Not sure how to approach the Harvard essay prompts? With tips from a Harvard graduate, CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the Harvard supplemental essays will show you exactly how to write engaging Harvard essays and maximize your chances of admission.
If you need help crafting your Harvard supplemental essays,create your free accountorschedule a no-cost advising consultationby calling (844) 505-4682.
HarvardEssay Guide Quick Facts:
- Harvard has an acceptance rate of 4.6%—U.S. News ranks Harvard as ahighly competitiveschool.
- We recommend answering all Harvard supplemental essays—optional Harvard essay prompts included—comprehensively and thoughtfully.
Does Harvard have supplemental essays?
Need some help writing your Common App essay? Get great tips from ourCommon App essay guide.
What are Harvard’s supplemental essays?
How many essays does Harvard require?
Harvard hasthreeschool-specific essays in the 2021-2022 Common App. As you look at each Harvard application essay, you’ll notice that several are listed as optional. While you aren’t required to complete the optional Harvard essays, if you’re hoping to be admitted, you should complete every essay to make your application as cohesive and engaging as possible.
Harvard essay prompts and how to write them:
We have provided the prompts for the 2021-2022 Harvard supplemental essays below. You’ll find a breakdown of how to approach each Harvard application essay as well as tips for creating an application narrative that will stand out in admissions.
Harvard Supplemental Essays – Question 1 (Optional):
Your intellectual life may extend beyond the academic requirements of your particular school. Please use the space below to list additional intellectual activities that you have not mentioned or detailed elsewhere in your application. These could include, but are not limited to, supervised or self-directed projects not done as school work, training experiences, online courses not run by your school, or summer academic or research programs not described elsewhere. (150 words max.)
Harvard supplemental essays are crafted to help identify students who are academically driven, intellectually engaged, and highly self-motivated. This prompt allows you to express your intellectual engagements as they manifest outside of your academic work. These engagements do not need to fit into any structure—whether you’ve taken online courses, taught yourself Portuguese, taken up studio art, or anything in between, this prompt should allow you to talk about your “intellectual life” in the broadest terms.
This Harvard essay asks you to think about how your intellectual engagements inform your daily life. How do you spend your free time? How might these additional activities supplement your application narrative?
Since you only have 150 words, you’ll want to be concise. Don’t just write a list of things that you like to do and leave it at that. Instead, you’ll want to add a few descriptive words to each intellectual activity. Be specific about what you’ve accomplished, providing details about what you did, when and where you did it, why you chose to do it, and what it meant to you. After you’ve described your list, look at it critically to see if it reflects your sense of identity and relationship with the world around you.
Remember, you’re also being asked to discuss activities not detailed elsewhere in your application. It’s helpful to write a list of the topics, activities, and projects that you plan to cover in other Harvard essays to make sure that there’s no overlap between those essay prompts and this Harvard application essay.
Another keyword to pay attention to is “detailed.” While you may have mentioned an activity or interest in passing elsewhere in your application, you can still expound on that particular intellectual pursuit here.
In the shorter Harvard supplemental essays, it’s important not to get lost in the descriptive language of your activity. Don’t spend so much time describing the classroom where you took Portuguese language classes that you don’t give yourself the space necessary to talk about what the activity meant to you. Beautiful language is just the icing on the cake in Harvard essays.
Harvard Essay Draft Key Questions:
- Does your draft clearly communicate what you accomplished?
- Is it clear that the activity you describe is intellectual in nature?
- Does your supplement provide information not present in the rest of your application?
- Do you articulate why your chosen activity matters to you and how it has influenced your broader identity?
Harvard Supplemental Essays – Question 2 (Required):
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.(150 words max.)
Harvard supplemental essays should provide insight into your identity in a way that is not represented in the rest of your application. In this essay prompt, as you choose which activity to discuss, consider the story that your application tells. Which extracurricular experience contributes most effectively to this story?
Use your 150-word limit on this Harvard application essay wisely. Once you’ve chosen an activity, start with the specifics. What did you do? Why did you do it? How did this experience contribute to your sense of yourself and the world around you? What are the connections between this activity and your overall application narrative? While your response may not answer all these questions, it’s important to keep them in mind to ensure that your supplement accurately and effectively represents your interests and accomplishments.
