How to Get Into Harvard University 2024

Harvard University, a private Ivy League research university, is ranked fourth globally, thanks to its world-renowned faculty and state-of-the-art resources.

This detailed guide will give you insight into the application requirements for Harvard and top tips to ensure your success.

Research the Most Competitive Courses at Harvard University

Before you even start thinking about your application, you are encouraged to research the courses at Harvard that interest you the most! 

By researching courses, you can gain a deeper understanding of the curriculum, learning environments and the unique experiences at Harvard. This will allow you to make an informed decision about your future studies, as well as give you the chance to tailor your application to a specific course. 

In no particular order, here are some of the most popular courses at Harvard as of the latest data:

MajorPercentage of 2022 Graduates
Social Sciences, General26%
Biology/Biological Sciences, General14%
Mathematics, General12%
Computer and Information Sciences, General11%
History, General9%
Physical Sciences, General6%
Engineering, General5%
Psychology, General4%
Visual and Performing Arts, General4%
English Language and Literature, General3%

Meet Harvard University Entry Requirements 

To get into Harvard, you are required to meet it’s entry requirements, which are as follows: 

Expected Grades 

Most applicants admitted to Harvard will be very accomplished academically, achieving top grades in most subject areas. For example:

  • GCSEs: Grades 7-9 or A/A* 
  • Scottish National 5s: Grades A/B
  • AS levels (where taken): Grades A/B
  • A Levels: Grades A/A*
  • Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers: Grades A/B
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): Grades 39-45

However, do not let your grades deter you from applying. The Harvard Admissions Office undertakes a holistic review of every candidate, so students with lower grades are still often granted admission if they demonstrate significant achievements in an extracurricular activity, or outstanding personal qualities and leadership potential.

Harvard Standardised Tests 

Harvard applicants are required to complete the SAT or ACT, achieving an SAT score of 650-800 or an ACT score of 29-36. These standardised tests play a significant role in the admissions process, serving as a benchmark for academic preparedness and potential. 

However, Harvard, like many other institutions, evaluates applications holistically. This means that while high test scores can strengthen an application, they are just one of several factors considered. Focusing on a holistic and well-balanced application is essential for success.

Requirements for first-year/undergraduate Harvard applications

Submit the Initial College Application

Common/Coalition Personal Essay Component

  • The essay, also known as a personal statement, is 500-650 words and gives you a chance to share experiences or perspectives that shape who you are. Ultimately, it will help admissions counsellors get to know you
  • (Read more in the ‘Writing Your Personal Statement/Essay’ section)

Common/Coalition Activities List Component

  • The activities section gives you the opportunity to show that you are more than an academic achiever and that you can make a difference 
  • Typically, Harvard students have strong commitments in extracurricular activities 
  • These activities can include work experience, sports, arts, hobbies, projects, etc. This can also include a commitment to a particular cause/issue
  • (Read more in the ‘Top Tips’ section)

Complete the Harvard Supplement Questions

Once you have notified in your Common or Coalition Application that you are applying to Harvard, you will be directed to complete Harvard’s supplement questions as part of your initial application 

This requires you to answer five short-answer questions with 200-word limits for each:

  1. Harvard has long recognised the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?
  2. Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 
  3. Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.
  4. How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?
  5. Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

Pay the $85 Application Fee

  • You can get a waiver if the fee presents a hardship for you or your family

Submit Your School Report

  • Your school report is a required form that is submitted by your school counsellor or another school leader
  • This form gives an overview of your record, so should include: your academic transcript(s), a letter of recommendation, and a school profile (if possible)

Get Your Teacher Recommendations Submitted 

  • Recommendations are a key component of the application process as they create a fuller picture of applicants (which is especially beneficial for those with lower grades)
  • The teacher recommendation forms include an evaluation form and a letter of recommendation to be completed by your teacher 
  • Harvard specifically asks for recommendations from two teachers who know you well and who have taught you in academic subjects (preferably in the final two years of secondary school)
  • Whenever possible, teachers should include your non-academic interests and personal qualities as well as academic potential
  • Read helpful teacher recommendation examples

Submit Your Midyear School Report

  • This allows Harvard to review your performance in the first half of your senior year coursework
  • The midyear school report must be completed by your school counsellor or other school official

Submit Your Final School Report

  • This is for admitted students only
  • All admitted students who choose to enrol are required to send a Final School Report and transcript as soon as their final grades become available 
  • IB students should send their final results as soon as they are released in mid-July
  • Harvard will expect to see final A-level results by mid-August

Apply to Harvard either under their Restrictive Early Action or their Regular Decision programme

  • Restrictive Early Action candidates must apply by November 1 and receive notification by mid-December
  • Regular Decision candidates must apply by January 1 and receive notification by the end of March

Writing Your Essay/Personal Statement

As explained, an essay (also referred to as a personal statement) compiles part of your Common/Coalition Application. Depending on what application you choose, you will be given a handful of essay prompts to write your essay. The word count is around 650 words max – it may not seem like a lot but this is around a full page.

