How to Get Accepted by Harvard

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Empowerly Team
Empowerly Team

Our collaborative team of content writers and researchers stay up-to-date on the latest news to help you ace your applications. We hope you enjoy the blog.

Want to maximize your chances of attending Harvard University? Wondering how Harvard admissions officers actually choose which applicants to accept or reject? Read this article to learn more about Empowerly’s advice on how to get accepted by Harvard!

Harvard College Counseling

The “Perfect” College Application

Despite popular belief, Harvard does not only accept applicants with perfect test scores or international awards. In fact, like most colleges, Harvard uses a holistic process to assess applicants. Different applicants stand out in different ways. For some students, their stellar academics stand out. For others, their contributions to their community or church, their athleticism, or their musical talent make them stand out. Even simple things like an outstanding comment from a teacher in a letter of recommendation can help a student stand out for admissions.

There does not seem to be a strict cutoff for academics or extracurriculars. Beyond obtaining a high GPA and standardized test scores, here are some other important application tips to note:

Rigor of your high school courses:

Admissions will be provided an overview of your high school’s academic program, providing insight into the rigor of the classes you took compared to the average student at your high school. Are you challenging yourself? Admissions looks to see what classes are available at your high school. That means they are evaluating whether you challenged yourself by taking advantage of opportunities to take rigorous courses available. This will indicate of whether you are academically ready for courses at Harvard.


Many accepted Harvard students are “ordinary” students who did not win an Olympic gold medal or cure cancer. Admissions will look at your extracurriculars and how you contributed to your high school and community to see how you will contribute to the Harvard community.


One way to make sure that you essay is effective is to ask yourself: Am I the only person in the world who could have written this essay? For instance, if you are writing an essay about soccer, could your friend on the soccer team also have written your same essay? Overall, your essay should provide the reader a strong sense of who you are as an unique person.

Personal Qualities:

Harvard pays attention to your personal qualities. Did your teacher write positive things about you in letters of recommendations? Do you seem like a nice person from the way you wrote your essay? These go beyond your transcript or resume.


The interview is a conversation with an alumni. You should ask about the interviewer’s experiences at Harvard to express your genuine interest and learn more about the college. You can learn more college interview tips here.

Note: How soon you are contacted for an interview does not depend on your application. The alumni network receives a list of names and assigns you to an alumni interviewer, who might reach out to you earlier or later than other interviewers.

How does Harvard make admissions decisions?

Remember that admissions officers are real people who want to see how interesting and unique you are beyond your transcript and resume to see how you can contribute to the Harvard community.

A specific admissions officer responsible for certain regions, wherein all schools geographically line up. This specific admissions offer gets to know the high school profile and presents cases to the 40-person admissions committee.

Your application will cross in front of many people. After the first admissions officer reads your application, he/she will send your application to more senior people. Each person will make comments and assessments before they send to someone else. In fact, admissions works with faculty to review applications. For instance, admissions will send faculty applications of students in their respective areas (ex: chemistry or music), since faculty are more qualified at judging these candidates.

Meetings continue every day for weeks, and admissions officers spend a lot of time assessing students. Admissions officers then meet at the regional level, make initial recommendations (around 4-12 people), and then meet with the full committee (including the dean and all 40 admissions officers) to discuss these cases. During these meetings, essays may go up on large screen for everyone to see, or an admissions officer may show show off a strong letter of recommendation of a student.

In the end, every admissions officer gets 1 vote. Decisions pass by majority vote.

What about my intended concentration/major?

Harvard admissions wants to get a sense of your intended concentration, since that adds to the bigger picture of how you may potentially fit in at Harvard. The more specific your interest, the better. Instead of stating that you are interested in biology because you loved your AP Biology course (way too general), write about how your summer research at an ophthalmology lab sparked your interest in eyes, inspiring you to become an ophthalmologist, specifically interested in glaucoma. Providing professional plans can strengthen your case.

On the other hand, admissions realizes that many Harvard students change their intended concentration, and that is okay. Harvard students do not need to declare a concentration until November of sophomore year, and freshmen are encouraged to explore different courses and interests.

Applying as a Transfer Student

The chances of getting accepted as a transfer student are incredibly slim. Although Harvard does accept transfer students, it has a smaller transfer program than other colleges, admitting only 12 transfer students per year. In 2014, 1300 people applied for those 12 spots, meaning that the acceptance rate was less than 1%.

If you are trying to get accepted by Harvard as a transfer, you will need to specifically write about why you want to attend Harvard and what you intend to study. Unlike freshmen applicants, changing your intended concentration is not flexible. 

For more tips and advice on this topic, reach out to start working with a professional counselor today.

Questions? Let us know!