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– How to Get into Harvard –
This article proffers all the tips you need on how to get into Harvard. To have the best shot at getting in, you should aim for the 75th percentile, with a 1580 SAT or a 35 ACT. This article covers Havard’s requirements for admission, how to sharpen your chances at getting into Harvard, and lots more.
About Harvard University
Harvard University is, to many members of the general public, the archetype of a prestigious college. Its name recognition, reputation, and long history make it world-renown, even iconic, in its stature.
Even if it’s not actually the very best at everything, it’s still an incredible place to learn and grow with the backing of an exceptional array of resources and opportunities, and many high school students dream of joining its ranks.
Of course, getting admitted to such a respected university is an extremely competitive process. I
f you’re a high school student who’s planning to apply to Harvard, you need to take time to familiarize yourself with the university, its expectations, its culture, and its application process.
Here’s what you need to know if you plan to include Harvard on your college application list.
Want to learn what Harvard University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take?
Harvard: The Quick Facts
Here’s what every student considering Harvard University needs to know:
‣ Type: Private University
‣ Location: Cambridge, MA
‣ Founded: 1636
‣ Enrollment: 6,710 undergraduates, 20,324 students in total
‣ Tuition: $48,949 (2017-2018)
‣ Average Financial Aid Award: $50,562
‣ Acceptance Rate: 5.2% (class of 2021)
‣ Average SAT Score: 2235 (class of 2020), roughly equivalent to 1530 on the new SAT
How Hard is it to Get into Harvard?
Harvard is traditionally among the nation’s most challenging colleges to gain admission to and it’s only getting more difficult. Harvard welcomed just 1,968 students out of the 57,435 who applied for a record-low acceptance rate of 3.43%.
Of the 57,000 applicants for Harvard’s class of 2025, 10,086 of them applied early action; of those, 747 were accepted for a 7.4% early action acceptance rate—these numbers mark both a record-high number of applicants and a record-low rate of acceptance.
While Harvard’s acceptance rate is incredibly low, your personal chances of acceptance depend on your profile strength.
CollegeVine can help our free admissions calculator uses your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars to estimate your odds of acceptance and give you tips to improve your profile!
Harvard Requirements for Admission
What are Harvard’s admission requirements? While there are a lot of pieces that go into a college application, you should focus on only a few critical things:
‣ GPA requirements
‣ Testing requirements, including SAT and ACT requirements
‣ Application requirements
In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to get into Harvard and build a strong application.
School location: Cambridge, MA
This school is also known as Harvard University, Harvard College, Harvard University
If you want to get in, the first thing to look at is the acceptance rate. This tells you how competitive the school is and how serious their requirements are.
The acceptance rate at Harvard is 4.7%. For every 100 applicants, only 5 are admitted.
This means the school is extremely selective. Meeting their GPA requirements and SAT/ACT requirements is very important to getting past their first round of filters and proving your academic preparation. If you don’t meet their expectations, your chance of getting in is nearly zero.
After crossing this hurdle, you’ll need to impress Harvard application readers through their other application requirements, including extracurriculars, essays, and letters of recommendation. We’ll cover more below.
Average Academic Profile of Accepted Harvard Students
The average high school GPA of Harvard’s class of 2025 is 4.22—75.76% of the class of 2025 graduated with a 4.0.
The middle 50% SAT and ACT scores of Harvard’s class of 2025 are 1460-1580 and 33-35.
‣ Class Rank
Harvard doesn’t publish the average high school rank of the students accepted to its class of 2025, but competitive applicants commonly graduate at, or near, the top of their class—94% of the class of 2025 graduated in the top 10 of their high school class.
What is Harvard Looking for?
At top-tier schools like Harvard, almost every applicant has an outstanding academic record, so great grades and superb standardized test scores are not enough to wow admissions officers.
What can help you stand out from other applicants is fitting the type of student they’re looking for.
For example, Harvard values students who are engaged in the community and have demonstrated leadership.
Prioritizing the admission of students who’ve made an impact in their community through volunteer and charity work or leadership over those with spotless academic records.
Students can demonstrate these qualities both in their supplemental essays and with the extracurricular activities they pursue. Intellectualism is a quality Harvard places a great deal of importance on, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.
