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July 1, 2021

The Harvard Admissions Process: the Ratings Scale


Harvard, arguably the top academic institution in the world, maintains highly selective and until recently a mystical admissions process. Princeton, Stanford and Oxford Universities, obviously take issue with Harvard’s perception and allure. That is for perhaps another blog. Today we focus on who gets considered to reside at Harvard Yard. As you can imagine, all valedictorians are not created equal. This blog serves two purposes: first, to highlight your chances of admission, and second, to explain how Harvard, and presumably other top colleges, select students for their entering class. The Rating Scale is based on an applicant’s score from 1 to 6, one being the best. If Harvard is a destination you desire, your achievements must perform at a high level, for an extended period of time, and must be validated by impartial, objective and reputable supporters. Finally, you must possess unique abilities that meet the mission and institutional needs of the schools you apply to and preferentially score a 1 or 2 out of a possible 6. Moreover, you must display fine character, leadership, genuine service, and maturity and achievements beyond your years. Here we go!


  • Academics
  • Extracurriculars
  • Athletics
  • Personal Character
  • Summary


  • Academics


  • The ratings is this category includes:
    • Summa Potential
    • Magna Potential
    • Cum Laude Potential
    • Adequate Preparation
    • Marginal Potential
    • Achievement or Motivation marginal or worse


  • Summa Potential refers to a genuine scholar: perfect or near-perfect scores and grades, with uncommon creativity and possible evidence of original scholarship. Possible national or international level recognition in academic competitions; a “potential major academic contributor.”


  • Magna Potential: Excellent student with superb grades and mid-to-high SAT 750< / ACT 33+. Possible local, regional or national level recognition in academic competitions


  • Cum Laude Potential: Very Good Student with excellent grades and mid-600 SAT/29-32 ACT


  • Extracurriculars


  • The rating criteria in this category include;
    • 1 Uncommon Strength in one or more areas
    • 2 Strong contribution in one or more areas, such as class president, newspaper editor, significant involvement in organizations outside of school. Possible Local or regional recognition or major accomplishments outside of the classroom
    • Solid Participation, but without special distinction


  • Athletics
    • Uncommonly strong prospect for varsity sports at Harvard, possibly a recruited athlete, recognition for individual athletic achievement/championships at national, international or Olympic level


  • Strong and long-standing (3-4 years) of secondary school or travel team contribution in one or more sports, leadership such as captain, individual recognition at state or regional level, possible varsity walk-on
  • Active participation, some leadership, local or conference level achievement


  • Personal Character & Qualities


  • Truly outstanding qualities of character, student displays enormous courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in life. Demonstration of the ability to lead or inspire those around them: unqualified and unwavering support from their recommenders


  • Very strong qualities of character, strong leadership, maturity beyond their years; uncommon authenticity, unselfish or humility
  • Generally positive
  • Bland, negative or immature
  • Questionable
  • Worrisome


  • In Summary:


  • It is extremely competitive to gain entry into Harvard, especially with the applicant pool from all over the world. Harvard succeeds in attracting the best students and faculty. However, it is possible to gain a Harvard-like education at dozens of other institutions according to Edward Fiske of the Fiske Guide. Though, most elite colleges lack the mystic, allure and prestige of Cambridge. Even perfect SAT/ACT scores and grades does not earn one a top score on the rating scale. Successful admission to Harvard and other elite colleges is truly holistic, based on the whole student, not just elite test-taking ability. Significantly less that 1% of applicants earn a top score of a 1. However, while the overall Harvard acceptance rate is 3.43% for the Class of 2025, if you earn a score of 1 in any of the ratings categories, your chances of admission to Harvard increases to over 60%.
  • To optimize you chances of admittance to Harvard and other top colleges requires planning and early preparation (and a lot of luck).




If you plan to apply to Harvard or other top 30 colleges and need assistance optimizing your personal statement, application and interview skills, please contact Dr. Richardson at mrichardson@ivybound.com  or text to 609.608.6258.