What is Harvard Known for?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Harvard university building on campus

What Is Harvard Known For?

Harvard is known for setting the standard in education, shaping influential leaders, and contributing to groundbreaking research. With a reputation that spans centuries, its impact has been felt far and wide. But are these the only answer to the question: What is Harvard known for?

In this blog, we discuss what makes the famed university so special and how it has managed to consistently top world rankings.

Harvard University Fast Facts

  • Location: Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, MA
  • Student Population: 9,579 undergraduates
  • Acceptance Rate: 3.4% (Class of 2027)

What is Harvard Known For?

Harvard, founded in 1636, is the oldest college in the United States. Its long history contributes greatly to its prestige. Initially named “New College,” it was later renamed “Harvard College” to honor its first benefactor, John Harvard, who donated his library and half of his estate to the school.

Throughout the centuries, Harvard has led many academic and intellectual movements, making it a hub of innovation and progress. From the Enlightenment, which focused on reason and science, to the rise of social sciences and advancements in technology and medicine, Harvard has always pushed the boundaries of knowledge.

Harvard flag is seen outside the Harvard Cooperative Society (the Coop), a collegiate bookstore on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Moreover, here is a list of what Harvard is best known for not only here but all around the world:

  • Global Prestige and Reputation
  • Academic Excellence
  • Nation-Leading Athletics Program
  • Biggest Academic Library System
  • Influence on Politics and Leadership

Global Prestige and Reputation

Harvard University is famous worldwide for its high academic standards and excellence. Known for its strong emphasis on intellectualism and innovation, Harvard’s influence extends far beyond its classrooms. The university is admired by educational institutions everywhere for its research, alumni, and historic campus.

Harvard’s graduates have made important contributions in various fields. For example, Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President, both went to Harvard. Nobel Prize winners like Al Gore and Elizabeth Blackburn and entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg also studied there. These successful alumni show how Harvard helps shape world leaders and innovators, boosting the university’s reputation even more.

Harvard is also known for its groundbreaking research. Discoveries made here, like the development of the smallpox vaccine, have greatly impacted society. The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is known for its cutting-edge technological innovations. Harvard’s beautiful campus, with its historic buildings and green spaces, inspires both students and teachers.

Academic Excellence

Harvard University’s admission process is highly selective, admitting only students with exceptional intellectual potential and a strong academic commitment. With an acceptance rate of around 3%- 4%, Harvard is one of the most competitive universities in the world. Applicants typically need SAT scores between 1460 and 1570 or ACT scores between 33 and 35. This selectivity ensures a student body of the brightest minds globally.

Harvard.edu website homepage. Harvard logo visible.

AdmissionSight Recommendations:

  • GPA: 4.20 or better
  • SAT: 1580
  • ACT: 33-35

Harvard’s faculty includes Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other field leaders. Undergraduates can interact with faculty outside of class through initiatives like First-Year Faculty Dinners, Faculty-Student Initiatives, and the Faculty Luncheon Series. Harvard also provides Academic Life Workshops on study skills, resume writing, research, and using social media in social science projects.

Harvard’s academic foundation lies in its commitment to liberal arts and sciences. Students are prepared to think critically, reason analytically, and write clearly. General Education courses connect studies with real-world issues like climate change, racism, and artificial intelligence. With over 3,700 courses and 50 majors across the Arts & Humanities, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Sciences, and Social Sciences, students have many options. Many pursue an honors track or create special concentrations to meet unique academic goals with university approval.

Most popular majors at Harvard:

  • Social Sciences
  • Biology and Biological Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Computer and Information Sciences
  • History

Students with advanced standing can earn a master’s degree in certain disciplines during their fourth year. They can also cross-enroll in courses at Harvard’s graduate schools or other institutions in Cambridge or Boston.

Harvard offers dual-degree music programs with the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, allowing students to earn both an AB from Harvard and a master’s degree from one of these renowned music schools. Research opportunities are abundant through programs like the Harvard Research Program, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, and the Faculty Aide Program. More than half of Harvard College students study abroad in countries like the UK, Argentina, China, and France, further enriching their academic experience.

All of these contribute to the excellence that Harvard academics have long been known for worldwide.

Nation-Leading Athletics Program

Harvard University is renowned not just for its academic excellence but also for its strong focus on athletics. Offering 42 Division I sports teams, the most of any college in the U.S., Harvard’s Crimson teams compete in the Ivy League and excel across various sports. Varsity athletics at Harvard include baseball, basketball, crew, cross-country, fencing, field hockey, football, golf, and many more.

