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How Can You Best Prepare for Harvard?

We hope you will read our thoughts about choosing high school courses that will provide a strong base for a liberal arts education. But in summary, we recommend:

  • The study of English for four years: close and extensive reading of the classics of the world’s literature
  • Four years of a single foreign language
  • The study of history for at least two years, and preferably three years: American history, European history, and one additional advanced history course
  • The study of mathematics for four years
  • The study of science for four years: physics, chemistry, and biology, and preferably one of these at an advanced level
  • Frequent practice in the writing of expository prose

Various important secondary school subjects, such as art and music, are not specifically mentioned in our recommendations. The omission of these subjects should not be interpreted as a value judgment. We are concerned only with secondary school subjects for which we have data that suggest they are specific prerequisites for college work.

Academic preparation and admission

While we believe that the conclusions summarized on this page will meet the expectations of many other selective colleges, let us say a word about Harvard, since it was here that the data underlying our conclusions were gathered.

This overview is not intended to provide a formula that will ensure admission to Harvard. Our admissions policies are based on many criteria. Some are academic; others are not.

Our Admissions Office chooses carefully from a broad range of applicants who seem to us to offer the most promise for future contributions to society. Not all of the students who are best prepared for college will be among those with the most future promise, nor are all of the most promising well prepared academically.

While the heart of the matter will always lie in academic promise, we prize candidates with special talents and with outstanding personal qualities; we are interested in students who excel in one or more extracurricular activities; and we seek a distinctive and diverse national and international student body.

Most of all we look for students who make the most of their opportunities and the resources available to them, and who are likely to continue to do so throughout their lives.

We believe that you should prepare for college by mastering certain subjects and skills. You should demonstrate your proficiency in these subjects by taking SAT II Subject Tests, Advanced Placement tests, and International Baccalaureate tests.

Facts About Financial Aid


Amount that parents making less than $65,000 are expected to contribute.

Ninety percent of American families would pay the same or less to send their children to Harvard as they would a state school.


Get step-by-step tips for completing your application.