How to get into Harvard

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s 50+ Real Supplemental Essays for Ivy+ Schools

Harvard University’s 2022-2023 acceptance rate was just 3.2%, meaning that if you’re serious about gunning for a Harvard acceptance letter, you’ll need all the possible information about their acceptance process and what they’re looking for. 

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through exactly what it takes and what you need to do to maximize your chances of admission. You’ll find not only advice based on decades of experience coaching students to Ivy League admissions, but also key insights into Harvard’s admissions process from the recent Supreme Court case against them. We also spoke to one of our Harvard tutors for her advice to any prospective applicants.

At PrepMaven, the vast majority of our tutors come from Ivy League schools like Princeton and Harvard—they know what it takes to get in because they’ve done it. For over two decades, our academic, test-prep, and college essay coaches have helped students get into their own dream schools. If you’re serious about an Ivy admission, we recommend reading our guide carefully, then working with one of our tutors to maximize your chances

Keep reading to increase your chances of admission, and download our PrepMaven’s College Prep Toolkit which contains a guide to creating a study plan for the SAT/ACT, how to start your college essay, and additional tips below!

Jump to section:
The three pillars of a Harvard application
What you need to get into Harvard: Academics
What you need to get into Harvard: Extracurriculars
What you need to get into Harvard: Character
The Three Pillars of getting into Harvard: Summary
Meet a successful Harvard admit
The five steps in the Harvard admission process
What is changing with Harvard’s admissions?
Next steps 

The three pillars of a Harvard application

The best way to think about your application to a school like Harvard is as consisting of three pillars: 

  • Academics
  • Extracurriculars
  • Character

In the following sections, we’ll break down exactly what you need in each of these categories for a short at Harvard University. Here, we’ll explain a bit about each of these three pillars and how they come together to support a viable Harvard application. 

Academics refers to everything that’s on your transcript, plus your test scores. In other words, the Academics pillar consists of:

  • GPA
  • Rigor of curriculum
  • Dual enrollment/college credit courses
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • AP/IB scores

Extracurriculars are somewhat self-explanatory: these are just about anything you’ve done that isn’t directly connected to your academics. Common examples: 

  • Sports
  • School clubs
  • Service work
  • Research 
  • Gap years
  • Creative projects
  • Paid employment
  • Internships

But it’s Character that can be one of the most important elements of a Harvard application, and one of the hardest to pin down. What’s the Character pillar? In a nutshell, it’s your story: what kind of person and student are you? What drives you? What do you hope to accomplish?

All of these big and probably scary questions are what we mean when we discuss Character as part of your application. While all elements of your application come together to showcase Character, the single biggest place where you can convey it is in your college essays. 

Below, we’re going to break down Harvard University’s admissions process according to each of these three pillars: what do you need to do when it comes to Academics, Extracurriculars, and Character to have a shot?

What you need to get into Harvard: Academics

We want to start with a disclaimer: nobody gets accepted to Harvard based on Academics alone. But plenty of applicants do get rejected because their Academics pillar is too weak. 

When it comes to schools like Harvard, you should think of Academics as a prerequisite: while there are always rare exceptions, if your GPA and test scores do not line up with Harvard’s typical median, your chances of acceptance are very, very slim. 

So, what are the Harvard University baselines as far as Academics? Let’s take a look at the 2022-2023 Common App Data set for the stats. 

When it comes to SAT/ACT: 

To put it bluntly, you’ll need near-perfect SAT/ACT scores to have a shot at a Harvard admission. We’ll break down some statistics below: 

To break that down quickly: 

  • For SAT-takers, 75% of students who enrolled had an SAT Verbal score at or above 730 and a Math score at or above 760. 
  • For ACT-takers, 75% of students who enrolled had an ACT Composite of 34 or higher.

To put that in perspective: a 34 ACT score is equivalent to a 99th percentile nationally. Meaning that at least three-quarters of Harvard admits who took the ACT had scored in the top 1% nationally. 

But while people often look at percentiles and medians, there’s another crucial statistic people often miss: how many people actually get in with lower scores? The answer: basically none. Take a look below. 

It’s a lot of numbers, but here’s the TLDR summary: 

  • Only 7.75% of Harvard admits had an SAT Verbal score below 700. 
  • Only 4.43% of Harvard admits had an SAT Math score below 700.
  • Only 1.5% of Harvard admits had an ACT score below 30. 

The takeaway is simple: it is practically impossible to get accepted to Harvard without an ACT or SAT score in the top 1%. 

