How To Get Into Harvard: Admission Requirements & Guidance

08/03/202320 minute read
How To Get Into Harvard: Admission Requirements & Guidance

Harvard University is one of the world's most prestigious and selective universities, with a long history of academic excellence and innovation. However, gaining admission to Harvard is no easy feat. The university receives thousands of applications each year and accepts only a small percentage of applicants.

So, what does it take to get into Harvard? While there is no magic formula or guaranteed strategy for admission, certain steps and strategies can increase your chances of success.

In this blog post, we'll provide a comprehensive guide on how to get into Harvard, covering everything from looking at Harvard’s admission requirements to crafting a winning application.

If you're a high school student or a parent of a high schooler just starting to think about college, this guide will provide you with the information and resources you need to put your best foot forward and pursue your academic and personal goals.

How hard is it to get into Harvard?

It is tough to get into Harvard, and the university receives applications from more qualified applicants than they can accept.

For the class of 2026, Harvard received 61,220 applications and only accepted 1,954 students at an acceptance rate of 3.2%. Refer to the table below for a complete breakdown of Harvard’s acceptance rate.

Harvard Class of 2026 Acceptance Rates
Number of ApplicationsAccepted StudentsAcceptance Rate
Early Applications9,4067407.9%
Regular Applications51,8141,2142.3%

Meeting GPA and SAT/ACT requirements (although these are now optional) will help you get through the first round of filters. If you don’t meet the minimum expectations, your chances of getting past the first selection round are nearly impossible.

While the school is highly selective, your chances of getting in dramatically increase if your tests and grades are at the top of your class and your extracurriculars align with Harvard’s values. Your essay answers help Harvard admissions get to know you better.

“The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.”

What is Harvard Looking for?

1. Academic Excellence

Harvard is looking for students who excel academically and have challenged themselves by taking rigorous courses, such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

In addition to grades and standardized test scores, Harvard values a passion for learning beyond the classroom and engagement in activities such as research, internships, or independent projects.

2. Leadership and Community Involvement

Harvard values leadership and community involvement. They look for applicants who have positively impacted their communities through participation in extracurriculars, school clubs, athletics, volunteering, or leadership positions in community organizations.

They want to see applicants who have demonstrated a passion for making a difference in the world around them.

3. Authenticity and Communication Skills

Harvard values authenticity and effective communication. Admission officers want to get to know applicants through their essays and letters of recommendation.

They look for individuals who can effectively articulate their unique experiences, perspectives, and aspirations. Harvard wants to see who you are beyond your achievements and qualifications.

4. A Holistic Application

It's essential to remember that Harvard has a holistic admissions process, meaning they consider every aspect of an applicant's profile. Harvard weighs grades and test scores but also values personal qualities such as character, creativity, intellectual curiosity, and growth potential.

What do you need to get into Harvard?

The following information has been gathered from Harvard’s 2021-22 Common Dataset.

High School GPA

The average high school GPA of admitted students at Harvard is around 4.2. 73% of students had a GPA of at least 4.0, indicating that admitted students typically mostly earned A grades in high school.

If you’re studying the IB, this translates to scoring mostly 7s and achieving a minimum score of at least 42.

Standardized Test Scores

While Harvard remains test-optional for the 2022/23 admissions year, your SAT and ACT scores are considered and can help your application stand out if you’ve scored well.

For the class of 2025, 54% of applicants submitted their SAT scores, and 31% submitted their ACT scores.

Admitted students typically have very high standardized test scores.

SAT Scores of Harvard Students
25th Percentile75th Percentile
ACT Scores of Harvard Students
25th Percentile75th Percentile

These score ranges indicate that admitted students at Harvard have extremely high academic achievements, with most scoring in the top 1-5% of all test takers in the US.

However, it's important to note that while these scores are impressive, the admissions process at Harvard is holistic, and takes into account other factors such as extracurricular activities, personal essays, and letters of recommendation.

Rigorous Coursework

Admitted students typically have taken a challenging and rigorous high school curriculum. This may include advanced or honors courses, as well as courses in areas such as math, science, English, history, and foreign languages.

