, including your academic aptitude and personal characteristics. The teacher evaluation form will ask your recommender to speak about your qualities, especially the ones that the admissions committee is interested in, including your “intellectual promise, motivation, relative maturity, integrity, independence, originality, initiative, leadership potential, capacity for growth, special talents, and enthusiasm.” 

Along with the mandatory teacher evaluation forms, you can choose to submit additional letters of recommendation after you apply, and a link will be provided to you in your application confirmation email. 

Standardized Test Scores (SAT, ACT) 

Harvard College regularly accepts students who have taken either the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT), with or without the writing component. You may also choose to submit Subject Tests, although they are no longer a requirement for Harvard admissions due to their discontinuation in January 2021. Whether you choose to submit scores from the SAT or ACT or both, ensure that your scores are less than three years old. 

It’s worth noting that you are permitted to self-report your SAT and ACT scores but that you will need to submit official test scores if you choose to enroll at Harvard College. You are also free to submit your official SAT or ACT scores as part of your application. 

Just as there is no magic number for GPA, there is also no definitive score on your SAT or ACT that guarantees your acceptance or rejection. The admissions committee states that there are no “cutoffs” when it comes to standardized test scores and that your educational background is taken into account as well. If you choose to submit ACT scores, the admissions committee will evaluate your highest composite score and any other scores you choose to share as part of your application. 

SAT and ACT can act as litmus tests for your college readiness, but they are only one factor that the admissions committee considers. Harvard College states that “standardized tests provide a rough yardstick of what a student has learned over time and how that student might perform academically in college.” 

Remember that there are many ways to showcase your college readiness to the admissions committee that have nothing to do with the numbers, including your maturity, potential, and enthusiasm.

Harvard Acceptance Rate 

Over 1900 students were admitted into Harvard College out of nearly 58,000 applicants in the recent application cycle. Below we will break down Harvard’s yield rate, how difficult it is to get into Harvard, and some top tips for improving your chances of acceptance. 

Harvard Yield Rate

When it comes to university admissions, the yield rate means the percentage of accepted students who enroll at that institution. Yield rates are an excellent way to gauge a school’s competitiveness and popularity and how eager students are to register. 

Harvard University boasted a yield rate of 82% based on recent data, the highest among the national universities. This high number demonstrates that an increased number of applicants were eager to apply to Harvard, and in part may be thanks to the array of undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees that the university has to offer.

Looking specifically at Harvard College, recent data shows that the school has a staggering 85% yield rate. This yield rate smashed the previous record for the highest yield rate of 84% for the class of 2021. 

How Hard is it to Get into Harvard?

Due to Harvard’s reputation and popularity, the demand for seats at the school is high. Historically, Harvard College’s acceptance rate is on the low end, with an admissions rate falling below 6% for at least the last eight years. Recent data shows that Harvard College accepted 3.43% of prospective students despite the surge in applications. 

Of those accepted students, 1,223 were accepted through the regular decision cycle, while 747 were accepted as part of the early action program. The school also accepted 349 students who deferred their admissions from last year. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said, “Harvard is committed to opening the doors of opportunity to all talented students, even if it means confronting the challenge of accommodating more students on campus next year.” 

Given this statement, there may be change still yet to come regarding the number of applicants that Harvard College accepts annually. Although the recent acceptance rate is low, it’s important not to emphasize university acceptance rates. 

While they do paint a picture of how competitive a school is, remember that acceptance rates don't measure the applications' quality. If you have a well-polished application, your chances of acceptance will be much greater than applicants who submit a hasty application. 

Tips to Get into Harvard

Getting into Harvard is an impressive feat, and there are many ways to improve your candidacy. First and foremost, strive for the best academic performance you can while in high school and study hard for your ACT or SAT. Although the numbers aren’t everything, having a stellar high school GPA and high test scores will undoubtedly strengthen your application. 

Another great way to bolster your application is to provide great letters of recommendation, as these hold quite a bit of weight in the admissions process. Your best bet is to ask the teachers that you developed meaningful relationships with within your time at high school if they will write your recommendation. Doing well within the classes that they teach is also certainly a plus. 

Perhaps the best advice to get into Harvard is to start the process early and make sure that your application reflects your character authentically. Harvard isn’t looking for machines who only go to class and nothing else. You have many interesting qualities and talents. There’s no one in the world quite like you, and you should show that in your application. 

