What Are the Admission Requirements for Harvard University?


Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education



12 min read

What Are the Admission Requirements for Harvard University?


Harvard University is renowned for its academic excellence and prestigious reputation. For many students, being admitted to Harvard is a life-long dream. However, applying to Harvard is no small feat. The application process is competitive and highly selective, with only a small percentage of applicants admitted each year. In this article, we will explore the admission requirements for Harvard University, and provide useful insights and tips to help students succeed in their applications.

Understanding Harvard's Admissions Process

Harvard's admissions process is designed to identify the most talented and promising individuals from around the world, from diverse backgrounds and with a wide range of interests and experiences. The admissions committee takes a holistic approach to evaluating applicants, looking beyond just their academic achievements to gain a deeper understanding of their personality, character, and potential for success.

A Brief Overview of Harvard University

Harvard University was founded in 1636 and is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, and one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Harvard has a diverse student body, with students from all 50 states and over 100 countries.

Harvard University is known for its rigorous academic programs, world-class faculty, and exceptional research opportunities. The university offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs in a wide range of fields, including the arts, sciences, engineering, business, law, and medicine.

Harvard is also home to a number of research centers and institutes, including the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. These centers and institutes provide students with opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research and collaborate with leading scholars in their respective fields.

The Role of the Admissions Office

The admissions office at Harvard is responsible for reviewing and evaluating all applications to the university. They take into consideration various factors, including academic achievements, extracurricular activities, personal essays, and letters of recommendation, all of which are important in creating a well-rounded applicant profile.

The admissions office also considers a student's potential for success at Harvard and beyond. They look for students who are not only academically talented, but also demonstrate leadership skills, creativity, and a commitment to making a positive impact in their communities.

The Importance of a Holistic Approach

Harvard's admissions process takes a holistic approach, meaning that applicants are evaluated based on a combination of academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities. This approach enables the admissions committee to gain a more complete understanding of the applicant beyond their academic achievements alone.

By taking a holistic approach, Harvard is able to identify students who have the potential to thrive at the university and make meaningful contributions to society. This approach also helps to ensure that the student body is diverse and inclusive, with students from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Then, students are rated on a scale of 1-6 based on their academic and professional promise, with 1 being most desirable and 6 being least desirable. You can read our full breakdown of Harvard's ranking system here.

Overall, Harvard's admissions process is designed to identify the most talented and promising individuals and provide them with the resources and opportunities they need to achieve their full potential.

Academic Requirements for Admission

While extracurricular activities and personal qualities are important, academic achievements are fundamental to the application process at Harvard. The university has high standards, and applicants are expected to have a strong academic background. In this section, we will explore the academic requirements for admission to Harvard in greater detail.

High School Coursework and GPA

Harvard requires that applicants have completed a rigorous and challenging high school curriculum. This should include a strong emphasis on core academic subjects, such as English, mathematics, science, and social studies. In addition to these core subjects, Harvard also values coursework in foreign languages, the arts, and other specialized subjects. Applicants are also expected to maintain a high GPA which demonstrates their academic ability. A strong GPA is a reflection of the applicant's commitment to academic excellence and their ability to excel in challenging coursework.

At Harvard, the admissions committee understands that every student's academic journey is unique. They take a holistic approach to reviewing applications and consider the context in which academic achievements were earned. Harvard recognizes that some students may face challenges that impact their academic performance, and they encourage applicants to provide context for any unusual circumstances that may have affected their grades.

Standardized Test Scores: SAT and ACT

The SAT or ACT score is an essential component of the Harvard application process. Applicants are required to submit scores for either exam, and it is recommended that students take the test multiple times to improve their scores. Harvard does not have a minimum score requirement, but most admitted students score in the top 1-2% of test-takers (roughly 1500+ on the SAT, and 34+ on the ACT). While test scores are important, Harvard also recognizes that they are just one aspect of the applicant's academic profile. As such, the school is test optional.

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Exams

Harvard values the rigor and challenge of advanced coursework, and applicants are encouraged to take AP or IB exams whenever possible. Students who excel in these exams can demonstrate their preparedness for the academic rigor of Harvard. In addition to demonstrating academic ability, AP and IB exams can also earn college credit, which can allow students to graduate early or explore more advanced coursework.

At Harvard, they recognize that not all high schools offer AP or IB courses, and they do not require applicants to have taken these exams. However, if applicants have taken these exams, Harvard encourages them to report their scores as part of their application. Performance on these exams can provide valuable context for academic achievements and help the admissions committee understand the applicant's potential for success at Harvard.

Extracurricular Activities and Leadership

Harvard seeks students who have a "spike" in their extracurricular activities rather than being well-rounded. A "spike" refers to the student's exceptional talent, dedication, and impact in a specific area. While involvement in a range of activities is still valued, Harvard places more emphasis on depth and achievement in one or two areas rather than superficial participation in many activities. In this section, we will explore the importance of "spikes" in extracurricular activities and leadership roles.

The Value of "Spikes" in Extracurriculars

Harvard values extracurricular activities as a way for students to develop their leadership skills, community involvement, and personal growth. However, rather than seeking well-rounded applicants, Harvard is particularly interested in students who have a "spike" in their extracurricular pursuits. A "spike" refers to the student's exceptional talent, dedication, and impact in a specific area.

