How to get into Harvard University

For Undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MS) degrees

 
Harvard is the United States’ oldest institution of higher learning and considered one of the world’s top universities. Its alumni include eight US presidents and 62 living billionaires. Its endowment is a whopping $37 billion, which helps the university to provide liberal financial aid to its students.

The acceptance rate at Harvard is just 6 percent. The key to getting past the initial round of application review for undergraduate courses is to meet the GPA and SAT / ACT requirements. You also have to impress Harvard’s application readers with your extracurriculars, essays, and teachers’ evaluations. Read on for a few more tips.
 

 

Steps to get into Harvard University

  1. Try to get near-perfect scores in the most challenging courses at school.
  2. Get excellent test scores. Yes, contrary to rumors, they matter.
  3. Prove your passion in at least one extracurricular activity.
  4. Take interest in sports and athletics. Don’t drop them so that you can prepare for the Math Olympiad!
  5. Be kind and sensitive. Your teachers are likely to mention these qualities in their recommendations.
  6. Make sure your application is well-planned and well-presented.

 

Undergrad admissions at Harvard University

 

Academics

It is not the only thing you need, but a high grade will certainly boost your chances of getting into Harvard. Online sources have it that the average GPA at Harvard is 4.1. Aim to be in the top 10 to 15 percent of your class. If you grades have improved from your freshman year till the time of admissions, that’s good. If there were personal circumstances that caused your grades to suffer, explain this. But it is difficult to improve your GPA if you are already in your junior or senior year. The alternative then is to show higher SAT or ACT score to compensate.

If AP/honors courses are offered at your school, take them and score well. High scores will show the university that you have the intellectual vigor for their programs. However, if these scores are low, it is probably better to take regular courses and score well. If your grades are not all that great, then there’s only one way to impress the admissions office: ensure that the rest of your application is incredible.
 

SAT / ACT Scores for Harvard

You should also try to get high SAT/ACT scores; they may not make certain that you are given a place, but they will sustain the interest of admissions officers in your application. Take SAT well before your application is due. Perhaps you could take the test during your junior year so that you have enough time to retake the rest should this become necessary. You should take two SAT II tests for Harvard.

The average SAT score (composite) at Harvard is 1540 on the 1600 scale. On the old 2400 scale, this corresponds to a score of 2250. The 25th percentile New SAT score is 1470 (Math 730, Reading 37, Writing 37) and the 75th percentile score 1600 (Math 800, Reading 40, Writing 40). The average Math, Reading, Writing, and Composite scores are 770, 39, 38, and 1540.

The Old SAT scores by section are (average, 25th percentile, 75th percentile): 750, 700, 800 (Math); 750, 700, 800 (Reading); 750, 710, 790 (Writing); and 2250, 2110, 2390 (Composite).

Coming to ACT, the average score at Harvard is 34, 25th percentile 32, and 75th percentile 35. If you apply with a 32, chances are that you will not be considered.

Normally, your GPA and SAT/ACT are more strongly considered than your SAT subject tests. So, if you can improve your SAT/ACT scores, do so, instead of trying to improve your SAT subject test scores. To have a good chance, you should target a SAT/ACT 75 percentile score of 2390 and 35, respectively. SAT II English Language Proficiency Test is not accepted as one of the two SAT subject tests.
 

Extracurricular activities

In order not to appear as a bookworm, participate in extracurricular activities to show that you are a well-rounded person. Join a club or join activities you have a passion for. But don’t try to involve yourself in too many activities. Instead, select a couple of activities and excel in them; this is what Harvard likes.

Try to cultivate your talent for leadership. Join the student council and contribute, so that you will be recognized as a leader. Start your activities early, so that when it becomes admissions time at Harvard, you will have a good record to show.

If you have think you have the talent, write for your school newspaper, participate in your theater group, become a member of a debating club, or learn another language. Take up a sport or learn to play a musical instrument and show deep dedication.