Harvard Class Profile

Analyzing class profile data is a valuable tool to check the diversity of a program and see how you personally stack up to admitted students. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons said, “we have the most diverse class in the history of Harvard this year, economically and ethnically.” Below we will explore Harvard College’s recent class profile data. 


Recent data shows that women make up the majority of Harvard College’s student body, with women accounting for 52.6% of the class and men accounting for 47.4%. Fitzsimmons said, “the fact that we’re nearly 53% female is a great milestone, something that — when we first started out in the early ’70s trying to make Harvard better — was really only a dream.” 


Harvard College prides itself on its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and access and understands that diverse students bring with them diverse ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking. Harvard College aims to enroll students that “bring their perspective on the world—an understanding that is deeply tied to their culture, background, and experiences.”

Harvard College’s recent class profile data shows ethnicity data:

In terms of enrollment trends, Harvard College admitted more African American and Asian American students than in previous years, while the number of Latinx students remained steady. The percentage of Native Americans and Native Hawaiians enrolled in the class has decreased slightly from the previous year. 

Geographical Breakdown 

Harvard College’s admitted students represent all 50 states and 94 countries. Below is the recent data showing where students came from: 

International students represented 15.6% of students. 

Military Veterans

Recent data shows that Harvard College’s class includes 19 military veterans in addition to 40 students who are interested in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). This marks an increase in the number of military veterans admitted from the previous year, which was 13, and a decrease in ROTC prospects which was 47. 

Intended Field of Concentration

The intended field of concentration means the fields of study that students plan to enter when the school year starts. Harvard College offers 50 concentrations (or majors) and 49 secondary fields (minors). Below are the broad categories of concentrations that students are planning to enter this year.

Financial Aid, First-Generation Students, and Grant Information 

Recent data suggests that 55% of incoming Harvard College students are eligible for some type of financial aid, with their respective families expected to contribute $12,000 annually toward their expenses. 

Of the admitted students, 20.7% are first-generation students. Fitzsimmons said, “it’s very gratifying — this is the first time that Harvard has broken 20% in terms of first-generation college students.”

In addition, 20.4% of students are expected to be eligible for Pell Grants, which is often offered to students who demonstrate financial need. Fitzsimmons said, “it’s the first time we’ve broken 20%for Pell Grant recipients…The economic diversity is certainly something we’ve never seen before on this scale.”

Harvard Student to Faculty Ratio 

Harvard College’s student to faculty ratio is 6:1, which is fantastic considering that the average at national universities is 16:1. A lower ratio means that there are probably more opportunities for students to ask questions and learn, as well as more potential for one-on-one time with faculty members. 

Along with the student-to-faculty ratio, Harvard College courses often have relatively small class sizes, as the median class size is 12. Out of nearly 1,300 courses that Harvard College offers, more than 1,000 classes had 20 or fewer students enrolled at any given time. 

Harvard Essays 

Harvard College Common Application Essay Prompts 

As part of Harvard College’s application process, you are required to write one personal essay. Below are potential essay prompts you may see if you complete the Common Application

You may also choose to write an essay on the topic of your choice or one that responds to a different prompt. 

Coalition for College Application Essay Prompts 

If you apply to Harvard College with the Coalition for College Application, the essay prompts will differ. Below is the Coalition for College essay prompts: 

You may also submit an essay on a topic of your choice if these prompts do not appeal to you.

Harvard Supplemental Essays 

The Harvard College supplemental essays are not mandatory, but it would be in your best interest to complete one. Applicants can use the supplemental writing space in various ways; some will rework an essay they’ve written for another school application, they may want to expand on another prompt listed above or choose from the given list of supplemental prompts. 

Here are some potential supplemental essay prompts you may see: 

How to Write the Harvard Essays 

Writing Harvard College’s personal and supplemental essays can appear a daunting task, especially because it can be challenging to write about yourself. You will also have to keep it short and sweet; although no word limit is expressed, your essays should not run longer than 500-700 words. 

Remember that these essay topics are broad and designed to be challenging, and it’s okay to find them difficult. However, these top tips will help you better understand how to write your Harvard essays no matter what prompt you choose. 

