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How to Get into Harvard - Admissions Requirements for Harvard

Miguel Marfori

How to get into Harvard University

What does your mind envision when you see or hear the word “Harvard”? Do you see a person? A brand? No, you see Harvard College. After all, a lot of the world’s best workers in lucrative professions were students in this world-renowned university. 

With all that being said, it does make you think: Can you find your way into Harvard? Are you worthy of being part of the place where elite students study from the best of the best and graduate with pride and glory? Yes, you can. It’s a challenge but if the graduates were able to get in, why can’t you, right? 

Before you think about packing your bags and making your way to the college of the elite, it pays to know how you gain admissions to Harvard. Don’t worry, we’ve got things for you take note of and how you can use them to your advantage. Ready to see how you can do it? Check out what we’ve got laid out for you below! 

1. Assess yourself honestly and accurately if you got what Harvard’s looking for

Before you get through with it and write down your application, it’s important to have an idea of your own assessment. What do we mean here? You need to know yourself from top to bottom. From your grades to your strengths, it pays to know what you’re really good at. If you enter Harvard without knowing who you really are, you’re not going to get into the best. It’s also important know what Harvard is looking for. They’ve written it all in full detail through their site but here are a few things to consider: 

  • Growth & Potential

For this one, they ask questions such as “Have you been stretching yourself?” and “Have you reached your maximum academic and personal potential?”. What they’re looking for here is the sign that you have the willingness to grow and improve. It isn’t just about your academics here: It’s also your growth as an individual. 

  • Personal Character

Here, some of the questions asked here will go from “What choices have you made for yourself?” to “How open are you to new ideas and people?”. This is where Harvard wants to see who you really are. You can’t exactly put some kind of act and pretend to be someone that they’ll later discover was a fake all along. So for this one, you must find from within who you are and how you can let Harvard see that you’re someone who’ll take the lead and see the positive in the situation. 

  • Interests & Activities

This one can be a little unusual for Harvard to be asking about. But don’t worry, they’re not going to discriminate you for the stuff you do on your downtime. What they’re looking for here is how your strengths played out and how much you’ve learned. With a question like “Do you care deeply about anything – Intellectual? Extracurricular? Personal?”, it’ll really have you search deep within you what your interests and activities truly mean and how they can be a great contribution for Harvard.

Once you know what they’re looking for and you’re able to assess yourself 100%, you’re ready to take the next step.

2. Know if you got other stuff Harvard’s looking for that they’re not saying to everybody

But behind closed doors, the things we’ve mentioned above aren’t the only ones Harvard is looking for. In fact, New York Times reported back in 2018 after a trial Harvard went through that there are other things they’re looking for that goes beyond what their official site says. You can think of them as the factors that give applicants an edge. Here are some of them…

  • Compelling life story

This isn’t mentioned thoroughly in the site but Harvard looks for potential students who’ve got a compelling life story. And what do they mean by that? They’re looking for the applicants who’ve had a rough childhood, who’ve had it tough in high school, who’ve been discriminated, who’ve overcome obstacles, and who’ve been seen as just dirt but were determined to make it through no matter what. When they see that, they’ll get the student in even when many will see it goes against what Harvard really looks for officially. If you think this is nothing, you can rest easy in knowing William Fitzsimmons, the Dean of Admissions at Harvard, actually likes them. He even said this in an interview: “People really relate to individual stories. It's refreshing for them to know that Harvard isn't something you're born to. It's something available to everyone.” Right from the get-go, you can already see William believes even the individual who is shunned by everyone has a chance with Harvard. 

  • Enthusiastic and charming personality

Personal Character is already a part of Harvard’s factors but it’s been found out that admission officers were asked to look out for applicants who’ve got the kind of personality that shows “effervescence, charity, maturity and strength of character”. Another way to put this: They’re looking for the personality that just showcases excitement, thrill, and sensation. Yes, it goes beyond what Personal Character is all about but if you’ve got the charms and aura, then you got yourself a fighting chance.

With all this being said, it did get Harvard a bit of flak. Many even thought because of these factors, many Asian-Americans weren’t even able to get accepted because Harvard saw them as dull individuals without much support from others. But as William, who was part of all this, said at the trial: “We do not endorse, we abhor stereotypical comments”. Still, knowing that Harvard are looking for other things beyond their official listing means you may just have that so-called “edge” that they’re looking for. 