Recommended Courses for Harvard
CourseRecommended Units
Foreign Language4
Social Studies3

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are an essential part of the application process for students hoping to get into Harvard. Harvard is looking for students who are more than just academic achievers. They seek outgoing leaders who can positively impact their campus and the world.

Admitted students typically have a strong record of involvement in extracurricular activities, such as sports, music, theater, community service, or other pursuits. They may have also demonstrated leadership skills or a commitment to a particular cause or issue.


The college essay is a crucial part of a student's application. It provides a unique opportunity to showcase a student's personality, writing skills and fit with the university.

If applying through the Common App, you must answer the Common App essay prompts and Harvard’s supplemental essay questions.

Harvard admissions officers are looking for well-written, authentic, and unique essays that reveal who the student is, what matters to them, and what makes them stand out.

Successful essays can take many forms, from personal narratives to academic essays to creative writing. The best essays reveal a student's voice and unique perspective.

There is no right way to write a college essay, but it is essential to be authentic to oneself. When writing an essay, students should consider what they want to convey about themselves and how they want to be remembered by the admissions committee. The essay is a chance to show the admissions team who the student is beyond their grades and extracurricular activities and to demonstrate their potential to impact the community at Harvard positively.

Recommendation Letters

For Harvard admissions officers, recommendation letters provide an opportunity to get a more holistic view of the applicant. They can help to highlight an applicant's strengths, achievements, and unique qualities, which can help set them apart from other applicants.

A strong recommendation letter can also help to strengthen an applicant's application. It can provide additional evidence of their academic potential and demonstrate that the student has the support of respected professionals in their field.

“In our admissions process, we give careful, individual attention to each applicant. We seek to identify students who will be the best educators of one another and their professors—individuals who will inspire those around them during their College years and beyond. As we read and discuss your application, here are some things that will be on our minds.”

- Harvard Admissions

How to increase your chances of getting into Harvard?

1. Apply Early

Take advantage of Early Action and apply to Harvard early. Early Action applications are non-binding but offer you a higher chance of acceptance. The early action acceptance rate at Harvard for the Class of 2026 was 7.9% compared to the regular application acceptance rate of only 2.3%.

Applying early has several benefits. First, it can help to reduce competition. The early application pool is typically smaller than the regular decision pool, which can increase your chances of acceptance. Additionally, the admissions committee has more time to review each application in the early pool, which can result in a more thorough and nuanced review of your application.

Secondly, it shows the admissions committee that Harvard is your top choice and that you are committed to attending if accepted. This can help to demonstrate your level of interest and enthusiasm for the university, which can be a positive factor in the admissions decision.

Applying early can help you to receive your admissions decision sooner. This can help to reduce the stress and uncertainty of the admissions process and allow you to plan for the future more effectively.

It is important to note that applying early does not guarantee admission but can significantly improve your chances of acceptance.

2. Take Rigorous Courses & Score Well

Harvard is looking for students who have excelled academically and challenged themselves by taking rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

It's important to maintain high grades throughout high school and to take advantage of opportunities for academic enrichment. As highlighted earlier, the average GPA of students applying to Harvard is 4.2, with more than 70% scoring at least 4.0. You should aim to achieve a GPA of at least 4.0 to have a good chance of acceptance

Helpful resources

  • If you want to add rigorous coursework to your academic profile, consider taking some Online AP Courses at Crimson Global Academy.
  • If you’re struggling to reach a GPA of 4.0, consider taking Online Tutoring with Harvard graduates who can help you reach your maximum academic potential.
  • Enroll in a pre-college summer program to help you get a head start on your college education.
  • We also have free eBooks that can help you ace your academics in the link below.

3. Submit your SAT/ACT Scores

While Harvard is test-optional, your SAT/ACT scores will be considered if submitted. There are several benefits to submitting your scores, even if they have a test-optional policy.

