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How to get into Harvard: Breaking Down Acceptance Rates and Admissions Requirements

02 SEP 2021

Harvard consistently ranks as one of the top colleges in the world. Its prestige and history date back hundreds of years. Admission into Harvard is notoriously difficult, and in the last few years, Harvard acceptance rates have decreased even more. While competition is fierce, it’s not impossible to get accepted. Find how you can stand out from the competition and what it takes to get into Harvard.

Already considered one of the most selective schools in the world, Harvard became increasingly more selective in the last few years. In an average application cycle, Harvard accepts about 5% of applicants. Due to the shifting world climate and making the SAT/ACTs optional, Harvard received 57,435 applications for the Class of 2025 (compared with 40,248 for the class of 2024). The record-low acceptance rate plummeted to just 3.4%, or 1,968 accepted students for the Class of 2025.

While these numbers may seem discouraging, don’t give up if you have your heart set on Harvard. Harvard accepts nearly 2,000 students each year, and one of those slots could be yours. Let’s take a brief look at Harvard and how it became one of the leading universities in the world. Then, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Harvard admissions, the application process, and how you can be one of the lucky few to experience this world-class university for yourself.


Do you want to study at Harvard but don’t know where to begin? Crimson helps students reach their ultimate university admissions goals. Our Strategists include former Harvard admissions officers and graduates who can help you put together a robust application that stands out from the crowd! Learn more about our US Admissions Support program.

Table of Contents

  • Harvard Overview
  • Harvard Ranking
  • How hard is it to get into Harvard
  • Harvard Acceptance Rates
  • What does it take to get into Harvard?
  • Harvard Application Requirements
  • How to Stand out in your Harvard application
  • Is Harvard Right for you?
  • Frequently Asked Questions about Harvard

Harvard Overview

Harvard was established in 1636

Established in 1636, and named after the college’s first benefactors, John Harvard, Harvard University is the oldest university in the United States and a member of the elite Ivy League. This private, liberal arts university is one of the most highly ranked and globally respected academic institutions in the world. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in an urban setting across the Charles River from Boston, Harvard offers unmatched student experiences within a broad range of academic programs.

Harvard’s 13 schools and institutes include their world-class Business School, Medical School, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Graduate Education School, Law School, and John F. Kennedy School of Government. Harvard also offers non-degree opportunities for professionals, including executive, continuing, and online education.

Harvard’s library is home to the oldest collection in the US and the most extensive private collection in the world. Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy are among the eight US presidents to graduate from Harvard.

Harvard has the largest endowment of any school globally and provides lucrative financial aid packages to students who cannot afford the cost of tuition. In the 2020 fiscal year, they granted $645 million in financial aid and scholarships.

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.

Harvard Rankings

U.S. News & World Report ranked Harvard #2 in their Best Colleges 2021 edition. Harvard also ranked #5 in the 2021-2022 QS World University Rankings.

Notable Harvard Rankings

  • #1 Best Value Schools
  • #5 Writing in the Disciplines
  • #6 Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects
  • #9 Senior Capstone (tie)
  • #9 Theory
  • #12 Best Undergraduate Teaching (tie)
  • #20 Most Innovative Schools (tie)
  • #22 Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs (tie) - At schools whose highest degree is a doctorate
  • #31 Study Abroad (tie)

Harvard offers the following degrees:

  • Bachelor’s
  • Post-bachelor’s certificate
  • Master’s, Post-master’s certificate
  • Doctorate - professional practice
  • Doctorate - research/scholarship

Most Popular Majors at Harvard:

  • Social Sciences
  • Biology/Biological Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • History

How hard is it to get into Harvard?

How hard is it to get into harvard

It is tough to get into Harvard. The university receives applications from more qualified applicants than they can accept, and most applicants have at least a 4.18GPA. 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.

Harvard Acceptance Rate

The Harvard Crimson recently reported:

Harvard’s acceptance rate has gradually decreased throughout its history. In 1997, the acceptance rate for the Class of 2001 was 12.3 percent. Just a decade later, in 2007, the acceptance rate for the Class of 2011 had fallen to 9 percent. A decade after that, in 2017, the acceptance rate for the Class of 2021 had shrunk to 5.2 percent.

With this past year’s record-low 3.4% acceptance rate, it’s clear gaining admission to Harvard is increasingly more difficult.

Harvard Admission Statistics 2021
Total Applications Overall Acceptance Rate Regular Decision ApplicationsRegular Decision Acceptance RateAccepted International Students
57,4353.4%47,3492.6%12.2%

What does it take to get into Harvard?

When Harvard admissions officers review applications, they look for the following qualities and characteristics:

  1. Leadership
  2. Community service involvement
  3. Solution-oriented
  4. Passionate
  5. Self-awareness
  6. Visionary
  7. Integrity

It’s important to show evidence of these characteristics as you put together your Harvard application. Try to integrate these characteristics throughout your application, build your story, be honest, and show them the REAL YOU!

Instead of talking about what you think they want to hear, be yourself, embrace your interests, and be passionate about your future dreams. You will stand out because of your authenticity and honesty.

