How to Get Into Harvard: All You Need to Know

Monday, October 25, 2021

Harvard Class of 2020 Yield Rates

When it comes to college acceptances, many applicants view Harvard as the gold standard for admissions success. While the Ivy League college may not be a best-fit option for every student, there’s no doubt that plenty of future applicants are eager to gain a seat in Harvard’s next class of admitted students. So what does it really take to get in?

How to Get Into Harvard University: Table of Contents

When to Apply to Harvard University

Getting into Harvard is a major accomplishment and it doesn’t happen overnight. Gaining a seat at the top-tier institution takes time, hard work, dedication, and some careful planning.

If you’re asking yourself “How do I get into Harvard?”, the first step is to develop an in-depth understanding of what goes into the application process and when you need to get started.

Generally, students submit their undergraduate applications to Harvard University during their senior year of college, although some applicants may choose to transfer after spending a year or two at another institution.

Assuming you choose to apply as a first-year student, there are several important deadlines that you will need to keep top of mind. For the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, some of these important dates might include:

Harvard Deadlines

Spring (prior to the year you apply)

Students are advised to begin taking the SAT or ACT test with or without writing. This is optional for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, but if you hope to submit a test score, this is when exams should be scheduled.

Fall (of the year you apply)

As early in the fall as possible, submit:

Your application to Harvard, via the Common Application or the Coalition Application
The $75 application fee or a fee waiver request

Students may send the application supplements at a later date.

Application DeadlinesWhat You Need to Do
October 31Students who are applying in the Restrictive Early Action round must submit scores by the end of October.
November 1Students who are applying via Restrictive Early Action must submit all materials by this date. Financial aid applications must be submitted at this time as well.
Mid-DecemberDecisions are released for early-round applicants. Last acceptable SAT testing date for Regular Decision consideration.
January 1Final deadline for all Regular Decision application materials.
February 1Regular Round financial aid application is due.
Mid-FebruarySubmit Midyear School Report forms with your most recent grades.
April 6First-year admissions decisions released.
May 3Reply deadline for admitted students.

Early, Rolling, and Regular Decisions

Many schools offer some flexibility around when applicants need to apply and Harvard is no exception. First-year students can choose to apply via either the regular round or Restrictive Early Action. Other colleges also offer rolling as another option, allowing students to submit their applications as soon as they are ready. 

Many students might wonder how these processes compare to one another. The main differences include:

Early: Early application rounds give students the opportunity to hit submit sooner and learn their admissions fate well before their peers who choose to apply in the regular round. 

There are two types of early applications: Early Decision, which is binding and means students are confirming they will enroll upon acceptance, and Early Action, which is non-binding. 

Harvard’s Restricted Early Action falls somewhere between these two, as applicants may apply to public universities but are restricted from applying to additional private colleges in the early rounds. 

While early application timelines will vary from school to school, generally students should have their applications ready to submit by the October or November of their senior year. Decisions are typically released in December.

Rolling: Rolling application processes allow students to submit their applications as soon as they are ready during their senior year. Generally, it’s best to submit your application on the earlier side, as RA schools continue to accept students until they reach their enrollment capacity. Usually, applicants will be notified of their school’s admissions decision several weeks after submitting their application.

Regular: Regular admissions is one of the most common admissions rounds. Students generally need to submit their applications by January of their senior year and decisions are released in the early spring. Unlike processes like Early Decision, students can apply to as many schools as they would like under this option.

When choosing how to apply to Harvard, it is important to compare the pros and cons of Early Action vs. Regular Admission so that you can be confident with your admission decision

Waitlisted Applications

If you think acceptance and rejection are the only admissions outcomes, it’s time to think again. Students who apply via the regular round may also be waitlisted. In general, being waitlisted means that you will be considered for admission in the event that the school needs additional students for its freshman class. 

While nearly half of all colleges report using waitlists, being waitlisted doesn’t mean that students are automatically considered for admission. Waitlists are not ranked; instead, the admissions office will review waitlisted applicants’ strengths and specialties and offer admittance to students who can fill various institutional needs, such as upping the number of female Chemistry majors or rounding out the campus orchestra. 

If you are placed on the Harvard waitlist, you will need to consider whether the college you are waitlisted at is still your first choice school. If not, you should withdraw your name from the waitlist. If so, it’s often advisable to write a letter to the admissions office reiterating your desire to attend and updating them on any significant achievements that have happened since you submitted your application.