As you write, be careful to talk about yourself as much as about the work you’ve done. This isn’t your resume—instead, it’s your time to discuss who you are in the context of your activities and interests.
Harvard Essay Draft Key Questions:
- Does your response add nuance, meaning, or additional interest to the other components of your application?
- Do you reference concrete details about what you accomplished and why it mattered?
- Does your response teach the reader something new about you?
Harvard Supplemental Essays – Question 3 (optional):
Harvard supplemental essays are numerous, but their goal is to give you ample opportunities to show Admissions Officers what makes you special. The final Harvard essay is long-form. You’ll be able to choose one of the following topics:
Unusual circumstances in your life
Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
How you hope to use your college education
A list of books you have read during the past twelve months
The Harvard College Honor code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission?
Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do?
Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates. (2000 words max.)
Having trouble deciding which of these Harvard essays to write? Start with awriting exercise. Pick 3-4 of the Harvard essay prompts that you most connect with and set a timer. Then, write about each topic for no more than 10 minutes. Were there any topics that you couldn’t stop writing about? Make that your essay topic.
When structuring your Harvard application essay, make sure that it’s clear to your reader which prompt you’ve chosen early on. Maybe you’re a voracious reader who finishes over 100 books each year. You might choose to submit a list of books you’ve read in the last 12 months, allowing your self-directed intellectual engagements to speak for themselves. Remember to weave the books together into a larger reflection of how you see the world, and/or how the books you’ve read have changed your worldview. Or maybe you’re interested in taking a gap year to explore the globe — you might choose to answer that prompt and tell Harvard what travel means to your identity as a student and world citizen. Whatever you choose, it should help you stand out and add nuance to your application narrative.
Harvard Essay Draft Key Questions:
- Does your response reveal what makes you unique?
- Will your response make the reader want to learn more about you?
- Does your response supplement and/or complicate the other aspects of your application?
How much does Harvard care about essays?
Short answer: a lot. Last year,over 50,000 students applied to Harvard. Most applicants have impressive GPAs, test scores, and extracurricular profiles. Admissions officers look to the Harvard essay prompts to help them identify students who “…will be the best educators of one another and their professors — individuals who will inspire those around them during College years and beyond.” In other words, your Harvard application essays should tell a story of your growth as a person up until this point. Each essay should play a part in showing that you are curious about the world, a reflective person of character, and an individual who brings something unique to each community they inhabit. For a deep dive into what this looks like, visit Harvard’s“What We Look For” page.
Additional tips for writing your Harvard Supplemental Essays
- Start early: Harvard has afew admission options. Your application may be due inNovemberorJanuary. Begin gathering application materials early—at least 5 or 6 months in advance. You should write your first Harvard essay drafts the summer before you apply.
- Essay checklist: create an essay checklist for each Harvard essay prompt. Check your initial draft against the checklist: are you answering every part of the prompt? Are your answers unique, but authentic to who you are? Do your prompts tell a story?
- Edits: It’s always good to have a second (and sometimes a third) set of eyes on your Harvard essays. An outside reader can scan for grammatical errors as well as clarity and tone. Remember: a good editor is going to push you towards YOUR best writing, not towards their own.
To see examples of essays written by our advisors who were admitted to Harvard,check out this article.
Harvard Supplemental Essays: Final Thoughts
Completing the Harvard supplemental essays can seem daunting, but don’t let them discourage you from applying. Instead, view these Harvard essays as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions team. Maybe you’re applying with alower than average SAT score. A well-written set of Harvard essay prompts can work in your favor. Use this Harvard supplemental essays 2021 guide to help you approach each Harvard application essay with a solid strategy and a clear timeline. Good luck!
This 2021-2022 essay guide for Harvard University was written by Abbie Sage, Harvard ‘21. For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on Harvard,click here. Want help crafting your Harvard supplemental essays?Create your free accountorschedule a no-cost advising consultationby calling (844) 505-4682.