Seven Tips for Writing Your Essay

Tips for writing the Harvard essay

1. Identify what the admissions committee wants to see in the prompts 

Although you should not write your essays based solely on what you think the admissions committee wants to hear, it’s useful to identify the purpose of each prompt. All of the prompts above demonstrate different themes of your character and experiences. 

Some of the prompts want you to showcase your personality and individuality, while others ask you to demonstrate an obstacle and how you overcame adversity. Other prompts will want you to demonstrate your personal and intellectual growth in the face of external factors, your leadership capabilities, and how your attendance at Harvard will benefit the school, your peers, and yourself.

Remember that Harvard’s mission is to prepare students to be future leaders who will positively impact the world around them. If you can tie in your response to the school’s mission and valued qualities in a candidate, you’re already well on your way to a stellar admissions essay. 

2. Brainstorm

If you’re having difficulty selecting a prompt or coming up with your own essay topic, brainstorming and writing everything down can help you eliminate the noise and identify key events as your response. There’s no harm in writing down everything you think may make a good personal essay, especially because these essays can be about anything you choose. 

Maybe you want to write about a time you failed a class and what you did to get your grades back up, how your upbringing and community shaped you to be who you are today, or a seemingly insignificant event that created a tremendous butterfly effect in your life. 

Brainstorming will not only help you choose a topic that you’re passionate about, but it can also help you flesh out ideas and create a flow in your essay when it comes time to write the first draft. 

3. Create an outline and start writing 

Now that you have a lot of material down on paper, you’ll want to sift through what you wrote and identify the key point you want to touch on in your article. Think about the main idea of the essay you identified in step one and create bullet point notes supporting your story. 

Remember that this step does not have to be perfect by any means, but it serves to help you lay the foundation for a well-thought-out piece of writing. 

4. Start with the introduction

The introduction of your essay should be punchy enough to captivate the reader within the first few sentences. Many applicants choose to share an anecdote in their introduction that immediately immerses the reader into the middle of the action. Others like to introduce the setting, time, and any other background information that they will write about more in the essay's body. 

However you choose to begin your essay, ensure that you keep it interesting. If you’re the type of person who has trouble writing the introduction, you can always write the rest of your essay first and circle back to it later. 

5. Create the body 

The body is the meaty part of your essay that will contain specific examples of how your anecdote or topic has shaped you. A helpful suggestion is to explain how the action, event, or topic influenced your character or what you learned and gained from your experience. 

6. Craft your conclusion 

Your conclusion should effectively wrap up your essay. It should summarize the main idea or the outcome of everything you’ve written about and leave the reader satisfied. You may want to look toward the future in your conclusion, too, as the rest of your essay should touch on your past or present. 

7. Revise — A lot 

Hopefully, you picked a topic that you’re passionate about because you will spend a lot of time looking at this essay before you submit it. It’s okay if your first, second, third, or even more drafts need reworking.

You’ll want to make sure that your essay is entirely free of spelling or grammar errors and that your sentences and ideas flow without any awkward transitions. Make sure that you spend the time reading your essay aloud multiple times, as this is often how writers check for any awkward sentences or other substantial issues in their work. Spending a lot of time on your Harvard College essay is a great way to ensure that the finished product is the best that it can be. 

How To Prepare for the Harvard Interview 

If you’re invited to participate in a Harvard College interview, congratulations! This means the admissions committee liked your application and viewed you as a strong candidate; you’re halfway to claiming your seat at this prestigious school. 

The best way to prepare for your Harvard interview is to know what to expect. You will be interviewed by a Harvard alum who will typically reach out to you via phone or email to arrange a time and date for your interview. When possible, Harvard aims to connect you with an alum in your local community, but Zoom or other video conferencing apps are also used when in person meetings are not possible. 

Keep in mind that your interviewer will not have any access to your application — all they know about you is your name, contact information, and where you went to high school. Because of this, you’ll want to take care to understand your application well and use it as a tool to help you answer questions. 

Remember that you should be authentic and present who you are in your interview. You may be tempted to put on a persona to look more like a “typical Harvard student," but remember that there is no such thing. 

Your authenticity will go a long way in your favor, and you’ll likely be more comfortable talking to your interview if you’re not trying to keep up a facade. On that note, Harvard College states that “there is no need to dress in formal attire. Consider wearing something you would wear to school.” Although you should wear something appropriate to your interview, the freedom to wear clothes you feel good in and regularly should help you feel more comfortable. 

