The Ultimate Guide for Applying to Harvard as an International Student

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Harvard University's big building on campus

The Ultimate Guide for Applying to Harvard as an International Student

Harvard has been recognized as one of the premier institutions of higher learning since its founding in 1636. It holds a record for being the oldest Ivy League school and one of the oldest universities in the entire country. This reputation extends well beyond the borders of the US, however. High schoolers from across the world apply every year with the hopes of earning a spot in the incoming freshman Harvard class.

In fact, in 2020, nearly 10,000 international students attended Harvard, representing over 100 different countries. Harvard has been a long proponent of international education to improve the diversity of opinion and increasing opportunities for everyone.

Harvard students gathered by the stairs in front of a college building

Given Harvard’s prestige, the application process can seem daunting and complicated. International students might feel this more acutely due to the added hurdles. This leads many students to wonder, “how to get into Harvard as an international student?” We’ve got your answer!

AdmissionSight has helped countless international students navigate the Harvard admissions process. We’re here to do the same for you. Here, we’ll break down exactly what you need to do in order to secure a spot in the next Harvard class.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Why Harvard is a great option for international students.
  • What sets to follow to apply as an international student
  • How to improve your chances of getting into Harvard

Why Harvard is an Excellent Choice for International Students

Harvard has a strong tradition of accepting qualified international students from across the world. Despite its reputation as being highly selective, Harvard is actually an excellent place for international students to apply. In fact, this prestigious university reported that 9,977 international students were enrolled in the 2019-2020 academic year. That’s nearly half of the overall student population!

These students come from 161 different countries.

a group of students getting to know each other

To put this in perspective, there are roughly 200 countries in the entire world! These impressive statistics clearly illustrate just how welcoming, accepting, and encouraging Harvard is to international students. Although qualifying for this highly esteemed university is still a challenge, you can feel confident that admissions officers are eagerly awaiting applications from international students.

Is it easy to get into Harvard as an international student?

Now that you know Harvard University is always incredibly open to international students, you still might be wondering how difficult it is to get accepted as an international student. After all, just because a university is welcoming to international applications doesn’t mean that it’s an easy process.

Unfortunately, Harvard doesn’t release official data regarding the acceptance rate of international students specifically. However, the experts at AdmissionSight did some digging and were able to come up with some insightful data.

Let’s start off by looking at Harvard’s overall acceptance rate which sets the overall tone for admissions for all students. For the Class of 2024, only 4.92% of applicants were admitted making it the most selective Ivy League school.

Students inside the classroom listening to the lecture

Ivy League institutions that do report international student acceptance rates – such as UPenn – show that these percentages are lower than their overall admission rates. Assuming this is similar across the entire Ivy League, we’d expect the Harvard international student acceptance rate to fall below its overall admission rate of just below 5%.

When we isolate early admission applicants, we get something much different. According to a report by Harvard, 12.2% of international applicants were accepted to the Class of 2025 which is higher than the overall EA admission rate of 7.4%.

It’s a lot of information to digest, but the data seems to suggest that applying earlier gives international students a higher chance of admittance. This would follow the well-established trend that applying during early admissions increases your chances of acceptance.

So, in short, it’s not any easier to get into Harvard as an international student. In fact, it might even be a little bit more difficult. As with any admission data, it’s important to keep in mind that these are general averages and don’t really provide an accurate assessment of your chances of getting into Harvard.

With your grades, test scores, essay responses, interviews, letters of recommendation, and all other factors taken into consideration, your chances could be significantly higher than the average.

How to get into Harvard as an international student

Understand the application requirements

Just like you were applying to any other school, the first step to take when applying to Harvard as an international student is to get clear about the application requirements. Luckily, Harvard doesn’t have a different admissions process for international students. This means that you’ll be required to submit the same material as all other students.

As Harvard puts it on their International Applicants webpage: “Our admissions and financial aid processes are the same for all applicants – regardless of nationality or citizenship.” Now, let’s take a look at what specific requirements there are for Harvard applicants.


The most obvious application requirement when applying to Harvard as an international student is the application itself! Here are all of the different applications that Harvard accepts:

  • Common Application
  • Universal College Application
  • Coalition Application

Don’t worry about picking the right one because it doesn’t exist! All applications are viewed equally by admissions officers. It’s advisable to fill out your application and get it submitted as quickly as possible. This ensures your application gets reviewed in a timely manner.