Personal Statement Tips

Before you start writing, it’s helpful to consider the goals of your personal statement:

  1. To learn more about you as a person
  2. To learn how you think about the unsolved problems in your field of study/interest
  3. To assess whether you fit with the personal qualities sought by the selection committee

Additionally, you may want to explore these things to give yourself a better idea of what the theme of your essay will be:

  1. What distinguishes you from your peers?
  2. What challenges have you had to overcome?
  3. Was there an instance in your life where your values were brought into question?
  4. What first interested you about your field of study?
  5. How has this field shaped you?
  6. What do your extracurriculars suggest about what you value?

It is not advisable to copy the format and content used in your UCAS essay, as this is not really what is asked for in the US system. Moreover, it is suggested that you create a draft for more than one prompt, so you know which one is the best to answer/focus on.

Moreover, your essay should include a more personal tone/writing style, but remember that the essay isn’t meant to show off your creative writing skills. Do not feel compelled to share intimate and vulnerable things about yourself. Write about whatever forms you as an individual and budding scholar. 

Click here for the Common Application essay prompts 

Click here for Coalition Application essay prompts

Click here for examples of past UK applicants’ admissions essays

Sitting the Entrance Exams

Applications to Harvard also include taking standardised tests, either the SAT or ACT. The SAT and ACT is an entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. The SAT is a multiple-choice, computer-based test created and administered by the College Board. The ACT is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test administered by ACT, Inc.

Although Harvard had initially said that the test-optional policy would remain in effect until applications for the Class of 2030, the decision has since been overturned. 

“Students applying to Harvard College for fall 2025 admission will be required to submit standardized test scores,” Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced Thursday. “This new policy will be applied to the Class of 2029 admissions cycle and will be formally assessed at regular intervals.”

The typical scores of a Harvard admit are:

  • SAT: a score of between 650-800 in each of the two main sections
  • ACT: a composite score of between 29-36

Attending Your Interview

As many candidates as possible will receive an alumni interview depending on the number of applications received in the year and the availability of alumni in local areas. Nearly 10,000 alumni volunteers help Harvard recruit students from all 50 states and around the world, but the institution does not have the capacity to interview all applicants.

Your application is considered complete without an interview and will receive a full and thorough evaluation. In most cases, the Admissions Committee has sufficient information in the student’s application materials to reach an admissions decision. If the Committee would like more information about a student or has questions about any application materials, someone may reach out to schedule an interview.

Interviews take place either face-to-face or remotely via Zoom, WhatsApp or telephone. Your interviewer will contact you directly to fix a date and time after you have submitted your application. Interviews are not required and not having an interview does not disadvantage your application review. 

A Harvard interview is a chance for the College to find out more about you beyond your application: your interests, passions, and academic journey. It’s not as formal as a job interview and doesn’t require you to study/revise anything beforehand.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Fortunately, international students have the same access to financial aid as US citizens. Moreover, admission to Harvard is ‘need-blind’, so there is no admission (dis)advantage for applicants requiring financial aid. International students are not eligible for any federal (government) funding, but the college has its own scholarship fund available. This financial aid primarily comes in the form of scholarships and other funding.

It is reported that in 2023/24, the average cost per year for a UK student attending Harvard College was between $82,950-$87,450. With financial aid, students can get reduced fees, with some not having to pay anything. 

Here are some financial aid facts for Harvard students:

  • 24% of students’ families pay nothing
  • 55% of students receive Harvard scholarships 
  • The average parent contribution of a student is $13,000

Click here to use Harvard’s net price calculator to estimate how much you and your family will need to contribute for one year at Harvard.

Alongside scholarships, there are also additional funding and procedures that Harvard students have access to. For example, you can:

  • Transfer your financial aid to an approved term-time study abroad programme 
  • Receive a Harvard Loan to help with summer school costs 
  • Purchase a Computer Loan
  • Apply for emergency expenses
  • Request an aid reconsideration if your family’s circumstances change

In addition to financial aid for your tuition, Harvard offers millions of dollars in student funding for public service, research and learning, international travel, and career opportunities.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

All students are required to file the online CSS Profile via the College Board, and include Harvard as the recipient using the code ‘3434’. The cost of the CSS Profile is $25 for the initial application to one institution and $16 for each additional institution. US citizens have a ‘built-in fee waiver’, but if you are an international who requires financial aid for this process, you may follow an alternate set of instructions.

