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MAR 11, 2020 • 20 min read
If you’ve ever taken time to step back from the daily grind of finishing high school or studying your undergraduate degree and thought about where you could possibly get the best education in the world... Harvard probably came to mind.
The US Ivy League college with the most famous name; the one that is widely considered the best of the best, the creme de la creme, the absolute pinnacle of world class education.
Chances are that if you’ve taken time to research the world’s best universities, then you’ve probably also thought about attending Harvard in all its glory.
Imagine that: a little old Aussie or Kiwi student jet-setting your way across to the other side of the world to attend university.
Soumil Singh is one Kiwi who did it. In fact, he turned down 10 of the top universities in the world, including four Ivy League schools, in favour of Harvard.
To many, the thought of attending Harvard is nothing more than a pleasant daydream.
But why sit around daydreaming? Why settle for less? That certainly ain’t gonna cut it at Harvard.
Seriously, though, gaining entry into Harvard is achievable, though hard work and preparation is an absolute must!
To be honest, though, the process isn't any different to your standard US college application, just more competitive. So get off the couch and reach for the mother flippin’ stars, brother, because you're going to Harvard!
Let's not forget Harvard's enviable location, in Boston, Massachusetts. Very much a student town that has a rich history and culture of live music, bars and of course, the most amazing pizza! In fact, Harvard itself is home to many pizza joints, but Pinocchio's is by far the best.
Check out the video and you'll see what I mean.
Okay, okay, I may have got a bit too excited there. So before we get ahead of ourselves, let's have a look at what it actually takes to get in.
Are you good enough? What grades are required? What type of extracurriculars do they look for? How much does it cost? And most importantly, can you afford it?
Chill out, take a seat, and read on, because all these questions and more will be answered for you. Once you're done reading, you’ll know exactly what it takes to to become a Harvard student and how you can ace your application.
I know, I know, all you really want to find out is whether you've got a shot, right?
Well, the answer is yes! The only problem: it’s not going to be easy.
You won’t be able to bang a successful application to Harvard together in a couple of caffeine-fuelled all-nighters… you’ll need to take time to prepare, plan and execute.
Each aspect of your application needs to paint a clear picture of the person you are and the student you have the potential to become at Harvard.
Every element must be consistent with the last – including your grades, so let’s begin with that!
Okay, so listen up, punk, you need to put your head down, your bum up and hit those books… HARD!
As is the case with all colleges, your academic excellence is a key contributing factor to whether or not you'll secure a place. And despite the tendency for US colleges to place more emphasis on the person behind the grades, the score expectations at Harvard are still extremely high!
You have to submit your SAT or ACT score, as well as your high school academic transcript for assessment. To be considered, you’ll need to be a very solid performer on all fronts.
While Harvard claims there is no minimum cut-off grade, you do have to reach a certain standard to be considered – I mean you’re not getting into Harvard with a 1.0 GPA, let’s be real. Having said that, less than perfect academics can be compensated for in other aspects of your application – within reason, of course – and Harvard has admitted students in the past with high school GPAs as low as 2.5!
In the latest intake, however, 87% of admitted freshmen had a GPA of 3.75+ on the 4.0 scale. Yep, a clear majority of Harvard entrants this year were straight A students.
Additionally, whether it's the SAT or ACT, the score expectations for standardised tests are equally high.
For SAT results, the estimated average score for Harvard freshman is 1535 out of 1600 – that’s the average, so you’ll want to be aiming for as close to a perfect score as possible.
Having said that, it’s reported that Harvard consistently accepts students with SAT composite scores down to 1470, while the rare student could be accepted with an SAT score as low as 1405... though the rest of their application would have to be killer to compensate!
As for the ACT, the standard remains high with the expectation being a score of 32 or above out of 36. While a score of 34 should put you in the upper half of applicants, anything greater provides you with a red hot chance at gaining admission.
A competitive test score is a great boost to your application, but as I mentioned above, all is not lost if you fall a bit below the average admitted grade because you can compensate in other areas.
Two great aspects of your application where you can compensate for lower grades and tests score are your application essay and extracurriculars.
