Harvard Outreach Newsletter

98th Issue, October 2021

In this issue:

Harvard College updated application requirements 2021/22 ​

The information in the following paragraphs is for students in the final year of secondary school or sixth form college who will be submitting applications to Harvard this autumn for the graduating class of 2026 (starting in August 2022):

  • Year 13 (England and Wales)
  • S6 (Scotland)
  • Year 14 (Northern Ireland)

Exam grades. Students who have not been able to take their usual exams this summer will not be disadvantaged. Instead, the Admissions Office will look at the teacher assessments provided by your school and other information such as course grades, and academic and character references.

Standardized test scores. Due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, standardized testing is to remain optional at Harvard during the 2021/22 application cycle. The Harvard website explains:

Students who do not submit standardized testing this coming year will not be disadvantaged in the application process. Their applications will be considered on the basis of what they have presented, and they are encouraged to send whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future. Applicants may choose to submit official test scores or self-report test scores if they so wish.

Application forms. Harvard accepts the Common Application or the Coalition Application – it doesn’t matter which you use. If using the Common App, note that you must submit your own sections of the application before your supporting materials (Secondary School Report, Teacher Reports etc.) will be transmitted to the Harvard Admissions Office. Be sure to study the Application Tips on the Harvard website.

School reports and teacher recommendations. As you will be submitting your application before you have taken your A Levels, Advanced Highers or IBs, your school should provide your predicted grades in your School Transcript and submit the actual grades as soon as they are released in July or August. School Transcript templates may be downloaded from the School Documents page on the Fulbright Commission website. Scroll down the page and click on ‘you can download our example’ under the ‘Transcript’ heading.

Applicants must ask two teachers in different academic subjects who know them well to complete the Teacher Evaluation forms – these are in addition to the character reference supplied by your Head of Sixth Form or teacher in charge of university applications. In your application confirmation email, there will be a personalized link to send to your recommenders (referees). Examples of what we consider to be helpful teacher reports can be found on the Harvard UK Admissions website.

Supplementary materials. At the discretion of the Admissions Committee, supplementary materials – such as music recordings, artwork, or selected samples of academic work – may be evaluated by faculty. These materials are entirely optional.

Scholarly articles, research, creative writing or other documents of which you are the primary author should be submitted in the ‘Upload Materials’ section of the applicant portal. You may submit optional supplementary media materials (e.g. videos, audio recordings, or images) electronically via Slideroom.

Extracurricular activity. We recognise that social distancing restrictions over the past 18 months have meant that most students have been unable to follow their usual activities outside academic study. You will not be disadvantaged by this – everyone is in the same boat. But do tell us about anything else you have been doing, such as starting a blog, setting up a special interest group on the web, looking after a sick relative, or helping your local community in some way.

Interviews. As many candidates as possible will receive an alumni interview depending on the number of UK applications received this year. In 2021/22, interviews will take place remotely by Zoom, WhatsApp or telephone rather than face to face. Your interviewer will contact you directly to fix a date and time after you have submitted your application.

What’s the difference between ‘Early Action’ and ‘Regular Action’ when applying to US colleges?

If you are applying this year for entry to the Class of 2026 you should now be putting together the components of your application ready to submit to your chosen colleges by the Early Action or Regular Action deadline.  
‘Regular Action’ refers to the normal deadline for submitting your application to American colleges (1st January at Harvard , but it does vary from college to college).  You may apply to as many colleges as you like by this deadline.  But if you have one particular institution that is your clear favourite, many American colleges provide an option called ‘Restrictive Early Action,’ or just ‘Early Action,’ which allows you to apply to one US college earlier than the others (by 1st November) and receive a decision by mid-December.  (Note that you can still apply to UK universities if you are applying Early Action in the US).  For the most competitive US colleges, there is no advantage or disadvantage in applying Early or Regular Action, but some colleges may see your early application as an indication that they are your top choice, and may feel more favourable towards your application for that reason.  Check each college’s website to see if they make any statements about possible advantages in the process for submitting an early application. 

Some colleges use the term ‘Early Decision’ rather than ‘Early Action’. What’s the difference?

If you apply to a college ‘Early Action’ and are offered a place, the offer is usually not binding and you may wait and see if you get further offers from your ‘Regular Action’ colleges before you decide which offer to accept.  On the other hand, an offer made as a result of an ‘Early Decision’ application is usually binding, so you must accept the offer and withdraw your applications from all other universities to which you have applied.  This is not a problem if you definitely want to go the ‘Early Decision’ college, but being offered admission will close off all other options so it is very important to check whether an offer will be binding or non-binding before submitting your application.  There is, however, one advantage to applying to an ‘Early Decision’ college: you have a greater chance of being admitted because the Admissions Office knows you are already fully committed to attending if you are offered a place.

