There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow, but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. An ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math*; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language.
*Applicants to Harvard should excel in a challenging high school math sequence corresponding to their educational interests and aspirations. Rigorous and relevant data science, computer science, statistics, mathematical modeling, calculus, and other advanced math classes are given equal consideration in the application process.
Specifically, calculus is neither a requirement nor a preference for admission to Harvard. We understand that many students have no intention to pursue college coursework that requires a knowledge of calculus, and that other students are unsure of their future college studies. We also understand that not all students have the same opportunities to take certain math classes in high school, including calculus. Thus, we encourage applicants to pursue the pathways through math that are available to them and aligned with their interests and goals.
Students intending to study engineering, computer science, physics, or other fields for which a knowledge of calculus is required may benefit from taking calculus in high school. However, applicants who have not taken calculus in high school can still pursue such fields of study here by starting with one of Harvard’s introductory calculus classes that has no high school calculus prerequisite.
It is our hope that high schools offer a selection of math courses that focuses on conceptual understanding, promotes higher-order thinking, and encourages students to use mathematical reasoning to critically examine the world. We recognize that the traditional pathway to calculus is not the only way, or even the best way, to achieve this goal. Therefore, we encourage high schools, counselors, teachers, and students to explore other pathways through mathematics that will best support student learning, growth, and success.