Applicants with interesting academic backgrounds who have combined their academic passions with research, fieldwork, and other extracurricular involvement have a leg up over other candidates.
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How Harvard Evaluates Applications
According to their 2020-2021 Common Data Set, the following factors are “considered” at Harvard:
‣ Course rigor
‣ Test scores
‣ Recommendation letters
‣ Extracurricular activities
‣ Character/personal qualities
‣ Geographical location
‣ Racial/ethnic status
‣ Volunteer work
‣ Work experience
‣ And these are “not considered”:
‣ Religious affiliation
‣ Class rank
‣ State residency
‣ Applicant interest
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Harvard
Improve your chances of getting into Harvard by going through the following:
1. Achieve at Least a 4.22 While Taking the Most Challenging Classes Available
The average high school GPA of admitted students to Harvard’s class of 2025 was 4.22 and more than three-quarters of them had a 4.0. p>
The best way to improve your chances of acceptance is to have extremely strong academics and to complete the most challenging coursework available. Competitive candidates to a top-ten school like Harvard have often completed upward of 12 AP courses.
Selective schools like Harvard use the Academic Index (AI) to weed out unqualified applicants. This is a single score that represents the strength of your GPA, test scores, and class rank (if your school ranks).
If your AI isn’t up to par, Harvard admissions officers may not even read the rest of your application.
If your GPA is lower, and you’re earlier on in your high school career, check out our tips for increasing your GPA.
If you’re junior or senior, it will be harder to increase your GPA, so the easiest way to increase your Academic Index is to get a higher test score.
2. Aim for a 1580 SAT and 35 ACT (use the 75th percentile)
The middle 50% of Harvard’s class of 2025 earned SAT scores of 1460-1580 and ACT scores of 33-35. Any score in the middle 50% is good, however, the higher in the range you score, the better your odds of admission are. Harvard does not super score standardized test scores but evaluates the highest test scores in each section across test dates.
Due to the challenges presented by COVID-19, Harvard was test-optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle and has extended its test-optional policy for the 2021-2023 admissions cycle.
CollegeVine recommends you take either the SAT or ACT if you can do so safely, as students who submit scores are accepted at higher rates than those who do not.
A general rule of thumb for applying to a college with test-optional admissions is to submit scores so long as they’re at, or above, the 25th percentile for accepted students. Not sure if your standardized test score makes the grade?
You can get recommendations on whether or not to apply test-optional using our free chancing engine.
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3. Cultivate at Least One or two Tier 1-2 Extracurriculars (find your “spike”)
For selective institutions like Harvard, extracurricular activities can play a large role in admission decisions. Up to 25% of an admissions decision can be determined by a student’s activities outside of the classroom.
While it’s true that there is no such thing as a bad extracurricular activity, some extracurricular activities are more impressive than others.
Admissions officers evaluate extracurriculars using four tiers, with one being the most exceptional and four being the most common. For example:
‣ Tier 1 may include nationally ranked student-athletes or individuals who attended a top (merit-based) summer program.
‣ Tier 2, the second-most prestigious group, includes activities that showcase students’ larger achievements, such as being elected student body president or making it to the state tennis tournament.
‣ Tier 3 activities include smaller achievements, such as being editor of the school paper or treasurer of the history club.
‣ Tier 4 activities include general membership in student clubs and sports teams, as well as other casual hobbies.
Aspiring Harvard students should aim for at least a couple of Tier 1-2 activities. It doesn’t matter the area of interest; Harvard just wants to see you achieve success in your passion, as this indicates to them that you’re likely to be successful in the future.
Rather than do a bunch of unrelated activities at a mediocre level, try to hone one or two interests and develop a “spike.”
4. Write Engaging Essays
Harvard has plenty of applicants with stellar profiles. Use your essay to demonstrate a unique voice and character.
If the admissions officer can’t get you out of their mind, they are much more likely to advocate for you when it comes time to make difficult decisions between equally qualified candidates.
Harvard requires one essay and has two optional essays as part of its application; however, it’s wise to consider all three essays a necessity if you’re aiming to stand out from a crowded field of impressive applicants.
Another way to distance yourself from the competition is with Harvard-specific essay advice, like what’s found in our article, “How to Write the Harvard University Supplemental Essays 2021-2022.”