3. Develop the spike within yourself

As you’ve just learned, a thing that Harvard looks for beyond their official guidelines is an enthusiastic and charming personality. But then of course, you have to an edge that really shows to Harvard you’re not an ordinary individual. So how can you get that? Develop the spike within yourself.

But what is a spike anyway? As PrepScholar says here: “A spike is what sets you apart from all other applicants. It goes against the spirit of simply being well rounded. By nature of being unique, you don't fit in with all of the other well-rounded applicants; you do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way.” To put it another way, you’re going to make yourself the kind of individual that sets themselves apart from others and show the world you’ve got something that just can’t be put into words. 

This is where you’ll really develop your strengths and stick with them. This is where you’ll be a world-class person. After all, look at someone like David Beckham. He may not be good at basketball, but he can sure kick soccer like he was born with it. So in your case, it’s about finding the one thing that’ll get your spike big and show Harvard you’re also someone who’s got the edge. 

4. Pick the course in Harvard College that resonates with you

You don’t just go into this college and expect it’s going to be like applying for a regular college. When it comes to Harvard College, there are various courses that cater to students. So when you’ve assessed yourself and meet what Harvard is looking for, this is where you decide which section speaks to you. You can’t just go head-on into this college without knowing the course you’ll be taking. If you’re stumped on what to take, you can head here for the sections that have the courses you can take. 

5. Take note of the requirements that’s listed

When you finally pick out the section, this is where you need to know the requirements that’ll needed to be achieved to get your application noticed. As the official website shows here, you’ll have a lot to do. For general purposes, we’ll show you the usual stuff needed: 

  • General application
  • Transcript of high school records
  • Letters of recommendation from your teachers
  • Midyear report
  • 2 SAT Subject Tests (skip if cost is a bit too much)
  • Counselor’s report and letter of recommendation

You’re also free to send in supplemental materials with your application requirements. This is where you can showcase your talent and give something that can truly boost your profile. As Harvard says, it’s entirely optional to do this but if you want to make yourself stand out, it’s best to complete them. 

6. Be aware of the scores Harvard likes to see

As part of the requirements, the SAT and ACT test scores are vital to your success in getting admitted to Harvard. How so? As Magoosh pointed out here…

As the data shows above, your SAT score must be above 1510 and ACT score must be above 34 to even have Harvard see you’re no average student at all. Of course, getting these figures ain’t no walk in the park because even getting the average score Harvard likes to see is already a challenge in itself.

Remember some of the things Harvard look for in a student? These scores resonate with that so make sure you have great results from these tests. 

7. Score well on the required tests

Knowing what are the average SAT and ACT scores Harvard wants to see on your application, this will now have you wonder: How will get them? This is where you’ll need to study really well and ace the tests like nobody else has done before. It’s going to be a challenge so here are some things to remember and do as you prep for them…

  • Practice the tests 

Practice makes perfect, so practice how the tests are done. They won’t give you the actual questions that may prepare but it’ll get you condition to anticipate what needs to be done. 

  • Prepare with the apps

Back then, trying to prep for SAT and ACT tests was a bit of a drag. Now? You can prep up with the app versions. This is where you can apply what you’ve learned in your practices and be good with the app versions. 

  • Expand your knowledge

What we mean here is you can read more books, watch great documentaries, and do other activities that instigate growth and improvement for your mental capacity. 

  • Go to class

If you’re up for it, you can try out the classes that offer students preparation for the ACT and SAT tests. While it can be a bit old-school, it’ll give a sense of camaraderie. Plus, you’ll be taught by the experts who have tackled the tests before and you’ll learn how they did it. Cool right?

8. Know a bit of the Harvard’s acceptance rate 

Given that you’re competing with other students to get accepted into this university, you’ll need to know as well the acceptance rate. Here’s some data from TopTier Admissions to show you a bigger picture:

As the data shows, acceptance rates from 2012 were at a high of 7.92% but as the years went by, it lowered and lowered. It’s even anticipated to go lower in the upcoming years. 

In short: many apply but a few get selected. Knowing this will show you that you can be among the selected few who can become part of this great college. Sure, the rates are lower as the years go by but this can still be your chance to make yourself different from everybody else. 

9. Make your application spectacular and extravagantly awesome

When you have an idea of the playing field and got the requirements up and running, you can get started and make your application unique and awesome. After all, a few are selected from the many applicants so what can you do to make sure your application is part of the former? You’ll need a few things to do….

