How to Ace the Harvard Interview

Three people in an interview
Updated:
December 12, 2023
7 min read
Expert Reviewed
Contents

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/12/23

Is your Harvard interview coming up? Worried you’re not prepared for it? Read on to learn more about how to prepare for this admission step.

According to the admissions committee, the Harvard interview is a simple “conversation.” However, considering you’ll be meeting with an alumni member who will ask you questions about your interest in Harvard and your life, these interviews tend to be more nerve-wracking than your everyday conversations.

Students often worry that their interviewer will ask them questions they aren’t prepared for, that they’ll respond with weak answers, or they’ll freeze up on the spot like a deer in headlights.

Fortunately, these concerns are normal and can be eased with some direction, which is what we’ll provide you in this guide! We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to prepare for the Harvard interview and have an excellent conversation!

Does Harvard Interview All Applicants?

Harvard typically does not require an interview to make an admissions decision. So, interviewing will not guarantee you get into Harvard. However, they do their best to schedule as many interviews as possible with candidates that they would like more information on.

Harvard has around 10,000 volunteer alumni that aid in the recruitment process by conducting these interviews. But, even these thousands aren’t enough to interview everyone.

Students that do not live in an area where there are alumni members will not be offered interviews. 

The Harvard Interview Process

The Harvard interview process begins as soon as you submit your application. The committee will review your application and decide if they would like to schedule an interview to further discuss your candidacy. 

Students that the committee would like to know more about will be assigned an alumni interview based on their location and availability. These interviews will be conducted virtually or in-person, depending on your interviewer.

Keep in mind that alumni members will not have access to your application. They will only have your name, the name of your high school, and your contact information.

Harvard Interview Questions and Answers

Now that you know what to expect during your interview, it may be helpful to also know the types of Harvard admission interview questions you’ll be asked!

1. Questions About Your Interests

person playing guitar

While these questions can be asked in any order, the first type of questions interviewers tend to ask to break the ice are questions about your interests. Your interviewer may start off with a simple question such as, “what do you do in your free time?” or “what are you passionate about?”

To answer this question, be honest and sincere. You know your likes and dislikes, and there is no wrong answer to this question. You do not have to share a passion you believe will impress your interviewer. They are simply trying to get to know you better and ease you into the interview!

Show your enthusiasm and explain how you’ve developed your interests and why you pursued them. What makes them meaningful to you? Why do you enjoy them so much? Ensure your answer also relates to your future career aspirations!

Sample Answer

Consider this sample answer to the question “what do you do in your free time?” to guide your own response:

In my free time, I'm passionate about playing the guitar. I've been a self-taught guitarist for several years, and I constantly challenge myself by learning intricate and challenging songs. Being part of a band “Atomic Echo” with my friends is another fulfilling aspect of my musical journey. 
Together, we've had the opportunity to perform at various local events and even a wedding. Music not only serves as a creative outlet for me but also fosters collaboration and camaraderie within our band. It's a dynamic and rewarding experience that allows me to express myself and connect with others through the universal language of music!

This answer is short and simple but highlights this student’s motivation and discipline to learn how to play the guitar themself. It also demonstrates their collaboration skills and creativity! 

Sample Answer

Here’s an answer to “what are you passionate about?” 

I am most passionate about learning and teaching. You’ll be hard-pressed to find me without a book in my hands! My favorite genre is historical non-fiction. I enjoy learning more about the world’s past to see the progression we’ve made as a society.
I’m currently reading American Rebels which tells the story of some of the most famous American revolutionists. It uses thoughtful prose and extensive research to discuss prominent events in America’s past, and might just be my new favorite book! 
I have also always been my siblings’ tutor, the go-to person when my friends need their essays edited, and I have been part of my school’s Helping Hands tutoring program since my freshman year. I enjoy fostering a meaningful relationship with the people I teach and tutor and feel great satisfaction when they’re able to reach their personal and academic goals. 
This passion is what inspired me to become a teacher, and getting a degree at Harvard is the first step in achieving that goal.

This answer is successful because it clearly answers the question and provides concrete examples to back up this student’s passions. It also demonstrates their academic merit, as they mention they spend their time tutoring others.

2. Questions About Your Academics

empty classroom

Of course, to thrive at Harvard, it’s expected that you’re an excellent student with tremendous academic potential. To gain better insight into your academic accomplishments, your interview will likely ask general questions about your high school experience.

