Harvard is one of the top universities in the world. It has a dozen graduate schools offering education in almost any subject that you can think of. Alums from this institution often go on to make a significant impact on the world, with many finding great success in their lives.
As you know, though, getting into Harvard isn’t easy. As an Ivy League school, its prestige means it’s one of the most selective institutions out there, but if you’re eager to work with some of the best and brightest (and have the application to cut it), it’s worth applying.
In this guide, we’ll talk about this prestigious institution and discuss how to get into Harvard with tips that might just help you succeed. So let’s get to it!
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About Harvard University
Founded in 1636, Harvard is one of the oldest and best-known universities in the United States. It is considered one of the top schools in the world and boasts many famous alumni, including politicians, celebrities, businessmen, and entrepreneurs.
Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and with a subway stop named after the school, Harvard is in the heart of the Boston metro area. It gives students easy access to all the experiences and amenities of the Boston area.
Harvard also has the largest endowment of any school in the United States, with more than $40 billion in its accounts as of 2019. This endowment is essential to Harvard’s mission of providing an education to all students, regardless of their financial ability. Harvard is also known for its generous financial aid. 55% of students receive aid from Harvard, and a good 20% pay nothing at all.
You probably already know that Harvard is one of the most challenging universities to get into in 2023. Its acceptance rate has continued to trend downward over the years. Just look at this graph from The Harvard Crimson that shows an admission rate of nearly 6% in 2013 and 2014.
6% is a low enough acceptance rate on its own, but then you’ll see that in 2020, that acceptance rate dropped to 4.9%. If you think that’s bad, 2021 saw an admission rate of 3.4%. And 2022’s? A mere 3.2%.
If there’s anything that this information tells you, it’s that Harvard is an incredibly selective school. Getting in is challenging, to say the least. In 2022, there were over 61,000 applicants. This is the level of competition you’ll see should you also choose to apply — at least for undergrad.
How hard is it to get into Harvard grad school? Well, graduate school is a different story. Admissions can be just as challenging, especially for programs that have an incredibly limited number of slots for students. The process isn’t as simple this time around either, as graduate programs often have their own requirements on top of the standard application requirements for Harvard.
If you’re wondering what kind of students get into Harvard, how to get into Harvard graduate school, and how to apply to Harvard, read on!
Harvard’s admissions office states that “there’s no formula for gaining admission to Harvard.” However, the application process is the same for each person who wants to get into the school, at least for undergrad.
If you want to apply to Harvard, there are a few requirements you’ll need to complete. These are:
A completed application such as the Common Application, Coalition Application
Answers to Harvard’s supplemental questions
A midyear school report
Two teacher evaluations for the admissions officer to read
Optionally, you may submit additional material, such as artwork, pieces of music, or academic samples
To know more about Harvard’s application requirements, you can visit this page.
SAT Scores + ACT Scores
Harvard doesn’t publish any minimum SAT or ACT score requirements for applicants, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any unspoken ones. Because Harvard is a highly competitive institution, students who apply often aim to have the most impressive academic backgrounds possible, and that translates into standardized test scores as well. Thus, many applicants often have high scores on both the SAT and the ACT, whichever one they choose to submit.
The 25th percentile for SAT scores at Harvard is 1460, which means fewer than 25% of the applicants submitted scores that fell below this number. The 75th percentile, on the other hand, is 1570, which means 75% of applicants scored 1570 or below. And then, you have the few who scored above 1570 — a near-perfect score for the SAT, which maxes out at 1600.
For the ACT, the 25th percentile is around 33, while the 75th percentile sits at 35, making the average composite ACT score around 34.
The numbers above might tell you that if you want the best chances of success when you apply, you should aim to be over the 25th percentile. Ideally, you would want to get as close to the 75th percentile as possible.
Note, however, that submitting standardized test scores is optional during the 2023-2026 admissions cycles. Harvard will accept and consider your scores as part of your application should you choose to submit them. However, if you choose not to, you will not be penalized. Students are evaluated fairly whether they submit scores or not.
Also, take note that Harvard does not superset scores. If you choose to submit yours, you should ensure that you are satisfied with your overall results beforehand.
Like with SAT and ACT scores, Harvard does not publish its GPA requirements. However, if you want your application to be competitive, you’ll want to submit near or exceeding the average GPAs of past successful applicants. So what grades do you need for Harvard?
The latest available data sets provided by Harvard show that the average GPA of admitted applicants was around 3.9, unweighted. When weighted, this translates to a 4.15.
If you’d like to know more about the GPA requirements at Harvard, check out our article here.
