How to get into Harvard with average grades

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a building in Harvard, one of the oldest schools in the US

How to get into Harvard with average grades

For high school students all over the world, one of the biggest dreams ever is to get into Harvard University. After all, Harvard is one of – if not the – most famous universities in the entire world. The school has been home to future leaders of industry, science, politics, business, art and so much more. If you are a high school student interested in attending Harvard one day, one question you might have is how to get into Harvard with average grades.

Harvard University front building

While Harvard does tend to only accept students who are truly the cream of the crop, which means only accepting students with incredibly high-grade point averages, an average GPA does not necessarily have to be a death sentence of the dream of one day wearing crimson red on the campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here at AdmissionSight, we have worked with countless different types of students. Students who struggle with grades but earn incredible standardized test scores. Students who earn straight A’s in honors and AP courses, but can’t seem to hack the ACT or SAT.

There are a lot of different kinds of roadblocks that students can face when they are trying to apply to schools that are as prestigious and selective as the Ivy League. After all, even the easiest Ivy League to get into is still amongst the most impressive schools in the world! It can be a fairly overwhelming thing to try to do.

But barriers are meant to be broken and challenges are meant to be overcome.

So, how can students with average grades get into Harvard? Let’s break down the route to take to improve your chances.

Harvard’s admission requirements

Of all of the factors that are going to be considered when it comes to getting into Harvard, the school is arguably the clearest about this one. To put it simply, the courses a student takes – and the grades that a student earns in those courses – are heavily important for any student hoping to get into Harvard.

Truly, the easiest way for a student to get into Harvard is to get a grade point average that is above the average GPA of accepted students. The unweighted average for high school students accepted into Harvard is a 3.9.

The weighted average for students who get into Harvard is a 4.15. Because of that, we want it to be abundantly clear: while it may be possible to get into Harvard with an average GPA, it’s not going to be easy.

Harvard campus with students

After all, Harvard notes that “the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them.” This means not only getting great grades in the courses that you take, but also taking as many honors courses, AP courses or IB courses that your school offers. On top of that, students have also been known to try to strengthen their application profile by enrolling in courses at their local Community College or at a four-year program nearby.

While Harvard does not have a set list of admission requirements for its applicants, here are the courses that students should focus on and prioritize during their high school years if they want to improve their chances of getting into Harvard.

  • Four years of English, with extensive practice in writing
  • Four years of math
  • Four years of science including biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects
  • Three years of history, including American and European history
  • Four years of one foreign language

The reason why Harvard does not have this list as a requirement it’s because the school knows that different curricula are offered at different schools. The school is not going to unnecessarily hamper students’ chances of getting into Harvard simply because they are not able to take certain courses at the school that they attend. Still, if these courses are offered there is no doubt that any student determined to get into Harvard should enroll in them.

Tips to improve Harvard admission chances with average grades

So, now that you know the kinds of courses that Harvard is looking for, as well as the average GPA that students that get into Harvard typically earn, you might be asking yourself how it is possible for a student with average grades to even hope to get into Harvard.

The simple answer is that in order to get into Harvard with average grades, students are going to have to have essentially every other part of their application profile be spotless. Let’s go over what those other aspects are together.

Commit fully to improving your GPA in your senior year

If you still have time left in your high school career, you would be very wise to commit that time to trying to get as many grades as possible to improve your overall GPA. In fact, it is advised that students who don’t have great GPS to go apply to schools early action or early decision, and instead use the extra time that is available to them to focus heavily on improving their GPA.

In a row, three students are taking an exam

One thing to note here is that this approach will not only improve your overall GPA but will also show college admissions officers at the schools that you plan to apply to that you have managed to take your grades more seriously later in your high school years.

If you are earlier in your high school career, say a sophomore or even first-semester junior, there is still a lot of time for you to make major improvements in your GPA. Here are some strategies that we at AdmissionSight have seen work time and time again.

  • Seek support from a teacher or tutor to help you improve your performance in school
  • Consider taking less advanced courses, and instead focusing your advanced course selections on subjects that you typically excel in
  • Increase your overall course load, especially with courses in your strongest subjects

Get fantastic standardized test scores

Along with the student’s grade point average, a very real argument can be made that the second most important thing when it comes to applying to top schools like Harvard is standardized test scores.

Of course, the tests that we are referring to are the SAT and the ACT. In the case of Harvard, it is really important to make clear that even if you get a perfect score in either the SAT or ACT, you are not guaranteed to get accepted. That is especially true if your GPA is well below the average GPA for students that get in.

a zoomed-in picture of an exam sheet

After all, the average ACT score for students who are accepted into Harvard is a 34 out of the perfect 36. The average SAT score for students who get into Harvard is a 1510 out of the perfect 1600.