  • Excel with the essays

As we mentioned earlier, one of the things you can submit optionally is the supplemental materials. Whether it’s by video, audio or handwriting, this is where you can show to Harvard you’re not the ordinary student. A good thing to start with is composing an essay about today’s events and letting Harvard know what you can do. You can also make an essay giving them an idea that they never thought about on a particular issue. You can even make a documentary with some great video-editing software to really show Harvard you want them to feel the essay in a way it’s never been done before.

  • Address your strengths with a smile

As you’re slowly arranging your profile, be confident in addressing all your strengths with a smile. This is where you let Harvard know your best achievements, the things that make you awesome, and everything else. This is where you can list down the numbers. Of course, you shouldn’t brag you’re on top of the world but if you can show Harvard what you’re made of and impress them, then you got it under wraps. And as you’ve learned earlier, developing your spike will boost your application to the next level.

  • Consult the experts

When you’re close to arranging everything, you need to consult the experts who can give their verdict on everything before you submit. You can ask your counselors, teachers, and other trusted persons to help you pamper up your application. 

10. Have an idea on the way they interview applicants

Harvard’s way of interviewing applicants is quite rigid and thorough. Just ask Jillian Bayor, a former Harvard admission interview, who did a lot of interviewing in 1998, 1999, and 2000. As she told Business Insider: “They have a very regimented way of doing this and they're training you to do it so you're going to be able to write that report, that statement, and have it highlight things that the admissions — the ones who actually sit around the table and make the final decision — are looking for. You want that report to best represent the student”. She has also said Harvard does all this to truly let her and the other interviewers as of the moment to understand why they’re doing it this way. 

Jillian has also said that as an interviewer, “You really have to be selective and choose students who are going to be able to handle the academic rigors and the emotional aspects of going to a school like that and be able to think on a new level. That's what you look for”. The questions she’s asked in her time may not be the same, but it all boils down to finding out the core of what makes the student who they are. 

If you’re still wrapping your head around on this, then what this means is: the interviewers got a system that will help them determine whether or not a student is worthy of Harvard. They’ll do what they can to find out what they’re all about and how their overall character and other factors will contribute to the future of Harvard’s legacy. 

11. Submit everything, cross your fingers and hope for the best

When you’ve done all that you can and got everything under wraps, that’s when it’s time to get going and submit everything. This is where you hope for the best. Now, it’s not a guarantee you’ll have it right away. Even applicants who are likely to get the spot aren’t admitted into this elite college. But once you’ve got it all in, you’re gonna have to really have faith it’ll all work out in the end.

Not Accepted? 

So you finally got your application in and after all the hard work, you’re told you didn’t make the cut. Does this mean there’s no chance anymore? Actually, there are 2 alternative options to try out if you’re still determined to get into Harvard. They’re not common options but if you’re willing to explore the unusual, why not? Here they are… 

Alternative Option A: Attend a different college and transfer to Harvard later

Now this one is optional and isn’t mandatory but if Harvard doesn’t welcome you with open arms yet, you can try attending a different college similar to them and study there for a while. Then midway your course, you can try applying for a transfer. This is where you can do much of what we’ve talked about here and go for it. This will give Harvard a clearer picture of who you are and why you’re going for it. Skeptical? Here’s Harvard’s requirements for transfer applicants

Alternative Option B: Apply again after going through a gap year

Another way to gain admission into Harvard is applying again after you’ve gone through a gap year, a year-long break before or after college to pursue other activities for further development in education and other parts of life. It’s more or less like having a nice little break after going through high school. If you’re a bit stumped how it can work for you, here’s something to show you the benefits…

Though this alternative is a risky option to do because this will mean Harvard is already seeing you again applying and this means they’ll see most of what you’ve added to your application with some new additions. But this is where you can also showcase what you’ve done in your gap year journey and let Harvard have a second look at you. 


Getting into Harvard is no walk in the park. With the requirements and things they’re looking for along with the data showing how so many apply but few get picked, it’s like it’s not even worth the effort. But how can you say you’re not worthy of this place if you don’t even give it a try? That’s why with the steps and tips we’ve written for you above, you have a chance at being one of the few that can be selected. From assessing yourself honestly and knowing what are the admission requirements for harvard to making your application stand out with a smile, you’ll be able to see that there’s a way to get there. 



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