It’s also important to note that although you’re being interviewed, you have a golden opportunity to ask an alum about their experiences at Harvard. If you have time at the end of your interview, make full use of the opportunity to learn more about the school. This shows your curiosity, dedication, and willingness to learn; it can show your interviewer that you’re well-prepared, have done your research, and are serious about Harvard. 

Most Harvard College interviews will be about an hour-long in duration, so you should have ample time to form meaningful answers to interview questions. Try to treat your Harvard interview as more of a conversation, and it will help you sound more natural and flexible as you talk to your interviewer. 

Potential Harvard Interview Questions

Below you will find some general interview questions that you may be asked to help you think about how you would respond ahead of time. Keep in mind that you do not want to come off as rehearsed because it will sound unnatural, but you should have a general idea of what you want to say. Below are some examples of potential questions you may be asked about:

Personal Questions

Your interviewer will likely start with a few personal questions to get the ball rolling. Remember that your interviewer doesn’t have access to your application and that when they sit down with you to talk, you are effectively a clean slate.

Harvard-Specific Questions

These questions will focus entirely on why you want to go to Harvard and It’s also a great opportunity to showcase the research you’ve done on the school. If you can talk about any specific classes, extracurricular activities, school traditions, or any component of the Harvard lifestyle, your answers will be even stronger. 

Note that some interviewers may ask about other schools you’ve applied to, while others refrain from this line of questioning. Most of the time, the motivation behind this question is to evaluate why you chose to apply to specific schools and determine the likelihood of selecting a specific school if you are offered admission to your other choices. 

Because Harvard is such a world-renowned school, fewer students end up accepting other offers anyway. If you are asked about other schools you’ve applied to, make sure your answer reassures your interviewer that you’re serious about going to Harvard. 

Weakness/Strength Questions 

Weakness and strength-based questions help your interviewer know your strengths and where your opportunities for improvement lie. 

When you’re asked questions that deal with your areas for improvement, be honest and thoughtful about your answers. Your interviewer is looking for your capability and potential to grow and change, and questions to do with your “weaknesses” can easily be used in your favor if you can identify them and have the drive to work on yourself. 

Strength questions are an area of opportunity for you to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, leadership capabilities, and your passion and contribution to the community or the people around you. 

Questions About the Future 

Harvard’s goal is to educate the leaders of tomorrow who can facilitate positive change in the world. That’s why your interviewer will likely ask you questions about the future, so it’s a good idea to give some thought to what you want your life to be like after you graduate. 

How to Apply to Harvard 

When you apply to Harvard, you will have the option to complete a Common Application or a Coalition application. The admissions committee accepts both types of applications, and there is no preference for either one. Then you will need to fill out the rest of the supplemental application that Harvard provides. 

The first step is to fill in the profile section, where you can share details about yourself like your legal name, citizenship status, demographics, ethnicity, and a potential fee waiver request. 

In the next section, you have the opportunity to fill in details about your family, including information about your household. 

Next, you will go to the education section, where you can share information about your current school or coursework. Here you can talk about any gaps or interruptions in your education, your grades, your current or most recent courses you’ve taken, and any honors or awards of recognition you’ve received. You can also share your future plans and career aspirations. 

In the next section, you provide all the information about standardized tests as they pertain to you. If you haven’t taken any tests yet, you will need to fill in which test you are taking and when. You may also share TOEFL scores here if English is not your native language, although it’s not mandatory to share it with Harvard. 

Next, you will come to the activities section, where you can share details about your extracurricular activities. Harvard states that “activities you undertake need not be exotic but rather might show a commitment to excellence regardless of the activity. Such a commitment can apply to any activity in your life and may reflect underlying character and personal qualities.”

While you fill out the grid, you will be asked about the nature of your extracurricular activities, the approximate amount of time you dedicated to them, and when, as well as if you plan to participate in college. The purpose is to gauge if you will contribute to the school and its culture, which is a trait that Harvard looks for in the admissions process. 

Then you will come to the writing section, where you will have space to fill in your personal essay discussed earlier in the guide. You will also have the chance to write about your disciplinary history and any other additional information you wish to share in your application. 