One of the most common and broad questions interviewers ask is: “what is your proudest academic achievement?” This question is used to not only let you show off a little, but to help the interviewer learn what you value and what your talents are. 

It might be difficult to pinpoint your greatest achievement. The majority of Harvard applicants are highly accomplished! However, there are likely a few academic achievements that stand out to you. Reflect on these experiences and decide which one reflects your most favorable traits and demonstrates the most growth.

Explain the academic achievement, why it’s your proudest, how you were able to accomplish what you set out to, and how it has made you a stronger student. 

Some other academic-related questions you can be asked include:

  • “What was your favorite academic subject in high school?”
  • “What subject did you struggle with the most in high school?”

Sample Answer

Consider this example to the question “what is your proudest academic achievement” from a student that learned a new language:

English was the only language I spoke at home growing up. Both of my parents immigrated to America from Mexico, but they rarely spoke Spanish in hopes I would become a better English-speaker. While their plan worked, it left me feeling disconnected from my roots. 
There was a beautiful language tied to my identity that I barely knew. So, I took Spanish classes throughout high school in attempts to learn my mother tongue. It was difficult. I struggled to string together coherent sentences. During my freshman year, I felt defeated; I received a C on my first oral presentation and considered giving up.
But, I persevered. I convinced my parents to only speak Spanish at home, listened to Spanish podcasts in my free time, and spent hours perfecting my á’s on ó’s. My hard work paid off, and I soon became fluent in Spanish and earned the highest grades in my sophomore and junior Spanish classes. 
I not only learned a new language, but also learned the importance of practice, perseverance, and consistency.

This example is highly personal and tells the admissions committee more about this student’s background and their persistence to overcome such a challenging obstacle. It shows some vulnerability, as the student explains their low grade, but also resilience as the student never gave up.

Sample Answer

Here’s a great sample response to the question “what was your favorite academic subject in high school?”

In high school, my favorite academic subject was always math, specifically AP calculus in grade. While math may not be deemed particularly thrilling by many, I have always found it absolutely fascinating. What captivated me about advanced calculus was the precision and predictability it offered. 
Unlike other subjects where surprises were often part of the journey, calculus provided a sense of calm. In a world where I tended to avoid surprises – always skipping to the end of movies or reading the last chapter of a book – calculus stood out. 
There was a certain assurance that there were no unexpected twists; there was just the satisfaction of arriving at the right answer through methodical reasoning and logic. It’s through this very reasoning and logic that I received the highest grade in my AP calculus class senior year.

This answer is clear and engages the interviewer by explaining the student’s unique perspective on math, which makes it more memorable. They add personal touches about their life to make it more sincere and end off by highlighting an impressive academic achievement.

Sample Answer

If you’re asked “what subject did you struggle with the most in high school?”, here’s one way to respond:

In high school, I faced the most challenges with English. The arbitrariness of it, where there's no clear right or wrong answer but rather an emphasis on how well you can support a particular interpretation, made it feel like a daunting task to me. Attending English classes almost felt like a chore.
However, recognizing the importance of improvement, I took it upon myself to address this struggle. I enrolled in tutoring sessions, sought extra help from my teachers by staying back after classes, and devoted additional time to each assignment—even if it meant rewriting entire essays to refine my skills.
Over time, my efforts paid off, and I not only learned how to excel in the subject but also discovered an appreciation for essay writing. The process became more enjoyable, and my overall outlook towards English significantly improved.

This response answers the question while also sharing how the student overcame their challenges and what they learned through the process. It shows determination and growth, key traits Harvard looks for in its applicants!

3. Questions About Challenges

female student looking in frustration at laptop

As a Harvard student, you’ll need to be prepared to be challenged everyday. You’ll be part of a robust program with intelligent peers, led by world-class faculty that will push you to become the best student possible. 

You should be resilient and able to handle these obstacles as they arise. To give the committee some assurance you possess these abilities, your interviewer will likely ask about a time you faced a challenge. More specifically, they’ll ask a question similar to “what is the greatest challenge you faced? How did you overcome it?”