When it comes to GPA: 

According to the stats, it’s just as important to have a sky-high GPA:

The average Harvard GPA for admits was 4.2. More to the point, 94.77% of Harvard admits had a GPA above 3.75

The takeaway here is similar to that with test scores: if your GPA is below 3.75, you are effectively not in the running for a Harvard admission. 

Other considerations for Academics: Rigor

We want to add a quick note here: schools like Harvard expect you to take the most rigorous courses offered by your school. While there’s not much exact data on this, we can confidently say that if you only took regular or Honors courses, you won’t be considered seriously as a candidate regardless of GPA. 

Though this depends on your school’s offerings, Harvard will expect applicants to take AP courses wherever possible. Many successful Harvard applicants go further, taking dual enrollment or additional courses at local colleges. 

Academics Summary: What do you need to do?

If there’s a shorthand, it’s this: Academics won’t get you into Harvard, but they can definitely keep you out. Think of this pillar as a hurdle you have to clear before admissions committees even consider your application seriously. Here’s close to the minimum of what you need for a shot:

  • Take maximally rigorous courses. 
  • Maintain a GPA of 4.0 or higher
  • Achieve an ACT or SAT score at least in the 99th percentile. 

We can’t stress this enough: doing all of the above does not make you a strong candidate for Harvard. It is effectively the minimum that you need to accomplish to be considered a candidate at all. 

If you’re serious about Harvard, you should start building up your Academics pillar as early as possible. There’s absolutely no substitute for expert academic and test-prep coaching: when everything has to be perfect for you to have a shot, you don’t want to take chances. Our tutors can help you maintain that GPA and work your way up to a competitive test score. 

What you need to get into Harvard: Extracurriculars

If your Academics are competitive, it’s time to look at the second pillar: Extracurriculars. Just like with Academics, the exceptional is the norm for a school like Harvard. 

So, what makes a strong Extracurricular profile? There are a few key elements that you can use to evaluate how competitive your extracurriculars are—and, if you have time, to begin developing a competitive Extracurricular pillar.

Key elements of a competitive Harvard Extracurricular profile, in order:

  1. Excellence
  2. Dedication
  3. Leadership
  4. Initiative 

Let’s take these one at a time. 

  1. Excellence

Harvard isn’t looking for someone who dabbles: they want applicants who have proven that they can excel at what they pursue. Whatever your main extracurriculars, there should be some kind of objective proof that you excelled above and beyond the norm in them. What might that look like?

  • If you code: placing high a national or international competition/challenge. 
  • If you play sports: being a high-level competitor on a national competitive team. 
  • If you write: winning state, national, or international prizes. 

The idea here is fairly clear: it’s not enough just to do: you’ve really got to prove you can perform at an incredible level. 

Note the scale as well: winning a school or local competition simply isn’t good enough to matter in most cases. 

  1. Dedication

Whatever you pursue, Harvard wants you to prove you’re dedicated to it. Having 1-3 core activities that you have spent years pursuing is the mark of dedication. While it’s totally fine to have a few lighter extracurriculars that you don’t dedicate as much time to, you need to have at least 1 thing that you’ve pursued for a long time with (as mentioned above) proven excellence.

Here, the key is really length of time and commitment: the best ECs are ones you’ve pursued for years, with significant time investment each week. 

  1. Leadership

In addition to excellence and dedication, Harvard will expect you to demonstrate some form of leadership in the ECs you pursue. The most obvious example of this is, of course, holding a position like team captain or class/club president. 

While those can serve to demonstrate leadership, it’s clear that you’re able to show what came of that leadership. Many students aiming for Ivies try to join the Executive Boards of as many clubs and organizations as possible in high school, but this is the wrong move

Instead of looking like a dedicated, passionate leader, you’ll look like someone who doesn’t care what they do so long as they have a fancy title. What you want is for your leadership to align with excellence and dedication: if you’ve been a member of a nationally recognized robotics team, it’ll be meaningful to show you also captained it. 

If, on the other hand, you joined four clubs senior year and were president of all four, it’ll seem more like you were trying to build a resume. 

  1. Initiative

This is one people often forget, or misunderstand. When it comes to the Extracurricular pillar, one of the most crucial elements is to show that you sought something out and pursued it because of a real passion. 

In a nutshell, this means that the more work you had to do to pursue your ECs of choice, the better. Joining an existent club at school might show dedication, excellence, and leadership, but it won’t, in itself, show much initiative. Starting a club that grows and becomes self-sufficient, however, does show initiative. Here are some examples of initiative:

  • Starting an organization that will continue to thrive after you leave high school.
  • Seeking out an unusual service, research, or work opportunity. 
  • Making a personal sacrifice to pursue your extracurricular of choice. 

