How Hard Is It to Get Into Harvard?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

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

How Hard Is It to Get Into Harvard?

If you are a passionate and highly decorated high school student, chances are good that you are thinking about attending some of the very best universities in the country.

No matter what your primary focuses are when it comes to your academic interests and career goals, you are probably asking, “How hard is it to get into Harvard?” Without a doubt, Harvard is one of – if not – the most prestigious and competitive schools in the entire world.

Aerial view of Harvard University campus

Former world leaders, fortune 500 CEOs, award-winning artists and more have called Harvard home in the past. It is a place where students go to not only make the most out of their academics but also to become part of an elite and proud alumni base that remains dedicated to the school and its members for life.

So, whether you just starting to think about potential options for college, or have already made up your mind that Harvard is the No. 1 choice on your list of schools, it certainly pays to know about the changes that you have to get into Harvard, what kinds of students typically have the best chances of getting accepted and much more!

Without further delay let us at AdmissionSight give you all the information you need about how hard it is to get into Harvard.

Harvard’s admission requirements

For high school students who want to go to Harvard, one of the most important things to keep in mind during their high school years is that they are checking off all the boxes when it comes to the admission requirements. On top of incredible grades (the average GPA of students accepted to Harvard is 3.14), and SAT or ACT scores (average scores at 1540 out of 1600 and 34 out of 36, respectively), Harvard expects students applying to the school to have the following:

  • 4 years of a foreign language
  • 4 years of English (focused on classics and world literature)
  • at least 3 years History (one year each of American and European, with one year of some advanced history course)
  • 4 years of Math
  • and 4 years of Science (one year each of Physics, Chem, and Biology, and one additional year of any of those three at an advanced level)

Harvard also recommends students take coursework that regularly practices “expository prose” (5-paragraph essays or similar).

If you have already started to take a look at the admissions requirements at a number of different top schools in the United States, you have probably already realized that many of them either have identical – or very similar – lists of required items that all students who want to apply need to send it.

However, with that in mind, when you are starting to really narrow down your list of schools that you are interested in applying to, you are going to get the definitive list for each individual school. Not only does this help you prepare and get everything in order, it will also allow you to make sure that you are not wasting any time or energy sending in documents that some schools won’t even really look at.

The application requirements for Harvard are as follows:

  • 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)

On top of knowing the important application documents, it is also important to keep the related due dates in mind. After all, it’s pretty hard to imagine the worst outcome than a bright high school student working their tail off to get their Harvard application ready only to find out that they’ve missed the cutoff date for Early Action or Regular Decision.

One important distinction to make is that both Restrictive Early Action and Regular Decision applicants to Harvard are able to wait until May 1st to make their final decision. Beyond that, the application dates for Harvard are as follows:

  • Restrictive Early Action candidates apply by November 1 and receive notification by mid-December.
  • Regular Decision candidates apply by January 1 and receive notification by April 6.

How does Harvard compare to the other Ivy League schools?

For some accomplished high school students, getting into and attending Harvard University is the end all, be all of their university goals. Some people see it as a crucial step on their way to their ultimate goals. Others simply fall in love with the legacy, history, pride, and excellence that is connected to the school itself.

Harvard's white building with loitering students outside

However, for some other students, they are simply most interested in attending one of the eight colleges that are part of the elite group of schools known as the Ivy League. In case you are not already aware, the schools that make up the Ivy League alongside Harvard include Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Penn University, Princeton University, and Yale University.

Though all of the schools have incredibly restrictive admissions rates, you will see that Harvard is the most competitive of the group. The overall acceptance rates are a combination of the Early Action and Regular Decisions rates for the class of 2025:

  • Brown: Acceptance rate is 5.4 percent
  • Columbia: Acceptance rate is 3.7 percent
  • Cornell: Acceptance rate is 8.6 percent
  • Dartmouth: Acceptance rate is 6.2 percent
  • Harvard: Acceptance rate is 3.4 percent
  • Penn: Acceptance rate is 5.7 percent
  • Princeton: Acceptance rate is 4.0 percent
  • Yale: Acceptance rate is 4.6 percent

After taking a look at these acceptance rates, you are probably getting a pretty good idea of why the Ivy League is so dang prestigious. The highest acceptance rate is still well under 10 percent!

Truth be told, there are only a few other colleges or universities across the United States that have acceptance rates as low as the Ivy League schools.

No matter how determined any student is to attend Harvard or any of the other Ivy League schools, we at AdmissionSight do hope that this acceptance rate breakdown is a bit of a reality check that no high school student should be restricting themselves to applying to just Ivy League schools. The most realistic and mature approach is to of course apply to the top schools on any student’s list, and then apply to a number of schools that can be seen as more attainable and realistic safety schools.

For students who have a shot of getting accepted to any of the Ivy League schools, even their safety schools are likely going to be amongst the most prestigious and competitive private and public schools in the country.

No matter where you end up on that list, you’re going to get a fantastic education!

What kinds of students get into Harvard?

One great way to get an idea of what your chances are of getting into Harvard is to compare your own student profile to those of students who tend to get success when applying to Harvard. For that reason, we at AdmissionSight have gone through the different types of trends that we have noticed when it comes to the types of students that get accepted to Harvard.

