Seniors: Get a head start on your college apps this summer!

Harvard University Supplemental Essay 2023-24 Prompt Guide

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

What Is the Harvard Graduation Rate?

If Harvard is one of your top-choice schools, you may be wondering how you can make your application stand out to the admissions committee. This is where your college essays come in. If done well, they can set you above other applicants. However, these essay prompts require short, creative answers, which is not an easy task. Keep reading to learn more about Harvard’s supplemental essays for the 2023-24 admissions cycle and how to craft them.    

How Important Are the Harvard Supplemental Essays?

Writing a compelling personal essay as part of the Common Application or Coalition Application is one way for Harvard to get to know you. However, the additional prompts provided by Harvard University are meant for the admissions committee to learn even more about who you are, what you hope to get out of Harvard, and what contributions you can make to the campus community both personally and academically.

Most admissions committees, including Harvard’s, review applications holistically, which is why college essays matter. While academic performance is important, the other parts of your application, such as your essays and activities list, are what differentiate you from other students who submit comparable transcripts and test scores.

How Many Essays Does Harvard Require in 2023?

Students applying for admission to Harvard College — the undergraduate college at Harvard University — during the 2023-24 admissions cycle are required to respond to five supplemental essays. This is a change from previous years when applicants had three optional essay prompts: one open-ended, and two short. This change is due to the Supreme Court’s gutting of race-based affirmative action in college admissions decisions earlier this year. These required prompts are being used to gain a more complete picture of each student’s experience.

Each response should be no more than 200 words, so the challenge is to write a brief essay that tells a compelling story about you. Just keep in mind that each response should convey something new and interesting about you that isn’t mentioned elsewhere in your application.

How Hard Is It to Get into Harvard in 2023?

Harvard is one of the most selective schools in the U.S. The acceptance rate for Harvard College was only 3.41% for the class of 2027, with similarly low admissions rates the previous few years. Understanding how to get into Harvard can help you prepare for the highly competitive admissions process. Ensuring you meet all the academic requirements and getting a head start on your essays can be crucial to your success.

When Should I Apply for Harvard in 2023?

Harvard offers both Restrictive Early Action (REA) and Regular Decision options. While applying early to college can sometimes help your chances of admission, you should only do so if you can submit a strong application. Many students opt to wait for the Regular Decision deadline to give themselves time to submit stronger grades and test scores.

The Harvard application deadlines are:

 Admission Type  Deadline  Decision
 Restrictive Early Action       November 1, 2023       Mid-December     
 Regular Decision  January 1, 2024  End of March

Learn more about the different types of Early Action and whether applying early is right for you.

Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-24

These supplemental essays give you a good idea of what Harvard values, such as personal development, intellectual activities, and the positive impact you have made on your community. Your responses should demonstrate how your experiences, passions, and responsibilities have shaped you and influenced your view of the world. Let’s look at each prompt and how you might respond.

Supplemental Essay Prompt #1 

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? (200 words)

Like many other colleges and universities, Harvard responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action by adding an additional prompt that will allow students to discuss aspects of their background that may not be considered elsewhere in their application — like race, for example. Your response to this essay should connect your experiences and life lessons with the ways you plan to contribute to the diverse campus community. Diversity can take many forms: religion, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, way of thinking, etc. If you don’t feel like you fall into any of these categories personally, then write about how your experiences with diverse individuals and groups impacted you. The example below may help you think about ways to answer this prompt.    

Growing up in a multicultural household, I’ve been fortunate to experience a blend of traditions, perspectives, and languages. These early experiences laid the foundation for my commitment to inclusivity.

Throughout high school, I immersed myself in initiatives that promote understanding and unity. I co-founded a cultural exchange club, providing a platform for students to share their unique backgrounds. This experience taught me the power of dialogue in breaking down barriers and fostering empathy.

My involvement in community service programs exposed me to the challenges faced by marginalized populations. I sought opportunities to address these issues, advocating for equitable access to education and resources. This hands-on engagement has deepened my understanding of the complexities surrounding diversity.

At Harvard, I’m eager to contribute to this vibrant tapestry of experiences. I want to amplify underrepresented voices, promoting an environment where all perspectives are valued. Whether through campus organizations, classroom discussions, or community outreach, I’m committed to nurturing an inclusive space where every student feels heard and supported. I look forward to learning from my peers and, together, creating a campus culture that celebrates the richness of every individual.

Supplemental Essay Prompt #2

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)

As an Ivy League school, Harvard obviously values intellectual curiosity. This is your opportunity to demonstrate how motivated and passionate you are intellectually. As you respond to this essay prompt, it’s important to connect your intellectual experience to your academic goals at Harvard. In the example below, the student explains specifically how their research internship ignited their passion for environmental science and advocacy, which just happens to align with Harvard’s interdisciplinary concentration in environmental science and public policy.

One of my most pivotal intellectual experiences occurred during a summer research internship at a local university as I worked alongside a team of oceanographers studying climate change and its impact on marine ecosystems. As a high school student, I was initially intimidated by the complex scientific concepts and advanced research methods. However, my mentors recognized my enthusiasm and patiently guided me through the process. I delved into data analysis, conducted experiments, and participated in discussions that challenged my understanding of environmental science.