A note of caution: Harvard is looking for the exceptional and the unusual. Standard accolades like Merit Scholar, NHS, AP Scholar, or club e-board member are a dime a dozen—in other words, they won’t make you more competitive. Below, we’ve put together a list of ECs that make for a competitive Extracurricular profile for Harvard, and another list of ones that don’t. 

Examples of competitive ECs for Harvard:

  • You’ve pursued music since childhood, practicing 20 or more hours a week and performing at concerts across the country. 
  • You fell in love with cooking your sophomore year of high school: first you got a job as a busser at a local diner; by the summer of junior year, you were a prep cook at a local restaurant, working 30 hours a week. You also have a growing Youtube channel where you show off recipes.
  • Interested in international relations, you sought out a local professor and helped them as a research assistant for a year. Eventually, you published an original research paper with their help.
  • You love visual art, and have dedicated countless hours each week over the last few years to painting and multimedia art projects. While not a member of any club or organization, you have a website gallery of your work and have even sold a few paintings to local businesses. 

Examples of NON-competitive ECs for Harvard:

  • You started an Ultimate Frisbee club with 10 members your junior year of high school that you were President of. 
  • You volunteered sporadically for a local soup kitchen to meet your NHS service hours minimum. You didn’t dedicate a significant amount of time to this activity, nor did you participate for very long.
  • You were a rank-and-file member of several school interest clubs (chess club, coding club, book club, etc.), but don’t have any notable accomplishments or results to point to. 

Do you see the difference? It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the activities on the second list. In fact, it’s totally fine if you have a few activities like that on your Harvard application, but only if they are small side-projects in addition to your 1-3 main extracurricular activities, which should look more like the things on the first list. 

This probably seems like a lot, and it absolutely is. But this is the kind of excellence that Harvard University is looking for. So, what can you do to develop the Extracurricular pillar of your Harvard application?

  • Start early. The earlier you start pursuing an activity, the more impressive your commitment to it will be. 
  • Keep a record of your pursuits. Websites, Youtube channels, etc., are a great way to maintain a portfolio of any creative projects. 
  • Enter contests and seek out publication/recognition. 

The last point deserves a special mention: as you can see from the list of competitive ECs, most of them take years of dedication. If you’re already a junior, one of the best things you can do is pursue contests, research, and publication, all of which can be accomplished fairly quickly and will add a solid EC to your list. 

On that front, writing competitions and research are great places to start. Many of our tutors come from creative writing backgrounds, and many more are graduate students who’ve published research themselves—by working with one of these coaches, you can develop your own independent creative or research project

What you need to get into Harvard: Character

This third aspect of your Harvard application is perhaps the most elusive—but it can be the most important. 

What do we mean by Character? You can read our full breakdown of the Three Pillars of a College Application here, but for now we can summarize Character as those personal qualities that set you aside from other applicants who have similar grades and extracurriculars. It’s really that “extra” factor, the one that doesn’t really show up on a transcript or resume. 

So, where does Character appear on your college admissions applications? Mostly, it comes across in the essays! This is where college admissions committees can actually hear your voice, see your thought process, and get an insight into how you view the world. 

Some people tend to write off the college essay, but for an application to Harvard or an Ivy League school, it plays a vital part. You can read our post on how important the college essay is here, but for now you can think of it this way: Harvard gets so many incredibly talented applicants, so the college essay is one of the main things that can truly help you stand out. 

What is Harvard looking for in terms of Character? Key qualities to convey in your essays are things like: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Community-mindedness
  • Passion
  • Resilience

We’ve got an entire collection of blog posts on how to structure the perfect college application essay—if you’re applying to Harvard University, we highly recommend you start here. At the end of the day, Character is also a way of capturing your entire story, of connecting all of the different threads into one compelling narrative that presents you as someone who will contribute something to one of the most selective universities in the world. 

Harvard’s supplemental essay prompts for 2023-2024

This guide will briefly cover each of Harvard’s supplemental essay prompts for 2023-2024, but we’ve also published a deep dive that breaks down each of these prompts in even more detail here.

Below are the supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 Harvard application. This year, they have 5 supplemental essays, each one with a 200-word limit. 


Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (10-200 words)


Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (10-200 words)


Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (10-200 words)


How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (10-200 words)


Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (10-200 words)

We’ve got a dedicated guide on how to write each of these specific essays here, which you should check out as soon as you’re ready to start writing. 

In the meantime, you can also look at our collection of successful essays from past applicants to Harvard and other schools. 


When it comes to Harvard, every piece of your application has to be perfect. Your Academics are what gets you considered, and your Extracurriculars are what prove you’ve accomplished something unusual. But it’s your Character—exemplified mostly in your college admissions essays—that can convince college admissions committees you’re someone they want to have on campus for the next four years. 

The Three Pillars of getting into Harvard: Summary

So, what does it take to get into Harvard, really? 

  1. A near perfect GPA achieved in a maximally rigorous courseload. 
  2. An SAT or ACT score well within the top 1% of test-takers. 
  3. An extracurricular profile that shows remarkable dedication, excellence, passion, and initiative. 
  4. Essays that tie together your story and convince admissions officers that you’re an interesting, unique applicant they want to have around for four years.

If that sounds tough, well, it is! So, what can you do to maximize your chances? Start preparing for all of the above as early as possible. If you want to do everything you can, we strongly recommend our tutors: they can help you ace your courses, prepare for your SAT/ACT, develop interesting extracurriculars, and write the perfect essay. 

Below, we’ll get into some crucial info that can help you prepare your Harvard application, including an analysis of a real Harvard application (from one of our star tutors) and a breakdown of the Harvard application process. 

Meet a successful Harvard admit

Every Harvard admit looks a bit different, but they all share several characteristics: academic excellence, extracurricular distinction, and character. 

To give you an idea of what this can look like, we’ll turn to Elizabeth, one of our many talented tutors who is a current Harvard student. Let’s break down her application by our three pillars:


  • Class valedictorian
  • Perfect 1600 SAT
  • 5s on 16 AP Exams
  • 103.5 GPA


  • Pre-professional ballerina who trained 30+ hours a week and performed the lead role in productions like The Nutcracker
  • Trained EMT
  • First-chair clarinet player
  • E-board member of several high school organizations


  • Character is, of course, that “X-factor” that’s hard to demonstrate. While we won’t reprint Elizabeth’s college application essays here, you can be sure that they helped create a compelling, unique story that bridged the other elements of her application.

Elizabeth’s advice for future Harvard applicants: 

“Harvard is looking for people who are very passionate about a specific area, determined to make a change, and have clear future goals and ambitions. 

My advice is to use your essays and extracurriculars in tandem to portray these three traits about yourself, and to connect your various activities and interests to tell one cohesive story.”  ~Elizabeth

As we see in Elizabeth’s example, a successful applicant will demonstrate academic excellence and superb skills outside of the classroom—in Elizabeth’s case, ballet. She was able to communicate her passion and goals through her application, and convinced the admissions committee that she would be someone who would not only do well but also someone who would thrive on Harvard’s campus. 

Note that, in addition to jaw-dropping academic achievements, Elizabeth had one main extracurricular pursuit that demonstrated all of the key criteria we established above. Plus, she also pursued and thrived in other extracurriculars. 

Many of our talented tutors are current students or alumni of Harvard, Princeton, and other Ivy League schools. You can get a sense of their achievements, qualities, and personal stories by checking out our Tutor Bio page here!

The five steps in the Harvard admission process

What we’ve learned from SFFA v. Harvard University: the 5 steps in Harvard Admissions

Thanks to the pending USSC case SFFA v. Harvard, we have a detailed picture of how the Harvard admissions team reviews applications and eventually makes final selections. 

This case brought previously classified admissions documents into the public purview. Additionally, the case forced Harvard to release briefs in defense of their admissions practices; these briefs detail the steps and criteria used during admissions committees. 

The Harvard Crimson also wrote an article post this case released detailing how admission really works.  We walk through the five steps in the Harvard admissions process below:

Step 1: Recruit

Before receiving a single application, Harvard has already begun recruiting prospective applicants. 

The college invests in data from the SAT and ACT to target prospective applicants.  According to the Harvard Crimson. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 testified in court that the University buys information for “well in excess of 100,000” students each year.”

Admissions officers also travel to schools and towns to college fairs, accompanied with representatives from other colleges, to meet with students first hand and encourage them to apply. 

So what does it mean if you receive one of said brochures? Or if you don’t? If you go to a college fair where a Harvard admissions officer is present do you need to stand out or impress them?

