For more than 200 years, gaining admittance into Harvard University has been the pinnacle of achievement for America’s youth. However, with applications soaring and acceptance rates down to just 5.8% during the last application cycle and continuing to fall, achieving that dream has become harder and harder.

A key component in your application to any college is the essay; a platform that allows you to give admissions committees a window into your life beyond your stats and admissions on paper. A well written essay can boost the application of a student with a weak extracurricular profile and poor SAT scores, while a poorly written essay full of cliche can tank the chances of even the valedictorian with a 2400 SAT and perfect extra-curricular activities.

For most schools, the essay on the Common Application (and the extracurricular supplement) provides one such opportunity. But most elite schools also have a supplement to the Common App, in which they ask for additional required essays to gain more insight into you as an applicant.

Harvard’s supplement doesn’t work in exactly the same manner.

On the Harvard Supplement, the Additional Essays section reads as follows:

“Occasionally, students feel that college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about themselves or their accomplishments. If you wish to include an additional essay, you may do so.

Possible Topics:

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel or living experiences in other countries
  • A letter to your future college roommate
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper or research
  • topic) 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”

Now opinions vary on whether you should or shouldn’t send in the Harvard Optional Essay. Debate is always heated when this question is asked on the popular College Confidential forums, with about half of the posts saying “go for it!” and the others saying that you don’t need it. A quick scan of the Internet literature also shows mixed opinions as well.

Our view? Write the essay. For a few students it truly doesn’t matter – kids have been accepted into Harvard before without sending in the optional essay. On the flip side, if you know that your test scores, GPA, or ECs are average or worse (in the context of Harvard, that describes 99% of applicants)– then the optional essay provides an invaluable opportunity to enhance your application and increase your chance of catching the eye of that admissions counselor.

We polled a random sample of 225 members of Harvard’s Class of 2017, and found that of those accepted students, 193 of them had written the essay versus 35 who hadn’t. 85% of these accepted wrote the essay, so you probably should as well.

And when you do write that optional essay, be sure to go big; write an essay on a totally unique passion, a compelling narrative of a key moment in your life, or an insightful academic essay that highlights your intellectual talents. Statistically, your chances of getting into Harvard are so slim that it can’t hurt.

Once you’ve written that optional Harvard essay, if you’re looking for a second opinion or some additional refinement, be sure to check out our Essay Assistance service under the services tab. Run by a professional journalist, our Essay Assistance team excels at enhancing your language, bringing down word counts, and giving advice on how best to make your personality shine through.

Zack Perkins

Zack Perkins

Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.
Zack Perkins