Should You Send the Harvard Optional Supplement Essay?

For many top achieving high school students around the world, gaining admittance into Harvard University represents the realization of a dream. However, with applications soaring and acceptance rates down to just 5.3% for the class of 2019, achieving that dream has become harder and harder.

A key component in your application to any college is the essay, giving admissions committees a window into your life beyond your resume. A well written essay can revive the chances of a student with a weak extracurricular profile and poor SAT scores, while a poorly written essay full of cliché can derail even the valedictorian with a 2400 SAT and perfect extracurricular activities. Harvard in particular heavily emphasizes the essay portion of a student’s application due to the exceptional quality of the applicant pool each year.

For most schools, the essay on the Common Application provides one opportunity for students to introduce themselves. 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”

The optional and open-ended nature of the supplement has resulted in frustration for hundreds of thousands of students over the years. Opinions vary regarding 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 shows mixed opinions as well. When you keep in mind that most of the opinions expressed on the web are by students looking to reassure themselves of their own uncertainty, the issue quickly becomes a wild goose chase.

Luckily, we have an answer that ends the debate and will help you rest easy. We polled a random sample of over 200 students in Harvard’s Class of 2017 and found that of those accepted students, over 85% wrote the optional essay. So you probably should as well.

This finding shouldn’t surprise you. 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.

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.

For help on how to write the Harvard Supplement, feel free to check out this year’s post on How to Write the Harvard Optional Supplement Essay or reach out to work 1-on-1 with one of Admissions Hero’s trained Harvard essay specialists.