Harvard University is perhaps the most well-known of the eight Ivy League schools. Founded in September 1636, the school is the oldest college in the country and is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Originally called New College, the university was intended to be an educational institution for members of the clergy. In 1639, the school’s name was changed to Harvard University after the Reverend John Harvard, its first major benefactor.
Today, Harvard University is the alma mater of seven U.S. presidents and ranks as the #1 university in the world for having the most alumni who are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. This leading research university and non-profit institution is home to more than 35,000 students and has over 400,000 alumni worldwide.
Some of the notable alumni of Harvard University include:
- John F. Kennedy
- Natalie Portman
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Robert Frost
- Tommy Lee Jones
- Stanley Kunitz
- Al Gore
- T.S. Eliot
- Henry Kissinger
- Barack Obama
- Matt Damon
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Bill Gates
While it’s common knowledge that Harvard focuses heavily on academics, the prestigious institution is also committed to serving the good of public purpose. If you have your heart set on joining the ranks of such esteemed alumni, you’ll have to go above and beyond routine hard work and rise to become exceptional.
However, you can’t just be exceptional by your own standards or by the standards of your high school. You have to be exceptional by Harvard’s standards if you’re going to make an impression on the admissions committee.
Following are some of the most common questions about how to get into Harvard and the answers to help you in your journey to admissions success.
How to Get Accepted into Harvard: What Is the School’s Admit Rate?
Harvard University has 12 schools that award degrees — Harvard College is the one that instructs undergraduates. As an elite Ivy League school, its acceptance rate for the class of 2026 is the lowest in the country.
If you’re interested in learning how to get into Harvard, you’ll want to become familiar with the profiles of students the university has already accepted.
This private university in Cambridge has a class of 2026 admit rate of 3.2%, which is more selective than any other school in the country. It’s also the lowest admit rate in the history of the college. For comparison, Stanford’s class of 2026 rate is 5.2%, Yale’s is 6.5%, and MIT’s is 3.96%.
Harvard received 61,220 applications, and just 1,954 students were admitted. The university saw 6.6% fewer applications just a year earlier when it received 57,435 applications for the class of 2025. Last year, the admit rate was 3.4%.
Harvard also announced that the class of 2026 is the most diverse ever, with just over 20% of students being first-generation college students. Furthermore, the class has the following breakdown:
- 15.5% identify as African American/black
- 27.8% as Asian American
- 0.8% as Native Hawaiian
- 12.6% as Latinx
- 2.9% as Native American
- 40.4% as white
In addition, women make up 54.2% of the class of 2026, and international students make up 13.9%.
Harvard Application Help: Should You Apply Early Action or Regular Decision?
The admit rates for Early Action rounds at Harvard are consistently higher than those of the Regular Decision rounds. For the class of 2024, the Early Action admit rate was 13.9%, and for 2025, it was 7.4%. For the class of 2026, 740 (7.9%) Early Action applications were accepted from the 9,406 the university received.
Students who apply for the Early Action round are not legally bound to an enrollment decision, and they have until May 1 to make their intentions about enrolling known to the school.
About Harvard’s Restrictive Early Action Plan
If you are ready to make your college choice earlier rather than later, you may want to consider applying for the Restrictive Early Action round at Harvard. However, you need to keep very important points in mind about this option because it’s not the right choice for everyone.
You must apply by November 1; that way, you will have your admission decision by mid-December. This option may be right for students with strong academic records and consistent accomplishments throughout high school. Again, it is non-binding, so if you are accepted, you are not obligated to enroll.
With that being said, the university wants you to know six crucial points about Restrictive Early Action:
- Your financial need will be met if admitted, regardless of when you apply
- You can apply for scholarships and special programs at other institutions if the outcome is non-binding
- You cannot apply to an Early program at any other university
- You can apply to other colleges’ regular programs
- If your application is deferred, you can then apply to binding Early programs at other schools
- You can apply to any university outside of the U.S. if it’s a non-binding program
Even though the overall admit rates for Early Action are higher than those for Regular Decision, you should know that Harvard offers no advantage to those who apply early. The university explains that the higher rates reflect the strength of the applicants who apply and are not a result of timing.
Harvard University’s Regular Decision Option
If you are interested in the Regular Decision option instead of Early Action, you must make sure your application is submitted by January 1. This means all materials must also be submitted by this date.
The Regular Decision option may be suitable if you want more time to review parts of your application or if you need more time for your counselors and teachers to write proper letters of recommendation.
In addition, you may want to apply for this option if you need the first half of your senior year to strengthen your grades or other important factors.
