10 Successful Harvard Application Essays | 2021

Our new 2022 version is up now.

Our 2022 edition is sponsored by HS2 Academy—a premier college counseling company that has helped thousands of students gain admission into Ivy League-level universities across the world. Learn more at www.hs2academy.com . Also made possible by The Art of Applying, College Confidential, Crimson Education, Dan Lichterman, Key Education, MR. MBA®, Potomac Admissions, Prep Expert, and Prepory.

successful essays to harvard

AcceptU is the #1 rated college admissions consulting group. With a team composed entirely of former college admissions officers, AcceptU advises families on all aspects of the college planning process, from early profile-building to strategy and essay editing. More than 90% of our past students are admitted to at least one of their top three choices and AcceptU clients achieve 4x higher rates of admission to highly selective colleges. Learn more at www.AcceptU.com and schedule an introductory call with an AcceptU advisor today.

Successful Harvard Essay

I had never seen houses floating down a river. Minutes before there had not even been a river. An immense wall of water was destroying everything in its wake, picking up fishing boats to smash them against buildings. It was the morning of March 11, 2011. Seeing the images of destruction wrought by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I felt as if something within myself was also being shaken, for I had just spent two of the happiest summers of my life there.

In the summer of my freshman year, I received the Kikkoman National Scholarship, which allowed me to travel to Japan to stay with a host family in Tokyo for ten weeks. I arrived just as the swine flu panic gripped the world, so I was not allowed to attend high school with my host brother, Yamato. Instead, I took Japanese language, judo, and karate classes and explored the confusing sprawl of the largest city in the world. I spent time with the old men of my neighborhood in the onsen, or hot spring, questioning them about the Japan of their youth. They laughed and told me that if I wanted to see for myself, I should work on a farm.

The next summer I returned to Japan, deciding to heed the old men’s advice and volunteer on a farm in Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. I spent two weeks working more than fourteen hours a day. I held thirty-pound bags of garlic with one hand while trying to tie them to a rope hanging from the ceiling with the other, but couldn’t hold the bags in the air long enough. Other days were spent pulling up endless rows of daikon, or Japanese radish, which left rashes on my arms that itched for weeks. Completely exhausted, I stumbled back to the farmhouse, only to be greeted by the family’s young children who were eager to play. I passed out every night in a room too small for me to straighten my legs. One day, I overslept a lunch break by two hours. I awoke mortified, and hurried to the father. After I apologized in the most polite form of Japanese, his face broke into a broad grin. He patted me on the back and said, “You are a good worker, Anthony. There is no need to apologize.” This single exchange revealed the true spirit of the Japanese farmer. The family had lived for years in conditions that thoroughly wore me out in only a few days. I had missed two hours of work, yet they were still perpetually thankful to me. In their life of unbelievable hardship, they still found room for compassion.

In their life of unbelievable hardship, they still found room for compassion.

When I had first gone to Tokyo, I had sought the soul of the nation among its skyscrapers and urban hot springs. The next summer I spurned the beaten track in an attempt to discover the true spirit of Japan. While lugging enormously heavy bags of garlic and picking daikon, I found that spirit. The farmers worked harder than anyone I have ever met, but they still made room in their hearts for me. So when the tsunami threatened the people to whom I owed so much, I had to act. Remembering the lesson of compassion I learned from the farm family, I started a fund-raiser in my community called “One Thousand Cranes for Japan.” Little more than two weeks later, we had raised over $8,000 and a flock of one thousand cranes was on its way to Japan.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by AcceptU

This essay is very clean and straightforward. Anthony wisely uses imagery from a well-known historic event, the 2011 tsunami, to set the scene for his story. He visited Japan for two summers and provides depth about what he learned: In his first summer, he explored Tokyo and studied the language and culture; in his second summer, he lived in rural Japan and worked long hours on a farm.

We like to see how applicants learn, grow or change from the beginning to the end - and Anthony rightfully spends more time describing the hard work and lifestyle of farming and what he learned from this experience.

The beauty of the essay actually lies in its simplicity. Admittedly, it is not a groundbreaking or original essay in the way he tells his story; instead, Anthony comes across as someone who is very interesting, hardworking, intellectually curious, dedicated, humble and likable - all traits that admissions officers are seeking in applicants.

We like to see how applicants learn, grow or change from the beginning to the end - and Anthony rightfully spends more time describing the hard work and lifestyle of farming and what he learned from this experience. Anthony concludes with a reference to his opening paragraph about the tsunami, and impresses the reader with his fundraising to help victims.

It is not necessarily missing, but perhaps a sentence or two could have been added to explain why Anthony was in Japan in the first place. What was his connection to the country, language or culture? Does it tie into an academic interest? If so, that would make his already strong essay even stronger in the eyes of admissions officers.

acceptu_button

Sponsored by Bridge to College, a data company that matches students to colleges that are an academic, financial, and social fit. We provide services to students, families, high schools, and colleges to support all of their admissions needs. Visit https://bit.ly/bridge-to-college-successful-essays for more information on the new platform, sign up for updates and consultations, and learn more about what we do.

Find Bridge to College on Social Media: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn

I entered the surprisingly cool car. Since when is Beijing Line 13 air-conditioned? I’ll take it. At four o’clock in the afternoon only about twenty people were in the subway car. “At least it’s not crowded,” one might have thought. Wrong. The pressure of their eyes on me filled the car and smothered me. “看看!她是外国人!”(Look, look! She’s a foreigner!) An old man very loudly whispered to a child curled up in his lap. “Foreigner,” he called me. I hate that word, “foreigner.” It only explains my exterior. If only they could look inside.…

I want to keep reading because there is something she is saying about her identity--be it performative or actual--that I am curious about.

They would know that I actually speak Chinese—not just speak, but love. They would know that this love was born from my first love of Latin—the language that fostered my admiration of all languages. Latin lives in the words we speak around the world today. And translating this ancient language is like watching a play and performing in it at the same time. Each word is an adventure, and on the journey through Virgil’s Aeneid I found that I am more like Aeneas than any living, dead, or fictional hero I know. We share the intrinsic value of loyalty to friends, family, and society. We stand true to our own word, and we uphold others to theirs. Like Aeneas’s trek to find a new settlement for his collapsed Troy, with similar perseverance I, too, wander the seas for my own place in the world. Language has helped me do that.

If these subway passengers understood me, they would know that the very reason I sat beside them was because of Latin. Even before Aeneas and his tale, I met Caecilius and Grumio, characters in my first Latin textbook. In translations I learned grammar alongside Rome’s rich history. I realized how learning another language could expose me to other worlds and other people—something that has always excited me. I also realized that if I wanted to know more about the world and the people in it, I would have to learn a spoken language. Spanish, despite the seven years of study prior to Latin, did not stick with me. And the throatiness of French was not appealing. But Chinese, more than these other traditional languages, intrigued me. The doors to new worlds it could open seemed endless. Thus I chose Chinese.

If these subway passengers looked inside me, they would find that my knowledge of both Latin and Chinese makes me feel whole. It feels like the world of the past is flowing through me alongside the world of the future. Thanks to Latin, Chinese sticks in my mind like the Velcro on the little boy’s shoes in front of me. If this little boy and his family and friends could look inside, they would understand that Latin laid the foundation for my lifelong commitment to languages. Without words, thoughts and actions would be lost in the space between our ears. To them, I am a foreigner, “外国人” literally translated as “out-of-country person.” I feel, however, more like an advena, the Latin word for “foreigner,” translated as “(one who) comes to (this place).” I came to this place, and I came to this country to stay. Unfortunately, they will not know this until I speak. Then once I speak, the doors will open.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by Bridge to College

Your college essay should serve two purposes: allow the reader to gain insights about you that they are not able to do in other parts of your application and provide an example of your writing abilities. To the former, you are hoping to demonstrate five soft skills that most colleges are at least implicitly interested in gleaning, those that indicate your capacity to be a good student at their institution.

Alex arrives at both goals in an interesting way. Without seeing the rest of her application, I can only assume that she is possibly interested in pursuing a major in a language (if she is pursuing a major in an applied math, this essay would be extremely interesting) and she has likely participated in some kind of team sport to demonstrate the soft skill of teamwork. To be honest, as someone who speaks five languages myself and studied Latin in undergrad, I don’t necessarily agree with her assessment of the languages. BUT I’m interested. I want to keep reading. She isn’t supposed to get everything right in this essay; she’s supposed to demonstrate a capacity for learning. And she does that.

I want to keep reading because there is something she is saying about her identity--be it performative or actual--that I am curious about. With our work in college access and admissions, we’ve only worked in underserved communities, be they students of color or girls interested in STEM or first-generation college students or more. People make an assumption that we are exploiting these identities into sob stories that admissions readers will immediately hang on to. We’re not doing that. We are encouraging students to write about something similar to what Alex did—describe how your identity has created a learning opportunity or a moment of resilience or determination. Alex seems like someone who is well resourced: her access to certain text; language curricula and the amount of time she spent studying those languages; even her sentence structure, gives that away. But her openness to adapt with humility is a critical skill that is so necessary to be a great student, and unfortunately a skill that many students miss.

For the second goal, she does a tremendous job of demonstrating her writing abilities. Her sentence structures are varied and there aren’t egregious mistakes in grammar and spelling. The last two sentences of the second paragraph sold me on her skill-level and personhood. I also really appreciated that she wasn’t shying away from what she has been able to access as far as her schooling. Alex is smart, witty, and well-traveled, and you’re going to know it. I love that.

The essay works as an introduction to who she is and her soft skills, as well as a demonstration of her writing abilities.

CEO and Founder of Bridge to College

bridge to college button

Elite Educational Institute has been helping students reach their academic goals through test preparation, tutoring, and college consulting services since 1987. Learn more at www.eliteprep.com .

When I was a child, I begged my parents for my very own Brother PT-1400 P-Touch Handheld Label Maker to fulfill all of my labeling needs. Other kids had Nintendos and would spend their free time with Mario and Luigi. While they pummeled their video game controllers furiously, the pads of their thumbs dancing across their joysticks, I would type out labels on my industrial-standard P-Touch with just as much zeal. I labeled everything imaginable, dividing hundreds of pens into Ziploc bags by color, then rubber-banding them by point size. The finishing touch, of course, was always a glossy, three-eighths-inch-wide tag, freshly churned out from my handheld labeler and decisively pasted upon the numerous plastic bags I had successfully compiled.

Labeling became therapeutic for me; organizing my surroundings into specific groups to be labeled provides me with a sense of stability. I may not physically need the shiny color-coded label verifying the contents of a plastic bag as BLUE HIGHLIGHTERS—FAT, to identify them as such, but seeing these classifications so plainly allows me to appreciate the reliability of my categorizations. There are no exceptions when I label the top ledge of my bookshelf as containing works from ACHEBE, CHINUA TO CONRAD, JOSEPH. Each book is either filtered into that category or placed definitively into another one. Yet, such consistency only exists in these inanimate objects.

Thus, the break in my role as a labeler comes when I interact with people. Their lives are too complicated, their personalities too intricate for me to resolutely summarize in a few words or even with the 26.2 feet of laminated adhesive tape compatible with my label maker. I have learned that a thin line exists between labeling and just being judgmental when evaluating individuals. I can hardly superficially characterize others as simply as I do my material possessions because people refuse to be so cleanly separated and compartmentalized. My sister Joyce jokes freely and talks with me for hours about everything from the disturbing popularity of vampires in pop culture to cubic watermelons, yet those who don’t know her well usually think of her as timid and introverted. My mother is sometimes my biggest supporter, spouting words of encouragement and, at other instances, my most unrelenting critic. The overlap becomes too indistinct, the contradictions too apparent, even as I attempt to classify those people in the world whom I know best.

For all my love of order when it comes to my room, I don't want myself, or the people with whom I interact, to fit squarely into any one category.

Neither would I want others to be predictable enough for me to label. The real joy in human interaction lies in the excitement of the unknown. Overturning expectations can be necessary to preserving the vitality of relationships. If I were never surprised by the behaviors of those around me, my biggest source of entertainment would vanish. For all my love of order when it comes to my room, I don’t want myself, or the people with whom I interact, to fit squarely into any one category. I meticulously follow directions to the millimeter in the chemistry lab but measure ingredients by pinches and dashes in the comfort of my kitchen. I’m a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, but I’ll admit e. e. cummings’s irreverence does appeal. I’ll chart my television show schedule on Excel, but I would never dream of confronting my chores with as much organization. I even call myself a labeler, but not when it comes to people. As Walt Whitman might put it, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.).”

I therefore refrain from the temptation to label—despite it being an act that makes me feel so fulfilled when applied to physical objects—when real people are the subjects. The consequences of premature labeling are too great, the risk of inaccuracy too high because, most of the time, not even the hundreds of alphanumeric digits and symbols available for entry on my P-Touch can effectively describe who an individual really is.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by Elite Prep

Amusing yet insightful, perhaps the most outstanding quality of Justine’s personal statement lies in the balance she strikes between anecdotal flourish and honest introspection. By integrating occasional humour and witty commentary into an otherwise lyrical and earnest self-reflection, Justine masterfully conveys an unfettered, sincere wisdom and maturity coveted by prestigious universities.

Justine breaks the ice by recalling a moment in her childhood that captures her fervent passion for labelling. When applying to selective academic institutions, idiosyncrasies and peculiar personal habits, however trivial, are always appreciated as indicators of individuality. Justine veers safely away from the temptation of “playing it safe” by exploring her dedication towards organizing all her possessions, a dedication that has followed her into adolescence.

She also writes from a place of raw honesty and emotion by offering the rationale behind her bizarre passion. Justine's reliance on labelling is underpinned by her yearning for a sense of stability and order in a messy world—an unaffected yearning that readers, to varying degrees, can sympathize with.

She also writes from a place of raw honesty and emotion by offering the rationale behind her bizarre passion. Justine’s reliance on labelling is underpinned by her yearning for a sense of stability and order in a messy world—an unaffected yearning that readers, to varying degrees, can sympathize with. She recognizes, however, it would be imprudent to navigate all facets of life with an unfaltering drive to compartmentalize everything and everyone she encounters.

In doing so, Justine seamlessly transitions to the latter, more pensive half of her personal statement. She extracts several insights by analyzing how, in staunch contrast with her neatly-organized pencil cases, the world is confusing, and rife with contradictions. Within each individual lies yet another world of complexity—as Justine reflects, people can’t be boiled down into “a few words,” and it’s impossible to capture their character, “even with the 26.2 feet of laminated adhesive tape compatible with [her] label maker.”

In concluding, Justine returns back to the premise that started it all, reminding the reader of her take on why compartmentalizing the world would be an ultimately unproductive effort. The most magical part of Justine’s personal statement? It reads easily, flows with imagery, and employs a simple concept—her labelling practices—to introduce a larger, thoughtful conversation.

successful essays to harvard

The best compliment I ever received was from my little brother: “My science teacher’s unbelievably good at telling stories,” he announced. “Nearly as good as you.” I thought about that, how I savor a good story the way some people savor last-minute touchdowns.

I learned in biology that I’m composed of 7 × 10 27 atoms, but that number didn’t mean anything to me until I read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. One sentence stayed with me for weeks: “Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you.” It estimates that each human has about 2 billion atoms of Shakespeare hanging around inside—quite a comfort, as I try to write this essay. I thought about every one of my atoms, wondering where they had been and what miracles they had witnessed.

My physical body is a string of atoms, but what of my inner self, my soul, my essence? I've come to the realization that my life has been a string as well, a string of stories.

My physical body is a string of atoms, but what of my inner self, my soul, my essence? I’ve come to the realization that my life has been a string as well, a string of stories. Every one of us is made of star stuff, forged through fires, and emerging as nicked as the surface of the moon. It frustrated me no end that I couldn’t sit down with all the people I met, interrogating them about their lives, identifying every last story that made them who they are.

I remember how magical it was the first time I read a fiction book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was duly impressed with Quidditch and the Invisibility Cloak, of course, but I was absolutely spellbound by how much I could learn about Harry. The kippers he had for breakfast, the supplies he bought for Potions—the details everyone skimmed over were remarkable to me. Fiction was a revelation. Here, at last, was a window into another person’s string of stories!

Over the years, I’ve thought long and hard about that immortal question: What superpower would you choose? I considered the usual suspects—invisibility, superhuman strength, flying—but threw them out immediately. My superhero alter ego would be Story Girl. She wouldn’t run marathons, but she could walk for miles and miles in other people’s shoes. She’d know that all it takes for empathy and understanding is the right story.

Imagine my astonishment when I discovered Radiolab on NPR. Here was my imaginary superpower, embodied in real life! I had been struggling with AP Biology, seeing it as a class full of complicated processes and alien vocabulary. That changed radically when I listened, enthralled, as Radiolab traced the effects of dopamine on love and gambling. This was science, sure, but it was science as I’d never heard it before. It contained conflict and emotion and a narrative; it made me anxious to learn more. It wasn’t that I was obtuse for biology; I just hadn’t found the stories in it before.

I’m convinced that you can learn anything in the form of a story. The layperson often writes off concepts—entropy, the Maginot Line, anapestic meter—as too foreign to comprehend. But with the right framing, the world suddenly becomes an open book, enticing and ripe for exploration. I want to become a writer to find those stories, much like Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich from Radiolab, making intimidating subjects become familiar and inviting for everyone. I want to become Story Girl.

By combining her previous interest with her newfound love for biology, Carrie is able to highlight how her past experiences have assisted her in overcoming novel challenges. This portrays her as a resilient and resourceful problem-solver: traits that colleges value heavily in their students.

Carrie begins her essay with a fondly-remembered compliment from her brother, introducing her most passionate endeavor: storytelling. By recalling anecdotes related to her love of stories, she establishes herself as a deeply inquisitive and creative person; someone whose greatest virtue is their unfettered thirst for knowledge. Curiosity is greatly prized by colleges, and Carrie’s inclusion of this particular value encourages admissions officers to keep reading.

Going on to explore the intersections between stories and science, Carrie reveals her past difficulties with AP biology; that is, until she learnt about the amazing stories hidden within the subject. By combining her previous interest with her newfound love for biology, Carrie is able to highlight how her past experiences have assisted her in overcoming novel challenges. This portrays her as a resilient and resourceful problem-solver: traits that colleges value heavily in their students.

Carrie ends her essay with her belief that through stories, everything is possible. She expounds on her future ambitions in regards to storytelling, as well as her desire to make learning both fun and accessible to everyone via the power of stories. By comparing her goals to that of a superhero, Carrie is able to emphasise her enthusiasm for contributing to social change. Most importantly, Carrie’s ambitions show how she can contribute to the Harvard community positively, making her a strong applicant.

Dan Lichterman

As an admission essay specialist , Dan Lichterman has been empowering students to find their voice since 2004. He helps students stand out on paper, eliminating the unnecessary so the necessary may speak. Drawing upon his storytelling background, Dan guides applicants to craft authentic essays that leap off the page. He is available for online writing support within the US and internationally. To learn more and schedule a brief complimentary consultation visit danlichterman.com.

I have a fetish for writing.

I’m not talking about crafting prose or verses, or even sentences out of words. But simply constructing letters and characters from strokes of ink gives me immense satisfaction. It’s not quite calligraphy, as I don’t use calligraphic pens or Chinese writing brushes; I prefer it simple, spontaneous, and subconscious. I often find myself crafting characters in the margins of notebooks with a fifty-cent pencil, or tracing letters out of thin air with anything from chopsticks to fingertips.

"One's handwriting," said the ancient Chinese, "is a painting of one's mind." After all, when I practice my handwriting, I am crafting characters. My character.

The art of handwriting is a relic in the information era. Why write when one can type? Perhaps the Chinese had an answer before the advent of keyboards. “One’s handwriting,” said the ancient Chinese, “is a painting of one’s mind.” After all, when I practice my handwriting, I am crafting characters.

My character.

I particularly enjoy meticulously designing a character, stroke by stroke, and eventually building up, letter by letter, to a quote person­alized in my own voice. Every movement of the pen and every drop­let of ink all lead to something profound, as if the arches of every "m" are doorways to revelations. After all, characters are the build­ing blocks of language, and language is the only vehicle through which knowledge unfolds. Thus, in a way, these letters under my pen are themselves representations of knowledge, and the delicate beauty of every letter proves, visually, the intrinsic beauty of know­ing. I suppose handwriting reminds me of my conviction in this vi­sual manner: through learning answers are found, lives enriched, and societies bettered.

Moreover, perhaps this strange passion in polishing every single character of a word delineates my dedication to learning, testifies my zeal for my conviction, and sketches a crucial stroke of my character.

"We--must--know ... " the mathematician David Hilbert's voice echoes in resolute cursive at the tip of my pen, as he, addressing German scientists in 1930, propounds the goal of modern intellectu­als. My pen firmly nods in agreement with Hilbert, while my mind again fumbles for the path to knowledge.

The versatility of handwriting enthralls me. The Chinese devel­oped many styles -- called hands -- of writing. Fittingly, each hand seems to parallel one of my many academic interests. Characters of the Regular Hand (kai shu), a legible script, serve me well during many long hours when I scratch my head and try to prove a mathematical statement rigorously, as the legibility illuminates my logic on paper. Words of the Running Hand (xing shu), a semi-cursive script, are like the passionate words that I speak before a committee of Model United Nations delegates, propounding a decisive course of action: the words, both spoken and written, are swift and coherent but resolute and emphatic. And strokes of the Cursive Hand (cao shu) resemble those sudden artistic sparks when I deliver a line on stage: free spontaneous, but emphatic syllables travel through the lights like rivers of ink flowing on the page.

Yet the fact that the three distinctive hands cooperate so seamlessly, fusing together the glorious culture of writing, is perhaps a fable of learning, a testament that the many talents of the Renaissance Man could all be worthwhile for enriching human society. Such is my methodology: just like I organize my different hands into a neat personal style with my fetish for writing, I can unify my broad interests with my passion for learning.

“...We -- will -- know!” Hilbert finishes his adage, as I frantically slice an exclamation mark as the final stroke of this painting of my mind.

I must know: for knowing, like well-crafted letters, has an inherent beauty and an intrinsic value. I will know: for my versatile interests in academics will flow like my versatile styles of writing.

I must know and I will know: for my fetish for writing is a fetish for learning.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by Dan Lichterman

We learn that he expresses his innermost self through an art that has become a relic within the information age. As we peer into his mind, we learn something essential about Jiafeng's character–that he is irrepressibly drawn to the intricate beauty of pure learning.

Jiafeng’s essay succeeds by using the metaphor of handwriting, and it’s immense physical satisfaction, to showcase the unbounded pleasure of pursuing knowledge. We can visualize spontaneously crafted letters filling his notebooks. We see him trace Chinese characters into air by chopstick and fingertip. We learn that he expresses his innermost self through an art that has become a relic within the information age. As we peer into his mind, we learn something essential about Jiafeng’s character–that he is irrepressibly drawn to the intricate beauty of pure learning.

Jiafeng goes on to reveal that his intellectual pursuit has been shaped by not one but three Chinese styles of handwriting, each reflecting a distinct element of his intellectual growth. We see Jiafeng’s logic when engaged in mathematical proof, rhetorical flair when speaking before Model United Nations, and improvisational spark when delivering lines on stage. He presents these polymath pursuits as united by writing, indicating to readers that his broad interests are all an expression of the same principle of discovery. By the time readers finish Jiafeng’s essay they have no doubts regarding the pleasure he derives from learning–they have experienced him enacting this celebration of thought throughout every line of this well-crafted personal statement.

