Harvard University Essay Example

 

Harvard University is a highly-selective school, so it’s important to write strong essays to help your application stand out. In this post, we’ll share an essay a real student has submitted to Harvard. (Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved).

 

Read our Harvard essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.

 

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Example

 

Prompt: Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities

 

A scream in the night.

Mine.

 

In the town of Montagu, South Africa, the sun had set hours ago, leaving its place to a deep dark sky. Everything was peaceful and quiet. In a little lodge, a family of four people had just finished eating on a dimly lit terrace. The heat was so intense even the black silence seemed to suffocate – only a few crickets dared to break its density. The mother asked something to her daughter, who stood up, and bypassed the table. That’s when she screamed. An intense, long scream, that reverberated in the little town of Montagu.

 

How do I know that? It was me. 

Me, miserable as I had fallen down the terrace… into a plantation of cacti! I couldn’t move. I felt as if each cactus thorn contained poison that spread through my back, my arms, my entire body. The plants were engulfing me into the darkness. I was suffocating, trying to grasp some of the hot, heavy air. Until I felt her hand. My mom’s. 

 

She and my father organized this trip to South Africa. Valuing experiences more than material wealth, they liked to organize trips to foreign, far away countries. In addition to South Africa, I visited Cuba, Nepal and China. Four countries where landscapes and cities are dissimilar to France’s. Four countries that allowed me to discover numerous communities, recipes and traditions. Four countries where I met animals, plants and humans I had never seen before.

 

I am a city girl. As a little girl, I was never really fond of flora or fauna. However, during my trips, I was lucky to see animals in freedom and to interact with nature. A baboon broke into my car in South Africa and walked all over me – literally. I held an iguana in Cuba, did a safari in South Africa and talked with a parrot in Nepal. I saw the sun rising on the Machapuchare. I ultimately understood that all I had experienced was thanks to Nature. I realized its preciousness and its urgency to be saved. I gained proximity to the environment that I had always lacked. My blood turned green thanks to travels. 

 

In addition to animal discoveries, travels are encounter engines. From little to aged humans, from all genders, from everywhere, travels allowed me to meet incredible people. The uncanny apparition of a mysterious little girl particularly touched me in Ghorepani, Nepal. I had walked for seven hours that day, and was waiting for dinner, sitting on a bench. She slowly advanced towards me.

 

“What’s your name?” I asked the white figure in the obscurity.

 

The little girl stopped moving. Dark curly hair, dark deep eyes, white clothes covered in mud among the deep dark night. Our eyes locked in each other’s, the sound of our breathing floating in the dense silence, everything seemed to be suspended. After what felt like dozens of hours, she looked at me and silently walked away, a star in the ink black sky. 

 

Every person encountered made me grow. Some like the Nepalese little girl simply disrupted me, some opened my eyes on poverty, others opened my eyes on racism. Every person I met had a story to share, a fact to transmit. I visited an orphanage in a township in South Africa. The teacher, a frail and tiny woman, explained that racism was still so profound in the country that black and mixed race people were fighting to death in the neighbourhood. Centuries of abuse towards people of color, for children to pay the price, growing up parentless in the orphanage. The sound of the rain was echoing on the metal houses as the children sang their anthem. Wet furrows appeared as raindrops were racing on every cheek:

 

‘Let us live and strive for freedom,

In South Africa our land.’

 

Traveling is ultimately a chance. It is an opportunity to understand the complexity of the world by getting close to it. Traveling allowed me to realize the differences between each country and region. But beyond those dissimilarities, I saw singing, dancing and laughing everywhere in the world. Being away brought me closer to my home and my family and friends, my newspaper team, every community I’m involved in. Traveling represents a learning process. I integrated leadership and diligence in Nepal, watching children and old men transport wood on their back. Speaking foreign languages allowed me to acquire experience and put my theoretical skills to practise. I acquired a lot of adaptability through travels as part of their greatness comes from its unpredictability. Traveling truly enriches the intellect of those who have the chance to do it.

 

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This is overall a delightful, very readable essay. The author starts with a dramatic hook to capture the reader’s attention, and they build on that initial story with vivid imagery like “I felt as if each cactus thorn contained poison that spread through my back, my arms, my entire body.” In general, the language is strong throughout the entire essay. Other beautiful gems include, “The sound of the rain was echoing on the metal houses as the children sang their anthem” and, “The uncanny apparition of a mysterious little girl particularly touched me.” The author has a way with words, and they proudly demonstrate it in their response. 

 

In addition to strong imagery, the author also does a satisfactory job at answering the prompt. The open-ended question not only means that students could answer in a variety of ways, but also that it might be easy to fall into a trap of answering in an unrelated or uninteresting manner. The author here does a good job of directly answering the prompt by providing clear examples of their travels around the world. Their response also goes beyond merely listing experiences; rather, they tell stories and describe some of the notable people they have met along the way. By telling stories and adopting a whimsical tone that evokes the wanderlust of travel, they elevate the impact of their response. 

 

We also learn a fair amount about the author through their stories and personal reflections. We see that they are concerned about social justice through their retelling of the interactions in South Africa. We see them reflecting on the universal joys of singing and dancing: “But beyond those dissimilarities, I saw singing, dancing and laughing everywhere in the world.” In the closing paragraph, we learn that they are adaptable and willing to undergo lifelong learning. Thus, another reason this essay shines is because it not only tells us what travels/experiences the author has engaged in, but it provides deeper introspection regarding how they have grown from these experiences.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

While the essay is beautiful, and the fast-moving pace matches the feeling of seeing unfamiliar places for the first time, the narrative runs the risk of being too wide-ranging. The introductory story of falling onto a bed of cacti could warrant an entire essay unto itself, yet the author does not return to it anywhere else in their response. They missed an opportunity to bring the response full circle by ruminating on that once more in their conclusion. 

 

Another thing to be careful of is how the privilege inherent in international travel might cause the author to see the life through a certain lens. Although they remark upon how their family prioritizes experiences over material wealth, the fact is that extensive international travel relies on having material wealth to pay for costs like airfare and housing. It is important to demonstrate humility and awareness of privilege when responding to college essay prompts, and this is no exception. 

 

More Free Essay Resources

 

How to Write Harvard College Essays: See our in-depth guide of each supplemental essay prompt for Harvard University. 

 

All of Our Essay Guides: Don’t miss our essay guides for all of the top schools.

 

How to Write the Common App Essays: Learn how to write a strong Common App essay for each of the prompts, with examples.

 

Free CollegeVine Peer Essay Review: Submit your essay and get feedback from another student. Editing other students’ essays will also help you improve your own writing skills!

 

 


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