You should know that while the university will treat applications delivered by mail equally with those received electronically, applying online will mean your application and materials will be processed faster. Your teachers and counselors can also easily submit their parts of your application online.
Tips for How to Get into Harvard University
When it comes to criteria for admission, Harvard looks at much more than just numbers. You must have more than a high GPA and SAT score to be admitted to this Ivy League university.
Harvard seeks students with growth and potential, unique character, and personality. Students who support other students and learn from each other while inspiring their peers are those who make the most competitive candidates for admission.
The university also looks for students who can contribute uniquely and positively to the school community. The admissions process allows committee members to take plenty of time to deliberate on every application carefully. The school enjoys a 98% graduation rate, thanks partly to this labor-intensive admissions process.
Harvard accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application and has no preference for one over the other. In addition, you will need to complete a required supplement that is specific to Harvard.
The university also provides section-specific tips for filling out the application. Note that none of the demographic questions are required.
What Are Harvard’s Application Requirements?
For your application to Harvard to be considered complete, you will need to submit several components prior to the due date that applies to whichever option you choose (Early Action or Regular Decision). Those components include:
- Either the Common Application or the Coalition Application
- The application fee or a fee waiver
- Harvard supplemental questionnaire
- School reports
- Letters of recommendation
- Test scores
- Supplemental materials
Until you submit the parts of the application for which you are responsible, no other parts of the application will be transmitted to the admissions office. Therefore, make sure you submit your main application before any supporting materials.
The mid-year school report is required because high school counselors often send transcripts to colleges with few or no senior-year grades included. The mid-year report allows Harvard to see your academic performance during the first half of your senior year.
Harvard Admission Help: What Teacher Recommendations Do You Need?
You will need two letters of recommendation from teachers who know you well and have taught you in major academic subjects (math, science, English, social studies, etc.), preferably during your 11th- or 12th-grade years. Each teacher should teach in a different subject area.
The two teachers you select to write your letters should be able to relay to the school your achievements and talents along with other information that can help your application, such as how you contribute to the class, how you have progressed over time, and what your personality is like.
Consider the teachers who have seen you improve the most. Choose teachers you like, but don’t automatically choose the teacher of your best-performing class. It’s not the class that is being evaluated — it’s your actions and performance in that class.
Take time to carefully choose the teachers you will ask for recommendations; Harvard trusts the opinions of teachers quite a lot. If you like, you can submit additional letters of recommendation after the university has received your main application.
Harvard Admission Help: What GPA Do You Need to Get into Harvard?
One of the main factors the admissions committee at Harvard uses in its decision-making process is your high school GPA.
The average GPAs of admitted Harvard students are not published, and we know there is no solid formula for admission that ever guarantees admission to Harvard. However, we do have some statistics about incoming freshmen. The College Board reports that:
- 94% of admitted students have unweighted GPAs of at least 3.75
- 4% have GPAs between 3.5 and 3.74
- 100% of admitted students had GPAs of 3.0 or higher
The average weighted GPA of matriculating freshmen to Harvard is about 4.0. You should maintain this GPA throughout high school if you want to remain a competitive candidate for admissions. Make sure you begin strong as a freshman and stay strong — this is much less stressful than trying to “catch up” during your junior and senior years.
What High School Courses Should You Take for Harvard?
Harvard does not lay out a specific course of education for students in high school to follow because there is no single curriculum that is right for everyone.
Exceptional students are what Harvard wants, and exceptional students don’t take routine or average courses when more challenging ones are available. In some ways, the rigor of your high school classes impacts the admissions staff at Harvard more than your grades do.
Some students take many advanced courses at once, and others do well with a more balanced approach. Harvard stresses the importance of avoiding burnout during high school.
The university does strongly recommend that students who want to remain competitive take the following courses during their high school career:
- Four years of a single foreign language
- Four years of math
- Through pre-calculus, at least, is recommended
- Four years of science
- At least two years of history
- European history
- American history
- One advanced history course
- Four years of English
- World literature
In addition, Harvard recommends taking secondary school subjects like music and art. No specific math courses are required, and the admissions staff views math records holistically.
Many programs at Harvard do not require knowledge in math beyond calculus; however, if you intend to study mathematics, engineering, or computer science, you’ll need that math class. As for your other classes, ensure those you take align with your goals and interests.
Harvard is interested in well-rounded students who are active in their schools and communities and have a true passion for learning. The school is looking for students who aren’t afraid to rise to challenges. It seeks those who are prepared for college-level learning and can potentially contribute to the campus the most.