Dan Lichterman Button

Crimson Education is the world’s most successful US/UK university admissions consultancy. A member of the NACAC and the IACAC, the company counts US News & World Report and Times Higher Education as its partners. Crimson's students work with expert tutors and mentors to gain admission to the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Duke — as well as Oxford, Cambridge and other world leading institutions in the UK — at 4x the general applicant rate. Crimson’s unique model of support sees students work one-on-one with Ivy League and other top school graduates on every aspect of their application, from their academics to their extracurriculars, personal statements and supplemental essays. The company is led by co-founder and CEO Jamie Beaton, who at only 26, has completed an undergraduate dual degree at Harvard, an MBA at Stanford, is an Oxford Rhodes Scholar. In February 2022, Jamie will release his first book: “ACCEPTED! Secrets to Gaining Admission To The World's Top Universities.

“Ella, what did you think of Douglass’s view on Christianity?” I gulped. Increasingly powerful palpitations throbbed in my heart as my eyes darted around the classroom – searching for a profound response to Dr. Franklin’s question. I took a deep breath while reaching the most genuine answer I could conjure.

“Professor, I don’t know.”

Dr. Franklin stared at me blankly as he attempted to interpret the thoughts I didn’t voice. My lack of familiarity with the assigned text wasn’t a consideration that crossed his mind because he was familiar with my past contributions to class discussions. I was a fervent critic of the corrupted culture behind Christianity of the Puritans in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” and modern evangelicals involved in the puzzling divinity of Donald Trump. He arched his flummoxed brows as he began to open his mouth.

“Professor, what I mean is that I’m not sure whether or not I even have a say on Douglass’s statements on Christianity in his Narrative of the Life.”

In class, I often separated the culture of Christianity from the religion. To tie these immensely disparate concepts as one and coin it as Christianity would present fallacies that contradict with the Christianity I knew. Lack of tolerance and hostility were products of humans’ sinful nature – not the teachings of Christ. People were just using Christianity as an excuse to exalt themselves rather than the holy name of Jesus. These were the “facts.”

My greatest realization came when Douglass declared Christian slave-holders as the worst slave-holders he ever met because of their deceptive feign of piety and use of Christianity to justify the oppression of their slaves. I realized that I couldn’t bring myself to raise the same argument that I used to convince myself that my Christianity of love was the only true Christianity. To Douglass, Christianity was the opposite. I didn’t want to dismiss his story. People use this sacred religion to spread hatred, and to many, this is the only Christianity they know. Their experiences aren’t any bit falser than mine.

Christianity isn’t the only culture that harbors truth that transcends the “facts.” America’s less of a perfect amalgamation of different ethnic cultures and more of a society severed by tribal conflicts rooted in the long established political culture of the nation. Issues such as racism, white privilege, and gender disparity are highly salient topics of current political discussion. However, during a time when people can use online platforms with algorithms that provide content they want to see, we fail to acknowledge the truth in other people’s experiences and express empathy.

My protective nature drives my desire to connect with different people and build understanding. To do so, however, I step outside my Korean American Southern Baptist paradigm because my experiences do not constitute everyone else's.

As a Korean-American in the South, I am no stranger to intolerance. I remember the countless instances of people mocking my parents for their English pronunciation and my brother’s stutter. Because their words were less eloquent, people deemed their thoughts as less valuable as well. I protect my family and translate their words whenever they have a doctor’s appointment or need more ketchup at McDonald’s. My protective nature drives my desire to connect with different people and build understanding. To do so, however, I step outside my Korean American Southern Baptist paradigm because my experiences do not constitute everyone else’s.

Excluded from the Manichaean narrative of this country, I observe the turmoil in our nation through a separate lens - a blessing and a curse. Not only do I find myself awkwardly fixed in a black vs. white America, but I also fail to define my identity sandwiched between Korean and American. In the end, I find myself stuck amongst the conventional labels and binaries that divide America.

“You seem to work harder than most to understand other people’s points of view,” Dr. Franklin said after I shared these thoughts to the class.

“I find this easier because I spent my childhood assuming that my culture was always the exception,” I replied. As an anomaly, accepting different truths is second nature.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by Crimson Education

At a time in which the Black Lives Matters movement was sweeping America and racial tension was at a high, Ella was able to offer a powerful and brave perspective: how she feels to be neither Black nor White. The true strength of this essay is its willingness to go where people rarely go in college essays: to race, to politics and to religion.

This is a trait that exists in a powerful independent thinker who could push all kinds of debates forwards - academic ones or otherwise.

Her dedication to her religion is evident - but so is her willingness to question the manipulation of the word ‘Christianty’ for less than genuine purposes. It requires intellectual bravery to ask the hard questions of your own religion as opposed to succumbing to cognitive dissonance. This is a trait that exists in a powerful independent thinker who could push all kinds of debates forwards - academic ones or otherwise.

Her word choice continues to emphasize bravery and strength. “I protect my family” inserts Ella as the shield between her family and the daily racism they experience in the south because of their accents and heritage. Her humorous quirks show the insidious racism. She even needs to shield her family from the humble request for some more Ketchup at McDonalds! Imagine if one is nervous to ask for some more Ketchup and even such a mundane activity becomes difficult through the friction of racial tension and misunderstanding. This is a powerful way to deliver a sobering commentary on the real state of society through Ellen’s lived experiences.

She demonstrates her intellectual prowess in her discussion of somewhat high-brow topics but also grounds herself in the descriptions of her daily acts of kindness.

She connects major societal debates (Trumpism for example) with daily experiences (her translations at the doctor’s office) with a gentle but powerful cadence. She demonstrates her intellectual prowess in her discussion of somewhat high-brow topics but also grounds herself in the descriptions of her daily acts of kindness.

Creatively Ella weaves numerous literary devices in and out of her story without them being overbearing. These include alliteration and the juxtaposition of longer sentences with shorter ones to make a point.

Her final dialogue is subtle but booming. “....my culture was the exception”. The reader is left genuinely sympathetic for her plight, challenges and bravery as she goes about her daily life.

Ella is a bold independent thinker with a clear social conscience and an ability to wade in the ambiguity and challenge of an imperfect world.

Crimson Education Button

College Confidential is your gateway to real, unfiltered guidance about applying to college and exploring majors and careers. CC is powered by our community of real students, parents, and admissions professionals.

"Paint this vase before you leave today," my teacher directed as she placed foreign brushes and paints in my hands. I looked at her blankly. Where were the charts of colors and books of techniques? Why was her smile so decidedly encouraging? The sudden expectations made no sense.

She smiled. "Don't worry, just paint."

In a daze, I assembled my supplies the way the older students did. I was scared. I knew everything but nothing. And even in those first blissful moments of experimentation, it hurt to realize that my painting was all wrong. The gleam of light. The distorted reflection. A thousand details taunted me with their refusal to melt into the glass. The vase was lifeless at best.

As the draining hours of work wore on, I began wearing reckless holes in my mixing plate. It was my fourth hour here. Why had I not received even a single piece of guidance?

At the peak of my frustration, she finally reentered the studio, yawning with excruciating casualness. I felt myself snap.

"I barely know how to hold a brush," I muttered almost aggressively, "how could I possibly have the technique to paint this?"

She looked at me with a shocked innocence that only heightened the feeling of abandonment. "What do you mean you don't have the technique?"

It was as though she failed to realize I was a complete beginner.

And then suddenly she broke into a pitch of urgent obviousness: "What are you doing! Don't you see those details?? There's orange from the wall and light brown from the floor. There's even dark green from that paint box over there. You have to look at the whole picture," she stole a glance at my face of bewilderment, and, sighing, grabbed my paint,stained hand. "Listen, it's not in here," she implored, shaking my captive limb. "It's here." The intensity with which she looked into my eyes was overwhelming.

I returned the gaze emptily. Never had I been so confused…

But over the years I did begin to see. The shades of red and blue in gray concrete, the tints of Phthalo in summer skies, and winter’s Currelean. It was beautiful and illogical. Black was darker with green and red, and white was never white.

I began to study animals. The proportions and fan brush techniques were certainly difficult, but they were the simple part. It was the strategic tints of light and bold color that created life. I would spend hours discovering the exact blue that would make a fish seem on the verge of tears and hours more shaping a deer’s ears to speak of serenity instead of danger.

As I run faster into the heart of art and my love for politics and law, I will learn to see the faces behind each page of cold policy text, the amazing innovation sketched in the tattered Constitution, and the progressiveness living in oak-paneled courts.

In return for probing into previously ignored details, my canvas and paints opened the world. I began to appreciate the pink kiss of ever-evolving sunsets and the even suppression of melancholy. When my father came home from a business trip, it was no longer a matter of simple happiness, but of fatigue and gladness' underlying shades. The personalities who had once seemed so annoyingly arrogant now turned soft with their complexities of doubt and inspiration. Each mundane scene is as deep and varied as the paint needed to capture it.

One day, I will learn to paint people. As I run faster into the heart of art and my love for politics and law, I will learn to see the faces behind each page of cold policy text, the amazing innovation sketched in the tattered Constitution, and the progressiveness living in oak-paneled courts.

It won’t be too far. I know that in a few years I will see a thousand more colors than I do today. Yet the most beautiful part about art is that there is no end. No matter how deep I penetrate its shimmering realms, the enigmatic caverns of wonder will stay.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by College Confidential

My favorite college essays begin with one moment in time and end by tying that moment into a larger truth about the world. In this essay, Elizabeth uses this structure masterfully.

This essay is a great example of a create essay. It's real strength, however, lies in showing how the writer pursues her goal despite frustration and grapples with universal questions.

The essay opens with dialogue, placing the reader right in the middle of the action. She shares only the details that make the scene vivid, like the holes in her mixing plate and her teacher’s yawn. She skips backstory and explanations that can bore readers and bog down a short essay. The reader is left feeling as though we are sitting beside her, staring at an empty vase and a set of paints, with no idea how to begin.

The SPARC method of essay writing says that the best college essays show how a student can do one (or more) of these five things: Seize an opportunity, Pursue goals despite obstacles, Ask important questions, take smart Risks, or Create with limited resources. This essay is a great example of a “create” essay. It’s real strength, however, lies in showing how the writer pursues her goal despite frustration and grapples with universal questions.

As the essay transitions from the personal to the universal, her experience painting the vase becomes a metaphor for how she sees the world. Not only has painting helped her appreciate the subtle shades of color in the sunset, it has opened her up to understand that nothing in life is black and white. This parallel works especially well as a way to draw the connection between Elizabeth’s interest in political science and art.

Written by Joy Bullen, Senior Editor at College Confidential

College Confidential Button

At KEY we take a long-term, strategic approach centered on each individual student’s best interests. Working with our college-bound students beginning in Grade 8, we guide them in establishing a strong foundation of academics to build their unique profiles of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, academic direction, and professional skills. We aspire to give each of our students the best opportunity to thrive within their current education environment and beyond. For a free consultation about our services and more, please visit our website .

When I failed math in my sophomore year of high school, a bitter dispute engulfed my household -- “Nicolas Yan vs. Mathematics.” I was the plaintiff, appearing pro se, while my father represented the defendant (inanimate as it was). My brother and sister constituted a rather understaffed jury, and my mother presided over the case as judge.

In a frightening departure from racial stereotype, I charged Mathematics with the capital offences of being “too difficult” and “irrelevant to my aspirations," citing my recent shortcomings in the subject as evi. dence. My father entered a not guilty plea on the defendant's behalf, for he had always harbored hopes that I would follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps -- and who ever heard of a businessman who wasn't an accomplished mathematician? He argued that because I had fallen sick before my examination and had been unable to sit one of the papers, it would be a travesty of justice to blame my "Ungraded” mark on his client. The judge nodded sagely.

With heartrending pathos, I recalled how I had studied A-Level Mathematics with calculus a year before the rest of my cohort, bravely grappling with such perverse concepts as the poisson distribution to no avail. I decried the subject's lack of real-life utility and lamented my inability to reconcile further effort with any plausible success; so that to persist with Mathematics would be a Sisyphean endeavor. Since I had no interest in becoming the entrepreneur that my father envisioned, I petitioned the court for academic refuge in the humanities. The members of the jury exchanged sympathetic glances and put their heads together to deliberate.

Over the next year, however, new evidence that threw the court's initial verdict into question surfaced. Languishing on death row, Mathematics exercised its right to appeal, and so our quasi-court reconvened in the living room.

In hushed tones, they weighed the particulars of the case. Then, my sister announced their unanimous decision with magisterial gravity: "Nicolas shouldn't have to do math if he doesn't want to!" I was ecstatic; my father distraught. With a bang of her metaphorical gavel, the judge sentenced the defendant to "Death by Omission"-- and so I chose my subjects for 11th Grade sans Mathematics. To my father's disappointment, a future in business for me now seemed implausible.

Over the next year, however, new evidence that threw the court's initial verdict into question surfaced. Languishing on death row, Mathematics exercised its right to appeal, and so our quasi-court reconvened in the living room.

My father reiterated his client's innocence, maintaining that Mathematics was neither "irrelevant" nor "too difficult." He proudly recounted how just two months earlier, when my friends had convinced me to join them in creating a business case competition for high school students (clerical note: the loftily-titled New Zealand Secondary Schools Case Competition), I stood in front of the Board of a company and successfully pitched them to sponsor us-- was this not evidence that l could succeed in business? I think I saw a tear roll down his cheek as he implored me to give Mathematics another chance.

I considered the truth of his words. While writing a real-world business case for NZSSCC, l had been struck by how mathematical processes actually made sense when deployed in a practical context, and how numbers could tell a story just as vividly as words can. By reviewing business models and comparing financial projections to actual returns, one can read a company's story and identify areas of potential growth; whether the company then took advantage of these opportunities determined its success. It wasn't that my role in organizing NZSSCC had magically taught me to embrace all things mathematical or commercial -- I was still the same person -- but I recognized that no intellectual constraints prevented me from succeeding in Mathematics; I needed only the courage to seize an opportunity for personal growth.

I stood up and addressed my family: “I’ll do it.” Then, without waiting for the court’s final verdict, I crossed the room to embrace my father: and the rest, as they (seldom) say, was Mathematics.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by KEY Education

For some, math concepts such as limits, logarithms, and derivatives can bring about feelings of apprehension or intimidation. So, Nicolas’s college essay reflecting on his personal conflict coming to terms with Mathematics offers a relatable, down-to-earth look at how he eventually came to realize and appreciate the importance of this once-dreaded subject. Not only does Nicolas’s statement use a unique, engaging approach to hook the reader in, but also he draws various connections from Mathematics to his relationship with his family, to his maturation process, and to his extracurricular involvement. A number of factors helped Nicolas’s statement add color to his application file, giving further insight into the person he is.

Nicolas’s choice of Mathematics as the focusing lens is effective for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is genuine and approachable. It is not about some grandiose idea, event, or achievement. Rather, it is about a topic to which many students—and people for that matter—can relate. And from this central theme, Nicolas draws insightful linkages to various aspects of his life. At the outset of his essay, Mathematics is presented as the antagonist, or as Nicolas skillfully portrays, the “defendant”. However, by the end of his piece, and as a demonstration of his growth, Nicolas has come to a resolution with the former defendant.

Adding to the various connections, Nicolas presents his case, literally, in an engaging manner in the form of a court scene, with Nicolas as the plaintiff charging the defendant, Mathematics, with being too difficult and irrelevant to his life.

Through Nicolas’s conflict over Mathematics, we gain a deeper understanding of his relationship with his father and the tension that exists in Nicolas fulfilling his father’s wishes of following in his entrepreneurial footsteps. His father’s initial attempts at reasoning with him are rebuffed, however Nicolas later acknowledges that he “considered the truth of his words” and eventually embraces his father, signifying their coming to a resolution with their shared understanding of each other. Furthermore, Nicolas connects his evolved understanding of Mathematics to his important organizational role in creating the business-focused New Zealand Secondary Schools Case Competition, acknowledging how “mathematical processes actually made sense when deployed in a practical context, and how numbers could tell a story just as vividly as words can.” As he states, “I needed only the courage to seize an opportunity for personal growth,” which he ultimately realizes.

Adding to the various connections, Nicolas presents his case, literally, in an engaging manner in the form of a court scene, with Nicolas as the plaintiff charging the defendant, Mathematics, with being too difficult and irrelevant to his life. Bearing in mind word count limitations, what would have been interesting to explore would be deeper insights into each of the connections that Nicolas drew and how he applied these various lessons to other parts of his life.

Nicolas employs a number of characteristics essential for a successful essay: a theme that allows for deeper introspection, an engaging hook or approach, and a number of linkages between his theme and various aspects of his life, providing insight into who he is and how he thinks.

successful essays to harvard

HS2 Academy is a premier college counseling company that has helped thousands of students gain admission into Ivy League-level universities across the world. With a counseling team of passionate educators with over 100 years of combined experience, we pride ourselves in helping high schoolers achieve their college dreams. Since results matter most, entrust your future to the leader in college admissions with a consistent track record of success.

Successful Harvard Essay by Abigail Mack

Abigail gained national attention after reading her application essay on TikTok earlier this year, with over 19.9 million views on the first video. Her essay helped her to recieve a rare likely letter in the most competitive Harvard application cycle in history with a less than 4 percent acceptance rate, and now she uses her platform to help other college hopefuls navigate the application process. Watch her read the beginning of her essay here and check out her other writing tips on her TikTok .

I hate the letter S. Of the 164,777 words with S, I only grapple with one.

I hate the letter “S”. Of the 164,777 words with “S”, I only grapple with one. To condemn an entire letter because of its use 0.0006% of the time sounds statistically absurd, but that one case changed 100% of my life. I used to have two parents, but now I have one, and the “S” in “parents” isn’t going anywhere.

“S” follows me. I can’t get through a day without being reminded that while my friends went out to dinner with their parents, I ate with my parent. As I write this essay, there is a blue line under the word “parent” telling me to check my grammar; even Grammarly assumes that I should have parents, but cancer doesn’t listen to edit suggestions. I won’t claim that my situation is as unique as 1 in 164,777, but it is still an exception to the rule - an outlier. The world isn’t meant for this special case.

The world wouldn’t abandon “S” because of me, so I tried to abandon “S”. I could get away from “S” if I stayed busy; you can’t have dinner with your “parent” (thanks again, Grammarly) if you’re too busy to have family dinner. Any spare time that I had, I filled. I became known as the “busy kid”- the one that everyone always asks, “How do you have time?” Morning meetings, classes, after school meetings, volleyball practice, dance class, rehearsal in Boston, homework, sleep, repeat. Though my specific schedule has changed over time, the busyness has not. I couldn’t fill the loss that “S” left in my life, but I could at least make sure I didn’t have to think about it. There were so many things in my life that I couldn’t control, so I controlled what I could- my schedule. I never succumbed to the stress of potentially over-committing. I thrived. It became a challenge to juggle it all, but I’d soon find a rhythm. But rhythm wasn’t what I wanted. Rhythm may not have an “S”, but “S” sure liked to come by when I was idle. So, I added another ball, and another, and another. Soon I noticed that the same “color” balls kept falling into my hands- theater, academics, politics. I began to want to come into contact with these more and more, so I further narrowed the scope of my color wheel and increased the shades of my primary colors.

Life became easier to juggle, but for the first time, I didn’t add another ball. I found my rhythm, and I embraced it. I stopped running away from a single “S” and began chasing a double “S”- passion. Passion has given me purpose. I was shackled to “S” as I tried to escape the confines of the traditional familial structure. No matter how far I ran, “S” stayed behind me because I kept looking back. I’ve finally learned to move forward instead of away, and it is liberating. “S” got me moving, but it hasn’t kept me going.

I wish I could end here, triumphant and basking in my new inspiration, but life is more convoluted. Motivation is a double edged sword; it keeps me facing forward, but it also keeps me from having to look back. I want to claim that I showed courage in being able to turn from “S”, but I cannot. Motivation is what keeps “S” at bay. I am not perfectly healed, but I am perfect at navigating the best way to heal me. I don’t seek out sadness, so “S” must stay on the sidelines, and until I am completely ready, motivation is more than enough for me.

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by HS2 Academy

There's an honesty here as she reveals to the reader her attempts at filling this void in her life by constantly keeping busy. It's further satisfying to see these attempts at committing to various activities evolve into what she terms a double

Abigail’s essay navigates one of the most delicate sorts of topics in college applications: dealing with personal or family tragedy. Perhaps the most common pitfall is to take a tragic event and effuse it with too much pathos and sense of loss that the narrative fails to reveal much about the author’s own personality other than the loss itself. In short, a “sob story.” However, Abigail’s essay adeptly skirts this by utilizing wit and a framing device using the letter “S” to share a profoundly personal journey in a manner that is engaging and thought-provoking.

Rather than focus purely on the loss of one of her parents to cancer, Abigail reflects on her life and the adjustments she has had to make. It is particularly poignant how she expresses the sense that her life with only one remaining parent seems somehow anomalous, that the constant reminders of the completeness in the familial structures of others haunts her.

What also makes this essay all the more intriguing is how we get a glimpse into her internal life as she learns to cope with the loss. There’s an honesty here as she reveals to the reader her attempts at filling this void in her life by constantly keeping busy. It’s further satisfying to see these attempts at committing to various activities evolve into what she terms a “double S,” or “passion,” as she discovers things that she has become passionate about. Perhaps this essay could have been strengthened further by giving the reader a sense of what those passions might be, as we’re left to speculate based on the activities she had mentioned.

Lastly, we see a sense of realism and maturity in Abigail's closing reflection. It’s easy to end an essay like this with a sense of narrative perfection, but she wisely concedes that “life is more convoluted.” This poignant revelation gives us a window into her continuing struggles, but we are nonetheless left impressed by her growth and candor in this essay.

HS2 Button

collegeMission is an undergraduate admissions consulting firm focused solely on helping applicants craft their best admissions essays to gain acceptance at top academic institutions. collegeMission's elite admissions consultants have assisted thousands of applicants in successfully pursuing their educational dreams. As accomplished writers and graduates of prestigious universities, our consultants are uniquely qualified to guide you through brainstorming, outlining, and writing your college essays so that the admissions committees take notice. To learn more or schedule a free brainstorming session, visit www.collegemission.com or email [email protected].

I learned the definition of cancer at the age of fourteen. I was taking my chapter 7 biology test when I came upon the last question, “What is cancer?”, to which I answered: “The abnormal, unrestricted growth of cells.” After handing in the test, I moved on to chapter 8, oblivious then to how earth-shattering such a disease could be.

I learned the meaning of cancer two years later. A girl named Kiersten came into my family by way of my oldest brother who had fallen in love with her. I distinctly recall her hair catching the sea breeze as she walked with us along the Jersey shore, a blonde wave in my surrounding family's sea of brunette. Physically, she may have been different, but she redefined what family meant to me. She attended my concerts, went to my award ceremonies, and helped me study for tests. Whenever I needed support, she was there. Little did I know that our roles would be reversed, forever changing my outlook on life.

Kiersten was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 22. Tears and hair fell alike after each of her 20 rounds of chemotherapy as we feared the worst. It was an unbearable tragedy watching someone so vivacious skirt the line between life and death. Her cancer was later classified as refractory, or resistant to treatment. Frustration and despair flooded my mind as I heard this news. And so I prayed. In what universe did this dynamic make any sense? I prayed to God and to even her cancer itself to just leave her alone. Eventually, Kiersten was able to leave the hospital to stay for six weeks at my home.

But the beauty that resulted from sympathizing as opposed to analyzing and putting aside my own worries and troubles for someone else was an enormous epiphany for me. My problems dissipated into thin air the moment I came home and dropped my books and bags to talk with Kiersten. The more I talked, laughed, smiled, and shared memories with her, the more I began to realize all that she taught me.

My family and I transformed the house into an antimicrobial sanctuary, protecting Kiersten from any outside illness. I watched TV with her, baked cookies for her, and observed her persistence as she regained strength and achieved remission. We beat biology, time, and death, all at the same time, with cookies, TV, and friendship. Yet I was so concerned with helping Kiersten that I had not realized how she helped me during her battle with cancer.