These are the essential documents you should prepare before starting a financial aid application:

  • Parents’ income tax documents for the previous year
  • Your income tax document for the previous year
  • Business documents (if your parents have an interest in a business/farm)
  • Trust or estate documents (if your parents are the beneficiary of an estate/trust)
  • Additional information (if you have any unusual expenses or special circumstances to share, you can submit a letter with the rest of your documents)

Click here for more information on how to apply for financial aid and the relevant deadlines

Top Tips for Getting into Harvard University

  1. Prepare/start your application early
  • One thing that separates successful candidates from unsuccessful ones in any given scenario is how much time they spend on the preparation/application process
  • You have a lot of documents to collect and write, teachers to request recommendations from, fees to prepare for, etc, and this needs to be completed months before applying (at most)
  • It could be most advantageous to prepare/start your application from the summer before your final year of high school
  • In your final year before college/university, you will be dealing with a lot of responsibilities so starting early means you don’t have to compromise your effort in one thing for the other
  1. Work and communicate with your teachers to ensure your application process goes as smoothly as possible
  • Your teachers and counsellors play a massive part in your application so it’s important you engage them earlier on, so they complete their tasks on time and correctly
  • Moreover, your teachers/counsellor would have lots of experience with helping their students with college applications so this can be additional support for your application 
  1. Don’t take the activities section for granted
  • All Harvard applicants will have different extracurriculars due to having different talents, privileges, responsibilities, personal circumstances, etc
  • It is important that you do not disregard your non-academic life/activities. The point of the activities section is to show how you use your talents to positively impact your environment and display a strong sense of leadership
  • Harvard explains that you can even talk about how you have helped your family with babysitting or working in a restaurant to assist them with expenses
  • It’s all about including the things that reflect tremendous underlying character and personality traits and how you took advantage of the opportunities available to you 
  • Harvard is more concerned with the quality of what you put and not the quantity. You should include the activities that you care most about and devote most of your time to
  • Harvard’s Dean gives a helpful perspective on completing the activities section successfully 
  1. Do your research, do your research, do your research!
  • Make sure you devote time to researching what Harvard requires so that you can maximise the potential of your application
  • This will also help you access resources, like this one, that will help you with each component of the application
  • Finally, doing your research will help you know if Harvard is the right fit for you
  1. Map your application journey 
  • Once you have researched the requirements for Harvard, it may be beneficial to map your journey 
  • This could include making a spreadsheet/checklist for all components of the application process and include deadlines, relevant people to contact and their info, document depositories, etc
  • This can help you visualise your journey and track your progress efficiently 
  1. Be yourself!
  • Unlike the typical UK University application process, US college applications have a greater emphasis on the personal elements of their applicants, and there are endless opportunities for you to detail this as much as possible
  • There will be the temptation to focus mostly on your academic achievements and try to impress Harvard through this, but Harvard countlessly explains that they are also looking for people who have the talents and instincts to positively impact their worlds whilst at Harvard and beyond 
  • Therefore, do not fall into the trap of being the candidate you think Harvard wants but rather show every authentic side to yourself and do not worry about it being insignificant or disadvantageous – it’s quite the opposite!

Here are three official blogs from Harvard alumni that discuss these tips:


What is the Harvard University acceptance rate?

The current acceptance rate for Harvard is approximately 3.4-3.5%. Here is a breakdown of admitted students for the class of 2027.

Is Harvard a good university?

Yes! Harvard excels across its full spectrum of academic subjects, ranking number one for research impact. It also ranks first with graduate employers and has a high student satisfaction rate.

Is Harvard a Russell Group/Ivy League University?

Yes, Harvard is an Ivy League University.

How hard is it to get into Harvard?

Harvard is a highly competitive institution with an acceptance rate of less than 5%. This guide aims to support you in succeeding in your application. 

Getting Into Harvard: The Verdict

Getting into Harvard is competitive and simply…hard. Harvard University is one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, with competitive entry requirements and thousands of applicants. 

The competition is fierce, and applicants are expected to have outstanding academic records, exceptional extracurricular achievements, strong letters of recommendation and compelling personal essays.

But – although difficult, getting into Harvard is not impossible! Students who demonstrate exceptional academic abilities, leadership qualities, and a unique perspective have a chance to stand out among their peers! Also, remember that there are other renowned universities that will give you a chance to develop and thrive, including Yale, Columbia University and Dartmouth College. 

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