Harvard’s athletic legacy is highlighted by its distinguished football program. The Harvard Crimson football team is known for its passionate games and historic stadium. Harvard Stadium, built in 1903, is the oldest U-shaped stadium in the country. The Crimson football team is a strong contender in the Ivy League, having won 13 national championships and inducted 20 athletes into the College Football Hall of Fame. Moreover, Harvard made history by fielding the first African-American college football player, William H. Lewis.

In addition to football, Harvard’s hockey team is one of the oldest intercollegiate teams, with its first game played against Brown University in January 1898. This started a rivalry that remains one of the oldest in intercollegiate hockey. However, Harvard’s most famous hockey rivalry is with Cornell University. The twice-seasonal matchups between Harvard and Cornell are always highly anticipated.

Harvard excels in various other sports as well. Along with Yale, Harvard’s rowing team is one of the best in the country, holding a unique record: from 1989 to 2003, Harvard’s rowing team won every odd year and none of the even years. Additionally, Harvard’s wrestling team, established in 1913, is one of the oldest. These achievements in various sports make Harvard a top athletic school, adding to its academic fame and drawing talented athletes from around the world despite not having athletic scholarships.

Biggest Academic Library System

Harvard Library, established in 1638, is the oldest library system in the United States and the largest academic library in the world. With over 70 libraries and a collection exceeding 20 million volumes, it is a huge repository of knowledge and history.

The center of Harvard Library is Widener Library, which opened in 1915. Named after Harry Elkins Widener, a Harvard alumnus who died in the Titanic disaster, Widener is popular for its wide collection, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. It houses about 3.5 million volumes, making it the largest library within the Harvard system.

Another key component is Houghton Library, founded in 1942. Houghton specializes in rare books and manuscripts, including a Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s first folio, and works by Emily Dickinson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. This library is important for scholars of literature, history, and the arts.

The Harvard-Yenching Library, established in 1928, is one of the largest collections for East Asian studies in the Western world. With over 1.5 million volumes in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other East Asian languages, it is essential for scholars in this field.

Lamont Library, opened in 1949, was the first library in the U.S. designed specifically for undergraduates. It offers a welcoming space for students to study and access a wide range of resources across various disciplines.

The Baker Library at Harvard Business School, founded in 1927, is renowned for its extensive business and management materials. Its Historical Collections, which include rare books, manuscripts, and company records, have served to be helpful for business history research.

Harvard Library’s vast resources, historic collections, and specialized libraries offer exceptional support for the academic and research needs of students, faculty, and scholars worldwide.

Influence in Politics and Leadership

Harvard University has greatly influenced politics and leadership in the United States and globally. Many of its alumni have held significant political positions and shaped important policies and laws.

Harvard has educated many U.S. Presidents. Early examples include John Adams (Class of 1755) and John Quincy Adams (Class of 1787). More recent presidents include Franklin D. Roosevelt (Class of 1904), John F. Kennedy (Class of 1940), and Barack Obama (Harvard Law School, Class of 1991). Each leader brought significant changes:

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the New Deal in the 1930s, introducing Social Security and various labor reforms.
  • John F. Kennedy promoted the Civil Rights Movement and launched the Peace Corps in 1961.
  • Barack Obama passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, providing healthcare access to millions of uninsured Americans.
  • Supreme Court Justices

Harvard Law School has produced numerous Supreme Court justices, including current members like Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. Their decisions have influenced major U.S. law and policy aspects, from civil rights to corporate regulations.

Internationally, Harvard alumni include political leaders such as:

  • Ban Ki-moon (Harvard Kennedy School, Class of 1984) served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2007 to 2016.
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Harvard Kennedy School, Class of 1971) became the first elected female head of state in Africa when she assumed the presidency of Liberia in 2006.
  • Raila Odinga (Harvard Kennedy School, Class of 2009) has been a significant political figure in Kenya, advocating for democratic reforms.

Moreover, Harvard’s influence extends to policy-making through its faculty and research centers. The Harvard Kennedy School is a major hub for public policy research and training. Notable contributions include:

  • The Marshall Plan: Designed by Harvard alumnus George Marshall (Harvard Law School, Class of 1946), this plan was crucial in Europe’s economic recovery after World War II.
  • Economic Policies: Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith influenced policies during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, advocating for social welfare and economic equity.

Harvard’s think tanks and research centers contribute to policy debates worldwide. The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Harvard Institute of Politics shape U.S. and global policies on cybersecurity, environmental sustainability, and international relations.