I had been so used to solving my problems intellectually that when it came time to emotionally support someone, I was afraid. I could define cancer, but what do I say to someone with it? There were days where I did not think I could be optimistic in the face of such adversity. But the beauty that resulted from sympathizing as opposed to analyzing and putting aside my own worries and troubles for someone else was an enormous epiphany for me. My problems dissipated into thin air the moment I came home and dropped my books and bags to talk with Kiersten. The more I talked, laughed, smiled, and shared memories with her, the more I began to realize all that she taught me. She influenced me in the fact that she demonstrated the power of loyalty, companionship, and optimism in the face of desperate, life-threatening situations. She showed me the importance of loving to live and living to love. Most of all, she gave me the insight necessary to fully help others not just with intellect and preparation, but with solidarity and compassion. In this way, I became able to help myself and others with not only my brain, but with my heart. And that, in the words of Robert Frost, “has made all the difference.”

successful essays to harvard

Professional Review by collegeMission

Nikolas is candid, writing about how he could solve problems intellectually, but struggled to cope emotionally during Kiersten's diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, he finds his way and gains a deeper perspective on life, and thus shares a story of overcoming and of complex intellectual and emotional growth.

Nikolas uses an unexpected approach in this essay, sharing a story of someone else’s struggle, as he highlights change within himself. The emotions and connection that he felt for Kiersten, his older brother’s girlfriend, are quite powerful, as is his recognition of his own attempt to navigate his way through the experience. Nikolas is candid, writing about how he could solve problems intellectually, but struggled to cope emotionally during Kiersten’s diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, he finds his way and gains a deeper perspective on life, and thus shares a story of overcoming and of complex intellectual and emotional growth.

Nikolas’ use of imagery is terrific. We first see it in the essay when he describes one of his first impressions of Kiersten, with her blonde hair flowing in the wind by the Jersey Shore and how that contrasted with the dark hair of his family. That description then flows as we read the next paragraph, where he talks about the impact of her cancer. “Tears and hair fell alike after each of her 20 rounds of chemotherapy as we feared the worst.” Instead of explicitly sharing everyone’s heartbreak, through details that heartbreak becomes so very evident.

One missing piece here is an explanation of why Kiersten stayed with Nikolas’ family rather than returning home to her own family. Maybe a quick explanation would have helped the reader make sense of her location, and create an even stronger linkage with Nikolas and his family. Additionally, Nikolas might have taken one more step toward the end of the essay to connect this newfound emotion to other parts of his life. The final paragraph feels slightly repetitive, and a compelling route could have been to show how he went on to embrace the idea of “loving to live and living to love.” Nonetheless, Nikolas reveals that he is capable of growing through adversity, a character trait that this admissions committee clearly appreciated.

collegeMission Button

PrepScholar

Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, my successful harvard application (complete common app + supplement).

author image

Other High School , College Admissions , Letters of Recommendation , Extracurriculars , College Essays

body_harvard.jpg

In 2005, I applied to college and got into every school I applied to, including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT. I decided to attend Harvard.

In this guide, I'll show you the entire college application that got me into Harvard—page by page, word for word .

In my complete analysis, I'll take you through my Common Application, Harvard supplemental application, personal statements and essays, extracurricular activities, teachers' letters of recommendation, counselor recommendation, complete high school transcript, and more. I'll also give you in-depth commentary on every part of my application.

To my knowledge, a college application analysis like this has never been done before . This is the application guide I wished I had when I was in high school.

If you're applying to top schools like the Ivy Leagues, you'll see firsthand what a successful application to Harvard and Princeton looks like. You'll learn the strategies I used to build a compelling application. You'll see what items were critical in getting me admitted, and what didn't end up helping much at all.

Reading this guide from beginning to end will be well worth your time—you might completely change your college application strategy as a result.

First Things First

Here's the letter offering me admission into Harvard College under Early Action.

body_harvardapp_accept1.png

I was so thrilled when I got this letter. It validated many years of hard work, and I was excited to take my next step into college (...and work even harder).

I received similar successful letters from every college I applied to: Princeton, Stanford, and MIT. (After getting into Harvard early, I decided not to apply to Yale, Columbia, UChicago, UPenn, and other Ivy League-level schools, since I already knew I would rather go to Harvard.)

The application that got me admitted everywhere is the subject of this guide. You're going to see everything that the admissions officers saw.

If you're hoping to see an acceptance letter like this in your academic future, I highly recommend you read this entire article. I'll start first with an introduction to this guide and important disclaimers. Then I'll share the #1 question you need to be thinking about as you construct your application. Finally, we'll spend a lot of time going through every page of my college application, both the Common App and the Harvard Supplemental App.

Important Note: the foundational principles of my application are explored in detail in my How to Get Into Harvard guide . In this popular guide, I explain:

  • what top schools like the Ivy League are looking for
  • how to be truly distinctive among thousands of applicants
  • why being well-rounded is the kiss of death

If you have the time and are committed to maximizing your college application success, I recommend you read through my Harvard guide first, then come back to this one.

You might also be interested in my other two major guides:

  • How to Get a Perfect SAT Score / Perfect ACT Score
  • How to Get a 4.0 GPA

What's in This Harvard Application Guide?

From my student records, I was able to retrieve the COMPLETE original application I submitted to Harvard. Page by page, word for word, you'll see everything exactly as I presented it : extracurricular activities, awards and honors, personal statements and essays, and more.

In addition to all this detail, there are two special parts of this college application breakdown that I haven't seen anywhere else :

  • You'll see my FULL recommendation letters and evaluation forms. This includes recommendations from two teachers, one principal, and supplementary writers. Normally you don't get to see these letters because you waive access to them when applying. You'll see how effective strong teacher advocates will be to your college application, and why it's so important to build strong relationships with your letter writers .
  • You'll see the exact pen marks made by my Harvard admissions reader on my application . Members of admissions committees consider thousands of applications every year, which means they highlight the pieces of each application they find noteworthy. You'll see what the admissions officer considered important—and what she didn't.

For every piece of my application, I'll provide commentary on what made it so effective and my strategies behind creating it. You'll learn what it takes to build a compelling overall application.

Importantly, even though my application was strong, it wasn't perfect. I'll point out mistakes I made that I could have corrected to build an even stronger application.

Here's a complete table of contents for what we'll be covering. Each link goes directly to that section, although I'd recommend you read this from beginning to end on your first go.

Common Application

Personal Data

Educational data, test information.

  • Activities: Extracurricular, Personal, Volunteer
  • Short Answer
  • Additional Information

Academic Honors

Personal statement, teacher and counselor recommendations.

  • Teacher Letter #1: AP Chemistry
  • Teacher Letter #2: AP English Lang

School Report

  • Principal Recommendation

Harvard Application Supplement

  • Supplement Form
  • Writing Supplement Essay

Supplementary Recommendation #1

Supplementary recommendation #2, supplemental application materials.

Final Advice for You

I mean it—you'll see literally everything in my application.

In revealing my teenage self, some parts of my application will be pretty embarrassing (you'll see why below). But my mission through my company PrepScholar is to give the world the most helpful resources possible, so I'm publishing it.

One last thing before we dive in—I'm going to anticipate some common concerns beforehand and talk through important disclaimers so that you'll get the most out of this guide.

body_warning.jpg

Important Disclaimers

My biggest caveat for you when reading this guide: thousands of students get into Harvard and Ivy League schools every year. This guide tells a story about one person and presents one archetype of a strong applicant. As you'll see, I had a huge academic focus, especially in science ( this was my Spike ). I'm also irreverent and have a strong, direct personality.

What you see in this guide is NOT what YOU need to do to get into Harvard , especially if you don't match my interests and personality at all.

As I explain in my Harvard guide , I believe I fit into one archetype of a strong applicant—the "academic superstar" (humor me for a second, I know calling myself this sounds obnoxious). There are other distinct ways to impress, like:

  • being world-class in a non-academic talent
  • achieving something difficult and noteworthy—building a meaningful organization, writing a novel
  • coming from tremendous adversity and performing remarkably well relative to expectations

Therefore, DON'T worry about copying my approach one-for-one . Don't worry if you're taking a different number of AP courses or have lower test scores or do different extracurriculars or write totally different personal statements. This is what schools like Stanford and Yale want to see—a diversity in the student population!

The point of this guide is to use my application as a vehicle to discuss what top colleges are looking for in strong applicants. Even though the specific details of what you'll do are different from what I did, the principles are the same. What makes a candidate truly stand out is the same, at a high level. What makes for a super strong recommendation letter is the same. The strategies on how to build a cohesive, compelling application are the same.

There's a final reason you shouldn't worry about replicating my work—the application game has probably changed quite a bit since 2005. Technology is much more pervasive, the social issues teens care about are different, the extracurricular activities that are truly noteworthy have probably gotten even more advanced. What I did might not be as impressive as it used to be. So focus on my general points, not the specifics, and think about how you can take what you learn here to achieve something even greater than I ever did.

With that major caveat aside, here are a string of smaller disclaimers.

I'm going to present my application factually and be 100% straightforward about what I achieved and what I believed was strong in my application. This is what I believe will be most helpful for you. I hope you don't misinterpret this as bragging about my accomplishments. I'm here to show you what it took for me to get into Harvard and other Ivy League schools, not to ask for your admiration. So if you read this guide and are tempted to dismiss my advice because you think I'm boasting, take a step back and focus on the big picture—how you'll improve yourself.

This guide is geared toward admissions into the top colleges in the country , often with admissions rates below 10%. A sample list of schools that fit into this: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, MIT, UChicago, Duke, UPenn, CalTech, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Brown. The top 3-5 in that list are especially looking for the absolute best students in the country , since they have the pick of the litter.

Admissions for these selective schools works differently from schools with >20% rates. For less selective schools, having an overall strong, well-rounded application is sufficient for getting in. In particular, having an above average GPA and test scores goes the majority of the way toward getting you admission to those schools. The higher the admission rate, the more emphasis will be placed on your scores. The other pieces I'll present below—personal statements, extracurriculars, recommendations—will matter less.

Still, it doesn't hurt to aim for a stronger application. To state the obvious, an application strong enough to get you Columbia will get you into UCLA handily.

In my application, I've redacted pieces of my application for privacy reasons, and one supplementary recommendation letter at the request of the letter writer. Everything else is unaltered.

Throughout my application, we can see marks made by the admissions officer highlighting and circling things of note (you'll see the first example on the very first page). I don't have any other applications to compare these to, so I'm going to interpret these marks as best I can. For the most part, I assume that whatever he underlines or circles is especially important and noteworthy —points that he'll bring up later in committee discussions. It could also be that the reader got bored and just started highlighting things, but I doubt this.

Finally, I co-founded and run a company called PrepScholar . We create online SAT/ACT prep programs that adapt to you and your strengths and weaknesses . I believe we've created the best prep program available, and if you feel you need to raise your SAT/ACT score, then I encourage you to check us out . I want to emphasize that you do NOT need to buy a prep program to get a great score , and the advice in this guide has little to do with my company. But if you're aren't sure how to improve your score and agree with our unique approach to SAT/ACT prep, our program may be perfect for you.

With all this past us, let's get started.

body_very_important.jpeg

The #1 Most Important College Application Question: What Is Your PERSONAL NARRATIVE?

If you stepped into an elevator with Yale's Dean of Admissions and you had ten seconds to describe yourself and why you're interesting, what would you say?

This is what I call your PERSONAL NARRATIVE. These are the three main points that represent who you are and what you're about . This is the story that you tell through your application, over and over again. This is how an admissions officer should understand you after just glancing through your application. This is how your admissions officer will present you to the admissions committee to advocate for why they should accept you.

The more unique and noteworthy your Personal Narrative is, the better. This is how you'll stand apart from the tens of thousands of other applicants to your top choice school. This is why I recommend so strongly that you develop a Spike to show deep interest and achievement. A compelling Spike is the core of your Personal Narrative.

Well-rounded applications do NOT form compelling Personal Narratives, because "I'm a well-rounded person who's decent at everything" is the exact same thing every other well-rounded person tries to say.

Everything in your application should support your Personal Narrative , from your course selection and extracurricular activities to your personal statements and recommendation letters. You are a movie director, and your application is your way to tell a compelling, cohesive story through supporting evidence.

Yes, this is overly simplistic and reductionist. It does not represent all your complexities and your 17 years of existence. But admissions offices don't have the time to understand this for all their applicants. Your PERSONAL NARRATIVE is what they will latch onto.

Here's what I would consider my Personal Narrative (humor me since I'm peacocking here):

1) A science obsessive with years of serious research work and ranked 6 th in a national science competition, with future goals of being a neuroscientist or physician

2) Balanced by strong academic performance in all subjects (4.0 GPA and perfect test scores, in both humanities and science) and proficiency in violin

3) An irreverent personality who doesn't take life too seriously, embraces controversy, and says what's on his mind

These three elements were the core to my application. Together they tell a relatively unique Personal Narrative that distinguishes me from many other strong applicants. You get a surprisingly clear picture of what I'm about. There's no question that my work in science was my "Spike" and was the strongest piece of my application, but my Personal Narrative included other supporting elements, especially a description of my personality.

body_mad_scientist.png

My College Application, at a High Level

Drilling down into more details, here's an overview of my application.

  • This put me comfortably in the 99 th percentile in the country, but it was NOT sufficient to get me into Harvard by itself ! Because there are roughly 4 million high school students per year, the top 1 percentile still has 40,000 students. You need other ways to set yourself apart.
  • Your Spike will most often come from your extracurriculars and academic honors, just because it's hard to really set yourself apart with your coursework and test scores.
  • My letters of recommendation were very strong. Both my recommending teachers marked me as "one of the best they'd ever taught." Importantly, they corroborated my Personal Narrative, especially regarding my personality. You'll see how below.
  • My personal statements were, in retrospect, just satisfactory. They represented my humorous and irreverent side well, but they come across as too self-satisfied. Because of my Spike, I don't think my essays were as important to my application.

Finally, let's get started by digging into the very first pages of my Common Application.

body_harvardapp_commonapp.jpg

There are a few notable points about how simple questions can actually help build a first impression around what your Personal Narrative is.

First, notice the circle around my email address. This is the first of many marks the admissions officer made on my application. The reason I think he circled this was that the email address I used is a joke pun on my name . I knew it was risky to use this vs something like [email protected], but I thought it showed my personality better (remember point #3 about having an irreverent personality in my Personal Narrative).

Don't be afraid to show who you really are, rather than your perception of what they want. What you think UChicago or Stanford wants is probably VERY wrong, because of how little information you have, both as an 18-year-old and as someone who hasn't read thousands of applications.

(It's also entirely possible that it's a formality to circle email addresses, so I don't want to read too much into it, but I think I'm right.)

Second, I knew in high school that I wanted to go into the medical sciences, either as a physician or as a scientist. I was also really into studying the brain. So I listed both in my Common App to build onto my Personal Narrative.

In the long run, both predictions turned out to be wrong. After college, I did go to Harvard Medical School for the MD/PhD program for 4 years, but I left to pursue entrepreneurship and co-founded PrepScholar . Moreover, in the time I did actually do research, I switched interests from neuroscience to bioengineering/biotech.

Colleges don't expect you to stick to career goals you stated at the age of 18. Figuring out what you want to do is the point of college! But this doesn't give you an excuse to avoid showing a preference. This early question is still a chance to build that Personal Narrative.

Thus, I recommend AGAINST "Undecided" as an area of study —it suggests a lack of flavor and is hard to build a compelling story around. From your high school work thus far, you should at least be leaning to something, even if that's likely to change in the future.

Finally, in the demographic section there is a big red A, possibly for Asian American. I'm not going to read too much into this. If you're a notable minority, this is where you'd indicate it.

Now known as: Education

body_harvardapp_education.png

This section was straightforward for me. I didn't take college courses, and I took a summer chemistry class at a nearby high school because I didn't get into the lottery at my school that year (I refer to this briefly in my 4.0 GPA guide ).

The most notable point of this section: the admissions officer circled Principal here . This is notable because our school Principal only wrote letters for fewer than 10 students each year. Counselors wrote letters for the other hundreds of students in my class, which made my application stand out just a little.

I'll talk more about this below, when I share the Principal's recommendation.

(In the current Common Application, the Education section also includes Grades, Courses, and Honors. We'll be covering each of those below).

Now known as: Testing

body_harvardapp_testing.png

Back then AP scores weren't part of this section, but I'll take them from another part of my application here.

body_harvardapp_testingaps.png

However, their standards are still very high. You really do want to be in that top 1 percentile to pass the filter. A 1400 on the SAT IS going to put you at a disadvantage because there are so many students scoring higher than you. You'll really have to dig yourself out of the hole with an amazing application.

I talk about this a lot more in my Get into Harvard guide (sorry to keep linking this, but I really do think it's an important guide for you to read).

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Let's end this section with some personal notes.

Even though math and science were easy for me, I had to put in serious effort to get an 800 on the Reading section of the SAT . As much as I wish I could say it was trivial for me, it wasn't. I learned a bunch of strategies and dissected the test to get to a point where I understood the test super well and reliably earned perfect scores.

I cover the most important points in my How to Get a Perfect SAT Score guide , as well as my 800 Guides for Reading , Writing , and Math .

Between the SAT and ACT, the SAT was my primary focus, but I decided to take the ACT for fun. The tests were so similar that I scored a 36 Composite without much studying. Having two test scores is completely unnecessary —you get pretty much zero additional credit. Again, with one test score, you have already passed their filter.

Finally, class finals or state-required exams are a breeze if you get a 5 on the corresponding AP tests .

Now known as: Family (still)

This section asks for your parent information and family situation. There's not much you can do here besides report the facts.

body_harvardapp_family.png

I'm redacting a lot of stuff again for privacy reasons.

The reader made a number of marks here for occupation and education. There's likely a standard code for different types of occupations and schools.

If I were to guess, I'd say that the numbers add to form some metric of "family prestige." My dad got a Master's at a middle-tier American school, but my mom didn't go to graduate school, and these sections were marked 2 and 3, respectively. So it seems higher numbers are given for less prestigious educations by your parents. I'd expect that if both my parents went to schools like Caltech and Dartmouth, there would be even lower numbers here.

This makes me think that the less prepared your family is, the more points you get, and this might give your application an extra boost. If you were the first one in your family to go to college, for example, you'd be excused for having lower test scores and fewer AP classes. Schools really do care about your background and how you performed relative to expectations.

In the end, schools like Harvard say pretty adamantly they don't use formulas to determine admissions decisions, so I wouldn't read too much into this. But this can be shorthand to help orient an applicant's family background.

body_harvardapp_activ.jpg

Extracurricular, Personal, and Volunteer Activities

Now known as: Activities

For most applicants, your Extracurriculars and your Academic Honors will be where you develop your Spike and where your Personal Narrative shines through. This was how my application worked.

body_harvardapp_activities1.png

Just below I'll describe the activities in more detail, but first I want to reflect on this list.

As instructed, my extracurriculars were listed in the order of their interest to me. The current Common App doesn't seem to ask for this, but I would still recommend it to focus your reader's attention.

The most important point I have to make about my extracurriculars: as you go down the list, there is a HUGE drop in the importance of each additional activity to the overall application. If I were to guess, I assign the following weights to how much each activity contributed to the strength of my activities section:

In other words, participating in the Research Science Institute (RSI) was far more important than all of my other extracurriculars, combined. You can see that this was the only activity my admissions reader circled.

You can see how Spike-y this is. The RSI just completely dominates all my other activities.

The reason for this is the prestige of RSI. As I noted earlier, RSI was (and likely still is) the most prestigious research program for high school students in the country, with an admission rate of less than 5% . Because the program was so prestigious and selective, getting in served as a big confirmation signal of my academic quality.

In other words, the Harvard admissions reader would likely think, "OK, if this very selective program has already validated Allen as a top student, I'm inclined to believe that Allen is a top student and should pay special attention to him."

Now, it took a lot of prior work to even get into RSI because it's so selective. I had already ranked nationally in the Chemistry Olympiad (more below), and I had done a lot of prior research work in computer science (at Jisan Research Institute—more about this later). But getting into RSI really propelled my application to another level.

Because RSI was so important and was such a big Spike, all my other extracurriculars paled in importance. The admissions officer at Princeton or MIT probably didn't care at all that I volunteered at a hospital or founded a high school club .

body_spike.png

This is a good sign of developing a strong Spike. You want to do something so important that everything else you do pales in comparison to it. A strong Spike becomes impossible to ignore.

In contrast, if you're well-rounded, all your activities hold equal weight—which likely means none of them are really that impressive (unless you're a combination of Olympic athlete, internationally-ranked science researcher, and New York Times bestselling author, but then I'd call you unicorn because you don't exist).

Apply this concept to your own interests—what can be so impressive and such a big Spike that it completely overshadows all your other achievements?

This might be worth spending a disproportionate amount of time on. As I recommend in my Harvard guide and 4.0 GPA guide , smartly allocating your time is critical to your high school strategy.

In retrospect, one "mistake" I made was spending a lot of time on the violin. Each week I spent eight hours on practice and a lesson and four hours of orchestra rehearsals. This amounted to over 1,500 hours from freshman to junior year.

The result? I was pretty good, but definitely nowhere near world-class. Remember, there are thousands of orchestras and bands in the country, each with their own concertmasters, drum majors, and section 1 st chairs.

If I were to optimize purely for college applications, I should have spent that time on pushing my spike even further —working on more Olympiad competitions, or doing even more hardcore research.

Looking back I don't mind this much because I generally enjoyed my musical training and had a mostly fun time in orchestra (and I had a strong Spike anyway). But this problem can be a lot worse for well-rounded students who are stretched too thin.

body_upstairs.jpg

Aside from these considerations about a Spike, I have two major caveats.

First, developing a Spike requires continuous, increasingly ambitious foundational work. It's like climbing a staircase. From the beginning of high school, each step was more and more ambitious—my first academic team, my first research experience, leading up to state and national competitions and more serious research work.

So when I suggest devoting a lot of time to developing your Spike, it's not necessarily the Spike in itself—it's also spending time on foundational work leading up to what will be your major achievement. That's why I don't see my time with academic teams or volunteering as wasted, even though in the end they didn't contribute as much to my application.

Second, it is important to do things you enjoy. I still enjoyed playing the violin and being part of an orchestra, and I really enjoyed my school's academic teams, even though we never went beyond state level. Even if some activities don't contribute as much to your application, it's still fine to spend some time on them—just don't delude yourself into thinking they're stronger than they really are and overspend time on them.

Finally, note that most of my activities were pursued over multiple years. This is a good sign of commitment—rather than hopping from activity year to year, it's better to show sustained commitment, as this is a better signal of genuine passion.

In a future article, I'll break down these activities in more detail. But this guide is already super long, so I want to focus our attention on the main points.

Short Answer: Extracurricular Activities

In today's Common Application, you have 50 characters to describe "Position/Leadership description and organization name" and 150 characters for "Please describe this activity, including what you accomplished and any recognition you received, etc."

Back then, we didn't have as much space per activity, and instead had a short answer question.

The Short Answer prompt:

Please describe which of your activities (extracurricular and personal activities or work experience) has been most meaningful and why.

I chose RSI as my most significant activity for two reasons—one based on the meaning of the work, and another on the social aspect.

body_harvardapp_short.png

It's obvious that schools like Yale and UChicago want the best students in the world that they can get their hands on. Academic honors and awards are a great, quantifiable way to show that.

Here's the complete list of Academic Honors I submitted. The Common Application now limits you to five honors only (probably because they got tired of lists like these), but chances are you capture the top 98% of your honors with the top five.

body_harvardapp_honors.png

body_goldenticket.jpg

Charlie wins a Golden Ticket to Harvard.

I know this is intimidating if you don't already have a prestigious honor. But remember there are thousands of nationally-ranked people in a multitude of honor types, from science competitions to essay contests to athletics to weird talents.