Deferrals

If you choose to apply in the early rounds, there is a chance that you will get deferred. Students often have a lot of questions about what to do if you have been deferred. Deferrals are somewhat similar to waitlist outcomes as there is some ambiguity around what happens next. If you’re not accepted in the early rounds, you will either be deferred or denied. Deferral means that the admissions office will review your application in the context of the regular round applicant pool and come to a final decision after this. 

Much like a waitlist outcome, the first thing a deferred student should do is decide whether the college they applied to is still their first choice. If it is, you need to find out what the college needs from you. Some universities may ask for specific information, such as updated grades or test scores. 

Other colleges might encourage applicants to write a letter to the admissions office reaffirming their interest and providing updates on their academic achievements. It’s important to follow the instructions given by the college where you received your deferral; avoid sending materials that aren’t asked for and instead focus on following the guidelines and giving it your all.

How Hard Is It to Get Into Harvard: Early Prep

Generally, when students ask themselves “what does it take to get into Harvard?”, most understand that it’s going to take a significant amount of hard work. But what exactly goes into the preparation? Compiling a compelling application takes planning and dedication, which is why we always encourage students to begin their application process early to produce their best work possible.

Build Your Profile

As an internationally-renowned, Ivy League university, Harvard values academic rigor and intellectual capability above all else. Like most colleges, Harvard looks for students who are passionate about academics, have defined interests and areas of expertise, and applicants who can convey the impact they will have on campus and their interest in enrolling.

So what does Harvard look for in prospective students? The admissions office breaks it down into a few categories including:

  • Growth and potential
  • Interests and activities
  • Personal character
  • Contribution to the Harvard community
  • Visit the Campus and a Class

If you’re interested in submitting an application to Harvard, it’s important to get a feel for the campus and understand what the academic environment is really like. One of the best ways to do this is by visiting the college and sitting in on a class if possible.

Currently, students have the option to visit the campus either in-person or virtually. Regardless of the option you choose, make sure you sign up for an information session with an admissions officer to show your interest in attending the college and learn more about the admissions process straight from the source.

If you choose to tour in person, see if you can sit in on a lecture as well so that you can get a better understanding of the classroom dynamics. It can also be beneficial to follow the college on social media so that you can stay updated on events happening on campus.

Connect With a Student

In addition to visiting the campus, it can be beneficial to connect with a current student to learn more about their experience at Harvard. If you know anyone in your network who is currently attending the university, don’t be afraid to reach out.

Make sure to prepare some questions before you speak with a student so that you can get as much out of your meeting as possible. Connecting with a student is a great opportunity to not only learn more about the academics but also gain an insider’s perspective on the campus experience overall.

Learn About Any Student Experiences

Before applying to any college, you will want to learn as much as possible about what every students’ experience is like. You may be able to participate in an alumni interview to learn more about Harvard from a recent graduate or attend a virtual visit, which is frequently led by current students.

How Do You Actually Get Into Harvard: The Application

Once you’ve gotten a better understanding of the timeline and done your research on the college, it’s time to get to the most important step: compiling your application. 

Since Harvard University is one of the most selective colleges in the country, applicants can’t afford to overlook any section of the application. Instead, make sure you follow the directions carefully, start the process early, and always triple-check your work to avoid any careless errors. 

When it comes to compiling an acceptance-worthy Harvard application, what exactly do you need to do? Key components of your submission will include:

GPA Requirements

While there isn’t a clearly defined minimum GPA that students need to aim for in order to get admitted, Harvard does provide some information about the averages for their most recent class of admitted students. Most recently, the average GPA unweighted was 3.9, with the average GPA weighted coming in at 4.15. Students who apply to Harvard with GPAs below this benchmark are likely to be either waitlisted or rejected.

SAT and ACT Scores

Harvard University has extended its test-optional policy for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, which means applicants are not required to submit a score with their application. However, test-optional admissions isn’t the same as test blind. 

In fact, submitting an impressive test score can work in your favor, as it demonstrates your ongoing academic commitment and overall college readiness. When it comes to SAT/ACT ranges to aim for, most students admitted to Harvard are nearing the top percentiles for performance. Most recently, the middle 50% range for ACT scores for admitted students was 33-35.

Personal Statement

In addition to hard factors like grades and test scores, students will also be evaluated on soft factors, which include the quality of their personal statement. Personal statements are essays of generally 500-600 words, that give students the opportunity to reveal something new about themselves to the admissions office while demonstrating their writing prowess. 

Applicants can choose between several different prompts that will vary slightly depending on whether you’re submitting via the Common Application or the Coalition Application. Personal statements are an important part of your application that requires brainstorming, drafting, reviewing, and editing, so students should avoid leaving these essays until the last minute.

