How to Get into Harvard

In 2018, when the Students for Fair Admissions alleged that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants, they forced the release of once confidential admissions information, and that exposure revealed much about the inner workings of the admissions process at Harvard University, the second most selective college in the county.

The SFFA vs Harvard suit exposed what you can do to up your admissions chances

Generally speaking, the document dump revealed a lot about what we already know and have known about the Ivy League since its inception: like Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard is looking for the “best and the brightest.” But if we look carefully at the information released during the trial, a number of Harvard’s specific preferences emerge in high relief.

Below, we’ve broken down what we learned from the documentation and detailed what that means for potential applicants.

Harvard’s Admissions Preferences

1.  Harvard likes to admit students who have achieved unusual academic distinctions.

What does this mean for applicants? 

Consider taking 3 languages. If possible, start learning a fourth before you apply. In addition, take as many AP courses and college courses as you can handle before applying. Only do so, however, if you can earn top grades in all of them.  

2.  Harvard looks to admit students who earn top SAT and ACT scores.

Harvard starts assessing and recruiting potential applicants well before they apply. How? Every time the SAT or ACT is offered, Harvard buys the test scores and contact information of over 100,00 students who took the tests from the College Board and ACT, Inc. The college then uses this data to identify high-achieving students and then the university floods their email inboxes and snail mail boxes with letters, booklets, photos; you know, the pretty marketing stuff.

What does this mean for applicants?

If you want to get into Harvard, take the SAT and ACT early and often. Harvard is happy to start recruiting you as early as ninth grade. The better you do on the test, the harder they start recruiting you.

Note: For the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, Harvard is test optional.

3.  Harvard wants to admit leaders.

Harvard is looking for students who display enormous courage in the face of obstacles and who demonstrate a singular ability to lead or inspire others.

What does this mean for potential applicants?

Take risks. Identify opportunities to take bold action in ways that others aren’t. Once you’ve found your fight, try to garner national or international media attention for your work as did Harvard student David Hogg, the young gun control advocate. 


4.  The SFFA vs Harvard documentation revealed that Harvard wants to admit students with enough skill to play a varsity sport at Harvard.

What does this mean for applicants?

If you have athletic ability and you want to go to Harvard, start cultivating your athletic ability early and aim for national, international, or Olympic level accomplishment.

5.  Harvard wants to admit students who know themselves and have the ability to represent that self-knowledge in writing.

What does this mean for potential applicants?

Write an outstanding application essay. The admissions officers at Harvard hope that your essay will show all the hallmarks of expert personal narratives. That means that they are interested in both the style and content of applicants’ essays. When you write your essay, be detailed, be concise, but most important, be authentic. Write in a way that represents honest and insightful self-knowledge.

6.  Harvard takes admissions interviews seriously.

Harvard’s admission interviews are 60-minutes long. Interviewers are looking for evidence of “potential,” “maximum growth,” and “direction” as well as intellectual and personal “capacity.”

What does this mean for applicants?

Prep long and hard for your interview. When prepping for your interview, rehearse stories that show those four cardinal attributes.

7.  Make sure that your letter recommenders have no concerns about your performance.

Harvard has a strong preference for students who make it look easy.

What does this mean for applicants?

Make sure that your letters of recommendation are unqualified.

It’s tough to get into Harvard. But with the right strategy, you have a great chance of becoming one of the few this elite and historic university admits and cherishes.

Want help getting into Harvard? Call me! I’m always ready to help you!

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, phone, and Google docs to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized curriculum for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and college aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and win admission to the Ivy League and other competitive colleges.  

About The Author
Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.

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