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WHEN YOU APPLY TO Harvard, you will fill out either the Common Application or the Universal College Application (we have no preference), followed by our own supplement to help us get a better sense of who you are. Not sure where to start? Members of our admissions committee have offered helpful tips here on how to fill out both parts of your application.

  • Legal Name

    Please fill out your name exactly as it will show up on all materials we receive for your application. Your teachers, college counselors and others should also use your legal name just as it will appear on your financial aid forms, official test score reports, etc. Use of a nickname can cause your application to be incomplete if we cannot match your materials to your application.

  • Citizenship Status

    Citizenship does not in any way affect your chances of admission or eligibility for financial aid at Harvard. There is no admissions advantage or disadvantage in being a US citizen. This is not the case at all institutions.

    For students who need a visa to study in the United States, this question is of critical importance: we begin to prepare the forms that qualify you for a visa immediately after acceptance. Any delay in this process can jeopardize your chances of arriving in Cambridge in time to begin the fall semester.

  • US Social Security Number

    Your US Social Security number is kept strictly confidential and is used solely to match up your admissions and financial aid data if you are applying for aid.

  • Unknown Parent

    Answer the questions as honestly and fully as you can, but don’t worry if you and your parent/guardian do not know all of the details about your family.

  • Family Information

    Part of an admissions officer’s job in reading your application is to understand your background and how these circumstances have affected your upbringing, the opportunities available to you, academic preparation, and other factors relevant to the college admissions process.

    Family life is an important factor in helping us to learn more about the circumstances and conditions in which you were raised, and how you have made the most of the opportunities provided by your family. We want to understand where you’re coming from, not only in school, but at home as well.

  • Parent Education

    Parents almost always have a significant effect on students’ lives. Information about parents may indicate challenges you have faced – and overcome. In your essay you might elaborate on your family experiences in a wide variety of ways that can illuminate your character and personal qualities, including the positive aspects of your family life.

  • Application Assistance

    Many of our applicants are involved in community based organizations (CBO) and/or mentor programs which help guide them through the application process. Since these programs are often not affiliated with schools, we appreciate knowing what resources you have sought in your college search. When you indicate that you have worked with an organization, a field will appear to fill in that information.

Standardized Tests

We must receive your official score reports from the testing agency. We ask about the tests here to ensure that you are aware of the testing requirements, and so that we can anticipate the test results we will receive. When you indicate all of the tests that you have taken or expect to take, sections will appear in the application so that you can report your results.

All applicants must take the SAT or the ACT with the writing component, as well as two Subject Tests. You should not submit two Subject Tests in mathematics to meet this requirement. If your first language is not English you should ordinarily not use a Subject Test in your first language to meet the two Subject Tests requirement. All students are encouraged to submit additional Subject Tests (which may include one in your first language), Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test results, or any other evidence of the breadth and depth of your academic accomplishments.

There are no score cutoffs, and we do not admit “by the numbers.” We take into account your educational background when reviewing your scores. You are free to use the College Board’s Score Choice option and/or the similar option offered by ACT when applying to Harvard.

For Regular Decision applicants, we encourage you to submit at least one set of scores from the November test or an earlier series. Doing so enables the admissions staff to begin considering applications in December. We recommend that you complete your standardized testing by the December series and have scores reported promptly. January test results may also be submitted for consideration.

Like many colleges, Harvard has a foreign language requirement, which may be met with a 700 or more on an SAT Subject Test, a 5 on an AP exam, a 7 on an IB HL exam or by studying a language while at Harvard.

  • Test Scores

    We have always looked at the best scores of our applicants. If you haven’t yet taken the tests, please indicate which tests you are taking and when. You must submit official test scores from the ACT and/or College Board.

  • TOEFL

    The TOEFL is not required for Harvard. But if you are taking it for another college, we certainly know how to interpret the score you receive and it can be one more piece of helpful information about your English abilities, so feel free to submit it to us if English is not your first language.

  • AP/IB/SAT Subjects

    These exam scores are additional pieces of academic information which can help us as we think about your preparation and potential for college level work. Sometimes AP or IB scores are higher than equivalent SAT or ACT scores and can demonstrate a wider range of your accomplishments.

    If you have the opportunity to take AP and IB exams, the results may be helpful for academic placement, should you be accepted and choose to enroll at Harvard. If you wish to read more about the role of testing in our admissions process, please go to http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/harvarddean-part2/ for an article we did for the NY Times.

Extracurricular Activities & Work Experience

We are much more interested in the quality of students’ activities than their quantity so do not feel you need to fill in the entire grid! Contributions students make to the well-being of their secondary schools, communities and families are of great interest to us. So indicate for us the time you spend and the nature of the contribution to extracurricular activities, the local community, work experiences and help provided to your family. Activities you undertake need not be exotic but rather might show a commitment to excellence regardless of the activity. Such a commitment can apply to any activity in your life and may reflect underlying character and personal qualities.

For example, a student can gain a great deal from helping his or her family with babysitting or other household responsibilities or working in a restaurant to help with family or personal expenses. Such experiences are important “extracurricular” activities and can be detailed in the extracurricular section and discussed in essays.

Some students list only activities they feel will appear significant to the admissions office, while others endeavor to list every single thing they have ever done. Neither approach is right for everyone. Rather, you should think about the activities (in-school, at home, or elsewhere) that you care most about and devote most of your time doing, and list those.