What Classes Should You Take in High School to Get Into Harvard?
If you’re asking, “How do you get into Harvard? What classes do you need to take?” Well, the answer is below.
According to Harvard, there is no one path for applicants to follow during secondary school, so there’s no single formula for you to recreate during your high school career. However, if there’s one thing that you might want to do to become a strong applicant, it’s to take the hardest courses offered in your school
Harvard does recommend some courses, as seen below:
4 years of English, ideally with a challenging writing component
4 years of Mathematics
4 years of Science (biology, physics, chemistry, and an advanced course)
3 years of history, including US and European history
4 years in one foreign language (choose a language and stick with it)
If some of the subjects on this list aren’t offered at your school, there’s no need to worry. Harvard does not penalize applicants for not having certain classes on their records. Nevertheless, Harvard considers academic rigor, the difficulty of each subject. That means that if you take AP classes, these will count more towards your application than the non-AP versions.
Thus, it’s recommended to take as many AP classes as you can handle — but ensure that you do not overload yourself as you will want to get your grades as high as possible for them to look better on your record and your GPA.
When Should You Start Preparing to Apply to Harvard?
If you’ve decided that Harvard is one of your dream schools or maybe even the dream school, you probably want to know when you should start preparing to apply. The answer is: as early as possible.
Creating a strong Harvard application involves getting great grades and an impressive academic record. That means a high GPA and great standardized test scores. The earlier you start preparing for both, the better off you’ll be when you apply. Starting earlier also means you’ll be able to work on your extracurricular activities, helping you create a well-rounded application over time. It’ll also give you time to develop your spike.
Thus, you’ll often see recommendations to prepare as early as your freshman year. However, some may even recommend starting during junior high.
It’s worth noting that if you start later, you still have a chance at success. The only issue is you’ll be somewhat limited in what you can do to improve your application further.
If you’re wondering when to start prepping when it comes to how to get into Harvard master’s programs, the answer is — at least one year or more before you intend to apply. The more time you allow yourself, the better off you’ll be. Just remember to take note of any time sensitive Harvard graduate school requirements so you don’t accidentally let yours lapse.
How to Apply to Harvard
Applying to Harvard is quite simple — at least once you complete your application. All you have to do is gather all of your requirements and complete one of the accepted applications, the Common or Coalition Application. Once you have gathered all your requirements, you can then submit your application.
You can choose to apply Early Action or Regular Decision. If you can, apply for early action as Harvard has historically had higher acceptance rates for Early Action. You can see the deadlines below.
Harvard’s application deadlines are as below:
Deadline: November 1
Notification by mid-December
Deadline: January 1
Notification by the end of March
Graduate Application Requirements
Harvard operates about a dozen graduate schools, each with its own specialization and application requirements. Though each has its own application, there are similarities between them.
For example, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires that students submit:
Online application form
Application fee payment ($105)
Letters of recommendation
Statement of purpose
Writing sample, where required
The application requirements for other Harvard schools are similar. However, it’s worth mentioning that not all programs will have the same requirements. Thus, the best thing you can do to help your chances is to ask your specific program for more information where possible.
How to Get Into Harvard: Tips for Increasing Your Chances of Admission
Getting into one of the most prestigious universities not only in the country but in the world can feel almost impossible. Year after year, it’s as if the acceptance rate simply continues to drop. For the class of 2027, a mere 3.2% of over 61,000 applicants received a coveted acceptance letter.
So what can you do to boost your chances?
Consider the tips below to help you as you complete your Harvard application.
Apply to Harvard Early Action If Possible
One major tip you’ll get when you try to figure out how to get accepted at Harvard is to try for Harvard early action where possible. There’s a good reason behind this — the Harvard early action acceptance rate is significantly higher than regular admissions.
Harvard’s regular application acceptance rate is 2.3% for the class of 2027. Early applications, on the other hand, saw an acceptance rate of 7.9%, a significant boost overall.
This tip won’t necessarily apply if you are trying to get into a graduate program instead, but you may still benefit from applying as early as possible, regardless.
Choose Your Intended Concentration Wisely
When you apply to Harvard, you aren’t always required to declare your intended major. In fact, Harvard doesn’t have “majors” — instead, students graduate with “concentrations”. Students also have the ability to choose a second field of study, much akin to a “minor” at other universities. The kicker is students are not even required to declare their chosen concentration during their first year of college.
That said, you might still need to declare an intended major when you apply. It is during this time that you might want to choose your concentration wisely.