And I strongly believe the #1 differentiator of high school students who achieve things is work ethic, NOT intelligence or talent. Yes, you need a baseline level of competence to get places, but people far undervalue the progress they can make if they work hard and persevere. Far too many people give up too quickly or fatigue without putting in serious effort.

If you're stuck thinking, "well I'm just an average person, and there's no way I'm going to become world-class in anything," then you've already lost before you've begun. The truth is everyone who achieves something of note puts in an incredible amount of hard work. Because this is invisible to you, it looks like talent is what distinguishes the two of you, when really it's much more often diligence.

I talk a lot more about the Growth Mindset in my How To Get a 4.0 GPA guide .

So my Chemistry Olympiad honor formed 90% of the value of this page. Just like extracurriculars, there's a quick dropoff in value of each item after that.

My research work took up the next two honors, one a presentation at an academic conference, and the other (Siemens) a research competition for high school researchers.

The rest of my honors were pretty middling:

  • National Merit Scholarship semifinalist pretty much equates to PSAT score, which is far less important than your SAT/ACT score. So I didn't really get any credit for this, and you won't either.
  • In Science Olympiad (this is a team-based competition that's not as prestigious as the academic Olympiads I just talked about), I earned a number of 1 st place state and regional medals, but we never made it to nationals.
  • I was mediocre at competition math because I didn't train for it, and I won some regional awards but nothing amazing. This is one place I would have spent more time, maybe in the time I'd save by not practicing violin as much. There are great resources for this type of training, like Art of Problem Solving , that I didn't know existed and could've helped me rank much higher.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, think about how many state medalists there are in the country, in the hundreds of competitions that exist . The number of state to national rankers is probably at least 20:1 (less than 50:1 because of variation in state size), so if there are 2,000 nationally ranked students, there are 40,000 state-ranked students in something !

So state honors really don't help you stand out on your Princeton application. There are just too many of them around.

On the other hand, if you can get to be nationally ranked in something, you will have an amazing Spike that distinguishes you.

body_happywriter.jpg

Now known as: Personal Essay

Now, the dreaded personal statement. Boy, oh boy, did I fuss over this one.

"What is the perfect combination of personal, funny, heartrending, and inspirational?"

I know I was wondering this when I applied.

Having read books like 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays , I was frightened. I didn't grow up as a refugee, wrenched from my war-torn home! I didn't have a sibling with a debilitating illness! How could anything I write compare to these tales of personal strength?

The trite truth is that colleges want to know who you really are . Clearly they don't expect everyone to have had immense personal struggle. But they do want students who are:

  • growth-oriented
  • introspective
  • kind and good-hearted

Whatever those words mean to you in the context of your life is what you should write about.

In retrospect, in the context of MY application, the personal statement really wasn't what got me into Harvard . I do think my Spike was nearly sufficient to get me admitted to every school in the country.

I say "nearly" because, even if you're world-class, schools do want to know you're not a jerk and that you're an interesting person (which is conveyed through your personal essay and letters of recommendation).

Back then, we had a set of different prompts :

body_harvardapp_essayprompt.png

What did you think?

I'm still cringing a bit. Parts of this are very smug (see /r/iamverysmart ), and if you want to punch the writer in the face, I don't blame you. I want to as well.

We'll get to areas of improvement later, but first, let's talk about what this personal essay did well.

As I said above, I saw the theme of the snooze button as a VEHICLE to showcase a few qualities I cared about :

1) I fancied myself a Renaissance man (obnoxious, I know) and wanted to become an inventor and creator . I showed this through mentioning different interests (Rubik's cube, chemistry, Nietzsche) and iterating through a few designs for an alarm clock (electric shocks, explosions, Shakespearean sonnet recitation).

2) My personality was whimsical and irreverent. I don't take life too seriously. The theme of the essay—battling an alarm clock—shows this well, in comparison to the gravitas of the typical student essay. I also found individual lines funny, like "All right, so I had violated the divine honor of the family and the tenets of Confucius." At once I acknowledge my Chinese heritage but also make light of the situation.

3) I was open to admitting weaknesses , which I think is refreshing among people taking college applications too seriously and trying too hard to impress. The frank admission of a realistic lazy habit—pushing the Snooze button—served as a nice foil to my academic honors and shows that I can be down-to-earth.

So you see how the snooze button acts as a vehicle to carry these major points and a lot of details, tied together to the same theme .

In the same way, The Walking Dead is NOT a zombie show—the zombie environment is a VEHICLE by which to show human drama and conflict. Packaging my points together under the snooze button theme makes it a lot more interesting than just outright saying "I'm such an interesting guy."

So overall, I believe the essay accomplishes my goals and the main points of what I wanted to convey about myself.

Note that this is just one of many ways to write an essay . It worked for me, but it may be totally inappropriate for you.

Now let's look at this essay's weaknesses.

body_tryhard.jpg

Looking at it with a more seasoned perspective, some parts of it are WAY too try-hard. I try too hard to show off my breadth of knowledge in a way that seems artificial and embellishing.

The entire introduction with the Rubik's cube seems bolted on, just to describe my long-standing desire to be a Renaissance man. Only three paragraphs down do I get to the Snooze button, and I don't refer again to the introduction until the end. With just 650 words, I could have made the essay more cohesive by keeping the same theme from beginning to end.

Some phrases really make me roll my eyes. "Always hungry for more" and "ever the inventor" sound too forced and embellishing. A key principle of effective writing is to show, not say . You don't say "I'm passionate about X," you describe what extraordinary lengths you took to achieve X.

The mention of Nietzsche is over-the-top. I mean, come on. The reader probably thought, "OK, this kid just read it in English class and now he thinks he's a philosopher." The reader would be right.

The ending: "with the extra nine minutes, maybe I'll teach myself to cook fried rice" is silly. Where in the world did fried rice come from? I meant it as a nod to my Chinese heritage, but it's too sudden to work. I could have deleted the sentence and wrapped up the essay more cleanly.

So I have mixed feelings of my essay. I think it accomplished my major goals and showed the humorous, irreverent side of my personality well. However, it also gave the impression of a kid who thought he knew more than he did, a pseudo-sophisticate bordering on obnoxious. I still think it was a net positive.

At the end of the day, I believe the safest, surefire strategy is to develop a Spike so big that the importance of the Personal Essay pales in comparison to your achievements. You want your Personal Essay to be a supplement to your application, not the only reason you get in.

There are probably some cases where a well-rounded student writes an amazing Personal Essay and gets in through the strength of that. As a Hail Mary if you're a senior and can't improve your application further, this might work. But the results are very variable—some readers may love your essay, others may just think it's OK. Without a strong application to back it up, your mileage may vary.

body_teacherstudent.jpg

This is a really fun section. Usually you don't get to read your letter of recommendation because you sign the FERPA waiver. I've also reached out to my letter writers to make sure they're ok with my showing this.

Teacher recommendations are incredibly important to your application. I would say that after your coursework/test scores and activities/honors, they're the 3 rd most important component of your application .

The average teacher sees thousands of students through a career, and so he or she is very well equipped to position you relative to all other students. Furthermore, your teachers are experienced adults—their impressions of you are much more reliable than your impressions of yourself (see my Personal Essay above). They can corroborate your entire Personal Narrative as an outside observer.

The most effective recommendation letters speak both to your academic strengths and to your personality. For the second factor, the teacher needs to have interacted with you meaningfully, ideally both in and out of class. Check out our guide on what makes for effective letters of recommendation .

body_teacherclassroom.jpg

Starting from sophomore year, I started thinking about whom I connected better with and chose to engage with those teachers more deeply . Because it's standard for colleges to require two teachers in different subjects, I made sure to engage with English and history teachers as well as math and science.

The minimum requirement for a good letter is someone who taught a class in which you did well. I got straight A's in my coursework, so this wasn't an issue.

Beyond this, I had to look for teachers who would be strong advocates for me on both an academic and personal level . These tended to be teachers I vibed more strongly with, and typically these were teachers who demonstrably cared about teaching. This was made clear by their enthusiasm, how they treated students, and how much they went above expectations to help.

I had a lot of teachers who really just phoned it in and treated their job perfunctorily—these people are likely to write pretty blasé letters.

A final note before reading my actual teacher evaluations— you should avoid getting in the mindset where you get to know teachers JUST because you want a good recommendation letter . Your teachers have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of students pass through, and it's much easier to detect insincerity than you think.

If you honestly like learning and are an enthusiastic, responsible, engaging student, a great recommendation letter will follow naturally. The horse should lead the cart.

Read my How to Get a 4.0 GPA for tips on how to interact with teachers in a genuine way that'll make them love you.

body_chemistry.png

Teacher Letter #1: AP Chemistry Teacher

I took AP Chemistry in 10 th grade and had Miss Cherryl Vorak (now Mynster). She was young, having taught for fewer than 5 years when I had her. She was my favorite teacher throughout high school for these reasons:

  • She was enthusiastic, very caring, and spent a lot of time helping struggling students. She exuded pride in her work and seemed to consider teaching her craft.
  • She had a kind personality and was universally well liked by her students, even if they weren't doing so well. She was fair in her policies (it probably helped that science is more objective than English). She was also a younger teacher, and this helped her relate to kids more closely.
  • She was my advocate for much of the US National Chemistry Olympiad stuff, and in this capacity I got to know her even better outside of class. She provided me a lot of training materials, helped me figure out college chemistry, and directed me to resources to learn more.

By the time of the letter writing, I had known her for two full years and engaged with her continuously, even when I wasn't taking a class with her in junior year. We'd build up a strong relationship over the course of many small interactions.

All of this flowed down to the recommendation you see here. Remember, the horse leads the cart.

First, we'll look at the teacher evaluation page. The Common Application now has 16 qualities to rate, rather than the 10 here. But they're largely the same.

body_harvardapp_teacher1-1.png

You can see a very strong evaluation here, giving me the highest ratings possible for all qualities.

In today's Common Application, all of these Ratings are retained, aside from "Potential for Growth." Today's Common App also now includes Faculty Respect, Maturity, Leadership, Integrity, Reaction to Setbacks, Concern for Others, and TE Overall. You can tell that the updated Common App places a great emphasis on personality.

The most important point here: it is important to be ranked "One of the top few encountered in my career" for as many ratings as possible . If you're part of a big school, this is CRITICAL to distinguish yourself from other students. The more experienced and trustworthy the teacher, the more meaningful this is.

Again, it's a numbers game. Think about the 20,000+ high schools in the country housing 4 million+ high school students—how many people fit in the top 5% bucket?

Thus, being marked merely as Excellent (top 10%) is actually a negative rating , as far as admissions to top colleges is concerned. If you're in top 10%, and someone else with the SAME teacher recommender is being rated as "One of the top ever," it's really hard for the admissions officer to vouch for you over the other student.

You really want to make sure you're one of the best in your school class, if not one of the best the teacher has ever encountered. You'll see below how you can accomplish this.

Next, let's look at her letter.

As you read this, think— what are the interactions that would prompt the teacher to write a recommendation like this? This was a relationship built up in a period of over 2 years, with every small interaction adding to an overall larger impression.

body_harvardapp_teacher1-3.png

You can see how seriously they take the letter because of all the underlining . This admissions reader underlined things that weren't even underlined in my application, like my US National Chemistry Olympiad awards. It's one thing for a student to claim things about himself—it's another to have a teacher put her reputation on the line to advocate for her student.

The letter here is very strong for a multitude of reasons. First, the length is notable —most letters are just a page long, but this is nearly two full pages , single spaced. This indicates not just her overall commitment to her students but also of her enthusiastic support for me as an applicant.

The structure is effective: first Miss Vorak talks about my academic accomplishments, then about my personal qualities and interactions, then a summary to the future. This is a perfect blend of what effective letters contain .

On the micro-level, her diction and phrasing are precise and effective . She makes my standing clear with specific statements : "youngest student…top excelling student among the two sections" and "one of twenty students in the nation." She's clear about describing why my achievements are notable and the effort I put in, like studying college-level chemistry and studying independently.

When describing my personality, she's exuberant and fleshes out a range of dimensions: "conscientious, motivated and responsible," "exhibits the qualities of a leader," "actively seeks new experiences," "charismatic," "balanced individual with a warm personality and sense of humor." You can see how she's really checking off all the qualities colleges care about.

Overall, Miss Vorak's letter perfectly supports my Personal Narrative —my love for science, my overall academic performance, and my personality. I'm flattered and grateful to have received this support. This letter was important to complement the overall academic performance and achievements shown on the rest of my application.

feature_English-1.jpg

Teacher Letter #2: AP English Language Teacher

My second teacher Mrs. Swift was another favorite. A middle-aged, veteran English teacher, the best way I would describe her is "fiery." She was invigorating and passionate, always trying to get a rise out of students and push their thinking, especially in class discussions. Emotionally she was a reliable source of support for students.

First, the evaluation:

body_harvardapp_teacher2-1.png

You can see right away that her remarks are terser. She didn't even fill out the section about "first words that come to mind to describe this student."

You might chalk this up to my not being as standout of a student in her mind, or her getting inundated with recommendation letter requests after over a decade of teaching.

In ratings, you can see that I only earned 3 of the "one of the top in my career." There are a few explanations for this. As a teacher's career lengthens, it gets increasingly hard to earn this mark. I probably also didn't stand out as much as I did to my Chemistry teacher—most of my achievement was in science (which she wasn't closely connected to), and I had talented classmates. Regardless, I did appreciate the 3 marks she gave me.

Now, the letter. Once again, as you read this letter, think: what are the hundreds of micro-interactions that would have made a teacher write a letter like this?

body_harvardapp_teacher2-3.png

Overall, this letter is very strong. It's only one page long, but her points about my personality are the critical piece of this recommendation. She also writes with the flair of an English teacher:

"In other situations where students would never speak their minds, he showed no hesitation to voice questions, thoughts, and ideas."

"controversial positions often being the spark that set off the entire class"

"ability to take the quiet and shy student and actively engage"…"went out of my way to partner him with other students who needed"

"strength of conviction"…"raw, unbridled passion"…"He will argue on any topic that has touched a nerve."

These comments most support the personality aspect of my Personal Narrative—having an irreverent, bold personality and not being afraid of speaking my mind. She stops just short of making me sound obnoxious and argumentative. An experienced teacher vouching for this adds so much more weight than just my writing it about myself.

Teacher recommendations are some of the most important components of your application. Getting very strong letters take a lot of sustained, genuine interaction over time to build mutual trust and respect. If you want detailed advice on how to interact with teachers earnestly, check out my How to Get a 4.0 GPA and Better Grades guide .

Let's go to the final recommendation, from the school counselor.

body_school.png

Now known as: School Report

The first piece of this is reporting your academic status and how the school works overall. There's not much to say here, other than the fact that my Principal wrote my recommendation for me, which we'll get into next.

body_harvardapp_school1.png

Counselor Recommendation

Now known as: Counselor Recommendation

Let's talk about my school principal writing my recommendation, rather than a school counselor.

This was definitely advantageous—remember how, way up top in Educational Data, the reader circled the "Principal." Our Principal only wrote a handful of these recommendations each year , often for people who worked closely with him, like student body presidents. So it was pretty distinctive that I got a letter from our Principal, compared to other leading applicants from my school.

This was also a blessing because our counseling department was terrible . Our school had nearly 1,000 students per grade, and only 1 counselor per grade. They were overworked and ornery, and because they were the gatekeepers of academic enrollment (like class selection and prerequisites), this led to constant frictions in getting the classes you wanted.

I can empathize with them, because having 500+ neurotic parents pushing for advantages for their own kids can get REALLY annoying really fast. But the counseling department was still the worst part of our high school administration, and I could have guessed that the letters they wrote were mediocre because they just had too many students.

So how did my Principal come to write my recommendation and not those for hundreds of other students?

I don't remember exactly how this came to be, to be honest. I didn't strategize to have him write a letter for me years in advance. I didn't even interact with him much at all until junior year, when I got on his radar because of my national rankings. Come senior year I might have talked to him about my difficulty in reaching counselors and asked that he write my recommendation. Since I was a top student he was probably happy to do this.

He was very supportive, but as you can tell from the letter to come, it was clear he didn't know me that well.

Interestingly, the prompt for the recommendation has changed. It used to start with: "Please write whatever you think is important about this student."

Now, it starts with: " Please provide comments that will help us differentiate this student from others ."

The purpose of the recommendation has shifted to the specific: colleges probably found that one counselor was serving hundreds of students, so the letters started getting mushy and indistinguishable from each other.

Here's the letter:

body_harvardapp_school3.png

This letter is probably the weakest overall of all my letters. It reads more like a verbal resume than a personal account of how he understands me.

Unlike my two teacher recommendations, he doesn't comment on the nature of our interactions or about my personality (because he truly didn't understand them well). He also misreported by SAT score as 1530 instead of 1600 (I did score a 1530 in an early test, but my 1600 was ready by January 2004, so I don't know what source he was using).

Notably, the letter writer didn't underline anything.

I still appreciate that he wrote my letter, and it was probably more effective than a generic counselor letter. But this didn't add much to my application.

At this point, we've covered my entire Common Application. This is the same application I sent to every school I applied to, including Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. Thanks for reading this far—I hope you've gotten a lot out of this already.

If you keep reading to the end, I'll have advice for both younger students and current applicants to build the strongest application possible.

Next, we'll go over the Harvard Supplemental Application, which of course is unique to Harvard.

body_harvard-1.jpg

For most top colleges like Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and so on, you will need to complete a supplemental application to provide more info than what's listed on the Common Application.

Harvard was and is the same. The good news is that it's an extra chance for you to share more about yourself and keep pushing your Personal Narrative.

There are four major components here:

  • The application form
  • Writing supplement essay
  • Supplementary recommendations
  • Supplemental application materials

I'll take you through the application section by section.

Harvard Supplement Form

First, the straightforward info and questions.

body_harvardapp_supp1.png

This section is pretty straightforward and is similar to what you'd see on a Columbia application.

I planned to live in a Harvard residence, as most students do.

Just as in my Common App, I noted that I was most likely to study biological sciences, choose Medicine as my vocation, and participate in orchestra, writing, and research as my extracurriculars. Nothing surprising here—it's all part of my Personal Narrative.

Interestingly, at the time I was "absolutely certain" about my vocational goals, which clearly took a detour once I left medical school to pursue entrepreneurship to create PrepScholar...

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points?   We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.   Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get thousands of practice problems organized by individual skills so you learn most effectively. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.   Check out our 5-day free trial today:

I had the space to list some additional honors, where I listed some musical honors that didn't make the cut in my Common App.

Here are the next two pages of the Harvard supplemental form.

body_harvardapp_supp3.png

The most interesting note here is that the admissions officer wrote a question mark above "Music tape or CD." Clearly this was inconsistent with my Personal Narrative —if violin was such an important part of my story, why didn't I want to include it?

The reason was that I was actually pretty mediocre at violin and was nowhere near national-ranked. Again, remember how many concertmasters in the thousands of orchestras there are in the world—I wasn't good enough to even be in the top 3 chairs in my school orchestra (violin was very competitive).

I wanted to focus attention on my most important materials, which for my Personal Narrative meant my research work. You'll see these supplementary materials later.

body_writing-1.jpg

Additional Essays

Now known as: Writing Supplement

For the most part, the Harvard supplemental essay prompt has stayed the same. You can write about a topic of your choice or about any of the suggestions. There are now two more prompts that weren't previously there: "What you would want your future college roommate to know about you" and "How you hope to use your college education."

Even though this is optional, I highly recommend you write something here. Again, you have so few chances in the overall application to convey your personal voice—an extra 500 words gives you a huge opportunity. I would guess that the majority of admitted Harvard students submit a Writing Supplement.

After a lot of brainstorming, I settled on the idea that I wanted to balance my application by writing about the major non-academic piece of my Personal Narrative—my music training . Also, I don't think I explicitly recognized this at the time, but I wanted to distance myself from the Asian-American stereotype—driven entirely by parent pressure, doing most things perfunctorily and without interest. I wanted to show I'd broken out of that mold.

Here's my essay:

body_harvardapp_suppessay1.png

Reading it now, I actually think this was a pretty bad essay, and I cringe to high heaven. But once again, let's focus on the positive first.

I used my violin teacher as a vehicle for talking about what the violin meant to me. (You can tell I love the concept of the vehicle in essays.) He represented passion for the violin—I represented my academic priorities. Our personal conflict was really the conflict between what we represented.

By the end of the essay, I'd articulated the value of musical training to me—it was cathartic and a way to balance my hard academic pursuits.

Halfway in the essay, I also explicitly acknowledged the Asian stereotype of parents who drove their kids, and said my parents were no different. The reader underlined this sentence. By pointing this out and showing how my interest took on a life of its own, I wanted to distance myself from that stereotype.

So overall I think my aims were accomplished.

Despite all that, this essay was WAY overdramatic and overwrought . Some especially terrible lines:

"I was playing for that cathartic moment when I could feel Tchaikovsky himself looking over my shoulder."

"I was wandering through the fog in search of a lighthouse, finally setting foot on a dock pervaded by white light."

OK, please. Who really honestly feels this way? This is clumsy, contrived writing. It signals insincerity, actually, which is bad.

To be fair, all of this is grounded in truth. I did have a strict violin teacher who did get pretty upset when I showed lack of improvement. I did appreciate music as a diversion to round out my academic focus. I did practice hard each day, and I did have a pretty gross callus on my pinky.

But I would have done far better by making it more sincere and less overworked.

As an applicant, you're tempted to try so hard to impress your reader. You want to show that you're Worthy of Consideration. But really the best approach is to be honest.

I think this essay was probably neutral to my application, not a strong net positive or net negative.

feature_recommended.jpg

Supplementary Recommendations

Harvard lets you submit letters from up to two Other Recommenders. The Princeton application, Penn application, and others are usually the same.

Unlike the other optional components (the Additional Information in the Common App, and the Supplementary Essay), I would actually consider these letters optional. The reader gets most of the recommendation value from your teacher recommendations—these are really supplementary.

A worthwhile Other Recommender:

  • has supervised an activity or honor that is noteworthy
  • has interacted with you extensively and can speak to your personality
  • is likely to support you as one of the best students they've interacted with

If your Other Recommenders don't fulfill one or more of these categories, do NOT ask for supplementary letters. They'll dilute your application without adding substantively to it.

To beat a dead horse, the primary component of my Personal Narrative was my science and research work. So naturally I chose supervisors for my two major research experiences to write supplemental letters.

First was the Director of Research Science Institute (the selective summer research program at MIT). The second was from the head of Jisan Research Institute, where I did Computer Science research.

body_harvardapp_supprec1.png

This letter validates my participation in RSI and incorporates the feedback from my research mentor, David Simon. At the time, the RSI students were the most talented students I had met, so I'm also flattered by some of the things the letter writer said, like "Allen stood out early on as a strong performer in academic settings."

I didn't get to know the letter writer super well, so he commented mainly on my academic qualifications and comments from my mentor.

My mentor, who was at one of the major Harvard-affiliated hospitals, said some very nice things about my research ability, like:

"is performing in many ways at the level of a graduate student"

"impressed with Allen's ability to read even advanced scientific publications and synthesize his understanding"

Once again, it's much more convincing for a seasoned expert to vouch for your abilities than for you to claim your own abilities.

My first research experience was done at Jisan Research Institute, a small private computer science lab run by a Caltech PhD. The research staff were mainly high school students like me and a few grad students/postdocs.

My research supervisor, Sanza Kazadi, wrote the letter. He's requested that I not publish the letter, so I'll only speak about his main points.

In the letter, he focused on the quality of my work and leadership. He said that I had a strong focus in my work, and my research moved along more reliably than that of other students. I was independent in my work in swarm engineering, he says, putting together a simulation of the swarm and publishing a paper in conference proceedings. He talked about my work in leading a research group and placing a high degree of trust in me.

Overall, a strong recommendation, and you get the gist of his letter without reading it.