A Day In The Life: Harvard Student | Class of 2023


Find out your chances of getting accepted into Harvard based on your profile using our free College Admissions Calculator!

Harvard Application Requirements

Harvard is a highly competitive and highly academic college. Applicants are expected to meet the minimum GPA requirements. While grades and accolades are important to Harvard, they’re not all the school looks for in applicants. Harvard is interested in the whole person, including their extracurricular activities, personal interests, and future plans. Through essay questions and supplemental information, they want to understand how you’re going to make the most of your time at Harvard. 

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

What application system does Harvard use?

Harvard accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application.

How to Apply to Harvard

Harvard Admissions put together a helpful “Application Tips” section on their website that walks applicants through the entire application process, answering common questions and offering direction and guidance. In general, the Harvard application asks for the following:

  • Profile
  • Family Information
  • Education
  • Test Scores (optional)
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Personal Essay
  • Harvard-specific Questions
  • Supplemental Writing

To learn more about how to make your application stand out, check out our free eBook on How to Crush Your US College Application

Does Harvard accept AP credit?

Students receive graduation credit for their Advanced Placement (AP) exams if they activate Advanced Standing. Students are eligible for Advanced Standing if they have 32 AP credits. They earn these credits by scoring five on at least four eligible AP exams.

Harvard GPA Requirements

Harvard GPA requirements

Harvard applicants must be at the top of their class and meet the minimum GPA requirements for acceptance into the college. While there are a small number of exceptions, students with GPAs of 4.0 - 4.18 have the best chance of getting accepted. Additionally, if you’re planning on applying to Harvard, you should take AP or IB courses that show you can handle college-level coursework. Sometimes you can compensate for a less than perfect GPA in other aspects of your application, including test scores, essays, and extracurricular activities.

Harvard Standardized Test Requirements

SAT and ACT requirements for Ivy League Schools

In the 2021-2022 admission cycle, Harvard did not require applicants to submit standardized test scores due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students had the option to submit their SAT scores as part of their application package.

Students who do not submit standardized testing this coming year will not be disadvantaged in the application process. Their applications will be considered on the basis of what they have presented, and they are encouraged to send whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future. Applicants may choose to submit official test scores or self-report test scores if they so wish.

- Harvard Admissions

Harvard SAT Requirements

Students who submit their SAT scores typically score between 1460-1580. 

Does Harvard require the SAT essay?

No, Harvard did not require the SAT essay in the 2021-2022 application cycle. Students had the option to submit the SAT essay if they wished. 

*SAT requirements are subject to change in future application cycles.  

Harvard SAT subject tests

Harvard recommends that students who choose to submit the SAT submit two SAT Subject Tests, with only one being the math test.

Harvard ACT Requirements

Students who submit their ACT scores (with or without the writing component) typically have results that range from 33-35.

SAT and ACT Score Ranges of Admitted Harvard Students
TestScore Range (25th & 75th Percentile)
SAT Math[740, 800]
SAT ERW[720, 780]
ACT Math[31, 35]
ACT English[34, 36]
ACT Composite[33, 35]

If you would like help with your SAT or ACT, Crimson offers online tutoring programs with the world's best teachers and tutors. We provide one-on-one test preparation with expert tutors, many of whom scored a perfect 1600 (SAT), 36 (ACT), and 800 (SAT II) on their college admissions standardized tests. Book a free consultation to learn more.


English Language Proficiency Exam Requirements

Harvard invites applicants from all over the world but stresses that they must have a strong knowledge of English and express thoughts clearly in English. English proficiency exams are not required, but international students may submit scores (TOEFL, IELTS, etc.) to show their English proficiency.

Harvard Application Essays

Harvard essays

Harvard's application essays are another way you can show Harvard admissions that you belong on their campus. There are three opportunities to tell Harvard more about you.

1. Common/Coalition Application Essay Questions or Topics (Personal Essay)

Essay topics are broad and may vary by application. These questions are designed to give you space to share about something you care about instead of trying to write what you think Harvard Admissions wants to hear.

Harvard’s Sample Essay Topics
  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

2. Harvard Questions

In addition to the personal essay, Harvard has their own set of questions. Your answers will help them get to know you better and learn how you plan to utilize your time as a student. They want to learn more about your academic interests and how you spend your time.

You can complete the Harvard Questions directly on the Common Application or Coalition Application.

3. Writing Supplement

The writing supplement section gives you one more opportunity to tell Harvard why you're the perfect fit for their college. In this section, you have the freedom to submit an essay you previously wrote, write on a topic of your choice, or use a suggested prompt to add more content to your personal statement. If you choose a prompt, pick one that fits best to your overall mission and goals.

Learn more on How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement with our free eBook

Harvard Sample Additional Essay Topics
  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
  • What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
  • How you hope to use your college education
  • A list of books you have read during the past twelve months
  • The Harvard College Honor code declares that we "hold honesty as the foundation of our community." As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
  • The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission?
  • Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do?
  • Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development, or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.

