Am I Good Enough for Harvard?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Dunster House at Harvard University

Am I Good Enough for Harvard?

When it comes to accomplishing your goals and dreams as a high school student, it can sometimes be scary and overwhelming to ask yourself the hard questions.

If you are determined to attend a school like Harvard University, you may not want to really think about it, but one of the most important questions that any high school student can ask themselves is “am I good enough for Harvard?”

As anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 385 years (Harvard was first erected in 1636!), you like know that Harvard is one of the hardest institutions of higher learning in the entire world.

View of Harvard building surrounded by trees.

In fact, Harvard is typically ranked within the top two of hardest schools to get into. This past year, CBS News ranked it as the No. 1 most competitive school in the entire United States. There are a lot of reasons why that prestige and competitiveness continues year after year.

In fact, a big part why so many students dream of attending Harvard one day is because of that competitiveness that makes it so impressive to gain admission to Harvard.

With that being said, if you are really determined to get into Harvard, you want to make clear that you know what it takes, what kind of students they are most interested in, and what your chances truly are depending on your specific academic profile.

Here at AdmissionSight, we make it our number one priority to help the passionate and brilliant students that we work with achieve their college admission goals. For that reason, we have taken the time to break down every you need to know about your chances of getting into Harvard.

Let’s get started!

Harvard’s admissions requirements

As is the case with all fantastic schools in the United States and abroad, Harvard has a specific list of expectations that they want high school students to meet before they gain admission to the school.

As one might expect from Harvard, the school expects the very most when it comes ot the kind of academic road they take during their four years at high school. Here is what the school has to say about the admission history that they look for in the students that they consider for acceptance each and every school year.

Front view of Harvard University

“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,” Harvard says on its official website. “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.”

As you can see, there is no specific list of classes that students absolutely have to take in order to be considered, but Harvard needs to see that every student is interested and made sure to make the very most out of their time in high school.

Not only is following these expectations important, but students should be able to display that they made an effort to challenge themselves academically whenever possible. This means not only filling out your high school curriculum with Honors and AP courses, but also excelling in those courses. Essentially, this means carrying a straight-A average throughout your four years of college in the hardest courses that your school offers.

When it comes to application requirements at Harvard, the list for what the school needs to consider any student interested in attending is a bit more concrete.

All first-year applicants—both international and U.S. candidates—must complete the Common Application or the Coalition Application along with the required supplements. You will need to submit:

  • Common Application or Coalition Application
  • Harvard College Questions for the Common Application or Coalition Application Harvard supplement
  • $75 fee (or request a fee waiver)
  • SAT or ACT (with or without writing)* optional for 2021-2022 applicants
  • Optional: AP or other examination results
  • School Report and high school transcript
  • Teacher Report (2)
  • Midyear School Report (after your first semester grades)
  • Final School Report (for admitted students only)

One thing that you likely noticed in this aforementioned list is that the SAT and ACT exam scores have been made optional for, at least, the 2021-22 school year. That is entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while schools are actively moving away from the strong emphasis they once put on exams, students who are interested in attending schools like Harvard should really still be considering this a requirement.

Remember, as a student who is interested in going to Harvard, you are competing against the most impressive and accomplished students in not just your city or state, but the entire world. Anything that you can do to prove that you are worthy of gaining acceptance to Harvard, you should do.

That includes taking one of the standardized test options without a doubt.

What we know about Harvard’s “ideal student”

Typically, people hold the assumption that Harvard University is only going to accept students who are academically strong. And while this sentence is effectively true, students have to be prepared for the fact that just because they are straight A students doesn’t mean that they will automatically gain admission to Harvard.

After all, the acceptance rate to Harvard for the year of 2020 was an incredibly low 4.6 percent. Beyond that, the average GPA for students that were accepted to Harvard was a truly incredible 4.16 percent!

When it comes to the Sat, the average score for students who got into Harvard was a 1540 out of 1600. For the ACT, the average score was a 34 out of 36.

And those are just the average numbers. There are plenty of students who also had higher GPAs and higher standardized test scores. So, you now know that Harvard is not only highly selective for just the average student, but also highly selective for the most accomplished students academically as well.

So, what does Harvard’s ideal student look like? Thanks to AdmissionSight’s many years of work within the industry, we have been able to peg some crucial aspects of what Harvard wants to see out of the students that it decides to accept into its institution. Here are some of the primary things that should be seen as deciding factors in that realm.

Harvard looks for passionate learners

There is something of an inside joke within Harvard, where students and faculty agree that for those who are unable to get into Harvard, the process of getting in would actually be easier than the process of graduating had they been accepted.

What that essentially means is that when a student gets into Harvard, the work is not over. In fact, the work is just getting started. The academic expectations and pressures that come with going to Harvard are immense. Moreover, the opportunities to grow and learn outside of the classroom are also incredibly plentiful.

Row of students taking an exam

For that reason, Harvard looks for students that it believes can handle that incredible workload. It looks for young people who, during their time in high school, have been able to prove that they are not only strong academically, but strong emotionally as well. They look for that because Harvard wants to know that everyone they accept will be able to flourish and thrive once they actually arrive on campus as freshman.

This hard-working nature can be shown through a student’s GPA, through their test scores, through recommendations, and more!