However, we highly recommend that you complete the essay, as it can only help your application by revealing another side to yourself. So far, the main source that Harvard can use to perceive your personality is your Common Application essay; this supplemental essay, however, gives you another opportunity to do so.Is there a word count for Harvard supplemental essays? ›
Harvard College has three supplemental essay prompts, two limited to 150 words and one of unspecified length. The only required essay among these is one of the two short-response essays, but we strongly advise that all applicants attempt each of the three essays.What does Harvard look for in supplemental essays? ›
No matter what you write, be sure that your essay is specific and descriptive. It should reveal information about you and your personal growth, and it should show Harvard University why you would be a great addition to their campus.Does Harvard change supplemental essays? ›
Yes. In addition to the main essay prompt that you'll encounter in the Common App or Coalition App, you'll also have to answer shorter Harvard essays as well as longer Harvard essay prompts.Do people get into Harvard test optional? ›
Choosing whether or not to submit test scores is a personal decision for every applicant. There are many reasons why students do not submit test scores, including expense. In general, though, anything that might give a more complete or positive picture of an applicant can be helpful.Should I answer the optional questions? ›
When should you not answer an optional essay prompt? If you do not have anything substantial to say about the topic, or if the question does not apply to you at all, these are good reasons to skip an optional prompt. No reader wants to spend time on an essay that essentially tells them nothing.How long should the optional Harvard essay be? ›
How Long Should the Harvard Supplemental Essays Be? Although Harvard gives no explicit word or character limit for the supplemental essay, most accepted students will write between 500 and 700 words (or about a page when written in Times New Roman 12-point font).Is the Harvard supplement essay really optional reddit? ›
I get that no "optional" essay is truly optional but they say you should write it "if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments".What counts as word count Harvard? ›
Word count includes everything in the main body of the text (including headings, tables, citations, quotes, lists, etc). The list of references, appendices and footnotes2 are NOT included in the word count unless it is clearly stated in the coursework instructions that the module is an exception to this rule.Do colleges actually read supplemental essays? ›
So if a school requires an essay it is VERY likely to be read. If a school has a writing section in their supplement to the Common Application you can rest assured that ALL of that writing is evaluated by admissions officers.
Colleges think a lot about what to ask in their supplemental essay prompts, and they really want you to take time and care in these answers. Pay close attention to the prompts, and really think about how best to answer. This goes even for the tiniest of school-specific essays.What does Harvard look at when applying? ›
We take into consideration your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, personal qualities, and life experiences. Just as there is no typical Harvard student, there is no ideal Harvard applicant. We look forward to learning more about you.Is it OK to reuse supplemental essays? ›
Yes, but do it carefully! Reusing essays can save you time and energy. If you reuse material, make sure to do it strategically, and make sure what you're reusing fits the prompt. Students should not force an essay in there that doesn't really fit just because they already have it written.Can you write the same supplemental essay twice? ›
If you've already written an essay that happens to fit with another college's similar prompt, then it should take you no time at all to spruce it up and submit it. Reusing the same essay is just fine.What kind of essays does Harvard look for? ›
Harvard requires the submission of the personal essay with your application. We also offer an opportunity to add an additional information.Can you get into Harvard without straight as? ›
(Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 4.18, Harvard requires you to be at the top of your class. You'll need nearly straight A's in all your classes to compete with other applicants.Has anyone gotten into Harvard without SAT? ›
We will allow students to apply for admission without requiring ACT or SAT test results. Consistent with Harvard's whole-person admissions process, standardized tests are only one factor among many.What is the minimum SAT score for Harvard? › Are you at a disadvantage if you apply test optional? ›
If a school is test optional, that means you get to decide if you want to submit SAT or ACT scores. If you submit them, they'll be reviewed as part of your application, but if you don't, you won't be at any disadvantage compared to applicants who did submit test scores.Does test optional lower your chances? ›
However, in terms of colleges penalizing applicants for not submitting scores, no. They don't do that. Applying test-optional doesn't hurt your chances if you've got an outstanding application and are as strong or stronger than the other applicants.
You should write the optional essay if you actually have something substantial to say about it. If you're just doing it because “you think you should,” “everyone else is doing it,” “they say it's optional, but I think it's mandatory,” or “I'm sure I can come up with something to say,” then don't write it.How many people get into Harvard test optional? ›
Expounding on “is Harvard test optional?”, the college stated that it would extend the test-optional policy further when it made the announcement that it would accept 7.9 percent of early action applicants as part of its Class of 2026.How long should a personal statement be for Harvard? ›
The personal statement provides an opportunity for you to present yourself, your background, your ideas, and your qualifications to the Admissions Committee. Please limit your statement to two pages using a minimum of 11-point font, 1-inch margins, and double spacing.How do you write a good Harvard essay? ›
- MAKE IT UNIQUELY YOU. The personal essay is the only place in your entire application where the admissions officers have the ability to hear your own voice. ...