In summary, Harvard University has had a major impact on politics and leadership. Its alumni, including U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, global leaders, and influential economists, have played key roles in shaping policies, laws, and international relations. Harvard’s legacy in political leadership is extensive and influential worldwide.

Frequently Asked Questions

What major is Harvard known for?

Harvard University is known for its excellence across various majors and academic disciplines. Some of the most renowned majors at Harvard include:

  • Economics: Harvard’s Economics Department is one of the most prestigious in the world, producing influential research and graduates who go on to significant roles in academia, government, and business.
  • Law: Harvard Law School is globally recognized for its rigorous curriculum and distinguished faculty. It has produced Supreme Court justices, prominent lawyers, and political leaders.
  • Business: Harvard Business School is famous for its MBA program, which emphasizes leadership, entrepreneurship, and global business practices. It is a top choice for aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs.
  • Medicine: Harvard Medical School is one of the leading medical schools in the world, known for its groundbreaking research, excellent clinical training, and contributions to medical science.
  • Government/Political Science: The Harvard Kennedy School is a prominent institution for public policy and political science, educating future leaders and policymakers.

What sport is Harvard known for?

Harvard University is renowned for its strong tradition in several sports, particularly rowing, football, and ice hockey. The Harvard rowing team is one of the best in the country, known for its storied rivalry with Yale, culminating in the annual Harvard-Yale Regatta, the oldest intercollegiate sporting event in the U.S.

Harvard University Health Service Building Entrance and Logo

Harvard’s football team is equally famous, especially for its historic rivalry with Yale in “The Game.” The team has won 13 national championships and boasts many College Football Hall of Famers. Harvard’s ice hockey teams are also highly competitive, with the men’s team having a notable rivalry with Cornell University and producing numerous professional players and Olympians.

Additionally, Harvard excels in basketball, track and field, fencing, and swimming and diving. The basketball teams have seen increasing success, with the men’s team making multiple appearances in the NCAA tournament under coach Tommy Amaker. The track and field and cross-country programs regularly compete at high levels within the Ivy League and nationally.

Harvard’s fencing team is one of the best in the Ivy League and the nation, boasting several national titles and Olympians. The swimming and diving teams are also highly competitive, with numerous All-Americans and Olympians among their ranks. These sports highlight Harvard’s diverse and successful athletic programs, attracting talented student-athletes from around the world.

Is it more difficult to get into Harvard than the other Ivy League schools?

Yes, getting into Harvard is generally more difficult than many other Ivy League schools due to its extremely low acceptance rate, typically around 4%. Harvard’s admissions process is intensive, and competition is tight, evaluating not just academics but also extracurricular achievements, leadership roles, personal essays, and recommendation letters. The university seeks well-rounded individuals who excel in multiple areas.

Harvard’s prestigious global reputation attracts a large number of applicants from around the world, making the competition even more difficult. While other Ivy League schools like Princeton, Columbia, and Yale also have very low acceptance rates, Harvard often stands out as slightly more selective.

Is Harvard known for law?

Yes, Harvard is highly renowned for its law program. Harvard Law School (HLS), established in 1817, is the oldest continually operating law school in the United States. It’s known for its academic excellence, alumni, faculty, and extensive resources.

Notable alumni include U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Rutherford B. Hayes, and Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch. HLS offers a broad range of courses and specializations, a large academic law library, research centers, and practical experience through clinics. Its global impact is evident through its influential alumni network and significant contributions to legal scholarship and practice worldwide.

What are your odds of getting into Harvard?

The odds of getting into Harvard are quite slim, reflecting the university’s highly selective admissions process. What is Harvard known for? It’s very low acceptance. Harvard’s acceptance rate typically hovers around 4%, making it one of the most competitive universities in the world.

For the Class of 2026, for example, Harvard received over 61,000 applications and admitted just 1,954 students. This low acceptance rate means that only a small fraction of applicants are offered admission, emphasizing the need for exceptional academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, and strong personal qualities.

Applicants to Harvard generally need outstanding academic credentials to be competitive. Successful candidates often have SAT scores between 1460-1570, ACT scores between 33-35, and top grades in challenging coursework, such as Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. 

However, Harvard’s holistic admissions process also considers personal essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and other factors demonstrating a candidate’s potential to contribute to the university’s community. This comprehensive evaluation ensures that Harvard admits students who excel academically and bring diverse experiences and perspectives.



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