Harvard looks for students with many interests

Another thing that everyone who is interested in attending Harvard must know is that Harvard is not only interested in students if they have earned straight A’s in high school, and that’s it. They are also going to delve deeply into all of their applicant’s histories when it comes to how they spend their time outside of the classroom. Of course, we are referring to the extracurriculars that students take part in.

With that being said, the term “many interests” may be somewhat confusing here so we want to make sure that it is absolutely clear. Harvard does not want to see in a student’s application profile that they took part in countless activities, groups, teams and clubs that changed semester to semester and year to year.

Instead, Harvard is most interested in the students that found three to six activities out of the classroom that they were highly passionate about and committed to. Harvard wants to see that a student is interested in things – ideally things that are somewhat connected to their strongest academic interests – and pursues them with great vigor. That’s all we’re going to say about that at this exact moment, but we will break this down further shortly.

Harvard looks for students that are unique among their peers

Harvard is  – as you know – one of the most impressive schools that a student can attend for either an undergraduate or postgraduate education. For that reason, they are looking for students who similarly echo that level of impressiveness. Whether you are doing it through things that you have accomplished and been a part of, or your personal essay or recommendation letters, you are going to want to make it a primary goal in your application to prove to the admissions officers at Harvard that you are truly unique.

Group of students seated around a table having a discussion

This means that you are going to have to spend a lot of time really figuring out what makes you special, what makes you stand out, what is going to make everyone in the admissions office at Harvard know that they want you to be at their school? Trust us, great grades are not going to cut it. It’s going to help, but you are going to have to prove that you are more than just great grades if you want to feel great about your chances of getting accepted.

One final thing about this. Being unique and special can also apply to your personal story. Whether it is challenges you have faced and bested, the history of your family or anything related to that. If you believe that your story may be different from the majority of stories they are seeing from their applicants, make sure they accentuate that fact proudly and confidently. It will only help you in your goal of being accepted to Harvard.

Harvard looks for students that are confident and focused

Another group of crucial traits that Harvard looks for in its students is confidence and focus. Don’t get us wrong, the very fact that you are applying to Harvard proves that you are confident in your intelligence and your ability.

Other ways to prove your confidence is through merits, your ability to balance work and life, and your desire to succeed in all that you do. Confidence will not shine through by simply stating that you are the best, confidence comes through from proving that you are through who you are and what you have done.

Moreover, focus – and your focus on your academic and professional goals is something that Harvard will heavily value. They want to see that you have a plan, that you know where you want to go and that you know how you plan to get there.

This does not necessarily mean that you know exactly what kind of career that you want to have, after all, college is for that self-exploration in a big way. But Harvard will want to see that you have identified the things that really make you tick and the things that you want to commit your life to in college and beyond.

Harvard looks for students who are leaders

This is the final factor we will discuss here, but it is by no means the least important. In fact, it may be the most important. And this is when we will go back to talking about your extracurriculars.

One of the best ways to prove that you are in fact a leader is to pursue extracurriculars that you care about, and make sure that you earn roles of leadership and impact by the end of your high school career.

Group of students in the library with their group leader discussing the task.

Whether this is on a sports team, an academic competition club, a theater group, a non-profit or anything in between. Making it a priority to earn roles of leadership and succeed in those roles should be a major goal for any high school student who is one day hoping to apply to, and get accepted by Harvard.

How to improve your chances of getting into Harvard

Before we wrap this up, we wanted to briefly go over a list of things that any student can do if they are interested in improving their chances of getting into Harvard. While these may seem like smaller factors in the larger world of trying to get into one of the hardest schools to get into in the entire world, these can have major impacts when it comes down to who gets into Harvard, and who gets left out.

Wow them with your personal essays

One really important way to stand out and improve your chances of getting accepted is to write fantastic personal essays. You should see these essays as a chance to let them in and let them know the real you. Take this very seriously and spend real time coming up with the perfect way to let them know who you are and why you belong at Harvard. And don’t be afraid to impress them a little bit along the way.

A man writing on a piece of paper

Discuss your application theme with your recommenders

At Harvard, the school asks for two letters of recommendation. One is from a high school counselor and another one is from a member of your school’s faculty. While you may not be able to decide which counselor writes your letter, you will have full control over which teacher writes your letter.

With both, make it a priority to form a strong relationship. Beyond that, when the time comes for them to really start crafting your letter, discuss the overall theme of your application so that they can know if there are any important themes and topics that may help your care if they touch on them.

Think about how you contribute to the Harvard community

Look, this may be out of your control, but it is really important to think about if your inclusion at Harvard would allow the school to build a diverse, unique, and multicultural graduating class in both interests and backgrounds. If you would bring an under-represented personal history to the school, make sure to make that clear. If you have unique experiences and have overcome unique odds and challenges, make sure to make that clear as well. These paired with fantastic grades and test scores will absolutely help your cause.

Will you get into Harvard University?

As you know, the answer to these questions is really impossible to answer until you put it to the test. Here at AdmissionSight, we know how hard it truly is for even the best students to get in. We also know how to get students in, period. After all, 75 percent of the students that we work with end up attending an Ivy League to otherwise top 10 school in the United States. If that’s the kind of school you want to end up at, you owe it to yourself to see what we have to offer.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.