How To Answer Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

10/09/202319 minute read
How To Answer Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

Explore the changes in Harvard's supplemental essay prompts for 2023/24, understand the nuances of each question, and gain insights on crafting compelling responses with our detailed guide, complete with expert tips and links to successful Harvard essay examples.

Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essay Updates: What's Changed?

Gaining admission to Harvard is no small feat, with acceptance rates sometimes plummeting as low as 3%. In such a competitive environment, every component of your application, especially your essay, becomes a crucial tool to stand out to admissions officers.

Every year, top-tier universities like Harvard fine-tune their application process to get a deeper understanding of their applicants. For the 2023/24 admissions cycle, Harvard University has made notable modifications to its supplemental essay questions.

Last year, applicants had a mix of required and optional prompts, with varying word limits, ranging from 50 to 150 words. These prompts touched on extracurricular activities, intellectual experiences, personal backgrounds, and more.

This year, Harvard has streamlined the process, requiring all applicants to answer five questions, each with a strict 200-word limit. The questions emphasize the importance of diversity, intellectual experiences, extracurricular activities, the utilization of a Harvard education, and personal insights for potential roommates.

This shift indicates a desire for more concise, focused responses from applicants, allowing the admissions committee to gain a clearer, more uniform understanding of each student's background, aspirations, and personality.

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What Are Harvard’s Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2023/24?

For the 2023/24 application cycle, Harvard University has outlined specific supplemental essay prompts to understand applicants better in addition to the Common App or Coalition App questions. These questions delve into your experiences, intellectual pursuits, and personal insights. Students are required to answer each Harvard-specific question in under 200 words. Here's a breakdown of the prompts:

  1. Diversity and Contribution: Harvard values a diverse student body. Reflect on your life experiences and explain how they have shaped you and how you plan to contribute to Harvard. (200 words)
  2. Intellectual Experience: Discuss an intellectual experience that has had a significant impact on you. (200 words)
  3. Personal Shaping Experiences: Elaborate on extracurricular activities, employment, travel, or family responsibilities that have played a pivotal role in defining who you are. (200 words)
  4. Future Aspirations: Describe how you envision utilizing your Harvard education in the future. (200 words)
  5. Getting to Know You: List three things your future roommates should know about you. (200 words)

These prompts offer applicants a chance to showcase their personalities, aspirations, and experiences, providing a holistic view of their candidacy.

Looking for inspiration? Dive into these Harvard essay examples to see what successful applications look like!

How to Answer Harvard’s Supplemental Essay Questions?

This guide aims to help you craft a compelling response that showcases your unique journey and potential contributions to Harvard's diverse community.

As you begin planning responses to each individual prompt, be sure to consider what experiences, reflections, and qualities you want to showcase once you’ve responded to all the prompts:

  • Ensure you won’t leave out any important experiences, reflections, and qualities you want Harvard to know about.
  • Be sure you’ll avoid repeating the same experiences, reflections, or qualities in the other prompts.

Answering Prompt 1

“Harvard values a diverse student body. Reflect on your life experiences and explain how they have shaped you and how you plan to contribute to Harvard.”

- 200 words or fewer

1. Understand the Question

Harvard is not merely asking for a list of experiences. They want to understand the depth of your experiences, how they've molded your character, and how you'll use that growth to contribute to the Harvard community.

Since Harvard is telling you they value diversity, consider emphasizing unique experiences or circumstances that highlight the most personal and profound aspects of your personality, values, and perspectives.

2. Reflect on Your Unique Experiences

Consider moments in your life that have had a significant impact on your worldview:

  • Have you lived in multiple countries, exposing you to various cultures?
  • Did you overcome challenges that forced you to view the world differently?
  • Were there pivotal moments in your upbringing that shaped your identity?
  • How did interactions with diverse individuals or groups influence your perspectives?

3. Dive Deep into Personal Growth

Discuss the evolution of your perspectives, values, or aspirations.

  • How did these experiences challenge your beliefs or expand your understanding?
  • What lessons did you derive, and how have they influenced your subsequent actions or decisions?
  • What experiences or reflections shape your deepest beliefs and values? — or, shape some deep questions or doubts you wrestle with?

4. Connect to Harvard

Consider how your unique perspective will enrich Harvard's community.

  • Will you introduce new viewpoints in classroom discussions or help teams work together more successfully?
  • Will you contribute to or initiate student organizations or community projects?
  • Will you exemplify certain traits that enhance a vibrant, curious, and inclusive learning environment?

5. Be Concise and Authentic

With a 200-word limit, precision is key. Ensure your narrative is genuine, making your essay resonate with the reader. Avoid generic statements; instead, provide specific examples that showcase your journey.