When using the Common Application, students have to send in their application before other supporting materials such as teacher recommendations and high school transcripts can be released. In other words, the onus is on you to submit your application until other portions are transmitted to Harvard. This isn’t the case for the Universal College Application.

Secondary School Transcripts

When applying to Harvard, international students are required to send in secondary school transcripts outlining their coursework, grades, and overall GPA. Since the initial transcript, you send over doesn’t include your senior year performance, you’ll need to provide a mid-year report to Harvard.

This allows admissions officers to gauge your academic performance within the first half of your final year in high school. This mid-year report has to be submitted by a counselor or another official from your school. It’s advisable to have this report submitted as fast as possible.

If you’re an international student that attends a school on a different academic time schedule, you might have some confusion about this mid-year report requirement. Here’s what Harvard has to say about this particular issue:

“If you study the IB curriculum or the A-level curriculum, then we expect that your school will send predicted grades, based on your current classroom work and the results of any internal or mock exams you have taken up to that point. If your school does not issue official or predicted midyear grades for your final year of school, then you do not need to submit the midyear report form, although the item may remain on your checklist.”

Final School Report and Transcripts

International students who end up getting accepted into Harvard are required to submit a Final School Report along with a final transcript of their overall grades. These documents should be submitted before July 1st and, as with the mid-year report, should be sent by your high school counselor or another school official.

The documents should be sent through Scrip-Safe International or  Docufide so long as your school can access these platforms. IB students are requested to submit their final transcripts as quickly as possible following their release in mid-July. A-level students are expected to send their reports by mid-August.

Letters of Recommendation

As with many colleges, Harvard requires international students to submit two letters of recommendation. These letters need to come from high school teachers and are designed to help admissions officers learn more about who you are. You’ll need to choose at least two of your teachers to fill out Harvard’s Teacher Evaluation forms.

You can always send more letters of recommendation but Harvard requests that these are submitted after your application. There will be a customized link you can send out to recommenders in the confirmation email you’ll receive after submitting your application.

Standardized Test Scores

Harvard University suspended the requirements for standardized test scores for all students for the 2021-2022 application cycle. You can read more about this decision and specifics here.

However, international students can still send in their standardized test scores if they would like. Harvard accepts both the ACT and SAT with or without writing components. Although Subject Tests aren’t a requirement either, you can submit these exams too.

Four students walking down the hallway with their backs facing the camera

However, Harvard makes a note to tell applicants that it’s more worthwhile to submit one mathematics subject test than two. The school also points out that applicants who don’t speak English as their first language might still want to consider taking Subject Tests in English since these will hold more weight than those taken in a different language. You’ll need to submit results from tests that you’ve taken within the previous three years.

Understand any unique requirements

One of the first steps international students can take when applying to Harvard is to understand what requirements or items are unique to out-of-country applicants. Harvard claims that the application process is identical for students who apply from in the country and those who are applying from abroad. While this is largely true, there are some additional challenges that international students face that should be taken into consideration when applying.

English Proficiency

First and foremost, you should have a high level of English proficiency before applying to Harvard. You’re not required to prove your ability to speak or understand the language, but considering that the overwhelming majority of Harvard courses are conducted in English, it’s definitely something you should consider.

Document Translations

Another important consideration for international students when applying to Harvard is the requirement to have all documents translated into English. If you’re applying from an English-speaking country, this isn’t a problem. However, if this isn’t the case, you’ll need to have all of your documents officially translated. High school transcripts, letters of recommendation, and any other documents or records that you turn in with your application have to be translated.

Increase your chances of getting into Harvard as an international student

Applying to Harvard as an international student might seem like a disadvantage at first. After all, you have to jump through a few more hoops than you would otherwise. However, you might actually find that your unique position is an advantage. Harvard admissions officers love seeing applications from international students. You bring a unique perspective, new ideas, and positive strengths that other students can’t offer. When leveraged properly, all of this can be used to your advantage on your application. That’s where AdmissionSight can help!

We’ve spent the last decade perfecting our college admissions services. As mentioned before, we’ve successfully guided countless international students through the college admissions processes for some of the country’s top schools, including Harvard.

All of our services are custom-tailored to meet your unique needs. As your personal liaison with universities here in the US, we’ll support you through the whole process from preparation and planning to submission and follow-through. Contact us to learn more about our services and how you can benefit. We’ll set up a free consultation to discuss the opportunity further.




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