This step in the application process is fairly informal and won’t get you any bonus points when actually applying. So don’t panic if you never got a Harvard brochure in the mail or if you couldn’t think of a question to impress the Harvard representative at your college fair. You’ll be evaluated on what’s on your application, not the steps beforehand. 

However, there is one group of students for whom this pre-application step can make a big impact on your admissions chances: recruited athletes. 

The timeline and the requirements for athletic recruitment change between sports and institutions, so it’s a good idea to consult with your high school coach on what the standards are in your sport. Regardless of sport played, if you are a student athlete interested in playing for Harvard, a good place to start is completing their recruiting questionnaire found here. 

Step 2: Interview

After students submit their applications, the next step is the interview. Most applicants who are offered interviews are interviewed by alumni in fairly informal settings. Again, keep in mind that there are more applicants than there is capacity to interview students and so not everyone will be offered an interview. 

Interviews last approximately an hour and begin with casual factual questions about a candidate. Interviewers are not given access to a candidate’s application beforehand, so this is a good time to fill them in on any important background and tell them about yourself.

Interviewers are given guide books with fairly explicit rules for conversations. For instance, interviewers should avoid prolonged discussions of politics or personal issues. 

According to the guidelines, the interviewer should center on the student’s interests, and a key goal is to get a clear picture of an applicant’s “motivation, commitment, and level and quality of contribution.”  The student’s interests could be associated with organized activities and achievements, or they could be ideas and passions — “an intellectual concept in a book, play, current event.”

The interviewer is hoping to get the student to provide insights and reflections about their experiences.  Knowing this, to prepare for your interview, be prepared to discuss your interests and how they have contributed to your personal and intellectual growth.  

At the end of the interview, a candidate is assigned a score from 1 to 4 (1 being highest and 4 being the lowest) across four dimensions: personal, extracurricular, academic, and overall accomplishments. This scaling system is used repeatedly throughout the admissions process. 

The guidebook prompts the interviewer to ask themselves, “What makes him or her distinctive?” These factors, called “distinguishing excellences”, could gain an applicant a “tip” on their application. 

Think of tips as bonus points in addition to the 1-4 scale. The guidebook list several categories that might earn a student a tip:

  • Outstanding and unusual intellectual ability.
  • Unusually appealing personal qualities.
  • Unusual courage and resilience in overcoming significant challenges.
  • Outstanding capacity for leadership.
  • Creative ability.
  • Athletic ability. 
  • These factors are guidelines that are neither comprehensive nor absolute.

Bonus: Harvard Interview tips

Due to the high volume of applications that Harvard receives, Harvard College is not able to offer an interview to all applicants. Instead, Harvard notes on their website that “applicants are assigned interviews at the discretion of the Admissions Committee, based, in part, on availability of alumni in your local area.” 

Your chances of admission are not affected by whether or not you are offered an interview.  If you are not offered an interview, your application will be considered complete without it and it will continue through the admissions process

A good interview won’t substantially boost your application, but a poor interview will detract from your prospects. 

As long as you are polite, enthusiastic, and well-informed about Harvard and why you’re applying, you will likely ace the interview. 

As someone who has completed alumni interviews for Princeton University, another selective school, I’ve been directed that the interview is as much (if not more) of an opportunity for students to learn more about the university rather than for admissions to learn about the student. 

Be sure to come to your interview with questions, ideally ones with answers you can’t search for an answer for on google. Most interviews are given by alumni who are enthusiastic to talk about their experiences and share what they loved about Harvard with you. 

Step 3: Screen

The next step is for your application to enter formal review by the admissions committee. Harvard states in their defense brief that “to identify the strongest applicants, 40 admissions officers conduct a “time-consuming, whole-person review process” in which each applicant is “evaluated as a unique individual.” 

The admissions officers consider “personal essays, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, athletics participation, honors and prizes, intended major, intended career, transcripts, test scores, family and demographic information, alumni or staff interview reports, and samples of academic or artistic work.”

Before your application goes to the full committee for review, there is a “first read.” Each application is read by a single “first reader” who rates the application’s strength in four areas: academic, extracurricular, athletic, and personal. Scores are assigned here for each category. 

  • Academics: to receive an academic 1, a student must have near perfect GPA and test scores and be considered a potential major academic contributor. 
  • Extracurriculars: to have a 1 in the extracurricular category a student must have national-level or professional contributions. 
  • Athletics: to have a 1 in athletics a student must have the potential to compete in their sport on the “national, international, or olympic level.” 
  • Personal: this last section is given scores based off of more subjective information such as letters of recommendation and essays. To receive a 1, the university is looking for students with truly exceptional character. 

