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How Harvard Reviews Applications - And What YOU Can Do to Stand Out

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ve probably noticed that I regularly report on or link to past articles I’ve written on the steps your application takes once you’ve submitted it to a college or university. This is important information that you should use to your advantage when crafting your student profiles and applications.

Today, let’s take a look at Harvard College, specifically. Though their process follows the path outlined in the article linked above, there are a few more insights I can share with you, thanks to the transparency revealed through their national lawsuit a few years ago.

Step 1 The applications are divided into categories based on location. This ensures they are reviewed by a regional admissions officer who is familiar with the schools and educational opportunities in the designated area.

Step 2 Admissions officers — and sometimes faculty — read each application in full. They use score cards to rate the application / application materials on a scale of 1-6 (with 1 being the best and 6 being the worst) in four general categories:

  1. Academics (i.e. grades, test scores, winning nationally-recognized awards)

  2. Extracurriculars (i.e. community service, clubs, family commitments)

  3. Athletics (i.e. athletic accomplishments, awards)

  4. Personal Qualities (i.e. intellectual curiosity, specific talents, capacity for leadership)

Harvard reports taking up to 200 variables into consideration:

(source: Wall Street Journal)

Step 3 Applications that made it through the first review are assessed and voted on by a subcommittee, much like this: Inside the Decision Room.

Step 4 Finally, all the applications that are approved by a subcommittee receive one final yes/no vote from the full 40-person admissions board. Overall, Harvard seeks a diverse campus, and each year the qualities they look for shift, at least somewhat, as they shape each incoming class. While this makes it challenging to exactly assess one’s competitiveness, it’s important to note that almost all applicants are highly qualified, with many thousands reporting perfect GPAs and SAT/ACT scores.

(Source: Harvard University)

Because of this, you must focus on your extracurriculars and — more importantly — your personal qualities. Why? Because most applicants underestimate the personal qualities metric, making it the best avenue to set yourself apart from the competition.

Use the essays, letters of recommendation, and interview to show how you:

  • Will contribute to your campus and class

  • Are poised to do amazing things as a student and, later, a Harvard graduate

  • Fit in with the Harvard community

Remember, Harvard openly admits that they shape each incoming class to bring together a set of students who are not only academically capable but diverse, unique, and offer different opinions, life experiences, perspectives, and interests. So highlight those things about yourself to stand out from your competition. Want help applying to Harvard, or any other college or university? We're here to help. Schedule a free 20 minute consultation and let's get started!



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