The Harvard question section is required to help the admissions committee understand how you want to spend your time at Harvard. You will be asked about your plans to apply for financial aid, your potential field of study, future academic plans, and activities you may be interested in at Harvard. 

You can also take this opportunity to share any supplemental materials with the admissions committee, especially those which can be helpful if they “reveal unusual talent.” Keep in mind that this is not mandatory, but it can be useful if you have anything in a portfolio like art slides, music recordings, or research papers to share. 

The last section of the application is the supplemental essay section covered above. Keep in mind that although writing another essay is not mandatory, you can use it as another opportunity to improve your candidacy and demonstrate your character. 

Harvard Application Process and Deadlines 

If you apply to Harvard within the regular timeline, your deadline date will be sometime in early January. From here, it will be a bit of a waiting game, as you should hear back from the admissions committee by sometime in early April. 

In the spring prior to the year you apply, it’s recommended that you take the SAT or the ACT with or without writing. 

In the fall of the year you apply, you are urged to complete the application of your choice (either the Common Application, Coalition Application, or Universal Application) to open your admissions profile. You will also need to pay the application fee or a fee request waiver at this time. You can send supplemental materials at a later date. 

By February of the following year, you should receive an application confirmation email and submit your financial aid application if applicable and if you have not already done so. If you are offered admission, you will need to decide whether or not to accept by early May. 

Harvard Early Decision Date and Acceptance Rate

Harvard offers a Restrictive Early Action program where candidates can apply to Harvard earlier but are restricted from applying to other private universities, although they may still apply to public or foreign schools if they choose. 

Restrictive Early Action can be an attractive option if Harvard is the school you’ve wanted to attend for a long time, you want to know if you’ll be accepted earlier than other applicants, and “your record and accomplishments have been consistently strong over time.”The program is non-binding, meaning that you're not obligated to enroll even if you’re accepted into the program. 

Recent data shows that Harvard admitted 7.4% of early applicants, more than double that of regular decision applicants. However, this number is much lower than acceptance rates in previous years, thanks to the sheer volume of early decision applications that Harvard received. 

Harvard College states that students who apply under the Early Action program do not have an advantage over other applicants, but their higher acceptance rates speak to the remarkable strength and potential of those who apply early. 

Should I Apply to Harvard? 

Ultimately, the decision to apply to Harvard or not is yours to make. Because no one archetype fits the typical Harvard student, many diverse people with different talents can be accepted. 

If you’re wondering whether or not to apply to Harvard, consider how much time you have to make your decision, evaluate the strength of your application, and consider if the school’s culture appeals to you and if you see yourself fitting in well. 

If you have ample time before the regular decision deadline to put together a stellar application, you can certainly apply to Harvard after expending effort in all its components. This also means that you’ve taken the time to take the SAT or ACT, or you have a date set before the deadline to take either test. If you’re still pondering whether or not to apply and the deadline is a very short way away, you may want to consider holding off on your application until the next cycle. 

Before deciding if Harvard is right for you, evaluate the strength of your current application. Although there is no such thing as a perfect application that will guarantee your acceptance, you want to do everything to boost your chances and improve your candidacy. Perhaps you want to retake the ACT or SAT because you weren’t happy with your scores or want to join a new extracurricular activity to broaden your experiences. 

No matter what you want to do, identify any weaker points in your application that you want to reinforce before you decide to apply to Harvard; it can only improve your chances.

You should also figure out if Harvard is a school that is a good fit for you first before you apply. If you’re going to spend four years of undergrad at a school, you want to make sure that you’re going to enjoy your time there. If you can, arrange a school visit or virtual tour to get a better feel for the school, talk to people who currently study at Harvard, and assess if the school’s culture will facilitate your personal growth and enjoyment. 


1. What does Harvard look for in applicants?

Harvard is looking for numerous qualities in candidates, including growth and potential, interests and activities, personal character, and possible contribution to the Harvard community. 

In terms of growth, Harvard is looking for students who take the initiative, can reach their academic and personal potential, have some sort of direction for what they want in life, use their time wisely, and know who they are now and who they would like to be later. 

Harvard looks for passionate students who have learned valuable skills, or have received results as a result of their interests, take advantage of the opportunities available to them, commit genuinely or show leadership capabilities. 

