How to Ace the Harvard Interview

Three people in an interview
August 28, 2023
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 8/3/23

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. 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

Two people in an interview

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 interview questions you’ll be asked!

1. Questions About Your Interests

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

Here’s an answer to “what are you passionate about?” You can use this response as a guide on how to answer similar questions:

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

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. 

Sample Answer

Consider this example of 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.

3. Questions About Challenges

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.

Sample Answer

Here’s how the framework looks in action:

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. 

4. Questions About Your Goals

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?

Sample Answer

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.

How to Prepare for the Harvard Interview

A man in a suit pointing

Keep these three tips in mind as you prepare for your Harvard interview:

  • 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.
  • 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 interview, Harvard suggests students dress as they would for school. There is no need to wear formal attire.

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. 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.

3. How Long Are Harvard Interviews?

Harvard interviews are typically 30-45 minutes long.

4. 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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