Harvard's first supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase the depth of your experiences and how they've shaped you. Reflecting on significant moments, emphasizing personal growth, and connecting your unique perspective to how you'll contribute to Harvard is essential. Remember to be concise, authentic, and ensure your essay is polished to perfection.

Answering Prompt 2

“Discuss an intellectual experience that has had a significant impact on you.”

- 200 words or fewer

This question aims to help you articulate the depth and significance of an intellectual experience and its profound impact on your academic and personal journey.

1. Define "Intellectual Experience"

Before diving in, understand that an intellectual experience isn't limited to classroom learning. It could be:

  • A book that changed your perspective
  • A conversation that challenged your beliefs
  • An experience that triggered a profound insight or understanding
  • Or even a personal project or research endeavor

2. Choose a Meaningful Experience

Reflect on experiences that genuinely transformed your thinking:

  • Was there a particular course or project that ignited a passion?
  • Did a specific book, article, or documentary challenge your pre-existing beliefs?
  • Have you attended seminars, workshops, or lectures that introduced you to new ideas?

3. Delve into the "Why"

Discuss why this experience was transformative:

  • What preconceptions or beliefs did it challenge?
  • How did it expand or deepen your understanding of a particular subject or idea?
  • Did it inspire further exploration or study into the topic?

4. Highlight Personal Growth

Describe how this intellectual experience influenced your academic and personal journey:

  • Did it guide your academic pursuits or career aspirations?
  • How did it shape your values, beliefs, or worldview?

5. Be Authentic and Reflective

Your genuine curiosity and passion should shine through. Avoid using jargon or overly complex language. Instead, focus on genuine reflection and personal growth.


Harvard's second supplemental essay seeks to understand your intellectual journey. It's an opportunity to showcase your curiosity, passion, and the transformative power of learning. By reflecting on a significant intellectual experience and its impact on you, you can demonstrate your academic depth, your own intellectual processes and aptitudes, and intellectual growth.

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Answering Prompt 3

“Elaborate on extracurricular activities, employment, travel, or family responsibilities that have played a pivotal role in defining who you are.”

- 200 words or fewer

This question is designed to help you articulate the significance of experiences outside the classroom and their profound impact on your personal journey.

1. Prioritize Depth Over Quantity

While you might have multiple experiences, focus on one or two that have had the most profound impact on you. This allows you to delve deeper and provide a more insightful reflection.

2. Choose a Defining Experience

Reflect on moments that genuinely shaped your character:

  • Was there an extracurricular activity that taught you leadership, teamwork, or dedication?
  • Did a job teach you responsibility, time management, or the value of hard work?
  • Has travel exposed you to diverse cultures, broadening your perspectives?
  • Were there family responsibilities that instilled in you a sense of maturity, empathy, or resilience?

3. Describe the Experience

Briefly set the scene. Whether it's the bustling environment of a part-time job, the challenges of a leadership role in a club, or the nuances of a family responsibility, paint a picture for the reader.

4. Reflect on the Impact

Discuss how this experience influenced your personal growth:

  • What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
  • What skills or values did you acquire or strengthen?
  • How did this experience shape your aspirations, perspectives, or values?

5. Connect to the Present

Highlight how this experience continues to influence you:

  • How do the lessons you learned guide your current decisions or actions?
  • How has it influenced your academic interests or future aspirations?


Harvard's third supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase experiences outside the classroom that have significantly influenced your personal growth. Reflecting on these pivotal moments and their lasting impact can provide a holistic picture of your character, values, and aspirations.

Answering Prompt 4

“Describe how you envision utilizing your Harvard education in the future.”

- 200 words or fewer

This question aims to help you articulate how a Harvard education aligns with your future goals and the impact you aim to make in your chosen field or community.

1. Reflect on Your Goals

Begin by identifying your long-term aspirations. Have a clear vision in mind, whether it's a specific career, a desire to address a global challenge, or a passion you wish to pursue further.

2. Highlight Harvard's Unique Offerings

Research specific programs, courses, or opportunities at Harvard that align with your goals. This could be a particular academic program, research opportunities, or extracurricular activities.

3. Draw a Connection

Discuss how these unique offerings will equip you with the skills, knowledge, or experiences needed to achieve your future aspirations. Make it evident that Harvard is the ideal place for you to realize these goals.

4. Go Beyond the Obvious

While Harvard's academic excellence is a given, delve into the broader Harvard experience. Consider the influence of its diverse community, its culture of innovation, or its commitment to leadership and service.

5. Discuss the Broader Impact

Expand on how you plan to use your Harvard education to make a difference. Whether it's in your community, in a particular field, or on a global scale, showcase your commitment to creating positive change.