In terms of personal character, Harvard wants to admit students who are open to new perspectives and experiences and can make informed choices for themselves. They want people who show maturity, leadership, self-confidence, and a sense of humor. 

Harvard also wants to admit students that can positively contribute to the school culture, including staying calm under the pressures of college life, the ability to contribute to the experience of your peers and to the school as a whole, and those who are interpersonal and friendly. 

2. Does Harvard accept transfer credit?

Yes, Harvard states that they honor comparable coursework you have done prior to your transfer admission, while also giving you time to take advantage of Harvard’s course offerings and delve deeply into your concentration.

You will be allowed to transfer up to a total of 16 semester-long courses (or two years of undergraduate academic work). Courses eligible for credit include any comparable to Harvard’s curriculum and earned a grade of “C” or better. 

3. Is Harvard an Ivy League school?

Yes, Harvard is considered one of the Ivy League schools, along with Brown, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania. The title of “Ivy League” started as an athletic classification for eight private universities. 

Today, the phrase “Ivy League” connotes these high-ranked schools focused on academic excellence, high levels of competition, and quality of education. 

4. Can I get into Harvard with a 3.5 GPA?

Unfortunately, there is no magic GPA that will guarantee your acceptance into Harvard. A GPA of 3.5 is by no means considered a low GPA, but top private universities like Harvard can be incredibly competitive. 

However, this also doesn’t mean that a GPA of 3.5 automatically spells rejection. Do whatever you can to strengthen the rest of your application and focus on your personal strengths. Maybe you’re a proficient athlete, are fantastic at art, or you’ve spent a lot of time taking initiative in your community or taken on other leadership roles. 

Remember that the application review is a holistic process, meaning that your candidacy is evaluated by the total strength of your application and not just by the numbers. 

5. How do you stand out in the Harvard application process?

According to Harvard alum Jay Chen, one of the best things you can do to stand out in the admissions process is to showcase your leadership capabilities and commitment to extracurricular activities. Chen said, “a lot of students can get good grades and can test well, but whether or not you can lead an organization and take it to another level—that’s what Harvard is looking for.”

However, he advises against high school students overloading their schedules and effectively becoming a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. Instead of stretching yourself thin over ten different activities where you can only dedicate a small chunk of your time, try to pick two or three things that you’re particularly passionate about instead. 

6. When should you prepare for Harvard?

Ideally, you should be preparing for Harvard as soon as you can. Harvard College recommends starting early and getting in your application as quickly as possible, especially if you’re applying under the Restrictive Early Action program. It’s a good idea to work hardest in your junior and senior years of high school to strengthen your candidacy. 

7. What should you do if you get rejected from Harvard?

If you get rejected from Harvard, first and foremost, you should understand that feeling disappointed and discouraged is a natural reaction. Know that you’re not alone, and that top universities can reject many wonderful candidates, and that rejection is an unfortunate part of life. 

If you face rejection, you can either accept an offer from another university (especially because transferring later is always an option), or you can take a gap year and apply again next year. If you choose to take a gap year, spend your time accumulating new and exciting experiences that facilitate your personal growth. This way, you’ll have some fantastic new experiences and skills that you can bring to the table in your next admissions process. 

8. How to get into Harvard for an MBA? 

If you want to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School, you will first need to complete your undergraduate degree, ideally have a few years of relevant full-time work experience, and complete the GRE or GMAT

HBS wants to see candidates who have had some sort of leadership experience, strong letters of recommendation, and an outstanding personal statement. HBS is one of the top-ranked business schools in the world, so you will need to craft a stellar business school application to boost your chances of acceptance. 


Applying to university is a milestone in your life, marking your commitment to higher education and the start of your professional life. The process can appear daunting, especially if your ultimate goal is to study at a world-renowned school like Harvard. Know that applying to university can facilitate a great positive change in your life and prepare you for your future dream job. 

Now that you know more about Harvard’s culture, admissions requirements, acceptance rates, and class profile data, you have a better understanding of what you will need to do to give yourself the best chance of acceptance. Remember that applications are reviewed holistically and that every component helps paint the mosaic of your character: your traits, individuality, academic aptitude, and everything else that makes you unique. 

With the information and tips compiled in this guide, you can write excellent admissions essays and show up to your Harvard interview with poise and ease. Remember that if Harvard is your dream school, you can do what it takes to achieve your goals. 

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