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Frequently Asked Questions


Admitted students typically will have excellent grades:

  • GCSE: Grades 7-9 (numbered system), or A/A* (lettered system)
  • AS levels (where taken): Grades A/A*
  • A Levels: Grades A/A*
  • Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers: Grades A/B
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): Grades 39-45

Typical scores in the standardised tests are:

  • SAT: a score of between 650-800 in each of the two main sections
  • ACT: a composite score of between 29-36

Students who have one or two grades lower than those stated above can still be granted admission if they have significant achievement elsewhere in their application. Your extracurricular activities, how you present yourself in your application and essays, the recommendations from your school and teachers and your alumni interview are all equally important factors in our final admissions decision.  Be sure to apply to a range of different colleges to increase your chances of being admitted somewhere.

See the answer above for general grade and score guidelines.  It’s also important to realise that like other liberal arts colleges in the US, Harvard College is a four-year undergraduate program that can prepare students for further postgraduate study in fields such as medicine, law, and business.  We do not offer programs in those fields at the undergraduate level, but many of our students do pursue those fields eventually and might take a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Biology and then go to Medical School, might study Economics before a further degree (MBA) in business, or might study Government before taking a law degree.  After you complete the four-year first degree (BA), you must apply separately to a postgraduate program in the area of specialisation such as business, law or medicine.  There are some undergraduate degrees in the US in business (and if that is your main interest, you can search for them specifically), but you cannot study law or medicine at the undergraduate level in the US.

The A-level, Scottish Highers, International Baccalaureate (IB) and Pre-U programs are all excellent preparation for study in the US, and Harvard does not have a preference among the programs.

BTEC courses are more vocationally directed and are not normally appropriate preparation for Harvard’s liberal arts program.

These credentials are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, with the goal being to understand what the student has learned and how well prepared she/he is for our programs. The SAT or ACT tests (where taken) also provide some measure of standardised assessment.

The choice of subjects for your A-levels or Advaced Highers is completely up to you.  Students taking A-levels will normally study three or four subjects.  Scottish students will typically study five subjects for their Highers and continue with three of them for their Advanced Highers.  “Solid” subjects such as History, Literature, Languages or Sciences are preferred.  Less well suited for our type of educational program would be subjects such as Physical Education, Business Studies, or Media, unless they are in addition to three or more “solid” courses.  Since you do not apply to study a specific subject in the US, but instead, apply to the college as a whole, you do not need to choose your area of concentration (or ‘major’) until mid-way through your second year, and any strong A-level or Scottish Higher preparation will be fine.  Students who have A-levels or Advanced Highers in all science subjects or with no science subjects will still be fine in the US, as long as their interests are broad and they enjoy studying all subjects.

Application Process

Once you have submitted your application form online, your name will be given to our alumni interview co-ordinator in the UK. She will assign you to one of our 200 interviewers who will be in touch with you to set up the interview. They typically take place in October or November for Early Action and in January or February for Regular Action. As much as possible, we assign you to an interviewer who lives close to where you are, but in some cases you may be asked to travel to a different town or to have a Zoom, WhatsApp or phone interview.

The First-Year Applicants page on the Harvard Admissions website addresses these questions in detail. Scroll down the page until you come to ‘Restrictive Early Action.’

Yes! If paying the application fee would cause a hardship for your family, please request a fee waiver. You or your university adviser or Head of Sixth Form may simply write a short letter asking us to waive your fee. Do not let this fee prevent you from applying! Unfortunately we do not have any way to waive the fees for the SAT or ACT, but these tests are now optional in many colleges.

Full information about our transfer program can be found here.  Be aware that in recent years because of limited housing we have only been admitting about a dozen transfer students per year.

Harvard University consists of the undergraduate Harvard College plus 12 graduate and professional schools. Go to the Schools page of the Harvard website and choose the appropriate graduate school for more details on applying to each program.

At Harvard College we use a “whole person” admissions process that looks at your objective credentials (grades and scores) plus the equally important factors of your extracurricular activities, how you present yourself in your essays, educational and family background, recommendations from your school, teachers, and alumni interviewers and your personal qualities as presented in the application and interview.

We do not recommend that practice as the content and format of the UCAS essay is not really what is asked for in the US system. Take a look at some of the personal essays given as examples on this website (in the Assembling Your Application section) and you will see that they are VERY different from the UCAS statement. We’re trying to learn about you as a person to see what motivates or intrigues you, what you’d be like as a classmate or roommate, so the essay that helps us get to know you better will be more helpful than the typically academic UCAS essay.

Yes. All admitted students are given the option to postpone entry for one year if they wish. We heartily approve of the concept of the gap year and wish more American students would choose that option.