The Essay That Got Me Into Harvard

Harvard Application Extracurriculars

Harvard Extracurricular Activities to stand out in your application

Harvard wants to admit outgoing leaders who will positively impact their campus community and the world. They're not looking for cookie-cutter students who only understand complex theories and equations.

Harvard admissions officers ask that you submit a history of your extracurricular activities in school and out of school. While you have the freedom to choose what you want to show, Harvard tends to favor activities that align with their university values.

The following extracurricular activities demonstrate your commitment and passions. While not an exhaustive list, this is an excellent place to start.

  • Lead a sports team
  • Volunteer with a local organization/give back to the community
  • Organize a fundraiser
  • Start a new company
  • Write and publish a book
  • Spend a summer helping underprivileged children or volunteer at a summer camp

For more ideas check out our free eBook containing successful activities from previous Crimson students who got into top universities!

Choose extracurricular activities you care about and ones that help make your community a better place.


Crimson's Admission Support program comes with extracurricular and leadership project planning, execution and reporting to make you a well-rounded candidate when applying to universities. Crimson Students are 4x more likely to be admitted to Ivy League universities such as Harvard. Find out more about how we do this in our Admissions Support program.

How much does Harvard cost?

It's no secret that Ivy League schools are expensive. Harvard is no exception. While the total cost per year is $73,800, nearly every Harvard student receives need-based aid and scholarships. The average price each student pays is $14,898, and 20% of Harvard families pay nothing for their student's college education.

Is Harvard a need-blind school?

Harvard is a need-blind school. It's also one of only five US colleges that offer need-blind college admissions to international students. "Need-blind" means that when Harvard reviews your application, they do not consider your financial situation when making their admissions decision. Harvard offers 100% of their students' demonstrated need-based aid. They base assistance on need, not merit. Harvard works with each student to provide them with affordable educational options.

Check out our blog if you are interested in learning more about need-blind and need-aware schools.

Does Harvard give scholarships or financial aid?

Harvard wants to make education as affordable as possible for all its students. International students receive the same financial aid options as American students! Harvard has the largest endowment in the world and uses this money to make education affordable to all its students.

Scholarships and financial aid come from various sources, including the Harvard endowment funds, gifts from alumni, tuition revenues, and federal and state grants.

Harvard Application Deadlines

Harvard offers two application programs: Restrictive Early Action and Regular Decision. Both programs allow you to compare admission and financial aid offers from other institutions. The final college choice deadline for both programs is May 1.

Harvard Early Action and Regular Action Application Deadline
Application TypeApplication Deadline
Restrictive Early ActionApply by November 1 and receive notification by mid-December
Regular DecisionApply by January 1 and receive notification by April 6

How to Stand Out in your Harvard Application

How to stand out in your harvard application

While high grades and test scores should get you through the first round of application reviews, it’s your extracurriculars, essays, and how you explain your value to Harvard that will get you admitted.

Need more ideas on how to improve your chances of getting into Harvard?

  1. Ensure your application aligns with Harvard’s goals and mission.
  2. Join 2-3 clubs or organizations and become a leader in those clubs. Harvard likes to see that under your leadership, you increased the membership or accomplished something noteworthy.
  3. Find a way to gain statewide or national recognition. Look for opportunities to compete against students beyond your school.
  4. Find ways to excel both in school and outside of school.

Crimson offers a wide range of educational support services that will help you tailor your education and application, so it aligns with Harvard’s values and requirements. Through our admissions support programs, we walk with you through the application process. From online tutoring and extracurricular mentoring to essay review and even postgraduate admissions, Crimson can help you get into Harvard.

Is Harvard right for you?

Is harvard for you?

Harvard is 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

Harvard is looking for unique and diverse students who add value to its campus community. They’re looking for self-motivated students who will succeed in whatever field they choose. Not only do they want you to make Harvard a better college, but they also want you to proudly carry the Harvard name out into the world.

Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admissions support company specializing in helping students gain entry to some of the world’s most competitive universities. We help you find the university that meets your goals. Crimson Students are 4x more likely to be admitted to Ivy League universities like Harvard. Learn more through our Admissions Support program.

Frequently Asked Questions about Harvard

Is it hard to get into Harvard?

Yes, Harvard has a 5% (or less) acceptance rate making it one of the toughest schools to gain acceptance.

Is Harvard expensive?

Harvard’s total cost per year is about $73,800, but most students only pay a fraction of that cost. Harvard students are eligible for need-based aid and scholarships. The average price each student actually pays is $14,898, and 20% of Harvard families pay nothing for their student’s college education.

How much does it cost to go to Harvard?

Harvard’s total cost per year is about $73,800, but most students are eligible for financial aid and scholarships. The average cost for Harvard is $14,898.

What is the retention rate for first-year students at Harvard?

Harvard’s freshman retention rate is 97%.

What is the average salary for a Harvard graduate?

According to payscale.com, the average salary for a Harvard graduate is $95,000 per year.

Do you have more questions about Harvard? The video below addresses the following questions:

  • 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?

Big Questions Ep. 2: Harvard

Want to be a top applicant at Harvard?

Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to an Ivy League university like Harvard.