If you are looking to boost your test scores here are some of the best ways to go about achieving that goal:

  • Take as many practice tests as possible, and review your commonly made mistakes to improve your performance in those areas
  • Begin preparing for the test many months before the day of the actual exam, and set a target score that you are trying to earn
  • Join a study group of your peers, enroll in a taught course, or find a tutor in your area who you can learn from one on one

With all of this being said, it is also important for students to know that many top schools – including Harvard – have shifted to a test-optional policy. The reason for this policy change is the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact that the pandemic had on the SAT and ACT schedules. However, for students that are interested in applying to top schools, and especially students that don’t have fantastic GPAs, taking an excelling in the standardized test of your choice is absolutely crucial.

Of course, schools like Harvard have incredibly rigorous and challenging course loads. When it comes to students with a poor GPA, admissions officers at schools like Harvard will likely be concerned regarding a student’s ability to keep up. If a student has a poor GPA but is able to earn a fantastic standardized test score, it at least proves that they have the intelligence necessary to earn great grades.

Don’t be shy about any external factors for a low GPA

For some students, a poor GPA is more a matter of circumstance rather than a result of them simply not putting in the effort necessary to get great grades in high school. After all, even one semester of poor grades can end up turning an otherwise great GPA into one that is average.

Sometimes, high school students deal with things in life that for school to be put on the back burner. Whether it’s a family crisis, a health concern, a mental health concern, or some other circumstance that had a profound impact on a student’s ability to perform in school, that student should really be honest about it when applying to schools.

College admissions officers may be thought of as scary gatekeepers to fantastic schools, but they are human after all. And if a student’s GPA suffers because of something that they were dealing with in their life, admissions officers will want to know about it.

With that being said, this will obviously not apply to every student who earns average grades in high school. But if it does apply to you, this is absolutely something to keep in mind.

Craft phenomenal essays

The essays included in your college applications account for about a quarter of the entire application. In fact, an argument can be made that the essays that a high school student rights when applying to schools like Harvard have an even greater impact then their grades and coursework.

For that reason, students who have average GPAs are going to have to write truly fantastic essays from top to bottom. This not only means making sure that the essays have perfect grammar and utilize artful vocabulary, but it also means that the stories that the student writes within those essays have to be phenomenal.

Outdoors, a woman is sitting and writing on her notebook

They have to take the reader – who will be the admissions officer – on a journey that teaches them about something truly unique to the student. Whether it is something about their background or simply the way in which they look at the world, these essays need to stand out in every possible way.

Here at AdmissionSight, we consider the essays that students write within their college applications to be a crucial wild card. They can truly be the difference between getting accepted to your dream school, or sadly getting rejected.

So, students should commit loads of time and energy to crafting and perfecting their application essays to make sure that they are representing themselves as best as possible.

Get strong recommendation letters

At Harvard, high school students hoping to get in are expected to submit two letters of recommendations from teachers and one counselor letter. This amounts to three total letters of recommendation being sent to the school, and three opportunities for a student with an average GPA to prove to the admissions officers at Harvard that they have what it takes to succeed at the school.

Letters of recommendation can play a really key role for all students as they seek to prove their value compared to the thousands of students that are also applying to the school.

When a student is asking their teachers for help, they should think about not only asking the teachers of the classes that they took, but also the classes in which they excelled. Moreover, asking teachers with whom a student has formed a strong and personal relationship is always a great idea.

Students should make a point to ask the teachers who they want to write their letters to as early as possible. In fact it is wise to get the ball rolling on this as early as your junior year.

Beyond that, it is also always a good idea to schedule or sit down during office hours with the teachers so that you two can discuss what your application goals are, what strengths you want to, and what overall message you may be hoping to convey throughout your application.

Consider transferring into Harvard

This may not be the option that you want to think about right now, but it is important to keep in mind that even if you are not able to get the grades and test scores necessary to be considered a legitimate candidate for a school like Harvard, you can still give yourself another chance in a year by attending a different school and then applying to Harvard as a transfer.

Every year, Harvard and basically every other school in the country accepts students who began their higher education at either a community college or a different four-year college or university. If this is a goal of yours, you have to be aware that you are going to need to fully commit to your studies during your first year in college.

Truthfully, you may end up having to miss out on some of the typical experiences that college freshmen classically enjoy. The reason why is because you will have to make sure that you are committing all of your time to excelling in your courses and also committing time to getting involved on campus and being a positive member of the school community.

From there, you will likely give yourself a good chance of getting accepted into Harvard as a transfer student!

We can help you improve your chances of getting into Harvard

Now that you have learned about the tips to help you get into Harvard without a fantastic GPA, you probably have a pretty good idea about how important every high school student should consider their studies.

While it is definitely possible to get into schools like Harvard with an average GPA, it is one of the hardest Ivy League schools to get into. So, if you want to give yourself the best possible chance of getting in, you are going to want to take your coursework seriously from the very first day of your freshman year.

Here at AdmissionSight, we have worked with students with fantastic and average GPAs, and we have helped the vast majority realize their college admission dreams. In fact, 75 percent of the students that we work with end up getting into either an Ivy League school or a top 10 school somewhere else in the United States. If you are curious about how we can help your chances, contact us today!




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