For those that don’t know, US colleges are always looking to admit outgoing leaders who can make a positive impact on their campus community, not just well-trained robots who can understand complex theories and equations.
In order to assess your potential impact on the campus community, admissions officers request that you submit a history of extracurricular activities and out-of-school involvements.
Unfortunately there is no Harvard cookie cutter to help mould you into the perfect candidate.
Basically, you have the freedom to choose what you show as your extracurriculars. But while you do have the freedom, colleges tend to favour certain qualities over others, and Harvard is no different.
The following seven qualities and characteristics tend to be favoured by Harvard admissions officers, so you should try to show evidence of these in your application:
2. Community service involvement
These qualities can be shown in many different ways. One of the biggest aspects to remember when submitting your extracurriculars is they want to know the REAL YOU!
Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to say and show what you think Harvard wants, because this doesn’t work! What Harvard truly wants is for you to be honest.
Seriously, think about how many applicants are being slightly dishonest in order to improve their chances of admission. You, good sire, ain’t gonna stand out like that.
Be yourself, embrace your interests, be passionate and let your true colours shine. That’s how you stand out (particularly if your academic grades aren’t of the highest standards).
An extracurricular activity could be anything from captaining a football team (leadership), starting a charity or organising a fundraiser (passionate, integrity), volunteering at a local organisation (community service involvement), or founding a new company (visionary, solution-oriented). No matter what yours are, make sure you care about them and have shown a genuine interest in making you community a better place.
Okay, now onto a seriously scary aspect of any US college… the cost!
For many students, this is the single biggest barrier blocking them from studying abroad.
Once money is mentioned, a lot of students immediately switch off or lose interest in the idea of studying at Harvard simply because they feel they won’t be able to afford it. And when you look at the face value figures of tuition fees and costs it’s easy to understand why.
However, these are often misleading!
While a degree at Harvard is predicted to cost an average of $48,949 per year, what’s not often mentioned is that rarely does anyone actually pay the full amount!
Private US colleges try to make education as affordable as possible for students all over the world. At Harvard, yes the real Harvard, up to 70% of students receive some form of financial aid that makes the Ivy League dream a possibility.
But wait, my friends, there’s more! 60% of students attending Harvard receive some form of need-based scholarship, meaning they receive a scholarship purely based on how much they need it.
Harvard checks you out, they like you, they notice you’re a little less affluent than other students… and they’re all like: “Hey, you, have a scholarship.”
Well maybe it’s not that simple, but that’s the basic concept.
Oh and here’s the real kicker, one I bet you never saw coming!
20% of families actually pay nothing to have their child attend Harvard… one in every five students get free entry!
Harvard has such a massive endowment (basically alumni donating vast swathes of money that the administration uses to take the financial burden away from potential students) that it's almost like it's looking for excuses to give you money!
The school’s desire to make education affordable for all, regardless of nationality, is one of it's major draw cards.
In fact, Harvard is one of only five US colleges that offer need-blind college admissions to international students.
What this means is that they are blind to your need requirements when assessing your application.
So where one college is able to see you have high financial aid requirements and knock you back due to the cost you’ll inflict on them, Harvard cannot. If your application is good enough, you’re in, regardless of need.
However, this does not mean they can guarantee that 100% of your needs will be met, but they will do everything in their power to help you accept their offer – because they've chosen you.
So, what are you waiting for? Get working on that application!
As I've just proven, the cost of international study is kind of a non-issue at Harvard.
In fact, as you may have already worked out, in some cases it can actually be more affordable to study at Harvard than to stay at home!
That’s right, more affordable to study at Harvard… who who'd have thunk it.
And to be honest, when you consider the extra benefits you receive from an Ivy League education, the cost becomes a bit irrelevant. Even if you have to pay for a full-fee paying place, you’ll get what you paid for with a solid ROI on your college degree.
There’s a reason the Ivies are considered the best of the best, and why Harvard is considered a god among them.
Studying at an Ivy League school has heaps of perks. Best of all, you benefit from what I like to call the "Ivy League difference".
