How To Get Into Harvard: Tips & Requirements

Getting into Harvard University
Updated:
April 5, 2024
9 min read
Contents

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/5/24


Always dreamed of studying at Harvard? Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to get into Harvard. 

Established in 1636, Harvard University has become a household name. It is ranked as the third-best school in the nation and has campuses in both Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts. 

Harvard University’s prestige makes it an attractive institution for college hopefuls. Its world-class education can help set you up for success after graduation. This guide will explore Harvard’s requirements, class profile information, and tips on how to apply. 

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 college, this guide will teach you how to get into Harvard.

Harvard Acceptance Rate: 3.41%

Harvard College's most recent class had a 3.41% acceptance rate, the second-lowest in the college's history. Out of the total 56,937 applications received, only 1,942 students were admitted. 

The Harvard University transfer acceptance rate is even lower than the first-year rate. Only 15 applicants out of over 1,700 were accepted for the most recent cycle, making the transfer admittance rate less than 1%. Only about 12 transfer applicants are accepted to Harvard each year. 

Harvard acceptance rate compared to how many students Quad get's into the same school!

The Harvard yield rate for the class of 2027 was 84%. Nearly all of the accepted students chose to matriculate to Harvard!

Here’s a breakdown of Harvard's acceptance rates from the past few years: 

Year Number of Applicants Number of Accepted Students Acceptance Rate
2023 56,937 1,942 3.41%
2022 61,220 1,954 3.19%
2021 57,435 1,968 3.43%
2020 40,248 1,980 4.92%

Source: The Harvard Crimson

Harvard Early Action Acceptance Rate: 7.56%

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

Restrictive Early Action can be an attractive option if Harvard is your first choice and you want to know if you’ll be accepted earlier than other applicants. The program is non-binding, meaning you're not obligated to enroll if you’re accepted. 

Take a look at Harvard’s early action acceptance statistics from the past few years:

Year Number of Applicants Number of Accepted Students Early Action Acceptance Rate
2023 9,553 722 7.56%
2022 9,406 740 7.87%
2021 10,086 747 7.41%
2020 6,424 895 13.93%

How Hard Is It to Get Into Harvard College? 

Considering its acceptance rate is 3.41%, Harvard College is very selective. Much like the other Ivy League schools, the demand for seats at Harvard is high, and the admissions process is competitive. 

While Harvard University’s acceptance rate does paint a picture of how competitive the school is, it doesn't measure application quality. If you have a well-polished application, your chances of acceptance will be much greater than applicants who submit a hasty application. 

Take our interactive quiz below to find out how likely you are to get into Harvard.

Harvard Admissions Statistics

Looking at enrollment statistics from previous classes can help you prepare a stronger application. Here is some information from the most recent incoming class at Harvard University. 

Harvard University Average GPA: 4.2

The average GPA of incoming Harvard students was 4.2 for the most recent class. Although there are no specific Harvard GPA requirements for incoming students, it’s a good idea to submit a GPA that exceeds the average of admitted students to bolster your application. 

Even if you’ve already graduated high school and your GPA is not as high as you’d like, don’t let it discourage you. Prospective students are accepted to top universities even without astounding GPAs because they’ve crafted stellar applications. 

Harvard University Average SAT Score: 1550

In the most recent incoming class, the average SAT score for Harvard was 1550. The 50th percentile score for the evidence-based reading and writing section was 760, and 790 for the math section. 

Harvard currently operates under a test-optional policy, meaning that SAT scores are not required for admission. However, a high SAT score will give you a much stronger chance of acceptance!

Harvard University Average ACT Score: 35

The average ACT score for Harvard’s most recent class was 35. Over 98% of admitted students scored in the range of 30-36. 

Although they are not required, submitting ACT scores anyway can make your application stronger. To compete with these scores, you’ll need to study hard for your standardized tests!

However, while your test score can act as a litmus test for your college readiness, it’s only one factor the admissions committee considers. Harvard College states, “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!


What is Harvard College Looking For In Applicants? 

While Harvard seeks to admit applicants who can excel academically, they also look for students who can demonstrate strength of character and perseverance in adversity. Leadership abilities and community involvement are also important. 

To learn more about how Harvard evaluates application, let’s look at the common data set. These are the factors that are taken into consideration during the admission process: 

Academic Very Important Important Considered Not Considered
Rigor of secondary school record X
Class rank X
Academic GPA X
Standardized test scores X
Application essay X
Recommendation(s) X

Non-Academic Very Important Important Considered Not Considered
Interview X
Extracurricular abilities X
Talent/ability X
Character/personal qualities X
First generation X
Alumni/ae relation X
Geographical residence X
State residency X
Religious affiliation/commitment X
Racial/ethnic status X
Volunteer work X
Work experience X
Level of applicant’s interest X


Harvard Admissions Requirements

With an acceptance rate under 4%, getting into Harvard is extremely challenging. Applicants with SAT scores higher than 1550 and ACT scores higher than 35 are considered highly competitive at Harvard University. To maximize your chances of acceptance, these scores should be complemented with a 4.3 GPA or above. 