One notable point—both supplemental letters had no marks on them. I really think this means they place less emphasis on the supplementary recommendations, compared to the teacher recommendations.

Finally, finally, we get to the very last piece of my application.

Let me beat the dead horse even deader. Because research was such a core part of my Personal Narrative, I decided to include abstracts of both of my papers. The main point was to summarize the body of work I'd done and communicate the major results.

As Harvard says, "These materials are entirely optional; please only submit them if you have unusual talents."

This is why I chose not to submit a tape of my music: I don't think my musical skill was unusually good.

And frankly, I don't think my research work was that spectacular. Unlike some of my very accomplished classmates, I hadn't ranked nationally in prestigious competitions like ISEF and Siemens. I hadn't published my work in prominent journals.

Regardless, I thought these additions would be net positive, if only marginally so.

body_harvardapp_suppabs1.png

I made sure to note where the papers had been published or were entering competitions, just to ground the work in some achievement.

body_road.jpg
  • Recommendation Letters: Hopefully you should have developed strong, genuine relationships with teachers you care about. The letters should flow naturally from here, and you will only need to do gentle prodding to make sure they meet deadlines.
  • Keep Reading

    At PrepScholar, we've published the best guides available anywhere to help you succeed in high school and college admissions.

    Here's a sampling of our most popular articles:

    How to Get a Perfect SAT Score / Perfect ACT Score —Learn the strategies I used to get a perfect 1600 on the SAT, and a perfect 36 on the ACT.

    SAT 800 Series: Reading | Math | Writing —Learn important strategies to excel in each section of the SAT.

    ACT 36 Series: English | Math | Reading | Science —Learn how to get a perfect 36 on each section of the ACT.

    How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League —The foundational guide where I discuss the philosophy behind what colleges are looking for, how to develop a Spike, and why being well-rounded is the path to rejection.

    How to Get a 4.0 GPA and Better Grades —Are you struggling with getting strong grades in challenging coursework? I step you through all the major concepts you need to excel in school, from high-level mindset to individual class strategies.

    author image

    As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT. You can also find Allen on his personal website, Shortform , or the Shortform blog .

    Ask a Question Below

    Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

    Improve With Our Famous Guides

    • For All Students

    The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

    How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

    Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

    Score 800 on SAT Math

    Score 800 on SAT Reading

    Score 800 on SAT Writing

    Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

    Score 600 on SAT Math

    Score 600 on SAT Reading

    Score 600 on SAT Writing

    Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

    What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

    15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

    The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

    How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

    Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

    36 on ACT English

    36 on ACT Math

    36 on ACT Reading

    36 on ACT Science

    Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

    24 on ACT English

    24 on ACT Math

    24 on ACT Reading

    24 on ACT Science

    What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

    ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

    ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

    How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

    How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

    How to Write an Amazing College Essay

    What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

    Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

    Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

    When should you take the SAT or ACT?

    Stay Informed

    Follow us on Facebook (icon)

    Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

    Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

    Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

    GRE Online Prep Blog

    GMAT Online Prep Blog

    TOEFL Online Prep Blog

    Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”

    What are your chances of acceptance?

    Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

    Harvard University

    Your chancing factors

    Extracurriculars.

    successful essays to harvard

    How to Write the Harvard University Essays 2023-2024

    Harvard University, perhaps the most prestigious and well-known institution in the world, is the nation’s oldest higher learning establishment with a founding date of 1636. Boasting an impressive alumni network from Sheryl Sandberg to Al Gore, it’s no surprise that Harvard recruits some of the top talents in the world.

    It’s no wonder that students are often intimidated by Harvard’s extremely open-ended supplemental essays. However, CollegeVine is here to help and offer our guide on how to tackle Harvard’s supplemental essays. 

    Read this Harvard essay example to inspire your own writing.

    How to Write the Harvard University Supplemental Essays

    Prompt 1: Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (200 words)

    Prompt 2: Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)

    Prompt 3: Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)

    Prompt 4: How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)

    Prompt 5: Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

    Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (200 words)

    Brainstorming Your Topic

    This prompt is a great example of the classic diversity supplemental essay . That means that, as you prepare to write your response, the first thing you need to do is focus in on some aspect of your identity, upbringing, or personality that makes you different from other people.

    As you start brainstorming, do remember that the way colleges factor race into their admissions processes will be different this year, after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in June. Colleges can still consider race on an individual level, however, so if you would like to write your response about how your racial identity has impacted you, you are welcome to do so.

    If race doesn’t seem like the right topic for you, however, keep in mind that there are many other things that can make us different, not just race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and the other aspects of our identities that people normally think of when they hear the word “diversity.” That’s not to say that you can’t write about those things, of course. But don’t worry if you don’t feel like those things have played a significant role in shaping your worldview. Here are some examples of other topics that could support a strong essay:

    • Moving to several different cities because of your parents’ jobs
    • An usual hobby, like playing the accordion or making your own jewelry
    • Knowing a lot about a niche topic, like Scottish castles

    The only questions you really need to ask yourself when picking a topic are “Does this thing set me apart from other people?” and “Will knowing this thing about me give someone a better sense of who I am overall?” As long as you can answer “yes” to both of those questions, you’ve found your topic!

    Tips for Writing Your Essay

    Once you’ve selected a topic, the question becomes how you’re going to write about that topic in a way that helps Harvard admissions officers better understand how you’re going to contribute to their campus community. To do that, you want to connect your topic to some broader feature of your personality, or to a meaningful lesson you learned, that speaks to your potential as a Harvard student.

    For example, perhaps your interest in Scottish castles has given you an appreciation for the strength of the human spirit, as the Scots were able to persevere and build these structures even in incredibly remote, cold parts of the country. Alternatively, maybe being half Puerto Rican, but not speaking Spanish, has taught you about the power of family, as you have strong relationships even with relatives you can’t communicate with verbally. 

    Remember that, like with any college essay, you want to rely on specific anecdotes and experiences to illustrate the points you’re making. To understand why, compare the following two excerpts from hypothetical essays.

    Example 1: “Even though I can’t speak Spanish, and some of my relatives can’t speak English, whenever I visit my family in Puerto Rico I know it’s a place where I belong. The island is beautiful, and I especially love going to the annual party at my uncle’s house.”

    Example 2: “The smell of the ‘lechón,’ or suckling pig greets me as soon as I enter my uncle’s home, even before everyone rushes in from the porch to welcome me in rapid-fire Spanish. At best, I understand one in every ten words, but my aunt’s hot pink glasses, the Caribbean Sea visible through the living room window, and of course, the smell of roasting pork, tell me, wordlessly yet undeniably, that I’m home.”

    Think about how much better we understand this student after Example 2. If a few words were swapped out, Example 1 could’ve been written by anyone, whereas Example 2 paints us a clear picture of how this student’s Puerto Rican heritage has tangibly impacted their life.

    Mistakes to Avoid

    The biggest challenge with this particular “Diversity” essay is the word count. Because you only have 200 words to work with, you don’t have space to include more than one broader takeaway you’ve learned from this aspect of your identity. 

    Of course, people are complicated, and you’ve likely learned many things from being Puerto Rican, or from being interested in Scottish castles. But for the sake of cohesion, focus on just one lesson. Otherwise your essay may end up feeling like a bullet-point list of Hallmark card messages, rather than a thoughtful, personal, reflective piece of writing.

    The other thing you want to avoid is writing an essay that’s just about your topic. Particularly since you’re going to be writing about an aspect of your identity that’s important to you, you’ll likely have a lot to say just about that. If you aren’t careful, you may burn through all 200 words without getting to the broader significance of what this piece of your personality says about who you are as a whole. 

    That component, however, is really the key to a strong response. Harvard receives over 40,000 applications a year, which means that, whether you write about being Puerto Rican or Scottish castles, it’s likely someone else is writing about something similar. 

    That doesn’t mean you need to agonize over picking something absolutely nobody else is writing about, as that’s practically impossible. All it means is that you need to be clear about how this aspect of your identity has shaped you as a whole, as that is how your essay will stand out from others with similar topics.

    Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)

    Harvard admissions officers are being considerate here, as they’re telling you explicitly what they would like you to write about. Of course, there are still nuances to the prompt, but in terms of brainstorming, just ask yourself: What is an intellectual experience that’s been important to me?

    Keep in mind that “intellectual” doesn’t necessarily mean “academic.” You absolutely can write a great response about a paper, project, or some other experience you had through school. But you could also write about attending a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic, or about a book you read for fun that made a big impact on you. So long as the experience was intellectually stimulating, you can write a strong essay about it.

    Once you’ve picked an experience, the key is to describe it in a way that shows Harvard admissions officers how this experience has prepared you to contribute to their classrooms, and campus community as a whole. In other words, don’t just tell them what you did, but also what you learned and why that matters for understanding what kind of college student you’ll be.

    For example, say you choose to write about a debate project you did in your American history class, where you had to prepare for both sides and only learned which one you would actually be defending on the day of the debate. You could describe how, although you came into the project with pre-existing opinions about the topic, the preparation process taught you that, if you’re thoughtful and open-minded, you can usually find merit and logic even in the polar opposite position from your own.

    Alternatively, you could write about a book you read that had been translated from Danish, and how reading it got you interested in learning more about how to translate a text as faithfully as possible. After watching many interviews with translators and reading a book about translation, you have learned that sometimes, the most literal translation doesn’t capture the spirit from the original language, which to you is proof that, in any piece of writing, the human element is at least as important as the words on the page.

    Notice that both of these examples include broader reflections that zoom out from the particular experiences, to show what you took away from them: increased open-mindedness to different perspectives, for the first, and a more nuanced understanding of what makes art, art, in the case of the second. 

    A strong response must include this kind of big-picture takeaway, as it shows readers two things. First, that you can reflect thoughtfully on your experiences and learn from them. And second, it shows them a skill or perspective you’d be bringing with you to Harvard, which gives them a better sense of how you’d fit into their campus community.

    The only real thing you need to watch out for is accidentally selecting an experience that, for whatever reason, doesn’t allow you to incorporate the kind of bigger-picture takeaway described above. Maybe the experience just happened, so you’re still in the process of learning from it. Or maybe the lessons you learned are too nuanced to describe in 200 words. 

    Whatever this reason, if you find yourself unable to articulate the broader significance of this experience, head back to the drawing board, to select one that works better for this prompt. What you don’t want to do is try to force in a takeaway that doesn’t really fit, as that will make your essay feel generic or disjointed, since the “moral of the story” won’t clearly connect to the story itself.

    Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)

    This is a textbook example of the “Extracurricular” essay . As such, what you need to do is well-defined, although it’s easier said than done: select an extracurricular activity that has, as Harvard says, “shaped who you are,” and make sure you’re able to articulate how it’s been formative for you.

    As you brainstorm which extracurricular you want to write about, note that the language of the prompt is pretty open-ended. You write about “any” activity, not just one you have a lot of accolades in, and you don’t even have to write about an activity—you can also write about a travel experience, or family responsibility. 

    If the thing that immediately jumps to mind is a club, sport, volunteer experience, or other “traditional” extracurricular, that’s great! Run with that. But if you’re thinking and nothing in that vein seems quite right, or, alternatively, you’re feeling bold and want to take a creative approach, don’t be afraid to get outside the box. Here are some examples of other topics you could write a strong essay about:

    • A more hobby-like extracurricular, like crocheting potholders and selling them on Etsy
    • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway on your own
    • Caring for your family’s two large, colorful macaws

    These more creative topics can do a lot to showcase a different side of you, as college applications have, by their nature, a pretty restricted scope, and telling admissions officers about something that would never appear on your resume or transcript can teach them a lot about who you are. That being said, the most important thing is that the topic you pick has genuinely been formative for you. Whether it’s a conventional topic or not, as long as that personal connection is there, you’ll be able to write a strong essay about it.

    The key to writing a strong response is focusing less on the activity itself, and more on what you’ve learned from your involvement in it. If you’re writing about a more conventional topic, remember that admissions officers already have your activities list. You don’t need to say “For the last five years, I’ve been involved in x,” because they already know that, and when you only have 200 words, wasting even 10 of them means you’ve wasted 5% of your space.

    If you’re writing about something that doesn’t already show up elsewhere in your application, you want to provide enough details for your reader to understand what you did, but not more than that. For example, if you’re writing about your road trip, you don’t need to list every city you  stopped in. Instead, just mention one or two that were particularly memorable.

    Rather than focusing on the facts and figures of what you did, focus on what you learned from your experience. Admissions officers want to know why your involvement in this thing matters to who you’ll be in college. So, think about one or two bigger picture things you learned from it, and center your response around those things.

    For example, maybe your Etsy shop taught you how easy it is to bring some positivity into someone else’s life, as crocheting is something you would do anyways, and the shop just allows you to share your creations with other people. Showcasing this uplifting, altruistic side of yourself will help admissions officers better envision what kind of Harvard student you’d be.

    As always, you want to use specific examples to support your points, at least as much as you can in 200 words. Because you’re dealing with a low word count, you probably won’t have space to flex your creative writing muscles with vivid, immersive descriptions. 

    You can still incorporate anecdotes in a more economical way, however. For example, you could say “Every morning, our scarlet macaw ruffles her feathers and greets me with a prehistoric chirp.” You’re not going into detail about what her feathers look like, or where this scene is happening, but it’s still much more engaging than something like “My bird always says hello to me in her own way.”

    The most common pitfall with an “Extracurricular” essay is describing your topic the way you would on your resume. Don’t worry about showing off some “marketable skill” you think admissions officers want to see, and instead highlight whatever it is you actually took away from this experience, whether it’s a skill, a realization, or a personality trait. The best college essays are genuine, as admissions officers feel that honesty, and know they’re truly getting to know the applicant as they are, rather than some polished-up version.

    Additionally, keep in mind that, like with anything in your application, you want admissions officers to learn something new about you when reading this essay. So, if you’ve already written your common app essay about volunteering at your local animal shelter, you shouldn’t also write this essay about that experience. Your space in your application is already extremely limited, so don’t voluntarily limit yourself even further by repeating yourself when you’re given an opportunity to say something new.

    How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)

    Although the packaging is a little different, this prompt has similarities to the classic “Why This College?” prompt . That means there are two main things you want to do while brainstorming. 

    First, identify one or two goals you have for the future—with just 200 words, you won’t have space to elaborate on any more than that. Ideally, these should be relatively concrete. You don’t have to have your whole life mapped out, but you do need to be a lot more specific than “Make a difference in the world.” A more zoomed-in version of that goal would be something like “Contribute to conservation efforts to help save endangered species,” which would work.

    Second, hop onto Harvard’s website and do some research on opportunities the school offers that would help you reach your goals. Again, make sure these are specific enough. Rather than a particular major, which is likely offered at plenty of other schools around the country, identify specific courses within that major you would like to take, or a professor in the department you would like to do research with. For example, the student interested in conservation might mention the course “Conservation Biology” at Harvard.

    You could also write about a club, or a study abroad program, or really anything that’s unique to Harvard, so long as you’re able to draw a clear connection between the opportunity and your goal. Just make sure that, like with your goals, you don’t get overeager. Since your space is quite limited, you should choose two, or maximum three, opportunities to focus on. Any more than that and your essay will start to feel rushed and bullet point-y.

    If you do your brainstorming well, the actual writing process should be pretty straightforward: explain your goals, and how the Harvard-specific opportunities you’ve selected will help you reach them. 

    One thing you do want to keep in mind is that your goals should feel personal to you, and the best way to accomplish that is by providing some background context on why you have them. This doesn’t have to be extensive, as, again, your space is limited. But compare the following two examples, written about the hypothetical goal of helping conservation efforts from above, to get an idea of what we’re talking about:

    Example 1: “As long as I can remember, I’ve loved all kinds of animals, and have been heartbroken by the fact that human destruction of natural resources could lead to certain species’ extinction.”

    Example 2: “As a kid, I would sit in front of the aquarium’s walrus exhibit, admiring the animal’s girth and tusks, and dream about seeing one in the wild. Until my parents regretfully explained to me that, because of climate change, that was unlikely to ever happen.”

    The second example is obviously longer, but not egregiously so: 45 words versus 31. And the image we get of this student sitting and fawning over a walrus is worth that extra space, as we feel a stronger personal connection to them, which in turn makes us more vicariously invested in their own goal of environmental advocacy.

    As we’ve already described in the brainstorming section, the key to this essay is specificity. Admissions officers want you to paint them a picture of how Harvard fits into your broader life goals. As we noted earlier, that doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out, but if you’re too vague about your goals, or how you see Harvard helping you reach them, admissions officers won’t see you as someone who’s prepared to contribute to their campus community.

    Along similar lines, avoid flattery. Gushy lines like “At Harvard, every day I’ll feel inspired by walking the same halls that countless Nobel laureates, politicians, and CEOs once traversed” won’t get you anywhere, because Harvard admissions officers already know their school is one of the most prestigious and famous universities in the world. What they don’t know is what you are going to bring to Harvard that nobody else has. So, that’s what you want to focus on, not vague, surface-level attributes of Harvard related to its standing in the world of higher education.

    Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

    Like Prompt 2, this prompt tells you exactly what you need to brainstorm: three things a roommate would like to know about you. However, also like Prompt 2, while this prompt is direct, it’s also incredibly open-ended. What really are the top three things you’d like a complete stranger to know about you before you live together for nine months?

    Questions this broad can be hard to answer, as you might not know where to start. Sometimes, you can help yourself out by asking yourself adjacent, but slightly more specific questions, like the following:

    • Do you have any interests that influence your regular routine? For example, do you always watch the Seahawks on Sunday, or are you going to be playing Taylor Swift’s discography on repeat while you study?
    • Look around your room—what items are most important to you? Do you keep your movie ticket stubs? Are you planning on taking your photos of your family cat with you to college?
    • Are there any activities you love and already know you’d want to do with your roommate, like weekly face masks or making Christmas cookies?

    Hopefully, these narrower questions, and the example responses we’ve included, help get your gears turning. Keep in mind that this prompt is a great opportunity to showcase sides of your personality that don’t come across in your grades, activities list, or even your personal statement. Don’t worry about seeming impressive—admissions officers don’t expect you to read Shakespeare every night for two hours. What they want is an honest, informative picture of what you’re like “behind the scenes,” because college is much more than just academics.

    Once you’ve selected three things to write about, the key to the actual essay is presenting them in a logical, cohesive, efficient way. That’s easier said than done, particularly if the three things you’ve picked are quite different from each other. 

    To ensure your essay feels like one, complete unit, rather than three smaller ones stuck together, strong transitions will be crucial. Note that “strong” doesn’t mean “lengthy.” Just a few words can go a long way towards helping your essay flow naturally. To see what we mean here, take the following two examples:

    Example 1: “Just so you know, every Sunday I will be watching the Seahawks, draped in my dad’s Steve Largent jersey. They can be a frustrating team, but I’ll do my best to keep it down in case you’re studying. I also like to do facemasks, though. You’re always welcome to any of the ones I have in my (pretty extensive) collection.”

    Example 2: “Just so you know, every Sunday I will be watching the Seahawks, draped in my dad’s Steve Largent jersey. But if football’s not your thing, don’t worry—once the game’s over, I’ll need to unwind anyways, because win or lose the Hawks always find a way to make things stressful. So always feel free to join me in picking out a face mask from my (pretty extensive) collection, and we can gear up for the week together.”

    The content in both examples is the same, but in the first one, the transition from football to facemasks is very abrupt. On the other hand, in the second example the simple line “But if football’s not your thing, don’t worry” keeps things flowing smoothly. 

    There’s no one right way to write a good transition, but as you’re polishing your essay a good way to see if you’re on the right track is by asking someone who hasn’t seen your essay before to read it over and tell you if there are any points that made them pause. If the answer is yes, your transitions probably still need more work.

    Finally, you probably noticed that the above examples are both written in a “Dear roomie” style, as if you’re actually speaking directly to your roommate. You don’t have to take this exact approach, but your tone should ideally be light and fun. Living alone for the first time, with other people your age, is one of the best parts of college! Plus, college applications are, by their nature, pretty dry affairs for the most part. Lightening things up in this essay will give your reader a breath of fresh air, which will help them feel more engaged in your application as a whole.

    Harvard is doing you a favor here by keeping the scope of the essay narrow—they ask for three things, not more. As we’ve noted many times with the other supplements, 200 words will be gone in a flash, so don’t try to cram in extra things. It’s not necessary to do that, because admissions officers have only asked for three, and trying to stuff more in will turn your essay into a list of bullet points, rather than an informative piece of writing about your personality.

    Finally, as we’ve hinted at a few times above, the other thing you want to avoid is using this essay as another opportunity to impress admissions officers with your intellect and accomplishments. Remember, they have your grades, and your activities list, and all your other essays. Plus, they can ask you whatever questions they want—if they wanted to know about the most difficult book you’ve ever read, they would. So, loosen up, let your hair down, and show them you know how to have fun too!

    Where to Get Your Harvard Essays Edited

    Do you want feedback on your Harvard essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

    If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools.  Find the right advisor for you  to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

    Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

    successful essays to harvard

    No products in the cart.

    successful essays to harvard

    Successful Harvard Essays

    Harvard essays →, harvard mentors →.

    successful essays to harvard

    Harvard Supplemental Essay: Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities.

    Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities. I have had a fascination with the people, languages and cultures of Spain since…...

    Harvard Supplemental Essay: What you would want your future college roommate to know about you

    What you would want your future college roommate to know about you? Hello roomie! It’s nice to be able to talk to you about myself…...

    Harvard Common App Essay: Evaluate a Significant Experience.

    Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you. The  most  gratifyingly  productive  and…...

    Harvard Common App Essay: Evaluate a significant experience.

    Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you. The Cayman Islands, our home,…...

    Harvard Common App Essay: Share an essay on any topic of your choice.

    Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one…...

    Harvard Supplemental Essay: Elaborate on One of Your Extracurricular Activities or Work Experiences

    Short answer — Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below. As my cursor hits “refresh” at…...

    Harvard Essay Prompts

    Harvard University requires the Common Application, with its 250-650 word essay requirement, as well as their own short essay questions, included below.

    Harvard University Supplemental Essay Prompts

    Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words) Your intellectual life may extend beyond the academic requirements of your…...

    Common Application Essay Prompts

    The Common App Essay for 2020-2021 is limited to 250-650 word responses. You must choose one prompt for your essay. Some students have a background,…...

    Report Content

    Block member.

    Please confirm you want to block this member.

    You will no longer be able to:

    • See blocked member's posts
    • Mention this member in posts
    • Message this member
    • Add this member as a connection

    Please note: This action will also remove this member from your connections and send a report to the site admin. Please allow a few minutes for this process to complete.

    Featured Topics

    Featured series.

    A series of random questions answered by Harvard experts.

    Explore the Gazette

    Read the latest.

    President Emerita Drew Faust (center) acknowledges the audience after receiving a standing ovation for her oration.

    Time to stand up, defend American higher education, Faust says

    Headshot of Maria Ressa.

    Maria Ressa will speak her troubled mind

    Alan Garber at the podium.

    ‘Seek inspiration in one another’

    How i wrote my harvard essay.

    Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

    Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite

    Harvard Staff Writer

    First-years recount the agony and the ecstasy

    Late nights. Discarded drafts. That one great idea. Most high school seniors would agree that the admissions essay is the hardest part of a college application. The Gazette asked first-year students to reflect on theirs — the writing, the inspiration, the hand-wringing — and the lessons learned.

    Share this article

    Louisville, Ky.

    I stayed up really late at first, when my inhibitions were down, so I could write without being self-critical and brainstorm ideas. I probably went through 20 ideas, narrowed them down to five, wrote drafts of five, and then picked one and edited and edited and edited until I finished. All of the days writing the essay were stressful. I wrote about the transition from independence to interdependence and my personal growth that was catalyzed by my parents’ divorce. I reflected on my early independence as a child and how that transitioned to me depending on other people, working together in teams, and leading people to accomplish important things in our community.