Harvard appreciates a commitment to society. So, volunteer for community work or social service. Try to spare time for activities connected to an old-age home or homeless shelter or for cleaning a neighborhood park or locality.

Use your summer vacation sensibly instead of indulging yourself. Join a sports training camp or pursue your interest in music by learning to play an instrument. Try to get work in an organization that does some work that interests you. For example, if you like science, approach a lab to take you in as an assistant. Or you can find actual work that pays. Admissions officials appreciate any effort on their applicant’s part to fund themselves through college instead of depending solely on parents or friends.
 

Harvard Essays

Writing an essay is a chance for you to show your writing skills and to come across as an interesting, confident, and committed person. You should give yourself adequate time to write your essay and also to proof-read it.

Try to address these questions in your essay: What makes you unique? Can you tell a story that shows your creativity, work ethic, and your ability to correct yourself after learning from mistakes?

Right from the introduction, your essay should be readable with good language and an interesting topic. Topics could be your experiences with a club, achievements in sport, your family or friends, or an unforgettable event that changed you in some way.

Go to a friend or teacher for feedback on whether your essay is as good as you think it is. They may have different opinions about the impression that the essay leaves in the reader and also help catch language errors.
 

Teacher evaluation

Harvard needs you to provide two teacher evaluations. Choose a teacher who has seen you excel in academics. You can also ask your senior students for advice. It is best to avoid a teacher who submits evaluations late or is not known to write anything specific. If the teacher is also in charge of your club or any other extracurricular activity, he or she can talk about how well you have done.
 

Supplementary material

If you have some truly exceptional material that will support your application and show that you are unique in some way, send it along. Review the quality of the material you have. If the material is just ordinary, do not send it. If are an extremely talented musician, send a tape showing yourself playing an instrument, or if you are a noted writer, send in your short story.
 

Filling out your Harvard application

Take care when filling out your application. Show that you have read the instructions and that you can follow them. If you are filling out the application by hand, ensure that your handwriting is legible. Try to be impressive without exaggerating your achievements.

Here’s a checklist of items you need to apply to Harvard:

  • the application
  • your essay
  • your SAT/ACT score
  • your two SAT II score reports
  • teachers’ recommendations
  • supplementary information
  • financial aid application (if you quality)
  • school report and mid-year school report
  • application fee of $75 or waiver application.

 

Interview

You may be asked to meet an alum in your area for an interview. If you don’t get an invite for an interview, don’t worry. It may be because it was difficult to arrange an interview. At the interview, be courteous and engaging. Prepare questions for the interviewer to answer, such as about the Harvard experience. Show that you are really interested in attending Harvard.
 

After applying

Once you have sent in your application, all you can do about it is to await the decision. Don’t stop the rigor that made you a great student and continue your extracurriculars with the same interest. You should also apply to some safety schools. Don’t insist that Harvard is the only school you will consider. There are other great institutions, and you will find yourself doing well elsewhere if you don’t make it into Harvard.
 

Graduate admissions at Harvard University

 
Harvard University runs graduate and professional schools including Harvard Business School, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. They each have their own admission process. For example, the School of Arts and Sciences requires an online application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, GRE, and demonstration of English proficiency, where required, and writing sample. Some programs require an interview (more information is available on the schools’ websites).

But here’s a tip about GRE/GPA. The GRE scores of admitted applicants at Harvard graduate schools are 155 to 166 for Verbal and 155 to 170 for Quant. Many programs require scores above 160. Quant requirements are usually higher for science- and math-related programs, and Verbal requirements higher for reading- and writing-related programs. Analytical Writing is considered the least important section, and here admitted applicants average 4.5 to 5.0.

Although many programs don’t have a minimum GPA, you require a high GPA to be considered. According to online sources, an A or A- grade is ideal.
 
Also read:
Why I turned down Harvard Business School
What to expect as a Harvard MBA student
16 things every Harvard Business School MBA student should know
Harvard Business School interview questions and answer tips
Choice between Harvard/Stanford or Oxford/Cambridge – How would you decide?
 
References: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10