5 Things That Will Increase Your Chances of Getting Accepted to Harvard

With an acceptance rate of under 6%, great test scores are not enough to get you admitted to Harvard. There also seems to be no formula for acceptance. Each and every one of my classmates is very different. Some will take the most challenging courses in every field; others prefer to socialize. Some spend all their free time in the music studio; others choose to prepare for their careers in pre-professional clubs. I do find, however, one thing in common: Everyone has passion. Everyone wants to make their mark on the world (even if they don’t know what it will be yet!).


1. What’s your story?

Harvard has an application essay for a reason. The admissions office wants to see who you are, and what motivates you to be who you want to be. So before applying, try to find what matters a lot to you. What inspires you? Is it your family? Is it a hobby? (For me it was my town.) Then, figure out why it matters, and be specific. For example, what does your family do that makes you love them so much? Perhaps it’s the family dinner, when everyone somehow laughs at the same time, or when everyone quarrels, but it’s all in good fun. Then, how does this play into your goals for the future? If family is important to you, you might want to help orphans find homes someday or help people who work far away feel closer to their families. Look to share your inspiration.

2. Pick a few extracurriculars that you’re really passionate about and stick to them.

One way to show what you’re passionate about in high school is extracurricular activities. Statistically, according to the Harvard Crimson, community service, athletics, and music are most common (perhaps because many high schools have requirements in these areas). In terms of leadership, around 18 percent of students in the class of 2020 (the class I was admitted into) were student body president and 12 percent were newspaper editor-in-chiefs. But don’t join Student Council if you don’t enjoy policy-making, and don’t join the newspaper if you don’t like writing, because you’ll have to follow through. Most accepted students are leaders in a club or two, and few lead more than that. Choose something you like and move forward through the ranks, rather than joining a bunch of clubs noncommittally or doing something you don’t enjoy.

3. Be friendly.

Help others. Of course, as shown above, Harvard loves students who participate in community service activities, on the large scale through organizations like Salvation Army or UNICEF, and also in the local community like the soup kitchen, animal shelter, or senior center. However, it’s just as important to be friendly in daily life. Harvard also wants to know whether you’d be a good roommate, participate well in class discussions, and be able to work in a group. One can’t be the leader all the time. You can show this by developing habits like holding the door for others, offering help when you see someone carry something heavy, and generally agreeing to do favors for others.

4. Take advantage of opportunities around you.

Harvard wants to see that you are willing to learn and can push yourself in a college environment. Pursue what you might be interested in. Is there something you love to do that your school doesn’t offer? Start a club or look at community activities. Have you always wanted to learn something your school doesn’t teach? Try learning it yourself through books or the Internet. Do you have a class you really enjoy? Ask for extra assignments that will help you delve deeper. In college, no one is there to force knowledge or activities onto you, so admissions needs to make sure you can follow your interests on your own.

5. Be yourself!

I’ve hinted at this throughout the other tips, but it’s worth emphasizing. Don’t pretend to be a factory-made Harvard-bound student. That kind of person doesn’t exist, and admissions will know. Don’t be afraid to reveal your imperfections, your little fears, and your regrets, as long as you show how you’ve conquered the problems you’ve faced and how you keep trying to improve yourself. My classmates are all very different, but I know for sure they are all humans. We’ve all forgotten about assignments (then of course, hastily tried to make them up). We’ve all encountered challenges that seemed to have no end, but somehow, we got through them. Show Harvard, or any other school you apply to, that you can conquer difficulty. Staying true to yourself and what you love is the best way to impress the admissions officers.

Terry Ni, Harvard Student
Class of 2020

Check out our blog post on how to improve your college application!

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