Having a "spike" demonstrates the student's passion, commitment, and ability to excel in a particular domain. It could be anything from scientific research to music, community service to entrepreneurship. Harvard wants to see how the student has made a significant impact and showcased leadership qualities in their chosen area of focus.

Examples of Impactful Extracurriculars

Harvard encourages students to pursue activities that are meaningful to them and align with their passions and interests. Examples of impactful extracurriculars could include:

  • Research: Conducting original scientific research or contributing to ongoing projects in a lab or academic setting. Presenting research findings at conferences or publishing papers in reputable journals.
  • Entrepreneurship: Starting and managing their own business,

demonstrating innovative thinking, leadership, and a drive to make a difference in the business world.

  • Community Service: Engaging in long-term community service projects, such as organizing fundraisers for a specific cause, volunteering at local shelters, or mentoring underprivileged youth.
  • Athletics: Achieving excellence in a particular sport, participating in competitive events at regional or national levels, and demonstrating leadership and teamwork skills as a captain or team player.
  • Performing Arts: Excelling in music, theater, dance, or other performing arts, participating in prestigious competitions or performances, and showcasing artistic growth and dedication.
  • Advocacy and Activism: Taking a leadership role in advocating for social justice issues, organizing campaigns or events to raise awareness, and making a tangible impact in the community.

It's important to note that the examples above are not exhaustive, and there are numerous other areas where students can demonstrate a "spike" in their extracurricular activities. The key is to choose activities that genuinely interest the student and allow them to make a significant impact.

Demonstrating Leadership and Initiative

Harvard looks for students who have taken on leadership roles in their extracurricular activities. These experiences can demonstrate the student's ability to lead and work collaboratively with others, which is a valuable skill that can be applied in college and beyond.

Leadership roles can take many forms, such as serving as the captain of a sports team, leading a student organization, initiating and organizing a community service project, or taking charge of a research team. These experiences can also demonstrate the student's initiative, creativity, problem-solving skills, and the ability to overcome challenges.

For example, as the captain of a sports team, the student may have demonstrated effective communication, decision-making, and teamwork skills. As a leader of a community service project, they may have faced obstacles and had to come up with innovative solutions to achieve their goals.

In summary, Harvard values "spikes" in extracurricular activities rather than well-roundedness. They want to see the student's exceptional talent, dedication, and impact in one or two areas. By pursuing activities that align with their passions, making a significant impact, and demonstrating leadership and initiative, students can stand out in the highly competitive admissions process.

Personal Essays and Letters of Recommendation

While academic achievements and extracurricular activities are crucial, personal essays and letters of recommendation provide insight into the student's personality, character, and potential. In this section, we will explore how to make personal essays more compelling and select strong recommenders.

Crafting a Compelling Personal Statement

Harvard personal statements are an excellent opportunity to showcase the student's personality, values, and goals. To make the personal statement more compelling, consider the following tips:

  • Be authentic and honest: Share the student's unique story and experiences. Avoid writing a generic essay and instead focus on what makes them stand out.
  • Demonstrate their passion: Show their genuine interest and enthusiasm for their chosen field of study or area of impact.
  • Connect with Harvard: Explain why Harvard is the perfect fit for their goals and how they can contribute to the university community.
  • Engage the reader: Make the essay creative, engaging, and memorable. Use vivid language, anecdotes, and examples to bring their experiences to life.
  • Revise and proofread: Carefully review the essay for grammar and spelling errors. Seek feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers to ensure clarity and coherence.

We also recommend checking out our guide (with real examples of successful Harvard essays) on approaching Harvard's essays.

Supplemental Essays: Showcasing Their Fit for Harvard

Harvard requires several supplemental essays as part of the application process. These essays provide the opportunity to showcase the student's fit for Harvard and give context to their application. When writing the supplemental essays, consider the following tips:

  • Research Harvard: Take the time to understand what sets Harvard apart from other universities. Highlight specific programs, professors, or opportunities that align with their goals and interests.
  • Answer the prompt fully: Make sure to address the entire prompt and provide a comprehensive response. Avoid generic answers and instead provide unique insights into the student's personality and character.
  • Show enthusiasm and curiosity: Demonstrate genuine excitement about the prospect of attending Harvard and engage with the specific aspects of the university that resonate with the student.
  • Be concise and focused: Use the limited word count effectively to provide concise and impactful answers. Avoid unnecessary repetition or rambling.

Selecting and Requesting Strong Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are important because they provide insight into the student's academic potential and personal qualities. Harvard requires two teacher recommendations and one from a school counselor. It is essential to select individuals who know the student well and can provide insight into their character, personality, and potential for success.

When selecting individuals to write the letters of recommendation, consider those who have worked with the student in an academic or extracurricular setting. Choose individuals who can speak to their strengths and potential. Be sure to ask for letters of recommendation well in advance of the application deadline and provide recommenders with any necessary information or materials.

In conclusion, personal essays and letters of recommendation are crucial components of the college application process. They provide insight into the student's personality, character, and potential. By crafting a compelling personal statement, writing strong supplemental essays, and selecting the right individuals to write their letters of recommendation, students can increase their chances of being accepted to Harvard and other top universities.


Harvard is a highly competitive and selective university. However, with the proper preparation and a holistic approach to the application, students can increase their chances of admission. 1. To further enhance their chances of admission and gain valuable resources for the application process, you can explore platforms like ours, where you can access a wide range of successful college essay examples, including those from renowned universities such as Harvard. Remember to highlight academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities in the application. Good luck!

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