It’s important to be familiar with Harvard University’s requirements to know exactly what’s expected of you. These requirements are the same whether you are a domestic or international student

Here are the application materials you’ll need to submit to apply to Harvard: 

  • Common Application or Coalition by Scoir application (with activities list and personal essay
  • Five 200-word short-answer questions
  • Standardized test scores (optional)
  • School report (with counselor letter) and high school transcript
  • Two teacher recommendations 
  • Midyear School Report (submitted by your school)
  • $85 application fee

Harvard College Application Deadlines

Applying to colleges can get hectic and overwhelming. To ensure you don’t miss any important deadlines, here’s an application timeline: 

Application Step Deadline
Deadline for all Restrictive Early Action application materials November 1
Restrictive Early Action decisions released Mid-December
Final deadline for all Regular Decision application materials January 1
Midyear School Report submission deadline Mid-February
First-year admission decisions released End of March
Reply deadline for admitted students Early May

Source: Harvard College

Harvard Regular Decision Deadline

The Harvard Regular Decision application deadline is January 1. By this date, you should have all your materials polished and submitted! Your admission decision will arrive by the end of March. 

Harvard Early Action Deadline

If you’re applying Restrictive Early Action for Harvard, you’ll need to submit your application by November 1. You will receive a decision sometime in mid-December. 

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into Harvard University

Getting into Harvard is an impressive feat, and there are many ways to improve your candidacy. 

Start Early

There are many components of a college application, and you’ll need to balance the task of applying to many colleges at once! To get a handle on the process, one of Harvard’s admitted students advises starting early to avoid missing deadlines and getting overwhelmed. 

Maintain a High GPA 

While there is no GPA requirement at Harvard, strive for the best academic performance in high school. Although numbers aren’t everything, taking advanced IB or AP classes, having a stellar high school GPA, and earning high test scores undoubtedly strengthen your application. 

Secure Stellar Recommendation Letters 

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 if they’ll write your recommendation. Doing well within the classes that they teach is also a plus. 

Be Authentic

Perhaps the best advice to get into Harvard is to make sure that your application reflects your character authentically. It will be much easier to complete your essays if you’re discussing topics that are actually interesting and meaningful to you. 

The admissions committee doesn’t want you to regurgitate information that you think they’ll be impressed by. They want to know more about who you actually are, so show them!

Map Your Strengths

Admitted students at Harvard advise making a map of your strengths in your application. This means being strategic about spreading your strengths out across different application materials. Avoid re-stating your resume in your personal essay, for example. 

For instance, you may choose to highlight your leadership experience in your activities list but discuss a time when you demonstrated perseverance in your essay. This will give the admissions committee a much fuller picture of your strengths and abilities! 

Harvard Essay Prompts

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

  • “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?” 

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

Coalition for College Application Essay Prompts 

If you apply using the Coalition Application, the essay prompts differ. Below are the Coalition Application essay prompts

  • “Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
  • Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
  • Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
  • What success have you achieved or obstacles have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?” 

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 supplemental essays aren’t 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, expand on another prompt listed above, or choose from the given list of supplemental prompts. 

Here’s a list of potential supplemental essay prompts you may see: 

  • “Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?
  • Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 
  • Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.
  • How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?
  • Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.”

These essays help the admissions committee learn more about you and why you’re an excellent fit!

Interview For Harvard College

If you’re invited to interview for Harvard College, congratulations! This means the admissions committee liked your application and viewed you as a strong candidate. 

You’ll be interviewed by a Harvard alum who will reach out to you via phone or email to arrange a time and date for your interview. Most interviews are an hour long and may be a video interview if there are no alumni in your area. If this is the case, Harvard advises using a computer rather than a phone and being aware of your background. 

Your interview is a golden opportunity to ask an alum about their experiences at Harvard. Try to treat your interview as more of a conversation, and it will help you sound more natural and flexible as you talk to your interviewer. 

How to Get Into Harvard: FAQs

Still have questions about how to get into Harvard? Take a look at our answers to these FAQs to learn more. 

1. What Does Harvard Look for in Applicants?

Along with meeting every Harvard admissions requirement, the school is looking for numerous qualities in candidates, including growth and potential, interests and activities, personal character, and possible contributions to the Harvard community. 

Harvard seeks 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. 

Harvard looks for passionate students who have learned valuable skills, 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. 

2. Does Harvard Accept Transfer Credit?

Yes, Harvard states it will “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 can transfer up to 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 these 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?

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. 

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, try to pick two or three things that you’re particularly passionate about instead. 

6. 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 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. 

7. What SAT Score is Required for Harvard? 

Harvard College is test-optional until at least the 2025 admissions cycle, meaning there’s technically no SAT required to apply. You can choose to submit scores or not – if you obtained a high SAT score, it could bolster your application! 

8. How Much Does Harvard Cost? 

Tuition at Harvard University costs $54,269. However, including other fees and expenses, the total cost of attending Harvard is an estimated $79,450. 

You may be able to find scholarships to help you afford your education. 

9. Will It Help My Admission If I Visit Harvard? 

You are welcome to visit Harvard, but it will not significantly affect your admissions chances. Harvard does not consider the level of an applicant’s interest in their basis for selection, so if you want to increase your chances, you should focus on your ACT/SAT scores and your GPA. 

10. Can My Social Media History Affect My Admission Chances? 

Admissions officers at Harvard have stated that they rarely look at students’ social media pages. However, you should always be mindful of what you post online, as a foolish post may affect your college profile as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Applying to university is a milestone, marking your commitment to higher education and the start of your professional life. The process can be daunting, especially if your goal is to study at a world-renowned school like Harvard. However, an experienced Harvard admissions counselor can help you increase your chances of acceptance. 

Now that you know more about Harvard’s culture, admissions requirements, and acceptance rates, you better understand what you’ll need to do to give yourself the best chance of acceptance. Remember, if Harvard is your dream school, you can do what it takes to achieve your goals! 

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