Either way is fine. Some students prefer to apply while in their final year of secondary school when teachers know them best and they still have the option to take the gap year or not. Other students prefer to wait until they are in their gap year to work on the application since that gives them more time to study for the SAT/ACT tests (if required) and narrow down a list of US colleges for application. The gap year experience can also often become a good topic for the essay.

Guidance Counselor’ is a US term for the person who advises students about university options.  The closest equivalent in the UK might be your Head of Sixth Form, University Adviser, Careers Adviser, Head Teacher or Principal.  Any of those people would be fine; just choose someone who knows something about the program you are taking and can make some comments about you as a student and a person.  Please choose someone in addition to the two teachers who provide your academic references.  It is not helpful to have the same person write a Teacher Report and the Secondary School Report.

All admissions offers are given based on the continuation of high level academic and personal performance. If actual results received are significantly lower than what was predicted, the admissions offer can be rescinded. We receive the Final School Report from US high schools in June and each year we write to any students whose final grades are disappointing; from time to time an offer is rescinded. For UK students, we do not receive your final results until mid-August, but we do review them and contact students with disappointing results. It’s very rare, but occasionally offers have been withdrawn. So keep up your work even after being admitted!


Please read ‘Standardised Tests’ on the ‘Applying from UK’ drop-down menu on this website for details. Also read the FAQs below.

We do not require the TOEFL from any applicants. However, if English is not your first language and you have taken the TOEFL as part of an application to other universities, you may send it to us and we will include that information as part of your application. We do not accept the IELTS test. The SAT or ACT, if required, cannot be replaced by any other testing.

While low income US students may have access to a test fee waiver from the testing agencies, no such waiver exists for international students. Sorry…

Yes, we will receive the results from the January testing in February, in time for our March Regular Action final decisions. In the same way, the November test results arrive to us in December and may be used for Early Action candidates.

The format and content of the two tests are somewhat different but they test the same basic things. There is no difference in chances of admission based on which test you take. The best way to decide is to take a free online practice test in both of them, and go with whichever one gives you the better score.

Such a prep course is not required, but if you feel it will help you to prepare for the test in an organised way, you may feel you wish to take such a course. However, most international applicants do not take a prep course and our experience is that they do just fine on the tests by using the free online coaching available on the SAT or ACT websites.

Other Questions

Because of the volume of such requests, we cannot arrange individual contacts with current Harvard students or alumni in the UK.  If you decide to apply, you will have the opportunity for an alumni interview.  We hope that the information on this website, plus the links to other useful websites (Harvard College Admissions, SAT, ACT, Fulbright Commission) will provide enough helpful information for you to move forward with your thinking about US college applications.

You may also complete an online form to be referred to a current Harvard student through the Admissions Office initiative called the “Harvard College Connection.”

Yes, from time to time.  Every year the US-UK Fulbright Commission runs a huge USA College Day fair in London, where Harvard always has a stand run by several alumni/ae.  You can also sign up to receive a free monthly e-newsletter from the Harvard Club of the UK which will alert you to any Harvard visits or talks in your area.  To subscribe, click the ‘Sign up Now!’ button on the homepage of this website.

You may also register for an online information session that includes the same information provided during in person information sessions on Harvard’s campus, with presentations by an Admissions Officer and one or two current Harvard College students. Visit this page for details about upcoming online sessions.

If you are admitted and commit to enrolling at a US college, you will receive information and paperwork about obtaining your visa. You cannot start the visa process until that point.

No, the admissions process and requirements are the same for all applicants. If there are special circumstances in your situation or if your school is unable to provide the needed documents, include that information in your own application forms and we can let you know if you need to take any additional steps.

In both cases we need to receive academic information for four years of secondary education, so you will need to ask each school to submit a separate Secondary School Report with any grades received and a letter of recommendation.

Questions from secondary schools

We hope that by reading the information on this website (and other linked websites) you will learn enough about the US system to be of help and support to your students. Encourage them to start thinking early, to do research about the US system in general and about specific colleges that seem like a good fit for them. Read the sample Teacher Reports and Student Essays in the ‘Assembling Your Application’ portion of this website to see just how different they are from the UCAS model. Help your teaching staff and other recommenders to understand the difference so that they can write the most convincing letters on behalf of their students. If your students have the means, encourage them to visit the US to tour colleges (which typically have information sessions and tours daily during the week) to get a direct sense of what each has to offer.

We are always willing to receive invitations to visit, but cannot accommodate them all. If your school is willing to host a presentation to which students, parents, and teachers from several surrounding schools are also invited, we would be more likely to be able to offer a visit. Please submit the request by email to our UK-based outreach team: s.gordon@post.harvard.edu

Yes, we understand that schools do not yet have final A-level or Advanced Higher results if the student is still in the middle of the course, but our experience is that schools are very accurate in their predictions and we can use those until the final results are available in August.