What Qualifications Do I Need to Get Into Harvard?

Updated February 21, 2017

Founded in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest university in the United States. Harvard focuses on the pursuit of excellence and accepts students based on their achievements, abilities and character. Harvard's acceptance rate for 2010 was 6.9 per cent out of 30,000 applicants, down from 7.1 per cent in 2009. Outstanding academic and personal qualifications that distinguish a student applicant from all the other applicants hold the key to getting accepted into Harvard.

Academic Accomplishments

Harvard accepts students who are in the top 10 per cent to 15 per cent of their graduating class. Students need an SAT score between 2080 and 2370 and an ACT score between 31 and 35. Harvard admissions representatives prefer to see students who have taken the most rigorous secondary school curriculum available. Four years of English with extensive writing, four years of math, four years of science including biology, chemistry, physics and an advanced science course, three years of American and European history, and four years of one foreign language are minimum requirements. Writing skills, experience and awards are especially important. Academic excellence such as honour roll, national honour society membership and extra high school and college coursework are valuable for admissions acceptance.

Distinguishing Experience

Students applying to Harvard must have experience or achievements in study or research, documented contributions to schools or communities and demonstrated excellence in particular academic or extra-curricular endeavours. Awards, participation in special programs like music and sports, contest wins such as spelling and geography bees and math and science bowls all give students an advantage in admissions selections. Excellence in one or two areas or extra effort in many different areas outside of average school curriculum gets the attention of admissions representatives. Leadership activities such as student government and participation in community service organisations also garners attention for college and university admissions.

Essay and Recommendation

An important part of the college application process includes the personal essay and letter(s) of recommendation. Students must be able to express themselves extremely well in writing and have a unique and engaging perspective for their essay. Conveying why they want to attend Harvard and what they bring to the school in a well-written essay can mean the difference between admission and rejection. A letter of recommendation, preferably more than one but at least one strong recommendation, is important to show how the student is perceived by others and relates to peers and the community. Ideally, essays and recommendations must relate the student's strengths and achievements in a way that makes admissions representatives see the value of the student to the school.

Personal Character

Harvard admissions representatives seek students with enthusiasm, creativity and strength of character to build the school's student body and enhance its reputation. As much of the application documentation as possible should demonstrate passion and commitment to academic excellence, especially in the essay, recommendations and extra-curricular activities. A student with no participation in school clubs, sports or contests outside of the daily classroom can't compete with a student who is in band or plays basketball or is active in student government.

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About the Author

Heidi Cardenas specializes in human resources, business and personal finance, small-business advice, home and garden and home improvement. Her professional background includes human resources and business administration, technical writing and corporate communications. She has studied horticulture and business administration, and enjoys guest blogging for publications including Herb Companion Magazine, Natural Home Living Magazine, and Mother Earth Living.