Basically, every Ivy League offers students a foot in the door at big global firms and companies. Places like Google, Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup all look to the Ivies when in need of grads.
And when you consider the fact that 34 of the CEOs on CNN’s top 100 startups list went to Harvard, you can see there’s a pretty clear cut correlation between attending Harvard and success.
Basically, it’s a one way ticket to making bank ASAP.
In fact, according to recent research, Harvard graduates make more money than graduates from any other college (with the exception of those egg heads at MIT).
To add a little bit of a cherry on top, Harvard recently topped a list of universities which have produced the most billionaires. In its history, Harvard has produced 52 billionaires with a net worth of USD $205 billion – and these numbers don't even include Harvard dropouts Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg whose combined worth is about USD $45 billion!
Okay, that’s crazy.
With those kind of numbers, regardless of the student debt you accumulate (if there is any at all), you’ll be able to pay it off in no time!
Not only are you granted access to higher paying jobs earlier on in life, as a Harvard student, you gain access to an elite network of Harvard alumni. The list of successful and famous people who have attended Harvard is ridiculously long and constantly expanding.
Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, Barack Obama, Malia Obama, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Al Gore, George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and Conan O’Brien (the funny red-headed man on TV) all studied at Harvard.
From actors and actresses to Presidents of the USA, as a student at Harvard, you’ll be connected with the future leaders and motivators of the world… you might even become one yourself!
But first you've gotta get in. As we’ve said, you grades need to be high, your extracurriculars need to be on point, and overall your application needs to be near faultless.
You're up against the best of the best, the future movers and shakers of the world. To compete with them, you need to be operating on their level!
This means preparing and planning early. Talk to people in the know and you’ll be on your way to Harvard in no time!
So stop hanging around here… you know what to do, so go on, start preparing!
Actually, let's just dial it back a tad. Before you shoot off to start piecing together your application to Harvard, it’s important to take a minute to ask yourself why you want to attend.
It may sound like a silly question to ask, but many people simply apply to Harvard because it’s the best school according to all the rankings and write ups. However, you should not be applying to a school simply because it’s the best, but alternatively, you should be applying because it’s the best school for you!
For some, their best fit school mightn’t be Harvard – it might be a smaller west coast school or a liberal arts college. Everyone is different.
You must not only consider why you’re applying to Harvard but do some research into the campus lifestyle and culture, the courses that are available, the financial support offered to you, the location and, of course, your career paths post graduation among many other elements.
If Harvard doesn't seem like a right fit for you, it’s doesn't mean you're a bad student, not by any means! Everyone's best fit university is different.
We all saw it in Legally Blonde, but it might help to see what going to Harvard is actually like:
Thinking about going to Harvard for your postgrad? There are 12 graduate schools to choose from!
Postgraduate degrees are some of the most well-known at Harvard, particularly medicine, law and business.
When applying as a postgraduate student to Harvard, the process is only marginally different to that of an undergraduate, though you obviously must submit different academic results and the expectations and prerequisites are more demanding.
Depending on the course you’re applying to, you may be required to submit GMAT, MCAT, GAMSAT, or LSAT test results along with your GPA from your undergraduate degree. You’ll also need to submit a number of referees, extracurriculars, essays, have had a number of years experience, and then eventually sit an interview!
Harvard Law School is known the world over for more than just starring in Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon. Although that’s an absolute classic of a film, the school is more commonly known for the first class education on offer.
Harvard Law School has attracted some seriously top end talent over the years including the much beloved presidential family of Barack and Michelle Obama. Harvard Law School is actually where the two met, so you'll get more than just an education, but a chance to find the love of your life!
However, unlike most other countries, you can’t study law straight out of high school in the US, hence why it's a graduate school. You have to have completed a bachelor's degree first.
There are some courses you can study to give yourself a greater opportunity to continue into a law degree, such as criminology and legal studies, but there are really no restrictions as to what you must study. Whatever you study, just make sure you finish with a GPA as close to 4.0 as possible!
And don't forget those extracurriculars, which are just as important for entry into graduate school. This time, they'll need to fit the bill a bit more, so things like debating or an internship at a law firm are good additions here.