  • Demonstrates your academic abilities: Submitting strong SAT or ACT scores can demonstrate your intellectual abilities and provide admissions officers with additional evidence of your potential to succeed in college-level coursework.
  • Strengthens your application: If you have strong SAT or ACT scores, submitting them can improve your overall application and make you a more competitive candidate for admission.
  • Demonstrates your commitment: Submitting your test scores, even if it's optional, can demonstrate your commitment to the admissions process and your interest in attending the college or university.

If you decide to submit your SAT/ACT scores, ensure you score higher than the average scores highlighted earlier. You should attain a score of at least 1580 on your SATs or 35-36 on your ACTs.

Helpful resources

4. Demonstrate leadership and community involvement

Harvard values students who have demonstrated leadership skills and have made a positive impact in their communities. Participate in extracurricular activities, volunteer in your community, and seek leadership positions to showcase your ability to make a difference.

Helpful resources

5. Write a strong personal essay

Harvard receives thousands of applications yearly, and your college essay is the perfect way to help you stand out to college admissions officers. A strong and unique essay can differentiate you from applicants with similar academic profiles. Think outside the box, find ways to integrate your passions, and show your unique personality and perspectives.

Harvard’s supplemental essays have two required prompts and one optional. We recommend you answer all three to stand the best chance.

Ensure you display the following in your Harvard essays:

  • Provides insight into your personality: A well-written college essay can give admissions officers a glimpse into your personality, interests, and experiences that may not be evident from the rest of your application. This can help to make you a more memorable and compelling candidate.
  • Demonstrates your writing skills: A strong college essay can showcase your writing skills and provide evidence of your ability to communicate effectively. This is important because strong writing skills are highly valued in college coursework.
  • Highlights your unique qualities: A strong college essay can highlight your unique qualities and experiences that make you stand out from other applicants. This demonstrates your potential to contribute to the campus community and positively impact your future career.
  • Shows your commitment to Harvard: A well-crafted college essay can demonstrate your genuine interest in attending Harvard and your understanding of what makes it a good fit for you.

Helpful resources

Is Harvard right for you?

Harvard may be one of the best schools in the world, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best school for you. Before you apply to Harvard, ask yourself why you want to attend. Do your goals align with Harvard’s mission, or are you only applying because Harvard invokes name recognition and prestige? Also, consider the campus lifestyle and culture, the courses available, location, and financial support.

If you can honestly evaluate these criteria and your academics, goals, and expectations match Harvard’s, then you should apply! If not, consider one of the other Ivy League schools. They might line up better with your objectives.

Life after Harvard

Harvard offers students a foot in the door at many prominent global firms. Google, Goldman Sachs, and CitiGroup all look at Harvard for future employees. Newsweek also ranked Harvard as the #3 private college whose graduates earn the most money.

Not only are you almost guaranteed access to higher-paying jobs as a Harvard student, but you also gain access to an elite network of Harvard alumni. Some of Harvard’s most famous alumni include:

  • Leonard Berstein: Conductor, Composer, Pianist, Lecturer, Author
  • E.E. Cummings: Poet, Painter, Essayist, Author, and Playwright
  • Gertrude Stein: Writer, Poet, Playwright
  • T.S. Elliot: poet, Essayist, Playwright, Publisher
  • Conan O’Brien: Late night talk show host
  • Natalie Portman: Oscar-winning actress
  • Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Astrophysicist
  • Soledad O’Brien: journalist
  • Sheryl Sandberg: Facebook COO, author
  • Jeremy Lin: Professional baseball player

Final thoughts

Getting into Harvard is highly competitive, but it's not impossible. By focusing on your academic achievements, demonstrating leadership and community involvement, showcasing your unique qualities, and preparing thoroughly for standardized tests, you can increase your chances of acceptance to Harvard.

Crafting a strong personal statement, seeking letters of recommendation from the right people, and applying early can also improve your chances of acceptance.

Ultimately, the key to getting into Harvard is to showcase your strengths and unique qualities in every aspect of your application and demonstrate your potential to positively impact the campus community and beyond. With hard work, dedication, and a well-prepared application, you can position yourself as a competitive candidate for admission to one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

If you want additional support and guidance on your journey to getting into a top Ivy League school, book a free consultation with our experienced college counselors who can provide you with personalized advice and support.

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