- PICK A TOPIC WHICH MATTERS TO YOU. ...
- START WRITING. ...
- WRITE A LOT. ...
- REWRITE, REWRITE, REWRITE. ...
- SHOW IT TO OTHER PEOPLE. ...
- ARE YOU PROUD OF IT?
Harvard admissions officers are looking for well-written, authentic, and unique essays that reveal who the student is, what matters to them, and what makes them stand out. Successful essays can take many forms, from personal narratives to academic essays to creative writing.How important are optional supplemental essays? ›
Most experts recommended that applicants only use optional essays to inform the admissions committee of extenuating circumstances, anomalies in their backgrounds, or in some rare cases, an extraordinary accomplishment not covered by the required prompts.Why does Yale have so many supplemental essays? ›
With so many applicants, the Yale admissions team needs to be able to distinguish the most qualified ones. By reading Yale supplemental essays, they learn about you not only as a student but also as a community member. Imagine if every admitted student had a 4.0 GPA but never joined any clubs or student organizations.What words are not counted in an essay? ›
Tables, diagrams (including associated legends), appendices, references, footnotes and endnotes, the bibliography and any bound published material are excluded from the word count.Are direct quotes included in word count Harvard referencing? ›
Quotations are counted as part of your final word count.What happens if you go under the word limit on university essay? ›
An essay word count has been specified for a reason. Writing too much would likely result in your essay being cut off, and writing under the word limit may cause readers to think that you are not interested in their university. In case, no word limit is given, it is best to stick to 400-600 words.
- Never rehash your academic and extracurricular accomplishments.
- Never write about a "topic"
- Never start with a preamble.
- Never end with a “happily ever after” conclusion.
- Never pontificate.
- Never retreat into your thoughts.
Often, these essays are more important than the Personal Essay. Colleges ask these questions for a reason — and it's usually to make sure they learn more about you and the HUMAN you are (not a test-taking, grade-making, EC doing machine) and how you will bring that human (you) to THEIR specific campus.Can a bad college essay negatively affect my application? ›
If a student's essay isn't great OR good, the admission officer will probably just skim past the essay and move right on to your transcript and your test scores to evaluate your candidacy for admission. Bad essays don't get read.How long should you spend on college supplemental essays? ›
A good strategy to tackle advance work on supplemental college essays is to spend 2 to 3 weeks writing rough drafts of the most common supplemental college essay types. Depending on the colleges you're applying to, you can focus on specific prompts they've frequently asked in previous years.How long should you take to write supplemental essays? ›
Early on in the writing process, an essay may take you two or three weeks to write. By the end, you will be able to write several essays within a week. The one type of prompt that you may need to spend a little more time on, though, are the “why this school” prompts.Do admissions officers actually read essays? ›
Yes, admissions officers do actually read essays, but they might have already screened candidates first in a preliminary round. Every admissions office has a different process and it's impossible to sum up the exact step-by-step process for each admission office in one blog post.What personality does Harvard look for? ›
Character and Personality
Leadership, integrity, maturity, and teamwork are often mentioned in articles giving tips for applicants. Grace under pressure and concern for other people's welfare are also sought after traits in Harvard applicants. Demonstrate these traits in a specific and unique way on your essay.
It's essential to remember that Harvard has a holistic admissions process, meaning they consider every aspect of an applicant's profile. Harvard weighs grades and test scores but also values personal qualities such as character, creativity, intellectual curiosity, and growth potential.What is the most important thing to get into Harvard? ›
Harvard is looking for students with “growth and potential”.
To get accepted into Harvard, students must show commitment to excellence through “interests and activities,” have upstanding “character and personality,” and “contribute to Harvard's community.”
The end of a supplement is your last chance to make your point. You may not have a lot of space but set aside at least a short sentence to bring everything together. If you have more than 250 words to work with, commit at least two sentences to the conclusion.
