How to Get into Harvard: Admissions Stats + Tips
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- How Hard Is It to Get Into Harvard?
- Average Academic Profile of Accepted Harvard Students
- What is Harvard Looking for?
- How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Harvard
Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest university in the U.S. as well as one of the most prestigious. But with an acceptance rate under 4%, precious few applicants get to pull up into the Yard on move-in day.
How Hard Is It to Get Into Harvard?
Harvard is traditionally among the nation’s most challenging colleges to gain admission to and it’s only getting more difficult. Harvard welcomed just 1,968 students out of the 57,435 who applied for a record-low acceptance rate of 3.43%.
Of the 57,000+ applicants for Harvard’s class of 2025, 10,086 of them applied early action; of those, 747 were accepted for a 7.4% early action acceptance rate—these numbers mark both a record-high number of applicants and a record-low rate of acceptance.
While Harvard’s acceptance rate is incredibly low, your personal chances of acceptance depend on your profile strength. CollegeVine can help—our free admissions calculator uses your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars to estimate your odds of acceptance and give you tips to improve your profile!
Average Academic Profile of Accepted Harvard Students
The average high school GPA of Harvard’s class of 2025 is 4.22—75.76% of the class of 2025 graduated with a 4.0.
The middle 50% SAT and ACT scores of Harvard’s class of 2025 are 1460-1580 and 33-35.
Harvard doesn’t publish the average high school rank of the students accepted to its class of 2025, but competitive applicants commonly graduate at, or near, the top of their class—94% of the class of 2025 graduated in the top 10 of their high school class.
What is Harvard Looking for?
At top-tier schools like Harvard, almost every applicant has an outstanding academic record, so great grades and superb standardized test scores are not enough to wow admissions officers. What can help you stand out from other applicants is fitting the type of student they’re looking for.
For example, Harvard values students who are engaged in the community and have demonstrated leadership, prioritizing the admission of students who’ve made an impact in their community through volunteer and charity work or leadership over those with spotless academic records. Students can demonstrate these qualities both in their supplemental essays and with the extracurricular activities they pursue.
Intellectualism is a quality Harvard places a great deal of importance on, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. Applicants with interesting academic backgrounds who have combined their academic passions with research, fieldwork, and other extracurricular involvement have a leg up over other candidates.
How Harvard Evaluates Applications
According to their 2020-2021 Common Data Set, the following factors are “considered” at Harvard:
- Course rigor
- Test scores
- Recommendation letters
- Extracurricular activities
- Character/personal qualities
- First generation
- Geographical location
- Racial/ethnic status
- Volunteer work
- Work experience
And these are “not considered”:
- Religious affiliation
- Class rank
- State residency
- Applicant interest
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Harvard
1. Achieve at least a 4.22 while taking the most challenging classes available
The average high school GPA of admitted students to Harvard’s class of 2025 was 4.22 and more than three-quarters of them had a 4.0. The best way to improve your chances of acceptance is to have extremely strong academics—and to complete the most challenging coursework available. Competitive candidates to a top-ten school like Harvard have often completed upward of 12 AP courses.
Selective schools like Harvard use the Academic Index (AI) to weed out unqualified applicants. This is a single score that represents the strength of your GPA, test scores, and class rank (if your school ranks). If your AI isn’t up to par, Harvard admissions officers may not even read the rest of your application.
If your GPA is lower, and you’re earlier on in your high school career, check out our tips for increasing your GPA. If you’re a junior or senior, it will be harder to increase your GPA, so the easiest way to increase your Academic Index is to get a higher test score.
2. Aim for a 1580 SAT and 35 ACT (use the 75th percentile)
The middle 50% of Harvard’s class of 2025 earned SAT scores of 1460-1580 and ACT scores of 33-35. Any score in the middle 50% is good, however, the higher in the range you score, the better your odds of admission are. Harvard does not superscore standardized test scores but evaluates the highest test scores in each section across test dates.