Step 4: Vote

After the first read, the application goes to a sub-committee. The sub-committee will meet to discuss the application and decide which applications will go to the full 40 person committee that votes on the final admits. Generally, applicants who receive a 2 or higher go to the full committee; students who receive a 3 or 4 may still go to the committee if a committee chair approves.

Once an application gets to the final committee, 40 officers will review the application and vote whether or not to admit. A simple majority is needed to admit a student. However, the committee may revisit an application later if they decide to try and shape the incoming class. Theoretically, a single application might be revisited and voted on multiple times before their actual final decision is made. 

Step 5: Final decision 

The admitted students can theoretically change up until the day that admission decisions are released. Early applications will hear back in mid-December while regular decisions will get their notice in late-March. 

How will my background affect my chances of admission?

Student backgrounds are important to admission’s officers; in their defense brief submitted in SFFA v. Harvard, Harvard states that:

“Thus, to assemble the strongest first-year class, Harvard looks for students who excel beyond academics and who will bring distinctive experiences, perspectives, talents, and interests to campus.”

Students then wonder how factors such as legacy, race, geographic diversity, etc… will impact their application. In their CD, Harvard published the following table of considered factors:

From this, we see that several identities such as relations to alumni, first generation students, race, and residence are considered on applications. But what does this mean?

Obviously, these factors are out of a student’s control. However, when applying, don’t be afraid to discuss important features of your identity in your personal essay or short responses. Learning about your identity will help admissions officers gain a better understanding of how you will enhance student life on campus.

What is changing with Harvard admissions?

As of late, there have been several major changes in the college admissions world. COVID-19 and a US Supreme Court case directly involving Harvard University have forced colleges to review their own admissions processes. 

While the long term effects of some of these changes are unknown, we do know the following:

  • The USSC ruled 6-3 in June 2023 that private institutions like Harvard cannot constitutionally take race into consideration in their admissions process.
  • Due to the challenges of the pandemic, many schools including Harvard went “test-optional”. Harvard College will continue to allow students to apply without standardized test scores for the upcoming classes of ‘27, ‘28, ‘29, and ‘30.

The long term effects of SFFA v. Harvard is unknown, but Harvard has released a statement where they reaffirm their commitments to diversity and cultivating an admitted class of students  “whose members come from all walks of life, all over the world.” You can read more about Harvard’s response to the decision here.

While other prestigious institutions (notably Yale University and Princeton University) did recently announce they would extend their test optional policies that were set to expire this year, there is no word yet if Harvard College will return to requiring the SAT as they did before the pandemic. 

A note on test-optional policies

Many people see that Harvard is test-optional and breathe a sigh of relief: if the policy says “optional,” then surely you don’t have to take the test, right? 

Sadly, that’s not the case. The vast majority of Harvard applicants submitted test scores for last-year’s application cycle. The reality of it is that test-optional policies are not meant to apply to everyone.

 If you come from a background where the Harvard admission committee could see testing as a real burden—you come from a low-income family or community, you worked a full-time job to support your family, you were dealing with serious health issues in high school, etc.—then test-optional can work for you (though you would still be better off submitting exceptional test scores). 

But if you don’t have anything like that to point to, Harvard will expect you to submit test scores. They might not say so, but failing to do so when you don’t have a good reason will signal to admissions committees that you simply didn’t do well enough on the test. 

Regardless of application requirements, at PrepMaven we encourage students to still take the SAT (or the ACT, depending on which test suits their skills). 

Doing so will allow them to keep their options open as they navigate future college admissions cycles, and our philosophy as educators is to give our students as many tools as possible to maximize their future opportunities.

Higher test scores will always give applicants an advantage.

Next steps

With an admission rate of 3.2%, getting into a school like Harvard College is no easy task. Here are some next steps you can take to improve your chances of getting in. 

  • Overall academic success is critical to admissions at Harvard. Check out academic subject tutoring for your student here.
  • Having a top performing SAT or ACT score can only make you a more competitive applicant. We can help you reach that score, consult with a test prep expert to see if individual tutoring or prep courses would be right for you. 
  • Your personal essay can demonstrate your character and highlight your skills better than any part of your application. Our top tutors can also help your students perfect their personal essays. Schedule your initial consultation here.

If you’re in the process of applying, there are few better resources than real sample essays that worked to get other students into Ivy+ schools. Fortunately, we’ve got over 50 real essays for you to use as examples: click the link below to download them for free. 

Top College Essay Posts



Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.