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January 15, 2019

How to get into Harvard according to Harvard

Things William R. Fitzsimmons the dean of Harvard College and Financial Aid looks for

There are various formulas for getting into Harvard University. Regretfully, even for exceptionally qualified students, there are no guarantees. Students with a 4.0 GPA (unweighted), 1600 SAT or 36 ACT scores, and 5’s on 9 AP exams don’t always get accepted to Harvard. Wow!! What does that mean? How can perfect students not get into Harvard? Because Harvard is not just looking for the best test takers. They look for the “best” overall students, individuals that fit into a larger framework of excellence, diversity, collaboration, scholarship, innovation, service and entrepreneurial spirit, among other things.

If one looks at a scatter gram of students that get accepted to Harvard and those that get rejected, there is not much difference in regard to GPA and SAT/ACT scores. Thus, when students with straight A’s and perfect SAT scores receive deferrals and denial letters from Harvard, what is the reason? Basically, Harvard and other elite programs do not have the space to accept every qualified applicant. Secondly, like every individual, every family and every college, Harvard University has needs. Fill that “institutional” need and present yourself in a compelling and extremely interesting way, you increase your chances of acceptance. Make the strong argument that you are a “great fit” for Harvard and you are well on your way to having a chance at a Harvard acceptance letter. In other words, prove why both you, Harvard and society benefit from your attending Harvard and you have a chance, a small chance.

The key then is to determine:

  • What are Harvard’s needs?
  • What is Harvard looking for in its candidates for admission?
  • Make your case like an attorney before a jury that you are “awesome,” and are a great fit.

Let’s take a look at the views of someone who should know what it takes to be a competitive applicant to Harvard, William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College.

Harvard first and foremost looks for students, faculty and staff that strive for and attain excellence in everything they do, academically, personally and professionally. Paraphrasing their mission statement, Harvard College states that it “educates the citizens and citizen leaders of our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and science education, and diversity. Having done this, students understand their gifts and talents, determine their values and interests, and learn how they can best serve the world.”

Harvard essentially has four questions that they want to know about you:

  1. Where do you rank and what is your Growth and Potential?
  2. What are your Interests, Activities and Accomplishments?
  3. What is your Character and Personality?
  4. What is your Contribution to the Greater Society and to the local Community
  • Growth and Potential
    • Do you excel in the most rigorous and challenging courses available?
    • Do you show initiative?
    • In your activities, do you progress in responsibility and skill over time?
    • Where do you expect to be in 1, 5 and 25 years from now?
    • How well do you contribute to and inspire those around you?
    • Do you create and take advantage of opportunities?
    • Do you show genuine commitment and uncommon, impactful leadership?
  • Interests, Experiences, Activities and Accomplishments
    • Do you care deeply about anything? What really matters to you? – intellectually, Extracurricularly, Personally
    • What are your exceptional talents? Are you awesome?
    • What have you learned from your interests?
    • How unique are your experiences?
    • Have you overcome overwhelming obstacles?
  • Character and Personality
    • What choices have you made?
    • Do you show:
      • Maturity and exhibit good judgement?
      • Fine Character?
      • Impactful Leadership?
      • Entrepreneurial Spirit?
      • Self-Confidence?
      • Warmth of Personality?
      • Sense of Humor?
      • Genuine Concern for Others and the Common Good?
      • Grace under Pressure, Calmness under Fire?
  • Contribution to the Greater Society and Local Community
    • Authentic, Genuine & Meaningful Service that positively impacts others

Answer these questions compellingly and you have a chance. The main idea here is that one must be realistic at the long odds of a Harvard acceptance no matter what your qualifications; and that there are many fine schools that are a “great fit” for you.