To improve your SAT/ACT score, check out these free CollegeVine resources:
- How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT
- How to Get a Perfect 36 Score on the ACT
- More SAT Info and Tips
- More ACT Info and Tips
Due to the challenges presented by COVID-19, Harvard was test-optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle and has extended its test-optional policy for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle. CollegeVine recommends you take either the SAT or ACT if you can do so safely, as students who submit scores are accepted at higher rates than those who do not.
A general rule of thumb for applying to a college with test-optional admissions is to submit scores so long as they’re at, or above, the 25th percentile for accepted students. Not sure if your standardized test score makes the grade? You can get recommendations on whether or not to apply test-optional using our free chancing engine.
3. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”)
For selective institutions like Harvard, extracurricular activities can play a large role in admission decisions. Up to 25% of an admissions decision can be determined by a student’s activities outside of the classroom. While it’s true that there is no such thing as a bad extracurricular activity, some extracurricular activities are more impressive than others.
Admissions officers evaluate extracurriculars using four tiers, with one being the most exceptional and four being the most common. For example:
- Tier 1 may include nationally ranked student-athletes or individuals who attended a top (merit-based) summer program.
- Tier 2, the second-most prestigious group, includes activities that showcase students’ larger achievements, such as being elected student body president or making it to the state tennis tournament.
- Tier 3 activities include smaller achievements, such as being editor of the school paper or treasurer of the history club.
- Tier 4 activities include general membership in student clubs and sports teams, as well as other casual hobbies.
Aspiring Harvard students should aim for at least a couple of Tier 1-2 activities. It doesn’t matter the area of interest; Harvard just wants to see you achieve success in your passion, as this indicates to them that you’re likely to be successful in the future. Rather than do a bunch of unrelated activities at a mediocre level, try to hone one or two interests and develop a “spike.”
4. Write engaging essays
Harvard has plenty of applicants with stellar profiles. Use your essay to demonstrate a unique voice and character. If the admissions officer can’t get you out of their mind, they are much more likely to advocate for you when it comes time to make difficult decisions between equally qualified candidates.
Harvard requires one essay and has two optional essays as part of its application; however, it’s wise to consider all three essays a necessity if you’re aiming to stand out from a crowded field of impressive applicants. Another way to distance yourself from the competition is with Harvard-specific essay advice, like what’s found in our article, “How to Write the Harvard University Supplemental Essays 2021-2022.”
5. Ace Your Interview
Harvard considers your interview when making admissions, although interviews generally play a minor role in the overall admissions process. College interviews are often more a stumbling block than an opportunity. Don’t let the Harvard interview trip you up—familiarize yourself with the interview process, know how to prepare for it, and have an understanding of the types of questions commonly asked of an applicant.
6. Recommendation Letters
Letters of recommendation help paint a picture of who you are. Like any good painter, you want to be in control of the whole work. There are compliments and aspects of your personality that only your recommenders can share. Harvard requires you to send recommendations from two teachers you know well from different academic subjects. Make sure you talk to the teachers first about what you would put in that letter if you were the one writing it and make sure to follow the 9 rules for requesting letters of recommendation from teachers.
7. Apply Early Action/Early Decision
Harvard’s class of 2025’s 7.4% early action acceptance rate is substantially higher than its overall acceptance rate of 3.43%, this offers some applicants an excellent opportunity to improve their odds of admission.
Harvard offers restrictive early action (REA), a non-binding program that places no obligation on you to enroll if admitted. Applying REA to Harvard does restrict you from applying early decision and from applying early action at all other private college early action programs, but you can apply early action to any public college or university.
How to Apply to Harvard
Harvard accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application. Other requirements include:
- Harvard’s supplemental essays
- SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores (optional)
- Any AP, IB, or other scores from standardized exams you have taken (optional)
- Two letters of recommendation from teachers
- A school report and letter of recommendation from your counselor
- High school transcript
- A midyear report
Learn more about Harvard
Interested in learning more about Harvard? Check out these other informative articles:
- The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Harvard
- What Does it Really Take to Get into Harvard? (From a Harvard Grad)
- What is Harvard Known For?
- Harvard Diversity Statistics: An In-Depth Look
Want to know your chances at Harvard? Calculate your chances for free right now.