What made this experience truly significant was witnessing the tangible real-world implications of our research. It was eye-opening to see how the data we collected could inform conservation efforts and policy decisions. This connection between scientific inquiry and its potential to drive positive change ignited my passion for environmental science and advocacy, which I hope to pursue with a concentration in Environmental Science and Public Policy at Harvard.

This intellectual journey taught me the value of perseverance, collaboration, and the profound impact of scientific inquiry. It solidified my desire to pursue a career in environmental science, where I hope to contribute to our understanding of our planet’s complex systems and work towards a more sustainable future.

Supplemental Essay Prompt #3

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)

This is an opportunity to expand on an activity or experience that had a profound effect on you, especially if it best represents what you’re passionate about and how you can contribute to the Harvard community. This prompt presents another opportunity to talk about your background. For example, students from low-income families might write about how they took a job to help contribute to the household. 

You are likely to see similar supplemental essay questions for other schools, so this is an ideal one for recycling. However, make sure you tailor your response each time to make it specific to the school — and avoid the common mistake of naming the wrong school in your response! The following example can give you an idea of how you might approach this essay.    

Growing up in a family deeply committed to community service, I’ve been actively engaged in volunteering throughout high school. My involvement with a local animal rescue organization has been particularly transformative.

As a volunteer, I’ve not only cared for abandoned and abused animals but also organized adoption events, fundraisers, and educational workshops for the community. This experience has instilled in me a profound sense of responsibility and empathy. I’ve learned to approach challenges with resilience, whether it’s nursing an injured animal back to health or convincing others to support our cause.

Furthermore, my work with the organization has connected me with diverse individuals who share a common passion for animal welfare. These interactions have broadened my perspective and taught me the importance of collaboration and effective communication.

My extracurricular involvement has shaped me into a more compassionate and determined individual, emphasizing the significance of service in my life. I aspire to continue channeling my dedication to causes I’m passionate about at Harvard, where I can contribute to the community and work with others who share my commitment to making a positive impact in the world.

Supplemental Essay Prompt #4

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)

Your response to this prompt will require some research about academic programs, faculty, and opportunities at Harvard. It may be challenging to imagine how you’ll apply your college education to the real world, so think about your current goals and the learning outcomes for your program(s) of interest. How are they relevant to your future career and/or in everyday life? The example below demonstrates why the student wants to major in history and how they plan to apply what they learn as an educator.

Driven by a deep passion for understanding the past and its impact on the present and future, I envision leveraging my Harvard education to pursue a career in historical research, education, and advocacy. History is a powerful tool for social change, and I hope to challenge prevailing narratives, promote inclusivity, and inspire critical thinking.

I aim to become a historian who uncovers untold narratives and sheds light on marginalized voices. As a Venezuelan, I would have loved to learn more about our history with the U.S., since it’s rife with important trade and investment. Before the U.S. sanctions, Venezuela was a major supplier of U.S. oil, but this is so rarely discussed in history classes, let alone how the U.S. has impacted the Venezuelan economy. 

Additionally, I see myself as an educator, both within and beyond academia, sharing my enthusiasm for history with future generations and encouraging students to explore the complexities of our world’s past. I plan to use my Harvard education to engage in public history projects, working with museums, archives, and community organizations to make history accessible and relevant to a wider audience. Ultimately, my Harvard education will equip me with the knowledge, skills, and resources to contribute to the preservation and understanding of our collective past. 

Supplemental Essay Prompt #5

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

This is an opportunity to be a little less formal in your response — just remember that the admissions committee is reading this. What do you want them to know about you in terms of your personality, daily habits, passion projects, hobbies, etc.? This is an opportunity to share things that aren’t mentioned anywhere else on your application so the committee can get a little more insight into who you are and what makes you tick. Check out this example for a little inspiration.  

The first thing my roommates might like to know about me is that I approach life with a sense of curiosity and a willingness to embrace new experiences. Whether it’s trying different cuisines, picking up a new instrument, or engaging in thought-provoking discussions, I’m always eager to learn and grow from every encounter.

Secondly, I am a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and well-being. I firmly believe in the importance of creating a supportive and nurturing living environment. My roommates can count on me to be a compassionate listener, a source of encouragement, and someone who values their mental and emotional health. I am committed to fostering a positive and empathetic atmosphere in our shared space.

Lastly, my roommates might appreciate knowing that I have a deep love for the arts, particularly music. I enjoy playing various musical instruments, and I’m always up for impromptu jam sessions or attending concerts. Music has been a source of solace and joy in my life, and I’m excited to share that passion with my roommates and perhaps even collaborate on creative projects together.

I look forward to building meaningful connections and creating a harmonious and supportive living environment with my future roommates at Harvard.

If writer’s block is keeping you from responding to your essay prompts, get personalized help from a professional college counselor. IvyWise College Admissions Counselors have served as Directors and Deans of Admissions at some of the most elite colleges in the world, so they know how to craft essays that make you stand out.


Related Topics

College Essays
Sign Up for the IvyWise Newsletter
 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code