How to Write the Harvard University Application Essays 2016-17
On the banks of the Charles River sits Harvard University, a sprawling campus that encompasses not just the hub of undergraduate student life — which begins with and emanates from Harvard Yard — but also a collection of graduate schools for law, business, medicine, and more.
One of the eight schools in the Ivy League, Harvard is a private research university that was founded in 1636. Based on Cambridge, MA, Harvard University is known around the world for the research it conducts, the students it shapes, the world leaders it has educated, and the massive endowment that it possesses. A lively bunch of only about 6,400 students, the undergraduate community is full of energy and new ideas.
However, Harvard’s undergraduate acceptance rate is exceptionally low, coming in at 5.2%. Assuming you have the academic and EC profile, differentiating yourself via your essays will be absolutely key to gaining admission.
The CollegeVine Essay Team has prepared a guide on how to write the Harvard essay for this application cycle. Read on!
Do I need to submit the writing supplement for Harvard’s application?
To submit a competitive application to Harvard, you must craft a stand-out response not just to the Common App’s general-personal statement question, but also to Harvard’s supplemental essay prompts as well. While Harvard’s supplement is marked as optional, it is certainly in your best interest to, at the very least, reply to it — but it’s even better to craft a thoughtful and meaningful response in order to position yourself as a competitive applicant. Learn more about why you should submit the Harvard writing supplement.
Harvard’s Writing Supplement Essay Prompt
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; Books that have affected you the most; An academic experience (course, project, paper, or research topic) that has meant the most to you; A list of the books you have read during the past twelve months.
Key Points about the Supplement Essay
Before we dive into actual content guidelines, it’s important to discuss some key points about the essay itself.
- First, there is no explicit essay length mentioned. In general, you want your essay between 450-650 words. Anything less is not enough to truly develop your application any further and would just be a waste of time, while anything more would be a bit much for a supplemental essay.
- Next, make sure that before you submit your application for this essay, the essay fits completely on one page. Harvard adcoms review thousands of apps and do not need to fumble through pages of your essay. If you stay below 650 words, you should be able to completely fit on one page.
- Now, in terms of content, bear in mind that this essay is completely open-ended — you can submit almost anything. If you have written a really strong essay for another school, you can simply recycle that essay. If you are going to write off of the “possible topics” list, be sure to keep in mind the same guidelines we will explain if writing the essay from scratch.
If you are writing this essay completely from scratch for Harvard, an important guideline to use in framing your essay is that it should substantially differ from your Common App essay in terms of content (obviously), personality traits developed, and even style/tone.
This essay is supposed to add something completely new to your app — a totally different angle — so it’s best to go for a full 180, or an essay that adds shock factor.
For example, if your application is heavily themed around research and your Common App essay describes your obsession with biology research and how it has shaped who you’ve become today, then a supplemental essay about how you give haircuts to help raise money for charity can be an unexpected way to develop your personality outside of academic/professional environments. The essay would use your passion as an organizing tool to reflect on your interesting experiences in pursuing an unusual hobby, as well as highlighting your involvement in your community in a very unique way.
Another example of a 180 essay one in which your app is full of leadership positions (perhaps you are heavily involved in MUN or debate), then writing an essay speaking about your insecurities with getting up in front of a room full of people or managing others can be a candid way to humanize yourself for readers. Ultimately, the goal is to add unexpected depth to an application that otherwise “makes sense.” If your app makes too much sense, it will be harder to remember than if your app raises eyebrows and causes adcoms to say, “Cool.”
Harvard’s Cultural Quirks
A few key points to think about when writing this essay (considering it’s for Harvard):
- First, Harvard definitely values community involvement/passion development over pure academic success.
- Second, you want to try to convey some sort of curiosity to Harvard — whether that curiosity is academic, intellectual, extracurricular, or philosophical. Harvard students, for the most part, are really passionate about something; you want to convey how you will also contribute to that pool.
- Finally, Harvard specifically looks for genuinely good people. Now that may sound unbelievably corny and cliché, but expressing a sense of citizenship or regard for humanity in the essay is a strong plus for the Harvard palette.
With these guidelines in mind, you should be well on your way to writing the perfect Harvard supplement. Best of luck from the CollegeVine team!