The university seeks students who take advantage of the resources and opportunities around them. This is why the admissions committee evaluates every aspect of the applications it receives within the appropriate context.
Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Courses
Harvard expects you to take challenging classes during high school, including Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. You can demonstrate your proficiency in various subjects through these classes, especially if you take the tests and submit your test scores.
Harvard does award credit toward graduation for AP exams if you activate Advanced Standing, for which you need a total of 32 credits. To earn credit, you must score a 5 on at least four AP exams, and either four or eight credits are awarded depending on whether the exam covers material across one semester or two.
However, it must be known that the school does not offer credit for every AP exam. Those that can earn you credit are:
- AP Art History
- AP English Language and Composition
- AP English Literature and Composition
- AP European History
- AP Macroeconomics
- AP Microeconomics
- AP Psychology
- AP U.S. History
- AP Calculus AB
- AP Calculus BC
- AP Statistics
- AP Biology
- AP Chemistry
- AP Physics B
- AP Physics C
In addition, credits are awarded for all AP world languages and cultures. You can earn a maximum of eight credits each in Physics, Spanish, English, or Calculus.
What SAT or ACT Scores Do You Need for Harvard University?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard temporarily revised its policy on submitting test scores to a “test-optional” policy. The university has already announced that the test-optional policy will continue at least through those applying for admission to the class of 2030.
The move may eventually become a permanent one. Some universities, like many California schools, have already made it so, while others like MIT and Georgetown have reinstated the “test-required” policy.
If you choose to submit your test scores to Harvard for consideration, you will self-report them on your application. Should you be invited to enroll, you will be required at that time to have official grade reports sent to the school.
Your application will not be disadvantaged if you choose not to submit your test scores during the time of the test-optional policy.
Harvard encourages students to send any application materials they believe will help relay to the admissions committee their qualifications, accomplishments, talents, and aspirations. Test scores, when submitted, are only a part of what is considered during the admission decision-making process.
Harvard doesn’t have any particular cut-off SAT or ACT scores that would qualify or disqualify a student from being admitted. The university does not admit students “by the numbers,” and it considers your educational background and context when reviewing test results.
The 50th percentile average composite SAT score range for students accepted into Harvard is 1460–1570. For the ACT, the 50th percentile scores ranged from 33 to 36.
Score breakdowns for the SAT, according to the most recent data available, are:
- SAT EBRW: 710–770
- SAT Math: 750–800
It’s strongly recommended that you dive into study guides and take plenty of practice tests before you take either of these standardized tests. Harvard recommends using the free test prep programs offered by the College Board and the ACT; these can improve your test scores significantly.
While short-term studying makes little difference, according to the school, these free, long-term programs can improve numerous academic skills. It’s also recommended that you initially take the standardized tests a few times, beginning in the spring of your junior year in high school. Then, repeat them your senior year.
The College Board has terminated the essay portion of the SAT and the Subject Tests (except in rare, specific circumstances). Therefore, these no longer impact applicants’ admission chances. However, if you’ve already taken the essay portion or the Subject Tests, you can still submit them with your application.
How Does Harvard Accept Supplemental Materials?
Some applicants have truly exceptional skills, achievements, and talents they want to share with the admissions staff at Harvard. Even though the required application materials generally give the university enough information to make admission decisions, the school still wants to allow applicants to share extras with the staff.
Some types of supplemental materials the admissions committee can accept at its discretion include:
- Visual portfolios
- Musical recordings
- Academic work samples
If you have research articles, creative writings, or other documents you wish to share, you can use the Applicant Portal and submit them using the “Upload Materials” section. The submitted materials are then added right to your application. Make sure that all submissions include the name(s) of everyone with whom you worked. If you have images, audio, or video to submit, you can do so via SlideRoom.
You can submit other standardized tests if you want, such as Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), A-Levels, international contests, pre-ACT, PSAT, national leaving examinations, and more.
How to Get Accepted into Harvard: Extracurricular Activities
Students often wonder how many and what kind of extracurricular activities they should do during high school to prepare for applying to Harvard. The truth is that the number of activities you do is not what counts the most; instead, it’s the quality of the activities.
Harvard expects you to serve others, seek out leadership opportunities, and make an impact while participating in activities. You should make sure to choose a few really important activities and stick with them instead of signing up for as many activities as possible.
One of the worst things you can do for many reasons is overcommit to activities. Join some that reflect your passions, your interests, and your goals. Consider participating in more than just school-based extracurricular activities.