Additionally, you’ll have to have completed the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which consists of five 35-minute multiple sections and tests in reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. For the admitted Harvard Law School students in the class of 2020, the average LSAT score in the 75th percentile was 175 out of a possible 180; while in the 25th percentile of admitted students, the average score was 170. As you can see, it’s still pretty dang competitive.
While Harvard Law School does not award merit or sports scholarships, it does focus on awarding need-based aid to as many students as possible, so you'll be covered either way.
GPA: 3.96 - 3.76
Acceptance Rate: 15.6%
Number of Students: 1990
Length: 3-4 years
Tuition (not including living fees): $61,650
Now moving on to one of the world’s most popular, highest ranked and highly desirable places to study: the Harvard School of Medicine.
The School of Medicine is highly regarded for good reason! On any given ranking, it’s always featured in the top three if not ranked number one in the world. Unfortunately, however, just like law degree In the US, medicine can only be studied at postgraduate level!
So what this means is you’ll need to complete and smash your undergraduate degree before thinking about applying to Harvard Med School..
Again, there are some common courses to study pre-medicine, and some college even offer pre-med undergraduate degrees, but at the end of the day, you have the choice toy study whatever the heck you want!
When it comes to medicine, however, there some prerequisites (obvs) so you need to ake sure you’re hitting those throughout your undergraduate degree.
After hitting all the prereqs, you need to also sit and submit an MCAT test if you wish to continue on to a postgraduate degree. The MCAT consists of four sections scored between 118 and 132 with a perfect score being 528. The average MCAT score for Harvard Med School admits was 517 - pretty dang good!
However, gaining admission comes at more than just solid grades, which should be no surprise by now, and you’re assessed based on other elements including,
Each aspect needs to be consistent and as strong as the last, so it certainly ain’t easy, but it’s definitely attainable.
GPA: 3.93 average
Acceptance Rate: 3.3%
Number of Students: 1,571 (MD+PhD)
Length: 4 years full time for Doctor of Medicine degree
Tuition (not including living fees): $58,050 USD a year
While it’s still a requirements that your academic grades be of a high standard, with the average GPA across all sectors reaching 3.7 on a 4-point scale, the acceptance rate at Harvard Business is much more inviting, though, still extremely competitive, than other schools, currently sitting at a double-figured number of 11%!
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, age is not a factor, for any postgraduate degrees (or so Harvard claim) and it’s all dependent on whether you have met the required level of experience.
Just like many colleges, Harvard are always looking for a diverse student body to enhance their campus culture. Successful candidates should display leadership, active engagement with the community, are eager to share their experiences and are ambitious. A great place to share these insights into you is through your references and essay as well as your interview.
The required GMAT should be in the 750 - 800 range; and though not definitive, unless you are a rare student, you should require a minimum of 4 years working experience to gain admission.
Acceptance Rate: 11%
Number of Students: 1,990 (1,750 J.D. students, 180 LL.M. students, and 60 S.J.D.)
Length: 3-4 years full-time
Total cost (3 years): $158,800
What's the best thing about Harvard?
What's the worst thing about Harvard?
What did Harvard students write their Common App essays about?
What do Harvard students do on a Saturday night?
They're all answered here:
There's no denying Harvard is one of the best schools in the world. Whether you're interested in studying an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, there's most likely a course on offer for you.
While competitive, gaining admission really comes down to how hard you're willing to work. It definitely isn't easy and you're going to need to take at least one year prior the deadline to start researching and preparing your application.
Harvard is always on the look out for unique and diverse students who can add value to its campus community. As an international applicant, you already have a point of difference but make sure you're showing why you're unique and what makes you the ideal candidate for admission. How are you going to make Harvard a better place?
While getting into Harvard is a dream for many, for others Harvard might not be their best suited school. So, make sure you know what you're getting into before you hit that apply button!
Wherever you end up applying, Harvard or elsewhere, if you take the time to prepare, plan and work your butt off, we're sure you'll ace the application and be on your way towards achieving greatness.
Godspeed, my friend, godspeed!