    “I stayed up really late at first, when my inhibitions were down, so I could write without being self-critical and brainstorm ideas.”

    Nick Nocita

    Arlington Heights, Ill.

    I distinctly remember writing my Harvard essay at Thanksgiving on my phone. The inspiration just came in waves while I was spending time with my family. I talked about my grandmother, who passed around five or six years ago. She was someone who really influenced me in terms of seeing what one can do with a selfless attitude. She had only ever earned a high school education, and she didn’t have the opportunity to go beyond that. Seeing what someone can do with a high school education was amazing for me, to think about what I could do with the power of a prestigious college education. It was such an inspiration that I immediately wanted to start writing about her. My family was watching a football game, and I was pumping out this essay.

    “The inspiration just came in waves while I was spending time with my family.”

    Divya Amirtharaj

    Portland, Ore.

    There were a couple of weeks when I was sitting in front of my laptop and getting nothing. But once I figured out what I wanted to write, it was fast; in a day, I was done. In one of my essays, I wrote about growing up in a predominantly white area and a skin condition that I have called vitiligo. I wrote about how those things impacted my identity as an Indian woman. In another, I wrote about how I went from competitive swimming, to lifeguarding, to teaching lessons, to starting a program for free swim lessons for underprivileged kids in my area. It was interesting to go back at the end and see what I had written, summing up my entire life for 17 years.

    “It was interesting to go back at the end and see what I had written, summing up my entire life for 17 years.”

    Sophie Clivio

    Kingston, Jamaica

    I did submit my essay with a typo! I wrote it on Google Drive and made a comment to myself and a reference to switching something around. It’s at the bottom of my essay, and I didn’t realize until yesterday. I also wrote the essay as kind of a spoken-word poem. How many people have done that? I did not want to do the whole paragraph thing. I wrote about the culture shock I experienced moving from Jamaica to Milton, Mass., to attend boarding school, in terms of race and identity, because I’m a mixed-race person. I was really happy with the essay. It was very emotional to write, and I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders when I finished it. The typo was disappointing, but it’s fine! I’m here!

    “I wrote the essay as kind of a spoken-word poem.”

    Marcus Miller

    For my essay, I wrote about being an athlete and finding your way after athletics by applying yourself in school. In eighth grade, I broke my femur, and I wrote about overcoming that. Then in my senior year of high school I tore my UCLs in both hands playing football. [That experience] brought me back to the process of rehabbing through injury. My essay was about finding your identity afterward. I’m more of a math and numbers guy, and I probably went through three or four ideas before I found this one.

    “I’m more of a math and numbers guy, and I probably went through three or four ideas before I found this one.”

    Kylie Simms

    Travelers Rest, S.C.

    I wrote about living in Milan when I was younger and how it opened my eyes to other perspectives and taught me not to be so quick to judge other people. In middle and high schools, I lived back in my small town in the U.S. and missed those interactions that helped me grow, so I also wrote about wanting to attend Harvard because I wanted to experience those different perspectives again. I didn’t edit my essay a lot because I wanted it to sound authentic and like my voice. I didn’t want to go through and replace all the words with fancier words. I wanted to sound like a person.

    “I wanted it to sound authentic and like my voice.”

    Alexander Park

    Belmont, Mass.

    I had just gotten out of the shower and thought, “Oh, I got this.” I remembered this anecdote of me sitting in the back of my grandfather’s car in Korea, and he was telling me about when Korea was a kingdom and about these kings from the Chosun dynasty. It was really interesting learning about this history that I wasn’t able to learn in America from somebody who was super-knowledgeable and cared a lot about it. I remember my sister was leaning on me, and we were driving on the highway. It was very calming and peaceful. So, I wrote about my love for history and my love for listening to stories. A lot of people say that you have to write down your entire life story in however many words you’re given, but you can highlight one really essential aspect of your identity. Telling a story about that is much more compelling than trying to fit everything in.

    “Telling a story about that is much more compelling than trying to fit everything in.”

    Nayleth Lopez-Lopez

    When I started middle school, my mom went back to college. She emigrated from Venezuela and worked in her own convenience store for 17 years. When she started college, I took on the role of helping her edit her essays. In my essay, I wrote about asking for help and how she inspires me to ask for help, because she had the courage to ask her young daughter for help. It was so emotional to write. The first time I asked my mom to read it, I freaked out because she said she didn’t know if she liked it. She thought it was too much about her. But I think it all turned out OK.

    “I wrote about … how [my mother] inspires me to ask for help, because she had the courage to ask her young daughter for help.”

    More like this

    successful essays to harvard

    Their favorite things

    You might like.

    President emerita invokes spirit of Emerson, pushes back against recent criticisms

    Headshot of Maria Ressa.

    ‘Democracy dies quickly,’ warns Nobel laureate ahead of Commencement, where she hopes to find students committed to protecting it

    Alan Garber at the podium.

    Garber praises graduates’ resilience, urges them to maintain and cherish lasting bonds

    Everything counts!

    New study finds step-count and time are equally valid in reducing health risks

    Glimpse of next-generation internet

    Physicists demo first metro-area quantum computer network in Boston

    Important Addresses

    Harvard Campus Map

    Harvard College

    University Hall Cambridge, MA 02138

    Harvard College Admissions Office and Griffin Financial Aid Office

    86 Brattle Street Cambridge, MA 02138

    Social Links

    If you are located in the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway (the “European Economic Area”), please click here for additional information about ways that certain Harvard University Schools, Centers, units and controlled entities, including this one, may collect, use, and share information about you.

    Application Tips

    • Navigating Campus
    • Preparing for College
    • How to Complete the FAFSA

    What to Expect After You Apply

    • View All Guides
    • Parents & Families
    • School Counselors
    • Información en Español
    • Undergraduate Viewbook
    • View All Resources

    Search and Useful Links

    Search the site, search suggestions.

    Three female students participating in a small class

    We're here to help

    To apply for admission as a first-year or transfer student at Harvard, you will start with the Application. Fill out the Common Application  or the Coalition Application, Powered by Scoir (choose one, we have no preference), followed by the supplement to help us get a better sense of who you are. Not sure where to start? We've gathered some helpful tips on how to fill out the main application and the Harvard supplement.

    screenshot of the common app profile

    The Profile section is a place where you'll share detailed information about yourself, including contact information, demographics, and fee waiver request. It's always a good idea to review the information here and update any details, if necessary. Please note that none of the demographic questions in this section are required. 

    Profile Section

    Personal information: legal name.

    Please fill out your name exactly as it will show up on all materials we receive for your application. Your teachers, college counselors and others should also use your legal name just as it will appear on your financial aid forms, official test score reports, etc. Use of a nickname can cause your application to be incomplete if we cannot match your materials to your application.

    Citizenship

    Citizenship does not in any way affect your chances of admission or eligibility for financial aid at Harvard. There is no admissions advantage or disadvantage in being a US citizen. This is not the case at all institutions.

    For students who need a visa to study in the United States, this question is of critical importance: we begin to prepare the forms that qualify you for a visa immediately after acceptance. Any delay in this process can jeopardize your chances of arriving in Cambridge in time to begin the fall semester.

    U.S. Social Security Number

    Your U.S. Social Security number is kept strictly confidential and is used solely to match up your admissions and financial aid data if you are applying for aid.

    U.S. Armed Forces Status

    The applications of veterans are most welcome and your service is a positive factor in our admissions process. We’re proud to help veterans continue their education by participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program and Service to School’s VetLink program. Learn more about applying as a veteran here .

    Screenshot of the Common Application fee waiver

    Application Fee Waiver

    The application fee covers a very small portion of the administrative costs of processing applications. However, if the fee presents a hardship for you or your family, it will be waived. Each applicant applying with a fee waiver should select an option for a need-based fee waiver. Do not let the application fee stand in the way of applying! 

    How to Request an Application Fee Waiver

    Do not let the admissions application fee prevent you from applying! In the spirit of our  honor code , if the admissions application fee presents a hardship for you or your family, the fee will be waived. Please follow the steps below to request a fee waiver:

    Common Application

    • Confirm that you meet at least one of the indicators of economic need and then select “Yes” to the prompt “You are eligible for application fee waivers if you meet one or more of the following criteria."
    • Complete the fee waiver signature.

    Coalition Application

    • Confirm that you meet at least one of the indicators of economic need listed in the Fee Waiver section of your Profile.
    • If you do not meet one of the indicators of economic need, you may enter the Harvard-specific fee waiver code on the payment page: JH3S5Q2LX9

    Transfer Applicants

    • Please send an email to  [email protected]  to request a transfer application fee waiver.

    Screenshot of Common App family questions

    In the family section, you'll share information about your household, your parents, and any siblings. Most colleges collect this information for demographic purposes. Even if you're an adult or an emancipated minor, you'll need to fill out this section.

    Unknown Parent

    Answer the questions as honestly and fully as you can, but don’t worry if you and your parent/guardian do not know all of the details about your family.

    Family Information

    Part of an admissions officer’s job in reading your application is to understand your background and how these circumstances have affected your upbringing, the opportunities available to you, academic preparation, and other factors relevant to the college admissions process.

    Family life is an important factor in helping us to learn more about the circumstances and conditions in which you were raised, and how you have made the most of the opportunities provided by your family. We want to understand where you’re coming from, not only in school, but at home as well.

    Parent Education

    Parents almost always have a significant effect on students’ lives. Information about parents may indicate challenges you have faced – and overcome. In your essay you might elaborate on your family experiences in a wide variety of ways that can illuminate your character and personal qualities, including the positive aspects of your family life.

    Screenshot of Common App education questions

    In the Education section is where you will share information about your current school or coursework, academic honors, and future education plans. Here are some tips on commonly asked questions.

    Interruption in Education

    It is not uncommon for students to change schools or take time off during high school. While this information will most likely appear on your transcript, hearing directly from you about any interruption in schooling will help us to fill in any gaps.

    We always defer to the secondary school report for information about grades. If yours is not provided by the counselor or school, we will take into consideration what is self-reported, making sure to confirm with your school officials.

    Current or Most Recent Year Courses

    Please list the courses you are currently taking and/or are planning on taking before you graduate. If your schedule changes after you have submitted your application, please keep us updated by submitting additional materials in the Applicant Portal.

    Honors & Level(s) of Recognition

    This is a place to highlight any achievements or awards you have received. If you receive any significant honors or awards after submitting the application, you may notify us by submitting additional materials in the Applicant Portal and we will include this information with your application materials.

    Future Plans & Career Interest

    You do not need to have a ten year plan, but getting a sense of what kinds of professions you have considered gives us insight into your current plans. Don’t fret about it: put a few ideas down and move on with your application.

    Since there are some students who do have a developed career interest already established while they are in high school, this question provides an opportunity to indicate such a plan.

    Screenshot of Common App testing questions

    The Testing section is where you'll enter your self-reported scores for any standardized tests that you've taken and wish to report to colleges. However, remember that if you self-report your SAT or ACT test scores and you are admitted and choose to enroll at Harvard, you'll be required to submit your official score reports from the College Board or ACT. View more information on our standardized testing requirements on our Application Requirements page.

    Tests Taken

    Test scores.

    We have always looked at the best scores applicants choose to submit. If you haven’t yet taken the tests, please indicate which tests you are taking and when.

    The TOEFL is not required for Harvard, but if you are taking it for another college, you may elect to submit it as part of your Harvard application. Your score can be one more piece of evidence regarding your English language proficiency, so you may choose to submit it if you feel it provides additional helpful information. 

    AP/IB Tests

    These exam scores are additional pieces of academic information which can help us as we think about your preparation and potential for college level work. Sometimes AP or IB scores can demonstrate a wide range of academic accomplishments.

    If you have the opportunity to take AP and IB exams, the results may also be helpful for academic placement, should you be accepted and choose to enroll at Harvard. 

    Screenshot of Common App activities questions

    The activities section gives you the opportunity to tell schools more about who you are and activities you're involved with outside the classroom. You'll have the opportunity to list up to ten activities, but that doesn't mean you need to enter all ten.

    How we use extracurricular activities and work experience in the admissions process

    We are much more interested in the quality of students’ activities than their quantity so do not feel you need to fill in the entire grid! Contributions students make to the well-being of their secondary schools, communities and families are of great interest to us. So indicate for us the time you spend and the nature of the contribution to extracurricular activities, the local community, work experiences and help provided to your family. Activities you undertake need not be exotic but rather might show a commitment to excellence regardless of the activity. Such a commitment can apply to any activity in your life and may reflect underlying character and personal qualities.

    For example, a student can gain a great deal from helping his or her family with babysitting or other household responsibilities or working in a restaurant to help with family or personal expenses. Such experiences are important “extracurricular” activities and can be detailed in the extracurricular section and discussed in essays.

    Some students list only activities they feel will appear significant to the admissions office, while others endeavor to list every single thing they have ever done. Neither approach is right for everyone. Rather, you should think about the activities (in-school, at home, or elsewhere) that you care most about and devote most of your time doing, and list those.

    We realize that extracurricular and athletic opportunities are either unavailable or limited at many high schools. We also know that limited economic resources in many families can affect a student’s chances for participation on the school teams, travel teams, or even prevent participation at all due to the costs of the equipment or the logistical requirements of some sports and activities. You should not feel that your chances for admission to college are hindered by the lack of extracurricular opportunities. Rather, our admissions committee will look at the various kinds of opportunities you have had in your lifetime and try to assess how well you have taken advantage of those opportunities.

    For additional thoughts on extracurricular activities, please refer to this 2009 article in the New York Times:  Guidance Office: Answers From Harvard’s Dean, Part 3 .

    Positions held, honors won, letters earned, or employer

    In this section, please describe the activity and your level of participation. Please note that your description should be concise, or it may be cut off by the Common Application.

    Participation Grade Level

    The grades during which you have participated are important because they help us to understand the depth of your involvement in that activity and your changing interests over time. Not all extracurricular activities must be a four-year commitment for our applicants.

    Approximate Time Spent

    We are interested to know how you manage your time and to understand how you balance your life outside of the classroom. Some students dedicate their time to one or two activities, while others spread their time among many.

    When did you participate

    We know that students are often active both during the school year and the summer – working, babysitting siblings, enrolling in courses, traveling, playing sports, holding internships, etc. Distinguishing school-year activities from summer activities helps us understand how you have spent your time and taken advantage of opportunities available to you.

    Plans to participate in college?

    Harvard is a residential institution, and our students are actively engaged in college life. This section helps us to understand how you might contribute at Harvard. Some students who were involved in several activities during high school choose to narrow their focus in college and/or to try new activities not previously available.

    What if there's not enough space?

    Filling out the grid is an act of prioritization: your responses tell us what activities or work experiences are most meaningful to you. And there’s quite a bit of space there, too; almost everyone should be able to convey the breadth and depth of out-of-class commitments on the application. Conversely, please do not feel a need to fill every line!

    Screenshot of Common App writing questions

    The first section is the personal essay. Harvard requires the submission of the personal essay with your application. We also offer an opportunity to add any additional information.

    Personal Essay

    The Common Application essay topics are broad. Please note that Coalition essay questions may differ. While this might seem daunting at first, look at it as an opportunity to write about something you care about, rather than what you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear. The point of the personal statement is for you to have the chance to share whatever you would like with us. Remember, your topic does not have to be exotic to be compelling.

    Essay topics include:

    • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
    • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
    • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
    • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 
    • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
    • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
    • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

    Additional Information

    Do not feel obligated to fill this space, but some students have used this opportunity to tell us about challenging circumstances in their lives such as illness or other difficulties that may have affected their grades. Any information that can tell us more about the person behind the test scores and grades can be helpful.

    Screenshot of Common App - Harvard Questions

    Harvard Questions

    Each college or university that is a member of the Common Application and/or the Coalition Application - Powered by Scoir has an opportunity to ask applicants a series of school-specific questions separate from the common part of the application. The Harvard supplement contains a series of questions that help us learn more about your academic, extracurricular, and personal interests. You application is not considered complete until you submit the supplement. 

    General: Applying for Financial Aid

    Harvard has a need-blind admissions process and applying for aid is never detrimental to your admissions decision. We ask this question because we want to be able to calculate your financial need in advance of our April notification date so that we can send your admission letter and financial aid offer at the same time. One thing to note – not all institutions have such policies.

    General: Submitting Supplementary Materials

    Supplementary materials (art slides, music recordings, research papers, etc.) help when they reveal unusual talent. You absolutely do not have to include anything supplementary to gain acceptance to Harvard, and the vast majority of admitted students do not submit supplementary materials with their applications. You can submit art and media files through Slideroom  and any documents or articles directly in the Applicant Portal with an uploader tool.

    Academics: Fields of Study

    When you select from the full list of Harvard's academic concentrations, you give us a sense of the direction you may choose when it comes time for you to choose a concentration at Harvard in your sophomore year.

    While we realize that this question is quite similar to the one asked on the Common Application, our own format allows us to fit this information into data fields that Harvard has been collecting for many years. While we know students might well change their minds once they are in college, it is helpful for us to get a sense of their current interests and those academic areas in which they have already spent time and effort.

    We do not admit students into specific academic programs, and we have no quotas or targets for academic fields.

    Academics: Future Plans

    As a liberal arts institution with fifty academic concentrations and more than 450 extracurricular organizations, we expect and encourage our students to explore new opportunities. We understand that as you answer these questions, you may not be entirely sure of your plans, but this information helps us to understand how you might use Harvard.

    One of the principal ways students meet and educate each other during college is through extracurricular activities. Your answer to this question gives us a better sense of the interests you might bring to college and how definite your academic, vocational, extracurricular or athletic interests might be. This information helps us understand better how you might use Harvard. Of course, one of the best things about a liberal arts education is that plans may change. There is no “right” answer to these questions.

    If you have applied to Harvard before, we want to include your previous application with your current one. We also want to have a record of any other involvement at Harvard you may have had, including the Summer School and the Extension School and associated transcripts. This information adds to the context of your present application. It can be helpful for us to note changes in your application—perhaps areas where you have strengthened the academic and/or extracurricular aspects of your candidacy.

    Screenshot of common app supplement questions

    Writing Supplement

    The supplement includes five required short-answer questions, each with a 200 word limit. We want to ensure that every student has the same opportunity to reflect on and share how their life experiences and academic and extracurricular activities shaped them, how they will engage with others at Harvard, and their aspirations for the future. Our continued focus is on considering the whole student in the admissions process and how they have interacted with the world.

    Required Short Answer Questions

    Each question has a 200 word limit. 

    • Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?
    • Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 
    • Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.
    • How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?
    • Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. 

    Related Guides

    Here you'll find information on tracking your application and interviews.

    Financial Aid Fact Sheet

    Get the facts about Harvard College's revolutionary financial aid program.

    Guide to Preparing for College

    Find information about selecting high school courses that best prepare you for liberal arts colleges with high academic demographic such as Harvard.

    • Shopping Cart

    Advanced Search

    • Browse Our Shelves
    • Best Sellers
    • Digital Audiobooks
    • Featured Titles
    • New This Week
    • Staff Recommended
    • Reading Lists
    • Upcoming Events
    • Ticketed Events
    • Science Book Talks
    • Past Events
    • Video Archive
    • Online Gift Codes
    • University Clothing
    • Goods & Gifts from Harvard Book Store
    • Hours & Directions
    • Newsletter Archive
    • Frequent Buyer Program
    • Signed First Edition Club
    • Signed New Voices in Fiction Club
    • Off-Site Book Sales
    • Corporate & Special Sales
    • Print on Demand

    Harvard Book Store

    • All Our Shelves
    • Academic New Arrivals
    • New Hardcover - Biography
    • New Hardcover - Fiction
    • New Hardcover - Nonfiction
    • New Titles - Paperback
    • African American Studies
    • Anthologies
    • Anthropology / Archaeology
    • Architecture
    • Asia & The Pacific
    • Astronomy / Geology
    • Boston / Cambridge / New England
    • Business & Management
    • Career Guides
    • Child Care / Childbirth / Adoption
    • Children's Board Books
    • Children's Picture Books
    • Children's Activity Books
    • Children's Beginning Readers
    • Children's Middle Grade
    • Children's Gift Books
    • Children's Nonfiction
    • Children's/Teen Graphic Novels
    • Teen Nonfiction
    • Young Adult
    • Classical Studies
    • Cognitive Science / Linguistics
    • College Guides
    • Cultural & Critical Theory
    • Education - Higher Ed
    • Environment / Sustainablity
    • European History
    • Exam Preps / Outlines
    • Games & Hobbies
    • Gender Studies / Gay & Lesbian
    • Gift / Seasonal Books
    • Globalization
    • Graphic Novels
    • Hardcover Classics
    • Health / Fitness / Med Ref
    • Islamic Studies
    • Large Print
    • Latin America / Caribbean
    • Law & Legal Issues
    • Literary Crit & Biography
    • Local Economy
    • Mathematics
    • Media Studies
    • Middle East
    • Myths / Tales / Legends
    • Native American
    • Paperback Favorites
    • Performing Arts / Acting
    • Personal Finance
    • Personal Growth
    • Photography
    • Physics / Chemistry
    • Poetry Criticism
    • Ref / English Lang Dict & Thes
    • Ref / Foreign Lang Dict / Phrase
    • Reference - General
    • Religion - Christianity
    • Religion - Comparative
    • Religion - Eastern
    • Romance & Erotica
    • Science Fiction
    • Short Introductions
    • Technology, Culture & Media
    • Theology / Religious Studies
    • Travel Atlases & Maps
    • Travel Lit / Adventure
    • Urban Studies
    • Wines And Spirits
    • Women's Studies
    • World History
    • Writing Style And Publishing

    Add to Cart

    50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

    With talented applicants coming from the top high schools in the country as well as the pressure to succeed from family and friends, it’s no wonder that writing college application essays is one of the most stressful times for high schoolers like you. Add in how hard it is to get started or brag about your accomplishments or order your stories for maximum effect, and it becomes obvious why this is no easy task. To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays gives you the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, one of the nation’s top ranked colleges. From chronicling personal achievements to detailing unique talents, the topics covered with these essays will open you up to new possibilities and techniques for putting your best foot forward. Each essay in this collection is from a Harvard student who made the cut and is followed by analysis by the staff of The Harvard Crimson where strengths and weakness are detailed to show you how you can approach your stories and ultimately write your own winning essay. It teaches you how to: * Get started * Stand out * Structure the best possible essay * Avoid common pitfalls 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays’ all-new examples and straightforward advice make it the first stop for applicants who are looking to craft a clear, passionate, and, above all else, persuasive application essays that’ll get you accepted to the school of your dreams.

    There are no customer reviews for this item yet.

    Classic Totes

    successful essays to harvard

    Tote bags and pouches in a variety of styles, sizes, and designs , plus mugs, bookmarks, and more!

    Shipping & Pickup

    successful essays to harvard

    We ship anywhere in the U.S. and orders of $75+ ship free via media mail!

    Noteworthy Signed Books: Join the Club!

    successful essays to harvard

    Join our Signed First Edition Club (or give a gift subscription) for a signed book of great literary merit, delivered to you monthly.

    Harvard Book Store

    Harvard Square's Independent Bookstore

    © 2024 Harvard Book Store All rights reserved

    Contact Harvard Book Store 1256 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138

    Tel (617) 661-1515 Toll Free (800) 542-READ Email [email protected]

    View our current hours »

    Join our bookselling team »

    We plan to remain closed to the public for two weeks, through Saturday, March 28 While our doors are closed, we plan to staff our phones, email, and harvard.com web order services from 10am to 6pm daily.

    Store Hours Monday - Saturday: 9am - 11pm Sunday: 10am - 10pm

    Holiday Hours 12/24: 9am - 7pm 12/25: closed 12/31: 9am - 9pm 1/1: 12pm - 11pm All other hours as usual.