6. Stay Authentic

Ensure your response is genuine and reflects your true aspirations. Admissions officers can discern genuine passion and commitment from generic responses.


Harvard's fourth supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase your forward-thinking approach and how you plan to leverage Harvard's resources to achieve your future goals. By drawing a clear connection between what Harvard offers and your aspirations, you demonstrate a purposeful approach to your education.

Answering Prompt 5

“List three things your future roommates should know about you.”

- 200 words or fewer

This question aims to help you present a genuine and well-rounded picture of yourself, offering insights into your personality, habits, and values.

1. Reflect on Your Personality

This prompt is an invitation to share more about your personal side. Think about the quirks, habits, or values that define you. What are the things that make you, well, you?

2. Balance Seriousness with Lightness

While one point could be a deep reflection of your values or beliefs, another could be a fun fact or a unique hobby. This mix gives a rounded picture of who you are.

3. Be Genuine

Avoid coming up with things you believe the admissions committee wants to hear. This is your chance to let your true self shine through.

4. Consider Your Daily Life

Think about your habits or routines, the music you listen to, or the books you read. These can offer insights into your personality and preferences.

5. Reflect on Past Living Experiences

Have you shared a space with someone before — roommate, sibling, family members, fellow campers?… Think about what made the experience harmonious. Were there particular habits, routines, or guiding principles you followed that were appreciated by those you were sharing space with?


Harvard's fifth supplemental essay is a chance to showcase your personality beyond academics and extracurriculars. By sharing genuine aspects of yourself related to day-to-day living and the many small ways you interact with those around you in more personal spaces, you give a glimpse into your life outside the classroom and what it might be like to share a living space with you.

5 Tips for the "Why This School?" Essay

General Guidelines for Crafting Stellar Harvard Supplemental Essays

1. Understand the Question: Before you start writing, ensure you fully understand what the prompt is asking. Break it down and consider its nuances. This will help you stay on track and address all aspects of the question.

2. Be Authentic: Harvard isn't just looking for high achievers; they're looking for genuine individuals. Your essay should reflect your true self, not what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.

3. Show, Don't Tell: Instead of just stating facts or beliefs, use anecdotes, experiences, or stories to convey your points. This makes your essay more engaging and paints a clearer picture of who you are.

4. Stay Within the Word Limit: While it might be tempting to write more, respect the word limits. It shows that you can convey your thoughts concisely and respect guidelines.

5. Proofread and Edit: Always review your essay multiple times for clarity, coherence, and grammar. Consider also asking a teacher, mentor, or friend to review it.

6. Connect to Harvard: While the prompts might not explicitly ask for it, subtly showing why your experiences, values, or aspirations align with Harvard's culture or offerings can be a plus.

7. Reflect on Growth: Colleges love to see personal growth. Reflect on how experiences have shaped you, lessons learned, and how you've evolved.

8. Avoid Repetition: Ensure that your supplemental essays present new information and don't repeat what's already in your Common App essay or other parts of your application.

9. Be Forward-Looking: While it's essential to reflect on past experiences, also touch on how these experiences prepare you for future endeavors, especially at Harvard.

10. Start Early: Give yourself ample time to brainstorm, draft, and revise. Starting early reduces stress and allows you to approach the essay with a clear mind.

Remember, the supplemental essays are an opportunity to showcase aspects of yourself that aren't evident in other parts of your application. Use them wisely to provide a holistic picture of yourself and why you'd be a great fit for Harvard.

Looking for inspiration? Dive into these Harvard essay examples to see what successful applications look like!

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Final Thoughts

The journey to Harvard is more than just academic prowess; it's about crafting a narrative that resonates deeply with the admissions committee. Your supplemental essays provide a unique window into your personality, aspirations, and the distinct perspectives you'll bring to the Harvard community.

Every Harvard aspirant has a story waiting to be told. This is your moment to share yours. Approach your essays with authenticity, introspection, and a genuine passion for your narrative.

If you're wondering whether your essay truly captures your essence or if it stands out from the multitude of applications, our essay review service is here to help. Our team of experts will meticulously review and provide feedback to refine your essay, ensuring it resonates with admissions officers. For further inspiration, delve into our ebook, which showcases essays from students who clinched spots at top universities. And if Harvard is your dream, these successful Harvard essay examples will provide invaluable insights.

For those just starting their college application journey, consider booking a free consultation with our seasoned college counselors. We're dedicated to guiding you in creating an application that significantly enhances your chances of donning the Crimson colors. Harvard is within reach, and we're here to help you every step of the way.

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