Many prompts for the supplemental essay ask you to write a single paragraph or two. Don't go beyond the stated limit. Also, realize that a tight and engaging single paragraph is better than two mediocre paragraphs. The admissions officers have thousands of applications to read, and they will appreciate brevity.Can I change supplemental essay after submitting? ›
Once an application or writing supplement has been submitted to any institution, you cannot make any changes to that application (just as if you had dropped it in the mail), and we are not permitted to make changes on your behalf.Can you go over the word limit for a college supplemental essay? ›
It might be impossible to go over the essay word limit
Some universities may allow you to mail in a copy of your admissions essay, but most will use online applications with text fields that may cut off your essay if it goes over the maximum word count.
General Tips. Harvard College has three supplemental essay prompts, two limited to 150 words and one of unspecified length. The only required essay among these is one of the two short-response essays, but we strongly advise that all applicants attempt each of the three essays.Can I copy and paste supplemental essays? ›
DON'T copy and paste.
While students can use the same main essay on the Common App for multiple schools, we always recommend that students tailor their supplemental essays to the individual colleges.
The Harvard supplement essay, as it's known, is completely optional—you may, but do not need to, write this essay and submit it with your application.How long should my Harvard supplemental essay be? ›
How Long Should the Harvard Supplemental Essays Be? Although Harvard gives no explicit word or character limit for the supplemental essay, most accepted students will write between 500 and 700 words (or about a page when written in Times New Roman 12-point font).Should I submit an essay if it's optional? ›
If a college says the essay is “optional,” you should still send one. It can only help you. The reason essay optional schools include that option is so when they are deciding between students with similar qualifications, they can look to see if there are other possible factors to judge.Should I write an essay if it is optional? ›
You should write the optional essay if you actually have something substantial to say about it. If you're just doing it because “you think you should,” “everyone else is doing it,” “they say it's optional, but I think it's mandatory,” or “I'm sure I can come up with something to say,” then don't write it.Should you submit optional essays? ›
Most experts recommended that applicants only use optional essays to inform the admissions committee of extenuating circumstances, anomalies in their backgrounds, or in some rare cases, an extraordinary accomplishment not covered by the required prompts.
Now that we've learned about what is an optional college essay, it's time to ask yourself “should I write an optional essay for college?” Once more, the answer is a qualified YES. You should consider submitting the optional essay if you truly feel that you have something insightful to say about a certain topic.Does submitting test optional hurt your chances? ›
However, in terms of colleges penalizing applicants for not submitting scores, no. They don't do that. Applying test-optional doesn't hurt your chances if you've got an outstanding application and are as strong or stronger than the other applicants.Can I write an essay without plagiarizing? ›
You can avoid plagiarism by:
Keeping track of the sources you consult in your research. Paraphrasing or quoting from your sources (and adding your own ideas) Crediting the original author in an in-text citation and in your reference list. Using a plagiarism checker before you submit.
The general rule in academic writing is to not use the exclamation mark. The long version of that rule is that many academics think that if a writer needs a special mark to add emphasis, they are not doing their job as a writer.Should I talk about academics in my college essay? ›
Though there are personal statements, especially at the grad school level or for transfer applicants, that ask you to explain your academic or professional background. So, in those instances, when you're explicitly being asked to discuss these topics, you definitely should. Always follow the prompt.How long should my Harvard optional essay be? ›
How Long Should the Harvard Supplemental Essays Be? Although Harvard gives no explicit word or character limit for the supplemental essay, most accepted students will write between 500 and 700 words (or about a page when written in Times New Roman 12-point font).What should you do with every essay before submitting? ›
- Check you have referenced every idea that is not yours. ...
- Check your references are accurate and correct. ...
- Check you have referenced primary sources as well. ...
- Edit for grammar and spelling. ...
- Edit for syntax and punctuation. ...
- Edit for style and vocabulary. ...
- Edit for structure. ...
- Check the flow of your argument.
pdf files. So just be sure that you are saving your file in an accepted format before you upload it! I recommend . pdf files whenever possible, because they are uneditable and always look the same.Does the optional essay affect SAT score? ›
The essay is optional and will not be factored into your overall SAT score. The essay scores will be shown separately on the report.Can a personal essay be too personal? ›
Unfortunately, it is possible to get too personal in the writing process. If you've truly experienced a difficulty in life that has shaped you into the person you are today, include it, but don't overwhelm the reader with details. This is especially true if the issue involves family troubles or other similar concerns.
It is highly recommended for all applicants to write the optional essay if the admissions committee is requesting additional information – after all, this type of essay is giving you the chance to shine and tell your story on your terms.