    Map Find Harvard Book Store »

    Online Customer Service Shipping » Online Returns » Privacy Policy »

    Harvard University harvard.edu »

    Facebook

    • Clubs & Services

    successful essays to harvard

    Calculate for all schools

    Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, successful harvard application essays.

    Hi all! I'm starting to work on my college essays and I'd love to take a look at some successful Harvard application essays for inspiration. Any ideas on where I can find examples or any tips on what works specifically for Harvard?

    Hi! It's a good idea to seek inspiration from successful application essays, but remember to make sure your essay is uniquely your own. A good resource for successful Harvard application essays is the book "50 Successful Harvard Application Essays," which gathers essays from real accepted applicants; you may find it at your local library or bookstore. You can also search online for individual examples or the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, which often features selected essays.

    As for tips on what works specifically for Harvard, here are a few points to keep in mind:

    1. Authenticity: Harvard admissions officers want to get a sense of who you are as a person. Be genuine in your writing, and avoid trying to present yourself as someone you’re not.

    2. Intellectual curiosity: Show your passion for learning by discussing an intellectual challenge you faced and how you overcame it, or a topic you're deeply interested in that goes beyond the classroom.

    3. Personal growth: Illustrate how an experience or interest has shaped your personal development and helped you become the person you are today.

    4. Impact: Highlight any meaningful impact you've made in your community or beyond through your accomplishments and personal experiences.

    5. Specific details: Be sure to include specific details or examples that help your essay stand out and paint a vivid picture of your story.

    6. Reflect: Take time to introspect and analyze the reasons behind your choices and experiences. Demonstrate your self-awareness and your understanding of how these experiences have influenced your perspective.

    Remember that Harvard, like many top colleges, values students with a strong "spike" or highly developed specialty. They're looking for applicants who stand out for their achievements in a particular field or interest area. Reflect on your own passions and "spikes" and see how you can convey them in your essay.

    Finally, while it's helpful to study successful essays for inspiration, it's crucial to develop your own voice and write an essay that's true to you. Good luck, and happy writing!

    About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

    CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

    • Utility Menu

    University Logo

    GA4 tracking code

    Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships

    • CARAT (Opportunities Database)
    • URAF Application Instructions
    • URAF Calendar

    Writing Application Essays and Personal Statements

    Some applications ask that you write an essay that draws on more personal reflections. These essays, sometimes called Personal Statements, are an opportunity to show the selection committee who you are as a person: your story, your values, your interests, and why you—and not your peer with a similar resume—are a perfect fit for this opportunity. These narrative essays allow you to really illustrate the person behind the resume, showcasing not only what you think but how you think.

    Before you start writing, it’s helpful to really consider the goals of your personal statement:

    • To learn more about you as a person: What would you like the selection committee to know about you that can't be covered by other application materials (e.g. resume, transcript, letters of recommendation)? What have been the important moments/influences throughout your journey that have led to where (and who!) you are?
    • To learn how you think about the unsolved problems in your field of study/interest: What experiences demonstrate how you've been taught to think and how you tackle challenges?
    • To assess whether you fit with the personal qualities sought by the selection committee:  How can you show that you are thoughtful and mature with a good sense of self; that you embody the character, qualities, and experience to be personally ready to thrive in this experience (graduate school and otherwise)? Whatever opportunity you are seeking—going to graduate school, spending the year abroad, conducting public service—is going to be challenging intellectually, emotionally, and financially. This is your opportunity to show that you have the energy and perseverance to succeed.

    In general, your job through your personal statement is to show, don’t tell the committee about your journey. If you choose to retell specific anecdotes from your life, focus on one or two relavant, formative experiences—academic, professional, extracurricular—that are emblematic of your development. The essay is where you should showcase the depth of your maturity, not the breadth—that's the resume's job!

    Determining the theme of an essay

    The personal statement is usually framed with an overarching theme. But how do you come up with a theme that is unique to you? Here are some questions to get you started:

    • Question your individuality:  What distinguishes you from your peers? What challenges have you overcome? What was one instance in your life where your values were called  into question?
    • Question your field of study:  What first interested you about your field of study? How has your interest in the field changed and developed? How has this discipline shaped you? What are you most passionate about relative to your field?
    • Question your non-academic experiences:  Why did you choose the internships, clubs, or activites you did? And what does that suggest about what you value?

    Once you have done some reflection, you may notice a theme emerging (justice? innovation? creativity?)—great! Be careful to think beyond your first idea, too, though. Sometimes, the third or fourth theme to come to your mind is the one that will be most compelling to center your essay around.

    Writing style

    Certainly, your personal statement can have moments of humor or irony that reflect your personality, but the goal is not to show off your creative writing skills or present you as a sparkling conversationalist (that can be part of your interview!). Here, the aim is to present yourself as an interesting person, with a unique background and perspective, and a great future colleague. You should still use good academic writing—although this is not a research paper nor a cover letter—but the tone can be a bit less formal.

    Communicating your values

    Our work is often linked to our own values, identities, and personal experiences, both positive and negative. However, there can be a vulnerability to sharing these things with strangers. Know that you don't have to write about your most intimate thoughts or experiences, if you don't want to. If you do feel that it’s important that a selection committee knows this about you, reflect on why you would like for them to know that, and then be sure that it has an organic place in your statement. Your passion will come through in how you speak about these topics and their importance in forming you as an individual and budding scholar. 

    • Getting Started
    • Application Components
    • Interviews and Offers
    • Building On Your Experiences
    • Applying FAQs

    MBA Watch Logo

    MBA Essays That Worked At Harvard & Stanford

    • Share on Facebook
    • Share on Twitter
    • Share on LinkedIn
    • Share on WhatsApp
    • Share on Reddit

    successful essays to harvard

    What does a successful MBA essay look like at Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business?

    successful essays to harvard

    This collection of 50 successful HBS and GSB essays, with smart commentary, can be downloaded for $60

    The answers will vary greatly from applicant to applicant, just as the essay prompts for these two schools differ dramatically. Harvard asks applicants the following: As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?

    Stanford’s prompt is among the most iconic MBA essay questions in admissions: What matters most to you, and why?

    Both prompts are notoriously challenging. Even if these schools had more generous acceptance rates (currently 10% and 6%, respectively), their essay prompts would still vex candidates with both their simplicity and open-ended nature. How do successful applicants respond to these prompts and, more importantly perhaps, how do they adopt their narratives to fit each school’s requirements? (see  She Applied To Harvard & Stanford With These Two MBA Essays ).

    Here are four recent examples from successful MBA applicants who shared their essays with us for What Matters? What More? , a unique collection of 50 successful essays written by applicants to either Harvard, Stanford, or both business schools. Published by Poets&Quants with mbaMission and Gatehouse Admissions, the guide is instantly downloadable , at a cost which is less than $1 an essay. Accompanying each essay is expert commentary from mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald or Gatehouse founder Liza Weale on the strengths and sometimes weaknesses of each one, even including detailed footnotes to highlight key passages in every single essay.

    If you plan to apply to Harvard Business School or the Stanford GSB or any top MBA program, this digital book is a must-have resource. You can access the book here.

    successful essays to harvard

    Despite all we had been through in recent years, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I asked my mother one summer evening in Singapore, “What role did I play during those tough times?”

    In 2014, a pulmonologist in Singapore, where my parents live, told my father he had three months to live. The only solution was to undergo a complete double lung transplant in America—a precarious, logistically complex, and financially burdensome procedure. Despite the daunting news, I sprang into action and spent weeks researching options. I channeled my inner Product Manager and delegated aspects of the research and planning to different family members, creating dozens of spreadsheets detailing our to-dos. We then waited patiently for the call.

    After months of nervous anticipation, I received word from the hospital that a matching donor lung had been found. We hastily grabbed our “go bags” and rushed to the hospital. The 10-hour surgery, though harrowing, was a stunning success. Assuming my work was done, I flew home to San Francisco with an enormous burden lifted. In the subsequent months, though, my mother would call me almost every day crying. Sometimes she was upset that my father—struggling with his recuperation—wasn’t appreciative or, worse, was harsh with her; other times she was stressed by the body- and mind-numbing labor that goes into postsurgical care. I listened and would tell her that everything was going to be alright, but no amount of reassurance seemed to make her feel better. To be honest, I had to wonder if it actually would be; there was no clear end in sight, and everyone’s patience was running thin.

    There’s a saying in Chinese: “Amongst the hundreds of virtues, filial piety is the first in line (百行孝 為先).” I had been there for my father and did not want exhaustion to prevent me from supporting my mother, who had given up her career and dedicated her life to raising and supporting her children. One evening, I stumbled upon an opportunity to volunteer at Helping Hands, a suicide prevention hotline that focuses on providing emotional support. I knew that helping strangers would be rewarding in itself but also thought the program could expand my own perspective and help me guide my family through this emotional crisis, so I signed up on the spot.

    I had never encountered any experience as intense, rigorous, and grueling as Helping Hands. Helping Hands volunteers go through an active listening boot camp, with dropout rates higher than the Navy SEALs. After all, there is no room for error when you’re taking calls on a suicide hotline. After months of relinquishing all weekend hours to training, I took my first call: a teenage girl who just wanted to “be a kid and go to school” but had to work to financially support her chronically ill parent. My first instinct was to respond with phrases like, “it’s ok, don’t worry,” but training taught me that platitudes prevent the caller from feeling heard. Instead, an active listener must validate the callers’ feelings and ask open-ended questions, empathetically steering the conversation “towards the pain.” Rather than avoiding sensitive topics, active listeners get to the root of suffering through deliberate dialogue.

    Taking over 500 calls at Helping Hands, I learned how judgment and excellent listening skills are incompatible, especially when the other person holds views or values that are completely diametric to yours. 2 For example, I will never forget the call from a serial pedophile who had nobody to turn to except for us. Helping Hands requires operators to treat every caller equally and with empathy, no matter how you feel about them. So, I cast aside all presumptions and focused on talking to the caller like an old friend, listening to what he had to say and unraveling the struggles he was wrestling with. By helping him get troublesome thoughts off his chest, I could only hope that I helped reduced the chances of him reoffending. Practicing empathic listening with these callers enabled me to understand and connect with humans who are vastly different from me.

    Working with Helping Hands also taught me the importance of knowing my own emotional limits, so I learned to practice self-care as a means to engage others. I started journaling regularly and became far more open to being vulnerable. Having inherited a stoicism from my father, I had to take an honest, critical look at myself in order to manifest this shift. When I allowed myself to truly unmask my feelings, I started to find real strength and resilience within.

    As I came to these realizations, I began to incorporate them into phone calls with my mother. I withheld advice and simply listened actively, validating her feelings and allowing her to unpack her emotions. Slowly but surely, brick by brick, she began to piece her own life together in her own way. She allowed herself to leave my father’s side and instead to focus on her own well-being. She picked up yoga and made new friends at her local church. A year later, she even took a solo trip to the UK to attend a retreat at a monastery.

    Since my time volunteering at Helping Hands and supporting my mother, I’ve also incorporated active listening into my professional life. When I discovered that a teammate was struggling to keep up with her programming tasks, instead of jumping to conclusions, I put my active listening skills to use. She confided in me that she felt her manager had neglected her and that she had been struggling with personal issues outside of work. After talking through her concerns, we made an action plan that would allow her to get back on track. I followed up with her consistently and supportively, and a year later, she was nominated to become a technical lead.

    In another instance, two executives with disparate opinions on our fraud management strategy kept talking past each other. One believed that Square should fight fraud using internal resources, while the other wished to leverage multiple external vendors. When the conversation reached an impasse, I used my active listening skills to paraphrase each person’s position so both executives felt heard and followed up with open-ended questions to ensure the issues at hand were sufficiently explored. I steered the conversation out of the stalemate, and the executive team reached a multilateral solution— to conduct a time-bound test of the potential systems before choosing a path. The following day, the CTO commended me on my approach and my diplomacy. Active listening allows me to work and understand people at a level that is simply unattainable if all I do is listen passively or speak without thinking.

    So, with this new perspective on personal growth, I found myself one quiet evening chatting with my mother, looking back at how far we had come from those trying times. She briefly pondered my role amid our family crisis. Against the sounds of cicadas in the humid Singapore air, she looked at me and replied, “you were my lifeline through my darkest times, listening to me day after day without fail.” In the end, the best way to support my mother had been to provide her with the scaffolding from which to reconstruct her own life.

    successful essays to harvard

    Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission

    Commentary by Jeremy Shinewald of mbaMission: Many applicants have preconceived notions about how a great HBS essay should read. A candidate could be forgiven for thinking something along the lines of “HBS wants to see ferocious, unyielding leaders who achieve the impossible,” but the idea that most applicants would fit this mold is unrealistic. Reading this guide should prove that point! In this essay, which is one of our absolute favorites, the applicant writes about a superpower that effectively plays directly against the aforementioned perceived HBS “type.”

    Rather than being the kind of leader who raises his fist and screams, “After me!,” he listens and is continuously improving his ability to listen, while developing an enormous well of empathy in his dealings with others. In managing a complicated family dynamic, he realizes the importance of truly paying attention to what someone is saying, and he adroitly hones this skill through challenging community work, which itself equips him to solve personal and professional problems. Throughout, the applicant creates a narrative that is deeply thoughtful and calming. His voice in the essay gives the reader the sense that he is a fundamentally introspective person who draws power from reflection. But do not try to simply replicate his voice in your essay. What is critical is finding your own.

    ORDER: WHAT MATTERS? WHAT MORE? 50 SUCCESSFUL MBA ESSAYS TO HARVARD & STANFORD

    Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.

    • Stay Informed. Sign Up! Login Logout Search for:

    successful essays to harvard

    Positioning Extracurriculars On Your MBA Application

    successful essays to harvard

    Endless MBA Options: Which Is Right For You?

    Dr. Judith Silverman Hodara Fortuna

    How To Improve Your MBA Odds If You’re 30+

    Karen Marks, president and founder of North Star Admissions Consulting

    ADVICE COLUMN: How Do I Navigate The Waitlist?

    • How To Use Poets&Quants MBA Admissions Consultant Directory
    • How To Select An MBA Admissions Consultant
    • MBA Admission Consulting Claims: How Credible?
    • Suddenly Cozy: MBA Consultants and B-Schools
    • The Cost: $6,850 Result: B-School

    Our Partner Sites: Poets&Quants for Execs | Poets&Quants for Undergrads | Tipping the Scales | We See Genius

    Dockterman Honored With 2024 Morningstar Family Teaching Award

    • Posted May 22, 2024
    • By Ryan Nagelhout

    Lecturer David Dockterman

    Lecturer David Dockterman , Ed.D.‘88, is the 2024 recipient of the Morningstar Family Teaching Award, presented annually to a Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty member who makes an outstanding impact on their students and the Harvard community.

    Dockterman was presented the award at HGSE’s Convocation exercises on Wednesday, May 22. The Morningstar winner is chosen based on nominations by HGSE students and a review process by a student advisory committee and the HGSE dean.

    “It’s wonderful to be acknowledged by the students with this award. They bring such varied backgrounds and interests to HGSE that I’m convinced I learn more from them than they do from me each year,” says Dockterman. “It’s a privilege to help students reach their potential to make a difference in the world. And I remind them, the ‘world’ comes in many sizes. The world of daily interactions matters as much as the world of global policy.”

    In the Morningstar nominations Dockterman was praised for his deep commitment to his students’ academics and overall wellbeing. They provided at length countless examples of empathy, educational passion, and a willingness to go above and beyond for students. Many noted the transformative nature of his teaching and coursework, with one calling Dockterman a “beacon of inspiration.”

    “They were more than just a teacher,” one student wrote. “Their classes became the reason I eagerly woke up every morning, reigniting my passion to make a positive impact in the world. With unwavering belief in each of us, they infused our learning journey with boundless energy, reminding us daily of our potential to create meaningful change. Their enthusiastic presence sparked a fire within me, propelling me forward with renewed purpose and determination.”

    Others noted the inclusiveness and compassion Dockterman creates in his classroom, with an innate ability to make students feel seen and heard.

    “They created a classroom atmosphere where every question was valued and every student felt seen and heard. This is not easy to achieve,” a student wrote. “Their respectful and caring approach fostered a sense of community and belonging among students, making the learning experience not just educational but also deeply enriching on a personal level.”

    “They don’t just teach; they invest in the lives and futures of those under their guidance,” wrote another. “Their compassion and empathy create a nurturing environment where students feel valued, supported, and understood.”

    Dockterman joined HGSE as a lecturer in 2016. His long-time Harvard course, Innovation by Design, helps foster an iterative, agile approach to evidence-driven innovation across a range of educational issues. Modules on Scaling Impact and Sustaining Impact take on the challenges of designing innovations that work with variable learners across different contexts in a manner that’s sustainable over time.

    Dockterman is a fellow of the International Society for Design and Development in Education and a judge for the Global Learning XPRIZE. Current projects involve early literacy, effective math instruction, adult development, and civic engagement.  

    Before his tenure at the Ed School, Dockterman helped found Tom Snyder Productions in 1982, an early pioneer in educational technology. For nearly four decades, Dockterman has balanced lives in the academic and publishing worlds, supporting the development of research-driven innovative practices while also lecturing at HGSE.

    Dockterman has designed dozens of award-winning computer programs including Decisions, Decisions: Science Court – which was also an acclaimed TV show on ABC Saturday morning – and The Great Ocean Rescue. He also consults with publishers, entrepreneurs, and learning organizations on the translation of evidence into effective, scalable and engaging practice.  

    “My courses and my career focus on how to design for and sustain measurable impact at scale,” says Dockterman. “Over decades of work in educational technology, I’ve identified tools and processes that facilitate that impact. Sharing those mechanisms with students to support their passions for driving positive change in the world is how I pursue impact at scale today.”

    Established in 2000 with a gift from Faith Morningstar, Ed.M.’87, Ed.D.’96, and her husband, the Honorable Richard Morningstar, an alumnus of Harvard College, the Morningstar Family Teaching Award is intended to recognize faculty members that help create supportive environments for their students. Dockterman was nominated for the Morningstar Award by 23 different students, one of 44 different faculty members nominated by 125 different students overall.

    Current faculty members who have received the Morningstar Award include Professors Andrew Ho, Jal Mehta, Catherine Snow, Paul Harris, and Monica Higgins; Associate Professor Karen Brennan; Lecturers Alexis Redding, Gretchen Brion-Meisels, Aaliyah El-Amin, and Joe McIntyre; Senior Lecturers Joe Blatt and Elizabeth City; Principal Research Scientist Tina Grotzer; and Dean Bridget Terry Long.  

    News logo

    The latest research, perspectives, and highlights from the Harvard Graduate School of Education

    Related Articles

    Inset, top-bottom: Craig Paxton, Ed.M.'09, and Janhvi Maheshwari-Kanoria, Ed.M.'10

    Paxton, Maheshwari-Kanoria to Receive 2024 Alumni Council Awards

    Alums will be honored for their educational contributions at HGSE Convocation

    Liz City

    City Receives 2018 Morningstar Family Teaching Award

    HGSE shield on blue background

    Harris Presented with Morningstar Family Teaching Award

    CONGRATUATIONS HARVARD GRADUATES! 

    The Mignone Center for Career Success will offer all services virtually on Thursday, May 23 & Friday, May 24. We will be closed in observance of Memorial Day on Monday, May 27.

    • Crimson Careers
    • For Employers
    • Harvard College
    • Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
    • Harvard Extension School
    • Premed / Pre-Health
    • Families & Supporters
    • Faculty & Staff
    • Prospective Students
    • First Generation / Low Income
    • International Students
    • Students of Color
    • Students with Disabilities
    • Undocumented Students
    • Explore Interests & Make Career Decisions
    • Create a Resume/CV or Cover Letter
    • Expand Your Network
    • Engage with Employers
    • Search for a Job
    • Find an Internship
    • January Experiences (College)
    • Find & Apply for Summer Opportunities Funding
    • Prepare for an Interview
    • Negotiate an Offer
    • Apply to Graduate or Professional School
    • Access Resources
    • AI for Professional Development and Exploration
    • Arts & Entertainment
    • Business & Entrepreneurship
    • Climate, Sustainability, Environment, Energy
    • Government, Int’l Relations, Education, Law, Nonprofits
    • Life Sciences & Health
    • Technology & Engineering
    • Still Exploring
    • Talk to an Advisor
    • Share This: Share Follow the Harvard Mignone Center for Career Success on LinkedIn on Facebook Share Follow the Harvard Mignone Center for Career Success on LinkedIn on LinkedIn Share Follow the Harvard Mignone Center for Career Success on LinkedIn on X

    successful essays to harvard

    This week Harvard celebrates the graduating class of 2024. As these talented individuals step into the professional world, we wanted to share a new recruiting resource. We invite you to follow our newly created Harvard Mignone Center for Career Success LinkedIn page . We will share more information about Harvard recruiting events, trends, and updates on this page. 

    We are happy to connect further to discuss ways your organization can advertise current openings or plan to engage with Harvard students during the next academic year. Schedule a call with our team to learn more about promoting opportunities at Harvard.

    Why Recruit at Harvard? 

    • Our students have the analytical, technical, communication, and problem-solving skills and experiences to keep your organization competitive
    • More than 50% of Harvard College students self-identify as students of color
    • Fields of study include applied mathematics, computer science, data science, economics, engineering, government, and psychology

    ' src=

    successful essays to harvard

    • Test Preparation
    • College & High School

    Amazon prime logo

    Enjoy fast, free delivery, exclusive deals, and award-winning movies & TV shows with Prime Try Prime and start saving today with fast, free delivery

    Amazon Prime includes:

    Fast, FREE Delivery is available to Prime members. To join, select "Try Amazon Prime and start saving today with Fast, FREE Delivery" below the Add to Cart button.

    • Cardmembers earn 5% Back at Amazon.com with a Prime Credit Card.
    • Unlimited Free Two-Day Delivery
    • Streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with limited ads on Prime Video.
    • A Kindle book to borrow for free each month - with no due dates
    • Listen to over 2 million songs and hundreds of playlists
    • Unlimited photo storage with anywhere access

    Important:  Your credit card will NOT be charged when you start your free trial or if you cancel during the trial period. If you're happy with Amazon Prime, do nothing. At the end of the free trial, your membership will automatically upgrade to a monthly membership.

    Buy new: .savingPriceOverride { color:#CC0C39!important; font-weight: 300!important; } .reinventMobileHeaderPrice { font-weight: 400; } #apex_offerDisplay_mobile_feature_div .reinventPriceSavingsPercentageMargin, #apex_offerDisplay_mobile_feature_div .reinventPricePriceToPayMargin { margin-right: 4px; } $19.91 $ 19 . 91 FREE delivery Thursday, May 30 on orders shipped by Amazon over $35 Ships from: Amazon Sold by: Joshua Creek Services

    Return this item for free.

    Free returns are available for the shipping address you chose. You can return the item for any reason in new and unused condition: no shipping charges

    • Go to your orders and start the return
    • Select the return method

    Save with Used - Like New .savingPriceOverride { color:#CC0C39!important; font-weight: 300!important; } .reinventMobileHeaderPrice { font-weight: 400; } #apex_offerDisplay_mobile_feature_div .reinventPriceSavingsPercentageMargin, #apex_offerDisplay_mobile_feature_div .reinventPricePriceToPayMargin { margin-right: 4px; } $9.62 $ 9 . 62 FREE delivery Thursday, May 30 on orders shipped by Amazon over $35 Ships from: Amazon Sold by: Smooth Transitions

    Kindle app logo image

    Download the free Kindle app and start reading Kindle books instantly on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required .

    Read instantly on your browser with Kindle for Web.

    Using your mobile phone camera - scan the code below and download the Kindle app.

    QR code to download the Kindle App

    Follow the author

    Staff of the Harvard Crimson

    Image Unavailable

    50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

    • To view this video download Flash Player

    successful essays to harvard

    50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice Paperback – July 8, 2014

    There is a newer edition of this item:.