Harvard seeks applicants who volunteer, participate in various types of community service, develop innovative solutions to improve neighborhoods, and the like.
When looking at a student’s extracurricular activity, the admissions committee considers many criteria, such as:
- Leadership and distinction
- Personal qualities and character
- Community involvement
- The ability to overcome adversity
It’s not enough to just be involved in extracurricular activities; Harvard wants to see how you have influenced your activities and groups for the better.
Whether your activities reflect a “well-rounded” array of organizations or a “well-lopsided” view, there is no wrong set of extracurriculars, as far as Harvard is concerned, as long as the student is passionate about what they are doing.
Harvard Admission Help: What Should You Write in Your Essays?
Harvard requires one essay with applications, and there are two optional essays available (which you should complete). The main essay is designed to allow you the opportunity to tell the admissions staff about who you are as a person beyond just numbers, scores, and grades.
Your essay answers must be genuine, sincere, and written in your own voice. They should be well-organized and thoughtful. Get started on your essay prompts far ahead of time so you can devote all your effort to perfecting the answers.
Be careful not to waste the opportunity these essay prompts give you; don’t repeat a bunch of information about your accomplishments or activities that you’ve already added to your resume in some other section.
After you write a draft of your answers, hand the draft to one or two people you trust to give you honest feedback and suggestions about what you’ve written. The people should be those who know you very well so they can confirm that the answers are written in a way that defines your personality and style.
When it comes to how to get into Harvard, one of the quickest ways to get denied in your admissions journey is to have someone else write your essay answers. The admissions committee at Harvard has read thousands of answers through the years, and they can spot fraudulent writing instantly.
Be yourself, and remember that the best thing you can do regarding your essay answers is to speak in your own voice and let the admissions team see your world from your perspective. Revise and rewrite as often as you need to deliver perfect answers.
Harvard Personal Essay Topics
The essay topics on the Common Application are broad in nature and usually differ from the Coalition Application topics. Don’t try to focus your writing on what you think the Harvard admissions team wants to read — that would defeat the entire purpose of a “personal” statement.
Keep in mind that the topics you choose to write about should be topics that you are comfortable with. They should be meaningful to you and encourage you to write compelling answers.
Some essay topics you might find as part of your Harvard application are:
- Discuss a time during which you faced a failure, challenge, or setback. What did you learn from the experience? How did it affect you?
- If you have a talent, background, interest, achievement, or identity that you feel your application is incomplete without discussing, please share it
- Who or what do you lean on when you want to learn more about a concept you’re interested in? Why does the topic captivate you so much?
- Discuss a time when a belief you have was challenged. What happened?
- Talk about something that sparked a period of personal growth for you
- Discuss a problem you’d like to solve, whether it’s an ethical dilemma, a research issue, or anything else
- Share an essay on any topic you want to share with the admissions staff
The Harvard-specific essay questions are there to help the readers get to know you personally. They’re not interested in learning (again) about your accomplishments or achievements. They do want to learn about how those accomplishments shaped you, though.
Give readers an idea of what your current interests and talents are, as well as what some of your aspirations are. Help them become familiar with areas, subjects, and hobbies where you’ve spent much of your time and effort.
You can also write on a topic of your choice for the additional Harvard essay or choose one of the following:
- What you want a college roommate to know about you
- Various experiences in your community
- How you hope to use your college education
- An unusual circumstance in your life
- A list of books you’ve read in the past year
- Would you choose to defer your education for a year or take time off during college?
- Discuss a time when you had to make a choice about being honest or not
- How would you contribute to your classmates in advancing the mission of citizenship?
- Discuss aspects of your background or interests that you can bring to Harvard
It’s vital that you don’t underestimate the importance of getting these essay answers right. The essays compose one of the most significantly influential aspects of your application and can mean all the difference in the outcome of your admissions journey.
Does Harvard University Track Demonstrated Interest?
The admissions staff at Harvard does not officially keep track of students or applicants who visit the campus, reach out to the admissions department, or connect through social media with the school. These types of activities are included in what is called “demonstrated interest.”
Some universities track students who demonstrate interest by participating in these activities. Others do not, often because they believe doing so would disadvantage students who cannot visit campus for any reason.
Just because the university doesn’t officially track your interest doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate in campus activities. Visiting the campus can indirectly improve your chances of getting into Harvard because you’ll be able to write about the school in your essays from the first-person point of view.
A visit can also help you make an informed decision about whether Harvard is the best choice of college for you. If you cannot personally travel to the campus, consider taking a virtual tour of the campus and attending recruitment events in your area.