Choosing an underrepresented concentration, such as the humanities, might make a small difference in your chances of admission. If you select one of the most common concentrations, such as the social sciences or biological science, you might end up competing with thousands of others who declared the same intent.
While selecting a less-represented major does not guarantee admission, it can reduce the amount of competition you’re up against during the admissions process.
Choose Your Recommenders Wisely
When you look at tips on how to get to Harvard University and get accepted as a student, one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll see is to make sure you have high-quality recommendation letters. And, of course, one of the best ways to ensure that you do is to choose your recommenders wisely.
It’s wise to request recommendation letters from those who know you well. After all, if you ask just anyone to write them for you, there’s a good chance that they won’t know enough about your strengths to write a compelling letter that will make an impression on Harvard.
Choose from mentors, teachers, employers, and the like — and ensure that you give them ample time to write your letters! Don’t forget to thank them for their time afterward.
If You Have Time, Work On Your “Spike”
When you start doing research on how to get in Harvard University, you might come across the word “spike” now and again. But what exactly is it?
If you’re unaware, a spike is something that sets you apart from the rest of the applicants. It could be your extracurricular activities, especially if they’re unique or if you’re notably good at them. Your spike might also be your volunteer work or past work experience. If you’ve won academic accolades or awards, those can also qualify as your spike.
Having a notable spike can truly make you stand out from the sea of applicants hoping to be chosen for Harvard college admission just like you.
Work On Your Personal Statement
Although your personal statement alone won’t be enough to get into Harvard, it can still help you make an impression on the admissions committee. Indeed, your personal statement is another vital part of your Harvard college application.
Your personal statement is where you can introduce yourself to the admissions committee. It is also where you can show the admissions officers why you would be a good fit for acceptance and talk about your spike, goals, and other similar factors. A well-written statement can be compelling and may boost your chances of success.
Ensure Your Harvard Application Is as Well-Rounded as Possible
Harvard uses what they call a “whole person review” process, which is essentially a holistic admissions process that takes your full Harvard application into consideration. With whole person review, Harvard avoids reducing applicants to their GPAs and SAT or ACT scores. The university is also able to look closer at why you would be a good candidate for acceptance.
If you’d like to potentially increase your chance to get into Harvard, work on making your application as well-rounded as possible. Don’t focus solely on your academic performance; ensure that you also have a spike and other factors that are unique and can make you stand out.
This advice applies whether you’re learning how to get accepted into an undergrad program or how to get into Harvard grad school.
Do Some Interview Prep
Although you might think that an interview is part of the Harvard college application process, the truth is not all students are asked to sit for one. Your chances of getting invited for an interview might be higher as a graduate student than as an undergraduate, but nevertheless, you should always prepare for an interview just in case. Look at practice questions and ensure you prepare your answers so you can leave a positive impression.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Harvard accept AP credit?
In 2020, Harvard changed their policies about awarding AP credit to students who earned such in secondary school. The institution announced in 2020 that they will no longer award credit from AP examinations and so on, but that AP classes and exams will still help count toward admission on an application. You can learn more about this announcement here.
Does Harvard require an interview as part of its application process?
Harvard does not require all students to sit for an interview, and it really comes as no surprise. In 2022, over 60,000 hopefuls submitted a Harvard application, a number that is so large that interviews are unfeasible. The admissions committee may still ask students to sit for an interview, though this will mostly depend on the availability of alums in the applicants’ respective areas. More information is available here.
Will visiting Harvard help me get in?
Unfortunately, no. Visiting Harvard will give you a better idea of what to expect and may help you write a more compelling personal statement. However, it does not in any way influence your chances of acceptance at the university. If you’d like to know more about how to get into Harvard University, check out our in-depth guide above.
Does my race or ethnicity impact my chances of getting into Harvard?
Harvard looks beyond race when it comes to its whole person review process. However, in keeping with diversity, Harvard also strives to accept students of varying racial backgrounds. While your race might not necessarily influence your admission, Harvard may have certain unspoken policies that determine how many students of specific races they accept.
How hard is it to get into Harvard?
Harvard is easily one of the most selective universities around today. With an overall acceptance rate of only 3.2% for the class of 2027, we can easily say that Harvard is one of the hardest institutions to get into these days. To increase your chances, ensure you work on having a well-rounded application and a solid spike. Apply early action if possible, as early action applicants see a higher acceptance rate than regular applicants.
Harvard offers dozens of different programs and one of the best educational experiences in the world. While the competition is fierce, if you feel like you have a chance to get into the school, you should take that opportunity.