Students inside the classroom listening to the lecture

Before going into this list, it should be clear that near-perfect grades and incredibly high SAT or ACT scores have been achieved by all of the mentioned student-types. What this list will focus on more are the types of students that gain admission to Harvard as opposed to their accomplishments.

Let’s get started!

Students who seek out advanced classes

When it comes to the difficulty of the quantity of a student’s curriculum at high school, it is really important for students to keep in mind that not all perfect 4.0 GPAs are going to be seen in the same light by the college admissions officers at Harvard. Students who are looking for an edge should constantly be looking for ways to expand and intensify their curriculum.

This means going beyond even signing up for as many Honors and AP courses as possible.

Depending on the high school that you attend, you may be able to sign up for courses at your local community college or even at courses at a nearby four-year program. Of course, you are going to want to earn great grades if you do go down this path.

Overall, this is going to demonstrate a very real dedication to your studies, something that Harvard looks for in all of its students.

Students who have a clear idea of what they want after graduating

A great way to prove to the admissions officers at Harvard that you are deserving of a spot in the upcoming graduating class, you should be able to display that you have a plan and goals when it comes to what you want to do after you graduate from university.

Harvard is very interested in students who know what they want out of their professional life. While a high school student does not need to know specifically what kind of job they want, they should be able to display that they are already giving different fields of focus serious interest and consideration.

This proves that a student is goal-oriented and knows that university – no matter where they end up going – is not actually the final goal, but instead just a really important stage of getting to those ultimate goals of professional and personal success.

Students who have demonstrated passion and leadership throughout high school

This is why extracurriculars during high school are so crucial for students who are interested in attending schools like Harvard. Harvard wants to make sure that it is admitting students who will be able to have a profound and positive impact on the college campus community once they arrive in Cambridge, Mass.

Not only do the extracurriculars that a student commits their time to offer insight into what kind of career paths they may choose, but assuming roles of leadership within those extracurriculars will prove that the student is dedicated to having an impact on the communities that they are a part of.

In fact, in the graduating class of 2023, Harvard students reported holding a leadership position in one to three extracurricular activities.

Students that were able to contribute to their communities at large

Just like proving that you have leadership abilities to show that you will be a positive member of your community when you get to Harvard, actually being a positive member of your community at large during high school is super important!

A hand holding a seedling

In fact, Harvard specifically says that “contributions that students make to the well-being of their secondary schools, communities and families are of great interest to us.”

So, students who are interested in getting into Harvard should make sure to take part in some of, if not all of the following:

  • Extracurricular activities
  • Local community
  • Work experiences

However, it should also be mentioned that students who show just general interest in community advocacy groups or volunteer groups likely won’t get the upper hand when applying to Harvard. Instead, high school students should make sure that they are only taking part in things that they truly care about so that they can display true commitment and interest.

Remember, just like is the case with how all schools view out-of-school activities and interests, students should always prioritize strong and long-lasting commitment to fewer groups and clubs as opposed to a more casual or general involvement.

How to improve your chances of getting into Harvard

Just like everything, there are ways that students can best set themselves up for success when it comes to applying to Harvard. While none of these tips should be seen as clear guarantees of gaining acceptance to college, there is no doubt that going through the application process the right way is going to help your chances.

Female student opening a letter.

Here at AdmissionSight, we have proof that the following tips are going to help each and every high school student apply to Harvard the right way.

Acquire fantastic letters of recommendation

For students wanting to go to Harvard, they are going to have to send in two separate letters of recommendation. One will come from the student’s high school counselor, and the other will come from a teacher at their high school.

Though letters will not have to be sent out until the student is actually submitting their application, high school students should have these letters in mind for years leading up to that time.

Students should be sure to seek out personal and meaningful relationships with their counselor as well as their teachers so that when the letters have to be written, the teacher and counselor responsible for that job has real material to draw upon. Moreover, students should be sure to ask well in advance of the due date so that teachers have the time to write a great letter.

Craft stellar essays

With all of the students applying to Harvard being so accomplished and so bright, it can sometimes feel impossible to really stand out. One of the best ways to stand out is to write powerful and personal application essays.

This doesn’t only mean that they are written fantastically, but also that they allow the reader in the Harvard admissions office to really get a sense of who the writer is as a person. Application essays are often the least predictable parts of a student’s application. This also makes it one of the most important.

Apply early

Remember when we went over the Ivy League acceptance rates and stated that the overall acceptance rate of Harvard is 3.4 percent? Well, that overall number is a combination of the Early Action/Early Decision acceptance rates and the Regular Decision Acceptance rates.

In the case of Harvard, the Regular Decision rate is just 2.6 percent. The Early Action acceptance rate is 7.4 percent! Through that alone, anyone can see that if a student is determined to get into and attend Harvard above all other options, then Early Action/Early Decision is truly the only way to go.

We’ll teach you how to get into Harvard

Here at AdmissionSight, we take pride in the fact that 75 percent of the students we work with are accepted to an Ivy League or top 10 universities.

Our highly trained and experienced admissions consultants will give you the tools and guidance that you need in order to make the most of your accomplishments in high school to get into the college or university of your dreams.

While getting into a school like Harvard may seem impossible at times, it certainly is not. Improve your chances by getting started with AdmissionSight today.


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