These questions are usually broad so students can answer with any significant challenges that occurred in or outside of the classroom. To ensure your response impresses your interviewer, follow these steps:

  • Name the challenge and the circumstances 
  • Share the threat the challenge posed (ex. Low grades, familial issues, health concerns, etc.)
  • Explain the steps you took to overcome the challenge
  • Explain the outcome 
  • Share what you learned through the experience

Consider this a loose framework of how to approach this kind of question. You may add more to this framework, or change the order of it as you see fit. A popular variation of this question is “tell us about a failure of yours. What happened and how did you handle it?” This question can be answered with a similar framework. 

Sample Answer

Here’s how the framework looks in action for the question “what is the greatest challenge you faced? How did you overcome it?”

I had lived in the same house for 13 years. I knew my neighbourhood like the back of hand, was close to my favorite restaurant, and had a large friend group that stuck with  me from kindergarten to grade eight. Then, I moved.
I moved 124 miles away from my hometown to a place that felt unfamiliar and hostile. I had to start all over. Hardest of all, I had to make new friends and start school at a high school I had never even heard about. 
During my freshman year I had no friends, and spent my lunches sitting alone in the cafeteria. I was miserable and my grades were struggling because of it. I was finding every excuse in the book to stay home, which made it difficult to keep up with my courses.
So, I decided to take control and change my situation. I joined clubs outside of my comfort zone, like debate club, and opened myself up to my peers. I started with small talk with my classmates; complimenting someone’s shirt here, congratulating them on a high test score there. 
These eventually turned into longer and deeper conversations and I no longer ate lunch alone. I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and found my best friends at debate club and in those classes I despised so much. The experience taught me to always make the best out of every situation, be self-reliant, and push myself to succeed. 

This answer concisely and interestingly explains the obstacle they faced, how they handled it, and what they learned from the situation. They highlight key skills such as perseverance and initiative and demonstrate the student’s positive outlook. 

Sample Answer

Here’s a unique sample answer to the question “tell us about a failure of yours. What happened and how did you handle it?”

One notable failure I faced was not making it onto the girl's basketball team at my school for two years in a row. It was disheartening, especially when many of my friends did make it onto the team.
Instead of letting the disappointment overwhelm me, I used it as motivation to improve. In my sophomore year, I dedicated myself to rigorous practice, spending every day of the summer at the courts, relentlessly working on my skills. 
There were moments when it would have been easier to give up, especially when my shins were sore, and blisters covered my feet from the wear and tear on my shoes during drills.
But, I pushed and persisted. Eventually, my hard work paid off, and I successfully made it onto the team in my sophomore year. This experience taught me the value of resilience and determination. 
I carry this lesson with me, understanding that consistent effort and perseverance are key to overcoming obstacles and achieving my goals. I continue to practice diligently, recognizing that every effort will contribute to my ongoing improvement.

This response combines a personal narrative with a strong message of determination and growth, aligning with what the interviewers will seek when asking about failures. It shows vulnerability and proves this student doesn’t give up easily. 

4. Questions About Your Goals

Students throwing graduation caps in the air

Your interviewer will also want to gauge your interest in Harvard. To do this in the simplest way possible, they will likely ask “why Harvard?” 

This isn’t a trick question, but you should be mindful of your answer. You’ll want to do your research to show your genuine excitement to join this school. Focus on aspects of the school aside from its prestige. Everyone knows a shiny Harvard degree is nice to have, but what else draws you to this school?

Here are some other questions you may be asked about your goals:

  • What do you hope to accomplish within the next 5 years?
  • What motivates you to pursue your goals?

Sample Answer

Consider this response to the question “why Harvard?”

Harvard has a beautiful campus. That was clear to me the first time I toured it last summer. But, its beauty goes beyond its iconic red-brick buildings and polished yards. There was a vibrancy and energy I felt being on campus that was unlike anything I’ve experienced, which is a major draw for me to join Harvard.
Another reason I’m applying to Harvard is their unique electrical engineering program. I am looking forward to participating in research efforts through this program.
It is rare for undergraduate students to gain such extensive experience in research, so I am excited to collaborate with experts in the field, especially at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, where I can help develop microrobots! 

This answer clearly demonstrates that this student did their research and is enthusiastic to join Harvard. They mention specific attributes of Harvard that they’re interested in and how these attributes will aid them in their aspirations. 

Sample Answer

Next, we’ll share a sample answer to the question “what do you hope to accomplish within the next 5 years?”