You can also arrange an overnight stay at Harvard if you’re a high school senior. An undergrad student would host you, so you can get an outstanding idea of what it would be like to be a student at the school.
In addition, it’s possible to arrange a time for you to sit in on a class at Harvard while visiting. Students interested in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences can also get an additional tour of the school.
Does Harvard Look at Social Media Profiles as Part of Admissions?
Your social media history can hinder or help your chances of being admitted to Harvard University. Several high-profile incidents over the past few years have occurred in which the school retracted some students’ admissions offers because of their social media activities.
For example, ten students who made up a group of incoming Harvard frosh had their offers rescinded after they participated in sexually and racially offensive talk online. Kyle Kashuv, a graduate of Parkland High in Florida, had his offer rescinded after spreading his pro-gun opinions on social media following the massacre at the Parkland school. He had also previously posted racial statements.
Never let it slip your mind that it’s too easy for people to get carried away and overly involved in social media. Be mindful of what you post! It can stay with you forever and have devastating consequences when the wrong people get their hands on it.
Keep in mind that even if you post something and then delete it, it’s possible that someone has already taken a screenshot of the post.
Harvard Application Help: Are Interviews Required as Part of the Process?
At Harvard, interviews are optional for applicants. They are assigned at the sole discretion of the school’s admissions committee when an interviewer is available in the local areas of applicants.
More than 10,000 volunteers and alumni worldwide help the school conduct interviews, but not all areas have access to these alumni volunteers. If interviewers are available in your area, you may be contacted and offered an interview with one of them.
You do not have to accept; however, it is strongly recommended that you do. If Harvard does contact you, it will be via the email address the office has on file for you to arrange plans. Interviewers can also contact you using their personal phone number or email address.
If there are no interviewers in your area and you cannot participate, your application will not be disadvantaged and will still be considered complete. You won’t be able to contact the admissions staff to request an interview. In addition, no interviews are conducted in Cambridge.
Interviews could also be conducted by telephone or via a teleconferencing platform like Zoom.
Tips for Your Harvard Interview
If you will be taking part in a virtual interview, make sure you use a computer, not a tablet or cell phone. If you can’t do that, make sure to let your interviewer know so they can accommodate you to the best of their ability.
Remain aware of your background and your surroundings. Find a quiet space for your virtual interview and ensure that no one else is in the room.
Whether you are doing an interview by phone, having a virtual interview, or meeting an interviewer in person, be yourself and let it become a great opportunity for Harvard to learn about you.
In addition, take the opportunity to learn about Harvard. Don’t dress up in any overly formal attire; the university recommends that you simply wear whatever it is that you might wear to school.
It’s all part of being yourself and letting the university get to know the real you, which is exactly what they want!
Harvard Application Help: Using the Applicant Portal
After students submit either the Coalition Application or the Common Application, they will receive a confirmation email from the university that contains a link to the official Applicant Portal. If you submit your application in August, be aware that these emails are not sent out until the middle of September.
The Applicant Portal is available for you to conduct a wide variety of tasks regarding your application, such as:
- Self-reporting your test scores if you’re submitting them
- Changing your application from Early Action to Regular
- Viewing your customized application checklist
- Confirming that the university has received your application materials
- Changing your financial aid application status
- Uploading materials and documents
- Withdrawing your application
- Updating your personal contact information
Additionally, you can use the Applicant Portal to submit notable information as it becomes available to you, such as awards, accolades, and other types of recognition.
How to Prepare to Apply to Harvard
When it comes to preparing for your admission journey with Harvard, begin as early as possible. Start your freshman year of high school on a good, strong note, and make sure that the courses you take in high school become more challenging with each passing year.
You must get organized and stay organized; with so much to keep track of, it’s going to be too easy to let something important slip past you if you’re disheveled and scatterbrained throughout high school. Deadlines, dates, reports, opportunities, and more can all quickly come and go if you’re not diligent and careful.
Create an action plan with details about when you will complete different tasks related to applying to Harvard, and plan on taking the SAT and/or ACT at least a couple of times. This way, you can have your best scores submitted with your application.
When you’re organized and have a plan, it will also help free up some of your time. You’ll start to develop crucial skills that you’ll be able to use in college and beyond.
Take every opportunity to learn more about how to get into Harvard, and reach out to professionals who know the admissions system better than anyone. They can help ensure that you turn in a strong application.
Decisions regarding admissions are sent out at different times, depending on the round option in which you applied. Early Action applicants receive notifications in mid-December, while Regular Decision applicants receive their answers at the end of March or the beginning of April.