    50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 6th Edition: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

    Purchase options and add-ons

    With talented applicants coming from the top high schools in the country as well as the pressure to succeed from family and friends, it's no wonder that writing college application essays is one of the most stressful times for high schoolers like you. Add in how hard it is to get started or brag about your accomplishments or order your stories for maximum effect, and it becomes obvious why this is no easy task.

    To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays gives you the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, one of the nation's top ranked colleges. From chronicling personal achievements to detailing unique talents, the topics covered with these essays will open you up to new possibilities and techniques for putting your best foot forward.

    Each essay in this collection is from a Harvard student who made the cut and is followed by analysis by the staff of The Harvard Crimson where strengths and weakness are detailed to show you how you can approach your stories and ultimately write your own winning essay. It teaches you how to:

    * Get started * Stand out * Structure the best possible essay * Avoid common pitfalls

    50 Successful Harvard Application Essays' all-new examples and straightforward advice make it the first stop for applicants who are looking to craft a clear, passionate, and, above all else, persuasive application essays that'll get you accepted to the school of your dreams.

    • Print length 208 pages
    • Language English
    • Publisher St. Martin's Griffin
    • Publication date July 8, 2014
    • Dimensions 5.5 x 0.75 x 8 inches
    • ISBN-10 1250048052
    • ISBN-13 978-1250048059
    • See all details

    The Amazon Book Review

    Frequently bought together

    50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

    Customers who viewed this item also viewed

    50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 5th Edition: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

    Editorial Reviews

    About the author, product details.

    • Publisher ‏ : ‎ St. Martin's Griffin; Fourth Edition, Revised (July 8, 2014)
    • Language ‏ : ‎ English
    • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
    • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1250048052
    • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1250048059
    • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 6.7 ounces
    • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 0.75 x 8 inches
    • #999 in College Entrance Test Guides (Books)

    About the author

    Staff of the harvard crimson.

    Discover more of the author’s books, see similar authors, read author blogs and more

    Customer reviews

    Customer Reviews, including Product Star Ratings help customers to learn more about the product and decide whether it is the right product for them.

    To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyzed reviews to verify trustworthiness.

    • Sort reviews by Top reviews Most recent Top reviews

    Top reviews from the United States

    There was a problem filtering reviews right now. please try again later..

    successful essays to harvard

    Top reviews from other countries

    successful essays to harvard

    • Amazon Newsletter
    • About Amazon
    • Accessibility
    • Sustainability
    • Press Center
    • Investor Relations
    • Amazon Devices
    • Amazon Science
    • Sell on Amazon
    • Sell apps on Amazon
    • Supply to Amazon
    • Protect & Build Your Brand
    • Become an Affiliate
    • Become a Delivery Driver
    • Start a Package Delivery Business
    • Advertise Your Products
    • Self-Publish with Us
    • Become an Amazon Hub Partner
    • › See More Ways to Make Money
    • Amazon Visa
    • Amazon Store Card
    • Amazon Secured Card
    • Amazon Business Card
    • Shop with Points
    • Credit Card Marketplace
    • Reload Your Balance
    • Amazon Currency Converter
    • Your Account
    • Your Orders
    • Shipping Rates & Policies
    • Amazon Prime
    • Returns & Replacements
    • Manage Your Content and Devices
    • Recalls and Product Safety Alerts
    • Conditions of Use
    • Privacy Notice
    • Consumer Health Data Privacy Disclosure
    • Your Ads Privacy Choices

    Home

    • University News
    • Faculty & Research
    • Health & Medicine
    • Science & Technology
    • Social Sciences
    • Humanities & Arts
    • Students & Alumni
    • Arts & Culture
    • Sports & Athletics
    • The Professions
    • International
    • New England Guide

    The Magazine

    • Current Issue
    • Past Issues

    Class Notes & Obituaries

    • Browse Class Notes
    • Browse Obituaries

    Collections

    • Commencement
    • The Context
    • Harvard Squared
    • Harvard in the Headlines

    Support Harvard Magazine

    • Why We Need Your Support
    • How We Are Funded
    • Ways to Support the Magazine
    • Special Gifts
    • Behind the Scenes

    Classifieds

    • Vacation Rentals & Travel
    • Real Estate
    • Products & Services
    • Harvard Authors’ Bookshelf
    • Education & Enrichment Resource
    • Ad Prices & Information
    • Place An Ad

    Follow Harvard Magazine:

    Commencement | 5.22.2024

    “Our Planet in Microcosm”

    Nicholas burns, u.s. ambassador to china, addresses the harvard kennedy school..

    Nicholas Burns at the podium

    Nicholas Burns   |  Photograph by Kayana Szymczak/Harvard Kennedy School of Goverment

    US. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China Nicholas Burns addressed the 659 members of the Harvard Kennedy School’s class of 2024 at their Class Day on May 22, bearing a message of hope. Amid a litany of challenges facing this generation of students, he emphasized the global nature of the most important problems, issues the graduating class—56 percent of them international, hailing from 87 different countries—are especially well-positioned to address together. “You are our planet in microcosm,” he told them. “You form a network built for a rapidly changing world where international collaboration is essential to resolve just about every major global challenge in this decade and the next.”

    Burns, who taught at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) for 13 years, most recently as Goodman Family professor of the practice of diplomacy and international relations, had spoken the previous day with many of the school’s Chinese graduates, a small number among the “nearly 300,000 Chinese students in the U.S.,” he said, “who are most welcome in our country.” The HKS network is alive and well in China, where Burns reported frequently running into former students: one who called out his name as she biked by on a busy street in Beijing, another who bumped into him in Nanjing and chatted about his career since graduating from HKS, a third who happened to sit next to him at a Mass in Beijing’s North Cathedral on Easter Sunday.

    “This is one of Harvard’s secret powers,” he continued. “Keep this network alive in your 87 countries.”

    Burns, who spoke with this magazine in 2020 about the important role of diplomacy in addressing global challenges , exhorted the class to find solutions to the most pressing issues of the next decade:

    First, climate change is an existential threat to humanity. We are not on course to limit the average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are lagging behind.

    Find a way to get us back on course.

    Second, technology has moved to the very heart of global politics. We see the enormous promise in biotechnology, quantum science, robotics, and artificial intelligence. But, we also see the dark side—the forbidding challenge, for example, of managing the risks of A.I. in a nuclear weapons world.

    Find a way to get this balance on technology right.

    Third, democracy is under assault in the United States and other countries, challenged from within, in many cases, by anti-democratic forces. And challenged from without by authoritarian powers preying on weaker neighbors, assailing the foundations of the world order that has enshrined human rights as universal—for all people.

    Defend democracy.

    Fourth, brutal wars have broken out in Russia’s assault on Ukraine, in Israel and Gaza, and in parts of Africa. The highest priority in international politics should be to end them and stop the bloodshed.

    Fifth, there are a multitude—a staggering number actually—of transnational challenges that know no borders. Cyber aggression, the race for dominance in space, global health challenges, billions of people still below the poverty line, human trafficking, ever more powerful drug and criminal cartels, alarming income inequality and terrorism.

    These are forbidding, seemingly overwhelming challenges. And we could add many more to this list.

    “Use your HKS network to coalesce and meet them head on,” he urged, because “it is the real world you are inheriting along with your Harvard degree.”

    Burns told the soon-to-be graduates that as part of a global network, they have both the opportunity and the obligation to address these issues. He invoked President Kennedy’s famous challenge to his generation of Americans:

    Ask What you Can Do.

    Not—What will I gain?

    Not—How will I profit?

    Not—What’s in it for me?

    But, “Ask What You Can Do” to make the world more just, more prosperous, more peaceful. The Kennedy School asks that you not just be involved in the world but to be great in your impact as individuals and as a class.

    Burns quoted Winston Churchill, who “came to Harvard in September 1943, in the middle of the Second World War. He challenged Harvard students,” said Burns, “with a message that is strikingly relevant for our world today:”

    The price of greatness is Responsibility.

    One cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being

    Involved in its Problems;

    Convulsed by its Agonies;

    And inspired by its Causes.

    The people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility.

    “Churchill’s warning to Americans remains true in 2024,” Burns continued. And although the global challenges ahead can seem overwhelming, history shows that “courageous, far-sighted leaders stepped forward when the world needed them most.

    Lincoln in writing the Emancipation Proclamation;

    Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in asserting that women have fundamental rights;

    Dr. Martin Luther King in writing a single letter from a Birmingham Jail.

    Nelson Mandela who, after enduring twenty-seven years of imprisonment, emerged to dismantle Apartheid and create a multiracial South Africa.

    The courage of a Polish Pope, Karol Wojtyla, in standing up to soulless communism.

    The courage of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine in standing up to Russia’s wicked despot.

    The bravery of tomorrow’s Harvard Commencement speaker, Maria Ressa, in standing up for freedom of the press—all over the world. 

    Burns concluded by addressing “the crisis over the War in Israel and Gaza that has engulfed our universities” this year. “All I can offer today is my own experience as a diplomat in dealing with difficult and emotional discussions about war, polarization, injustice, and the tragic loss of life on both sides of the conflict.”

    My profession of diplomacy is all about disagreement and debate in situations like this. Nearly every issue at the United Nations comes down to accommodating disagreement across national boundaries. Professor Meghan O’Sullivan and I agreed the other day that the process of disagreeing and debating and arguing is actually a life skill that we all need to develop. So, what are the lessons about how we should disagree in university debate or at the United Nations?

    You know the adage from the bible: Be slow to judge and quick to forgive.

    Listen, as well as speak.

    Ask yourself: “How might I be wrong?”

    Find the humanity in the person disagreeing and debating with you.

    Find more space for voices you disagree with here at Harvard.

    Be civil and be peaceful in debate.

    Burns again quoted President Kennedy, who “spoke at a graduation much like this at the American University in Washington in June 1963.” At the height of the Cold War, urging that Americans not demonize the Soviet people, Kennedy said, “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

    “Those are remarkably insightful words,” said Burns. “You will find them on one of the nearby granite posts in this very park dedicated to his memory.”

    Ending his address on a hopeful note, Burns turned to words written by the late Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory Seamus Heaney who “had this to say in his poem, ‘The Cure at Troy’”:

    History says, don’t hope

    On this side of the grave.

    But then, once in a lifetime

    The longed-for tidal wave

    Of justice can rise up,

    And hope and history rhyme.

    “Give us hope in the lives you lead, beyond Harvard,” Burns closed. “Give us hope, indeed.”

    Based on the remarks of Nicholas Burns as prepared for delivery.

    You might also like

    Man at podium addressing audience

    “Be Unlikely Inseparables”

    An unconventional Class Day to conclude a tumultuous senior year 

    Kareena Gore

    It’s “Not the Earth that Needs Fixing”

    Karenna Gore ’95 addresses Graduate School of Design.

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland at HLS graduation

    Never Alone

    Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, addresses Harvard Law School.

    Most popular

    Harvard shield on red background

    Harvard Corporation Rules Thirteen Students Cannot Graduate

    Faculty of Arts and Sciences May 20 vote on protestors’ status does not confer “good standing.”

    Howard Gardner

    “The Heart of Teaching”

    Howard Gardner addresses the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

    Rows of chairs set up in Tercentenary Theatre with tented stage in the distance

    Class Day Speakers Announced

    Admissions dean William Fitzsimmons ’67 and Currier House security guard Bill Oliverio to address Harvard class of 2024 

    House - Email

    More to explore

    A clay sculpture of a robed angel.

    Bernini’s Model Masterpieces at the Harvard Art Museums

    Thirteen sculptures from Gian Lorenzo Bernini at Harvard Art Museums.

    Illustration of a bedridden patient having chunks of the bed removed

    Private Equity in Medicine and the Quality of Care

    Hundreds of U.S. hospitals are owned by private equity firms—does monetizing medicine affect the quality of care?

    Harvard police officer Steven Fumicello poses with black Labrador retriever Sasha.

    John Harvard's Journal

    Sasha the Harvard Police Dog

    Sasha, the police dog of Harvard University

    • Share full article

    Advertisement

    Supported by

    Guest Essay

    The End of Polio Is in Sight. What Have We Learned?

    A local health worker dressed in a brown burqa marking the finger of a child with a blue pen.

    By Richard Conniff

    Mr. Conniff is the author of “ Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape From Contagion .”

    The fight to eradicate polio has been long and difficult. It’s been nearly 50 years since vaccines eliminated the disease in the United States. But polio continues to this day disabling or killing children in some harder to reach parts of the world. The good news is that we are now on the cusp of eradicating this terrible disease everywhere and forever.

    The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a consortium of major players in the fight — the Gates Foundation, Rotary International, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The group has the ambitious aim to end transmission of the virus that causes the disease, wild poliovirus, by the end of the year in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two countries where it is still actively infecting humans. If the initiative succeeds, it will be the culmination of a campaign that has reduced the incidence of paralytic wild poliovirus from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 12 known cases last year.

    It will also be a result of what may seem like a counterintuitive strategy: Knowledge about the disease flows not just from medical experts in great research centers to people in developing nations, but the other way as well, with workers on the front lines providing crucial information to stop the disease in their own areas and beyond. The lesson here: The medical tools needed to detect and contain any disease work best in the hands of the people most directly affected by it. Having used this strategy to stop polio, people in developing nations are already looking to apply those same tools against other diseases, both familiar and emerging.

    Along the remote, mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the people on the front lines of the polio eradication effort are mostly women, and mostly members of the communities they serve. Each team is responsible for up to 75 houses, going door to door (or sometimes mosque to mosque), providing a dose of oral polio vaccine to every child in every five-day campaign. Because the communities are poor, and because families can lose patience with repeated visits focused only on polio, the workers also bring nutritional supplements, health information and other resources. Their job is to build trust in villages where people are prone to distrust, and to keep parents engaged in the fight. (In 2011, the fake vaccination campaign reportedly staged by the Central Intelligence Agency in its hunt for Osama bin Laden served only to deepen that distrust.)

    The intensity of the national programs — with about 400,000 workers in Pakistan and 86,000 in Afghanistan — has recently reduced 12 genetic clusters of the wild poliovirus in the region to just two, and one of the two hasn’t been seen since November. “From a medical perspective, the virus is gasping in these last corridors,” says Dr. Ananda Bandyopadhyay of the Gates Foundation.

    The virus could, of course, spread outside these regions, as it did in 2022, when international air travel carried polio to a handful of other countries, including the United States. But frontline workers in Pakistan and Afghanistan serve as a network for tracking its possible escape routes, as families move back and forth across the border.

    Sheeba Afghani, a communication specialist for UNICEF’s polio program, said that when local health workers make a home visit, for instance, and find a family member absent, they ask questions, such as: “If the child is not at home, where are they? Are they out of the district? If out of the district, is it in the same city or another city?” These are questions outsiders could never ask. If the family member has crossed the border, the information gets relayed to polio workers at the reported destination, to locate newcomers in their own 75-house networks.

    New tools also help track the virus as it moves in these areas. When India was struggling to eliminate polio in 2010, it had fewer than 10 sites routinely monitoring for the virus in sewage and surface water, said Dr. Hamid Jafari, the World Health Organization’s director of polio eradication in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Back then, to spot an outbreak, health officials had to wait for children to turn up with paralysis. Now, Pakistan has monitoring sites in 84 districts.

    Over nine months last year, that monitoring alerted the city of Peshawar to 30 separate introductions of the virus. But the Peshawar district’s 4.7 million people did not suffer a single case of polio, said Dr. Jafari. Knowing where to look for the virus and maintaining a high level of vaccination among permanent residents kept them safe.

    A big part of this success is due to the use of the Sabin oral vaccine rather than the Salk injectable vaccine. The oral vaccine, containing a weakened live virus, is easier to deliver and has the critical advantage of inducing immunity not just in recipients’ bloodstream, as the Salk vaccine does, but also in their intestines. That means it stops transmission of the virus in the unsanitary conditions that are common in affected areas (and universal in children). Instead, the live vaccine itself spreads and protects children who might otherwise go unvaccinated.

    According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the Sabin vaccine has protected more than three billion children in the past 10 years. But using it involves a trade off: In places with very low levels of polio immunity the vaccine-derived virus can evolve as it spreads, and in rare instances it can revert to a paralytic form. Over the five years through 2023, about 3,600 people, mostly unvaccinated children, have suffered vaccine-derived poliovirus. But the number of cases has already begun to decline thanks to a novel version of the oral vaccine, genetically modified to sharply reduce the risk of reverting.

    In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the women on the front lines see the end of polio in sight. This fight has given them the opportunity to work outside the home, earn money and make a lifesaving difference to their villages. When the government of Pakistan recently surveyed them about their experience, one big question they asked was: What can we work on next?

    Public health workers everywhere already have the answer. Give them the tools, and developing nations will apply the lessons learned in this fight against infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, measles, typhoid fever and others yet unknown. The end result will be a world that’s safer for all of us.

    Richard Conniff is the author of “ Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape From Contagion .”

    The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

    Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .

    COMMENTS

    1. 10 Successful Harvard Application Essays

      Successful Harvard Essay. When I failed math in my sophomore year of high school, a bitter dispute engulfed my household -- "Nicolas Yan vs. Mathematics." I was the plaintiff, appearing pro se ...

    2. My Successful Harvard Application (Complete Common App

      In my complete analysis, I'll take you through my Common Application, Harvard supplemental application, personal statements and essays, extracurricular activities, teachers' letters of recommendation, counselor recommendation, complete high school transcript, and more. I'll also give you in-depth commentary on every part of my application.

    3. How to Write the Harvard University Essays 2023-2024

      First, identify one or two goals you have for the future—with just 200 words, you won't have space to elaborate on any more than that. Ideally, these should be relatively concrete. You don't have to have your whole life mapped out, but you do need to be a lot more specific than "Make a difference in the world.".

    4. Top 13 Successful Harvard Essays

      These are successful college essays of students that were accepted to Harvard University. Use them to see what it takes to get into Harvard and other top schools and get inspiration for your own Common App essay, supplements, and short answers. These successful Harvard essays include Common App essays , Harvard supplements, and other Harvard ...

    5. How to Get Into Harvard Undergrad: Strategies and Essays That Worked

      Part 4: 2023-2024 Harvard supplemental essays (examples included) (Note: While this section covers Harvard's admissions essays specifically, we encourage you to view additional successful college essay examples.). Acing the supplemental essays is a crucial part of your child's strategy to get into Harvard. In addition to the Common App Personal Statement, Harvard's essays, like other ...

    6. How they wrote (and rewrote) their Harvard admissions essays

      First-years recount the agony and the ecstasy. Late nights. Discarded drafts. That one great idea. Most high school seniors would agree that the admissions essay is the hardest part of a college application. The Gazette asked first-year students to reflect on theirs — the writing, the inspiration, the hand-wringing — and the lessons learned.

    7. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 5th Edition

      To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, edited by the staff of the Harvard Crimson, gives readers the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, the nation's top-ranked college. From chronicling personal achievements to detailing ...

    8. Application Tips

      We're here to help. To apply for admission as a first-year or transfer student at Harvard, you will start with the Application. Fill out the Common Application or the Coalition Application, Powered by Scoir (choose one, we have no preference), followed by the supplement to help us get a better sense of who you are.

    9. 50 MBA Essays That Got Applicants Admitted To Harvard & Stanford

      This collection of 50 successful HBS and GSB essays, with smart commentary, can be downloaded for $60. They are two of the most selective schools, routinely rejecting nine or more out of every ten applicants. Last year alone, 16,628 candidates applied to both schools; just 1,520 gained an acceptance, a mere 9.1% admit rate.

    10. 100 Successful College Application Essays by The Harvard Independent

      About 100 Successful College Application Essays. The Largest Collection of Successful College Application Essays Available in One Volume These are the essays that helped their authors gain admission to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Wellesley, Pomona, and other outstanding schools—followed by invaluable comments by experts in admissions, placement, and college counseling at some of the best ...

    11. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 5th Edition: What Worked for

      To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, edited by the staff of the Harvard Crimson, gives readers the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, the nation's top-ranked college.

    12. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What ...

      To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays gives you the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, one of the nation's top ranked colleges. From chronicling personal achievements to detailing unique talents, the topics covered with ...

    13. 100 Successful College Application Essays by The Harvard Independent

      The Largest Collection of Successful College Application Essays Available in One Volume These are the essays that helped their authors gain admission to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Wellesley, Pomona, and other outstanding schools—followed by invaluable comments by experts in admissions, placement, and college counseling at some of the best learning institutions around the country.

    14. Successful Harvard Application Essays?

      A good resource for successful Harvard application essays is the book "50 Successful Harvard Application Essays," which gathers essays from real accepted applicants; you may find it at your local library or bookstore. You can also search online for individual examples or the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, which often features selected essays.

    15. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help

      With pointers on avoiding common essay pitfalls and stepping back to evaluate strengths applicants never realized they had, Fifty Successful Harvard Application Essays is an inspiration for every student trying to find the one thing that sets him or her apart from the crowd.

    16. Writing Application Essays and Personal Statements

      Some applications ask that you write an essay that draws on more personal reflections. These essays, sometimes called Personal Statements, are an opportunity to show the selection committee who you are as a person: your story, your values, your interests, and why you—and not your peer with a similar resume—are a perfect fit for this opportunity. These narrative essays allow you to really ...

    17. Poets&Quants

      What More?, a unique collection of 50 successful essays written by applicants to either Harvard, Stanford, or both business schools. Published by Poets&Quants with mbaMission and Gatehouse Admissions, the guide is instantly downloadable, at a cost which is less than $1 an essay. Accompanying each essay is expert commentary from mbaMission ...

    18. Dockterman Honored With 2024 Morningstar Family Teaching Award

      Lecturer David Dockterman, Ed.D.'88, is the 2024 recipient of the Morningstar Family Teaching Award, presented annually to a Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty member who makes an outstanding impact on their students and the Harvard community.. Dockterman was presented the award at HGSE's Convocation exercises on Wednesday, May 22. The Morningstar winner is chosen based on ...

    19. Harvard Class Day Speakers Announced

      On Monday afternoon, First Class Marshall Fez Zafar '24 announced in a group chat with Harvard seniors this year's two Class Day speakers: dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 and Currier House security guard Bill Oliverio.The choice of speakers was confirmed by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) this morning. The unconventional choices were officially ...

    20. Follow the Harvard Mignone Center for Career Success on LinkedIn

      Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences Harvard FAS Mignone Center for Career Success Instagram YouTube Harvard University 54 Dunster Street Cambridge, MA 02138 617-495-2595 [email protected]

    21. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 6th Edition: What Worked for

      To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays gives readers the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, the nation's top ranked college. From chronicling personal achievements to detailing unique talents, the topics covered in these ...

    22. Examining admissions essays post-affirmative action

      A new analysis of selective colleges' applications found that many added essay prompts centered around identity and diversity after the Supreme Court's affirmative action decision. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in two lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last ...

    23. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help

      To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays gives you the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, one of the nation's top ranked colleges. From chronicling personal achievements to detailing unique talents, the topics covered with ...

    24. Harvard Corporation Rules Thirteen Students Cannot Graduate

      The faculty amendment added to the list of recommended Harvard College degree recipients thirteen students who are not in good standing. Each of these students has been found by the College's Administrative Board — the body established by the FAS faculty to investigate and adjudicate disciplinary matters—to have violated the University ...

    25. "Our Planet in Microcosm"

      US. Ambassador to the People's Republic of China Nicholas Burns addressed the 634 members of the Harvard Kennedy School's class of 2024 at their Class Day on May 22, bearing a message of hope. Amid a litany of challenges facing this generation of students, he emphasized the global nature of the most important problems, issues the graduating class—56 percent of them international, hailing ...

    26. Opinion

      1. By Richard Conniff. Mr. Conniff is the author of " Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape From Contagion .". The fight to eradicate polio has been long and difficult. It's been nearly 50 ...