In the next five years, my primary goal is to complete a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry at Harvard, leveraging the exceptional resources the university provides. 
Additionally, I am eager to actively participate in significant neuroscience research projects, utilizing Harvard's cutting-edge facilities, distinguished faculty, and collaborative research environment to explore areas like neural circuits or neurodegenerative diseases.
As part of my academic journey, I aim to contribute to ongoing research initiatives, such as the 'Harvard Brain Initiative,' renowned for its groundbreaking work in understanding the intricacies of the brain's function and dysfunction. 
This hands-on experience will not only deepen my understanding of neuroscience but also provide valuable insights that can contribute to advancements in the field. Beyond my undergraduate studies, I aspire to apply to Harvard Medical School within the next five years, taking the next major step toward becoming a neurosurgeon!

This response shows clear direction and intent. The student knows what they want and how Harvard can help them accomplish their goals. They also make specific mention of some of Harvard’s best resources, proving they’ve done their research!

Sample Answer

The question “what motivates you to pursue your career” can be challenging to answer on the spot. To inspire you, here’s a sample response:

A personal tragedy shaped my dedication to animal welfare and my ultimate choice to pursue veterinary medicine. The loss of a 10-month old rescue puppy to heartworms exposed me to the devastating consequences of veterinary preventable diseases. 
It’s more than just a personal loss; it's a widespread issue that kills approximately 250,000 dogs each year, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive veterinary care and preventive measures. 
This harsh reality has intensified my commitment to becoming a veterinarian who not only provides medical treatment but also advocates strongly for preventive strategies. Having witnessed the toll of heartworm disease firsthand, I am driven by a genuine love for animals and a burning desire to ensure they receive the best possible care. 
The thought of actively contributing to their health, alleviating suffering, and strengthening the human-animal bond fuels my passion for pursuing a veterinary career dedicated to making a tangible difference in the lives of our beloved pets.

Overall, the response combines personal experience, statistical awareness, advocacy for preventive care, and a genuine passion for animal welfare, creating a well-rounded and compelling answer to the question.

Harvard Interview Tips

Keep these Harvard interview strategies in mind as you prepare for this application step:

  • Be sincere: share honest experiences so your interview can get to know the real, unique, and extraordinary you!
  • Keep it casual: if you choose to memorize your answers, don’t make it obvious. Let the conversation flow and take your time to answer questions.
  • Go the extra mile: Go beyond simply answering the question directly. If you’re asked about your experiences, don’t just list them, explain why you chose them and what they’ve taught you. If you claim to have certain traits, provide concrete examples of you demonstrating them and why they’re important.
  • Prepare for creative questions: While you’ll be asked the usual interview questions, Harvard is known to also get creative. You can expect questions like “how do people around you describe you?” or “who is someone from history you’d like to have a conversation with?” and more.
  • Ask questions: prepare a few insightful questions to ask your interviewer about their experience at Harvard.

If you’re worried about how to dress for your Harvard admission interview, you’re encouraged to dress as you would for school. There is no need to wear formal attire. Harvard also doesn’t specifically mention that students should write thank you letters following their interview, but doing so is always a good idea!

FAQs: Harvard Interview

For any remaining questions about how to ace the Harvard interview, read on.

1. Does Getting a Harvard Interview Mean Anything?

Getting a Harvard interview just means the committee wants to know more about you and there was an alumni member available to meet with you. It is not a necessary part of the application process.

2. Is It a Good Sign to Get an Admission Interview at Harvard?

Getting an interview does not signal you have made it to the next part of the admissions process. It simply means someone is available to interview you and the committee wants to learn more about you.

3. Does Everyone Get a Harvard Interview?

No, only students who are within a region where there are alumni interviewers available are invited to interview. You’ll also only be asked to interview if the admissions committee wants to learn more about your candidacy.

3. What Percent of Harvard Applicants Get an Interview?

There isn’t a set percentage, and it varies from year to year. It all depends on alumni availability.

4. How Long Are Harvard Interviews?

Harvard interviews are typically 30-45 minutes long.

5. How Important Are the Harvard Interviews?

Since not everyone gets to interview, this optional part of the application process is not critical. It will not make or break your application, but can help you further impress the committee.

Final Thoughts

After going over some Harvard interview questions and the interview process, you should feel more confident having a conversation with an alumni member! Remember to keep calm, be genuine, and prove just how awesome you are!

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