5. Ace Your Interview
Harvard considers your interview when making admissions, although interviews generally play a minor role in the overall admissions process. College interviews are often more a stumbling block than an opportunity.
Don’t let the Harvard interview trip you up—familiarize yourself with the interview process, know how to prepare for it, and have an understanding of the types of questions commonly asked of an applicant.
6. Recommendation Letters
Letters of recommendation help paint a picture of who you are. Like any good painter, you want to be in control of the whole work. There are compliments and aspects of your personality that only your recommenders can share.
Harvard requires you to send recommendations from two teachers you know well from different academic subjects.
Make sure you talk to the teachers first about what you would put in that letter if you were the one writing it and make sure to follow the 9 rules for requesting letters of recommendation from teachers.
7. Apply Early Action/Early Decision
Harvard’s class of 2025’s 7.4% early action acceptance rate is substantially higher than its overall acceptance rate of 3.43%. This offers some applicants an excellent opportunity to improve their odds of admission.
Harvard offers restrictive early action (REA), a non-binding program that places no obligation on you to enroll if admitted.
Applying REA to Harvard does restrict you from applying early decision and from applying early action at all other private college early action programs, but you can apply early action to any public college or university.
Walking through the Harvard Admissions Process
Here are some guides while walking through the Harvard admission process:
Each year, Harvard receives close to 40,000 applications for undergraduate admission.
In 2017, the university accepted 5.2% of applicants, continuing a general trend of lower acceptance rates each year at Harvard as well as at many other comparable universities.
Since Harvard is such a well-known and prestigious school, its yield is typically very high, meaning that most of the students who are accepted to Harvard will decide to go there.
Who Gets Admitted to Harvard?
While Harvard doesn’t have a stated minimum GPA or standardized test score range, successful applicants usually have very high grades and scores.
For the class of 2020, the average combined SAT score (on the older version of the test) was 2235, which translates to roughly 1530 on the newest version of the SAT.
Applicants also typically show strong extracurricular involvement and have taken on challenging coursework.
However, getting accepted requires more t
han the right numbers. Harvard’s holistic evaluation procedure looks for students who are truly exceptional and have great potential.
Qualities like innovativeness, dedication, and curiosity are important, but most of all, you’ll need to stand out from the large pool of highly accomplished applicants.
The key is to focus on what makes you special and the unique contribution you’ll add to this exceptional campus community.
Harvard is a reach school for any applicant due to its extremely low acceptance rate; many highly qualified applicants can’t be accepted due to space constraints.
However, many students still decide that the potential benefits are well worth the work required and the risk of being rejected.
For more of our insight into what’s necessary to get admitted to Harvard, take a look at our blog post What Does It Take to Get Into Harvard?
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Harvard’s application for the Regular Decision timeline, which most applicants use, is due on January 1st. You can expect to hear back about whether you’ve been accepted by late March. If you’re accepted, you’ll have until May 1st to decide whether to attend.
Harvard also offers a Single-Choice Early Action application option. If you choose this option, you’ll submit your application by November 1st, and you’ll be prohibited from applying early to other colleges.
You’ll get your admission decision by mid-December. You’re not contractually obligated to attend if you’re accepted early under this SCEA program, and you’ll also have until May 1st to make your final decision.
How to Apply
Harvard accepts the Common, Coalition, and Universal college application forms; none is preferred, so you can choose the form that works best for you.
Whichever form you use, you’ll need to fill out all of Harvard’s required supplemental questions. Harvard’s supplement includes an essay question that is technically optional; we strongly encourage that you do submit this optional essay.
In addition to your application form, you’ll need to submit your scores on the SAT or ACT as well as on two SAT II subject tests, your transcript, a School Report from your guidance counselor, and two recommendations (referred to as Teacher Reports).
An interview with a Harvard alum near you is optional and not always possible, but we recommend you take the opportunity if you have it.
In conclusion, applying to a place like Harvard can be intimidating, but the more you know, the better you can decide whether to take a chance on Harvard—and the better you’ll be able to prepare for the demands of the application process.
If you’re thinking about applying to Harvard University, visit Harvard’s undergraduate admissions website for the most up-to-date information about application deadlines, requirements, and procedures.
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