Essays

Personal statements aren’t the only opportunity to let your writing skills shine. In addition to this main essay, many colleges include their own Common App essay prompts and supplements, which are school-specific. 

Oftentimes these essays are evaluated to learn more about a student’s level of demonstrated interest, as well as to develop a better understanding of the applicant’s character and academic goals. Some colleges may not require additional essays at all, while others might ask for several and include creative prompts to get a sense of a student’s personality.

Letters of Recommendation

Admissions officers want to develop a well-rounded picture of each applicant. In order to do this, many colleges ask for letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors to understand how a student contributes to the classroom. It’s important to think about who you will ask to write your letters of recommendation carefully. 

Generally, we advise students to select teachers from their junior year, as they will be most up to date on your current academic performance. Instead of waiting until the last minute, ask teachers at the start of your senior year so they’ll have plenty of time to put together compelling letters. You may want to include your resume or a list of notes so they can have something to refer to while working on your letters. 

Students will often need to submit a letter of recommendation from their high school counselor as well as two from teachers. Some applicants may choose to submit another letter from someone else they’ve worked closely with, such as a coach or internship supervisor.

Admission Interviews

Many Harvard applicants will have the chance to participate in interviews with recent alumni. These conversations are an excellent opportunity to learn more about the campus and to demonstrate your interest in attending Harvard. If it is possible to arrange an interview, applicants will be contacted by one of their alumni, typically via email, to schedule a conversation. 

Contribution to the Harvard Community

Like every college, Harvard admissions officers affirm students who are going to make an impact on their campus. When you’re compiling your application, you should continuously ask yourself “What does this reveal about me and the role I will play on campus?”

Admissions officers should walk away from your application with an in-depth understanding of exactly what classes you want to take, the clubs you would join, and what you’re hoping to do after graduation.

Class Profile

The class profile for Harvard changes every year, from the acceptance rate to how many people apply to Harvard. It’s important to check out the class profile when deciding if you want to apply to Harvard so that you know how competitive the applicant pool is and what it will take to stand out.

Acceptance rate 3.43%
Class size2320
Diversity % range60.3%
Undergraduate majors50

What Makes Harvard University Unique?

While many students might consider Harvard to be at the top of their future best-fit list, what exactly makes the college stand out? There are quite a few things that set Harvard apart. Some key distinguishing characteristics and opportunities include:

Clubs and Extracurricular Activities

There are plenty of opportunities for students to get involved on campus. Harvard offers 42 Division 1 intercollegiate varsity teams for men and women, as well as intramural and club teams. There are also 7 different orchestras, a school newspaper on the Associated Press wire, and student-run clubs on everything from religion to politics to public service

Libraries

Harvard has over 70 libraries that together comprise the Harvard Library, the largest academic research collection in the world

Museums

Harvard has several noteworthy  museums and arts institutions including the Harvard Art Museums, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, metaLAB, and Graduate School of Design Exhibitions

Athletes

Harvard counts many famous athletes as part of their alumni network including Jeremy Lin, Matt Birk, Craig Adams, and Ryan Fitzpatrick

With so many diverse academic and extracurricular offerings, there isn’t just one type of student that Harvard will be the right fit for. Instead, Harvard will be an appealing option to applicants with many different interests and specialties, with an ongoing commitment to academic rigor and intellectual curiosity. The school has its own campus within a major city (Boston), which makes it an ideal option for applicants who want a close-knit campus feel with all the internships and pre-professional opportunities that come with being located in a major metropolitan area.

Admission Consulting

As the application process demonstrates, getting into Harvard isn’t easy. Students will be competing with peers across the globe and vying for a seat at one of the most selective universities in the world.

Given the complexities of the application process and the high volume of applications Harvard receives, working with an admissions specialist can help applicants stand out for all of the right reasons.

Admissions consultants can benefit many types of students, from those who know exactly where they want to apply to peers who might be more unsure. Your counselor can provide guidance on every step of the application process and help you ensure that your college list is filled with institutions that are truly best fits for your needs and goals.

While there are certainly students who gain admission to Harvard without working with a specialist, an admissions counselor can guide you throughout the process and ensure you’re preparing an application that will showcase what you’ll bring to campus in the best light possible.

It’s needless to say that getting into Harvard can be tough since it’s one of the top schools worldwide, but IvyWise’s admission experts are here to make it happen. Take the first step towards getting into your dream school and set an Initial Consultation.

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