More information about Restrictive Early Action can be found on the First Year Applicants page of the Harvard Admissions website.

Harvard Admissions Office ‘whole person review’

Candidates for Harvard will be assessed using what is called a ‘whole person review,’ but the Admissions Office will take account of the fact that most UK students have not been able to take their normal exams this year, and that many extracurricular activities have had to be curtailed.

The ‘whole person review’ includes:

  • Academic achievement (grades, scores, teacher comments) Academic fit is most important but other qualities help differentiate among exceptional candidates
  • Extracurricular involvement (activities and achievements outside academic study)
  • Personal attributes (interest in your academic field of choice, initiative, leadership potential, open mindedness, enthusiasm)
  • Context and background (socio-economic, geographic, ethnic, family background, advantages or disadvantages growing up, barriers overcome)
  • Fit with the community, potential for contribution to the university, to the education of those around him/her and beyond

Our goal is to obtain the fullest possible picture of the applicant – both past accomplishments and future potential.  Admission is less a reward for what a student has done in the past than a belief and an investment in what he or she will do in the future.

What should I be doing now if I am applying to US colleges next year?

The information below is for students in the penultimate year of secondary school or sixth form college:

  • Year 12 (England and Wales)
  • S5 (Scotland)
  • Year 13 (Northern Ireland)

The most essential thing to do, this year and every year, is to work hard throughout the year to get good grades and/or teacher assessments for all your academic work.  This is the same regardless of whether school exams are going ahead next summer, or whether you will be graded by teacher assessment.

Other than that, the two essential tasks for applying to American colleges are to research the college system, and to register for next year’s standardized tests if you choose to take them (or one or more of your short-listed colleges requires them).

1. Research the US college system.  Use one of the specialist search engines to research the college system and identify a long list, and then a short list, of colleges to which you might like to apply.  There are a number of search engines you can try, including Peterson’s and the College Board.

2. Register to take the standardized admissions tests, if required, and book a place far enough ahead to allow you plenty of time to practise.  Please note that Harvard College will decide about whether they will require standardized admissions tests for future admissions cycles in early 2022. If you haven’t already done so, register for the tests now and book a date or dates to take them in the spring of 2022.  You might want to set aside two or three hours’ practice time each week for the next few months so you are at your maximum performance by the time you sit the exams.  US colleges have no preference between the SAT and the ACT, but the two tests are structured differently, so the one you decide to take will simply boil down to the style of exam you prefer.  A good method of deciding is to take a free online test in both the SAT and the ACT and go with whichever one gives you the better score.

Here are some links to the free online practice material:

SAT test

For the SAT, there are also free online practice tools provided by the Khan Academy.

For the ACT test, free online practice tests are provided by Union Test Prep.

If you need additional practice material, books of SAT and ACT practice tests are available from online publishers at around £20 each.

SAT Test Dates 2021/22 and UK Test Centres

Remaining international SAT test dates for this academic year: 

  • 4 December 2021 
  • 12 March 2022 
  • 7 May 2022 

It is best to register with the College Board (which administers the tests) in the autumn of your penultimate year in secondary school and take the SAT test the following March or May.  This will give you plenty of time to practise and also provide the option of re-taking them in the autumn of your final year if you do not get as good a score as you hoped (colleges will only take into account your highest score if you take it more than once).  

Click here for a list of UK Test Centres for the SAT.  Enter your preferred test date under ‘Select Test Date’ and then enter either England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man in the ‘United Kingdom’ section of ‘Select a Country.’

ACT Test Dates 2021/22 and UK Test Centres

Remaining international ACT test dates for this academic year: 

  • 10 – 11 December 2021
  • 11 – 12 February 2022
  • 1 – 2 April 2022
  • 10 – 11 June 2022
  • 15 – 16 July 2022

Like the SAT, it is best to register for the ACT in the autumn of your penultimate year and to take the exam in April, June or July leaving you the option of re-taking it, if necessary, the following autumn.  If you decide to take the optional essay, make sure you register for ‘ACT with writing’, rather than just ‘ACT’.  

To see the most current list of UK Test Centres for the ACT, you must first register for the ACT by clicking the link in the previous paragraph.

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