Who Are We Looking For?

The Admissions Committee does not use quotas of any kind. They rely on candidates to describe themselves and their interests in their application, and on their teachers, university advisers, and our own alumni/ae interviewers to share information with them about each applicant’s strengths and personal qualities – all of which play a part in the Committee’s decisions. Our admissions process is based on a “whole person review” meaning that many factors, including but not limited to your grades and test scores, are important in the admissions process.

There is no formula for gaining admission to Harvard. Academic accomplishment in secondary school is important, but the Admissions Committee also considers many other criteria, such as community involvement, extracurricular activities, and work experience. Strength of character, ability to overcome adversity, enthusiasm, creativity, and other personal qualities often play a part in the Committee’s decisions. Your grades and test scores help us to assess your academic promise, but they are by no means relied upon exclusively.

Evidence that you are willing and able to take on academic challenges, or that you possess strengths not fully revealed in objective information, is also of interest to the Admissions Committee. Applicants can distinguish themselves for admission in a number of ways. Some show unusual academic promise through experience or achievements in study or research. Many are “well rounded” and have contributed in various ways to the lives of their schools or communities. Others are “well lopsided” with demonstrated excellence in a particular area – academic, extracurricular or otherwise. Still others bring perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances or experiences.

See the main Harvard website for a description of What We Look For.

Tips for UK applicants

While we encourage all interested and talented students to think about Harvard as a possibility, it’s also true that it’s quite competitive to be admitted. During the two years of the Covid pandemic, global applicants to Harvard College went up by over 40%. A similar increase was experienced in most other top US colleges, largely because the SAT and ACT standardised tests were made optional during the Covid lockdowns. Harvard and many other colleges have continued to make the tests optional, so it is important to check with all the colleges on your shortlist whether standardised tests are required or not for the year in which you are applying.

If a Harvard-style liberal arts education appeals to you, remember that the one action you can take that will guarantee you will not be admitted is if you don’t apply – so be sure to include us as one of your choices.  But also apply to a range of other colleges and universities in the US and the UK to maximise your chances of success.  Harvard has no quotas by country, type of school or any kind of background – they are just looking for the most talented and promising students from all social, economic and ethnic groups, wherever they may live.

For tips about how to fill out the main application as well as the Harvard supplement, go to Application Tips on the main Harvard website.

Expected Grades

Most applicants admitted to Harvard will be very accomplished academically, achieving top grades in most subject areas.

But don’t forget that the Admissions Office undertakes a “whole person review” of every candidate, so students who have the odd grade lower than those stated above are still often granted admission if they demonstrate significant achievements in an extracurricular activity, or outstanding personal qualities and leadership potential.

We do prefer that students take the most rigorous programme available to them, so an A level student, for example, should normally take four A levels rather than three.  But we do understand that in some schools three A levels are the norm, and in fact sometimes four are not allowed. We would not penalise a student if their school limits them to three.  For students in England and Wales, taking an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) on top of three or four A levels is always good – it’s looked upon as a good preparatory exercise for university where that kind of research and writing will be required.