We realize that extracurricular and athletic opportunities are either unavailable or limited at many high schools. We also know that limited economic resources in many families can affect a student’s chances for participation on the school teams, travel teams, or even prevent participation at all due to the costs of the equipment or the logistical requirements of some sports and activities. You should not feel that your chances for admission to college are hindered by the lack of extracurricular opportunities. Rather, our admissions committee will look at the various kinds of opportunities you have had in your lifetime and try to assess how well you have taken advantage of those opportunities.

For additional thoughts on extracurricular activities, please refer to this article in the New York Times.

  • Grade Level

    The grades during which you have participated are important because they help us to understand the depth of your involvement in that activity and your changing interests over time. Not all extracurricular activities must be a four-year commitment for our applicants.

  • Plans to participate in college?

    Harvard is a residential institution, and our students are actively engaged in college life. This section helps us to understand how you might contribute at Harvard. Some students who were involved in several activiites during high school choose to narrow their focus in college and/or to try new activiites not previously available.

  • Approximate Time Spent

    We are interested to know how you manage your time and to understand how you balance your life outside of the classroom. Some students dedicate their time to one or two activities, while others spread their time among many.

  • When did you participate

    We know that students are often active both during the school year and the summer – working, babysitting siblings, enrolling in courses, traveling, playing sports, holding internships, etc. Distinguishing school-year activities from summer activities helps us understand how you have spent your time and taken advantage of opportunities available to you.

  • Not enough space

    Filling out the grid is an act of prioritization: your responses tell us what activities or work experiences are most meaningful to you. And there’s quite a bit of space there, too; almost everyone should be able to convey the breadth and depth of out-of-class commitments on the application. Conversely, please do not feel a need to fill every line!

  • Positions held, honors won, letters earned, or employer

    In this section, please describe the activity and your level of participation. Please note that your description should be concise, or it may be cut off by the Common Application.

Personal Essay

Several Comments by individual members of the Admissions Committee:

The Common and Universal College Application essay topics are broad. While this might seem daunting at first, look at it as an opportunity to write about something you care about, rather than what you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear. The point of the personal statement is for you to have the chance to share whatever you would like with us. Remember, your topic does not have to be exotic to be compelling.

Some of the best essays I’ve read during my time as an admissions officer have been about seemingly insignificant topics. As you write, focus on allowing your voice and personality to come through; if I feel I have come to know you better from having read your essay, then I consider it a job well done.

The essay is an opportunity for students to provide information that might not be contained in other parts of the application. The precise number of words in the essay is not particularly important, but the best essays are generally in the range of the suggested number.

As an admissions officer, I personally get excited to read through an essay that has a great lead. Think of your opening sentence or paragraph as the hyperlink on your favorite news website. You want that opening paragraph or sentence to be compelling enough that the reader would ‘click’ on your link and read all about YOU.

Editing is a critical talent that will become increasingly important as students advance through college, graduate and professional school, and, of course, in their professions. Please consider the admissions essay a good opportunity to apply and perhaps develop that skill.

It can be helpful to have your essay reviewed by another person to check on typos, etc., but the beauty of a good essay is that it captures the tone and personality of the applicant. Sometimes too much editing prevents us from getting a sense of your real voice.

Don’t make your essay sound like a lengthy recitation or a thesaurus. The essay is not a vocabulary test! Don’t feel the need to consult a thesaurus to impress us with your vocabulary. We want to get a glimpse of who you are, not who you think we want you to be. Relax; we just want to get to know you better.

Believe it or not, the essay nearly always fits in with the rest of the application. A terrific one can help and a careless one can hurt. But most of the time the quality of the essay reflects the strength of the applicant.

Use the essay to convey more about you and what you value. To do this, write about what you know, not what you think might be an impressive topic.

As we have noted earlier, we realize that students have widely varying help in preparing their applications. Some students have completed the essay entirely on their own. Others have used appropriate amounts of help from family, friends and teachers. Such help would include proofreading and general suggestions about organization as well as brainstorming about topics. Still other students may have been preparing for the essay for many years with too much help from a variety of sources, including borderline plagiarism (or worse), using the Internet or various essay writing publications and services. As is the case with any other part of the application, the essay is merely one of many factors considered by the Admissions Committee and we can usually tell if it is real or not.

We look carefully to see how consistent the essay is with other parts of the application, including grades in English courses, standardized tests, and, occasionally, the actual download of the essay that is part of the SAT and ACT. It is impossible to make up for serious deficiencies in the other parts of the student’s application (such as high school grades) with an essay.

For more thoughts on about the essay, please refer to http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/harvarddean-part4/.

Supplementary Materials

Supplementary materials (art slides, music recordings, research papers, etc.) help when they reveal unusual talent. You absolutely do not have to include anything supplementary to gain acceptance to Harvard, and the vast majority of admitted students do not submit supplementary materials with their applications.

  • Applying for Financial Aid

    Harvard has a need-blind admissions process and applying for aid is never detrimental to your admissions decision. We ask the question because we want to be able to calculate your financial need in advance of our April notification date so that we can send your admission letter and financial aid offer at the same. One thing to note – not all institutions have such policies.