Harvard Outreach Newsletter

109th Issue, September 2022

In this issue:

  • USA College Day, 23/24 September 2022
  • Frequently asked questions at the Harvard stand 
    • academic program 
    • differences between Harvard and UK universities
    • what Harvard looks for in its applicants
    • application timeline
    • application components
    • financial aid
    • housing
    • life outside the classroom
  •  Moving in day – Harvard Class of 2026 arrives on campus! 
  •  Convocation for new students – a formal welcome to Harvard

USA College Day, 23/24 September 2022

After two years of being run remotely, USA College Day is back this year as a live event.  Organised by the US-UK Fulbright Commission and Education USA, College Day provides prospective undergraduates, parents and teachers the opportunity to meet representatives from over 120 American universities.  

Either Friday 23 September  (4:00 pm – 7:00 pm) 
or Saturday 24 September  (10:00 am – 3:00 pm) 

You can register to attend the event for a maximum of two hours, either on Friday or Saturday, but not both.  The event is the same on both days.

Register here for USA College Day. 

On the registration page, you will see that you must book for a particular time slot: 4.00pm or 5.00pm on Friday; 10.00am, 11.00am, 1.00pm or 1.30pm on Saturday.  

ILEC Conference Centre, 47 Lillie Road, London SW6 1UD  Nearest tube: West Brompton (District Line or Overground).  Click here for a map.  

Free to attend but you must register in advance.  Tickets are required for entry.

Tips for making the most of USA College Day
The event attracts over 4,000 visitors each year and the venue gets very crowded, particularly on Saturday.  To get the most out of your visit, you need to plan in advance.  

  • Once you have registered, check out the list of exhibitors and make a shortlist of the stands you wish to visit.  Check the location of the stands on the floor plan and decide in which order to visit them. 
  • Explore the websites of all the colleges on your shortlist.  Use the information on the website to decide which question(s) you want to ask when you speak to the college representatives. Students who have done their homework and ask pertinent questions will make a good impression to the college reps at each stand. 

Come and see us at the Harvard stand!

You will get the chance to meet Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Anne de Luca, newsletter editors Stuart Gordon and Vicky Leung, plus Harvard alumni Monica Mendiratta, Francesca Muller, Tara Keck, Nick Shearer, Hugh Corroon, Saba Nazar and Susan von Wentzel.  We would love to see you!

Frequently asked questions at the Harvard stand

“Anyone who is thinking of the next four years as a series of stepping stones to a predetermined outcome – be it an award, a concentration, a job, a specific career, or anything else – is a person who will miss the point of this place.”
– Harvard President Larry Bacow, addressing first year students

Academic Program 

Question:  I’m interested in studying [name of subject] in the USA.  What is Harvard like for the study of this subject? 

  • Harvard is a world class institution for studying most subjects across the arts and sciences.  
  • When you apply to Harvard College, you don’t apply for a particular subject, you just apply to get in, and for the first 18 months, you can study whatever you like except for a small core curriculum that takes up 25% of your time.  For the other 75% you can choose from 3,700 different courses across the arts and sciences.
  • The idea is that you get to try out lots of different things before making a final decision about what will be your main study area, or ‘concentration’.  
  • When you choose your concentration (which other US colleges often call a ‘major’) there are 50 areas to choose from, including a ‘Special Concentration’ where you can create your own combination of courses. 

Differences between Harvard and UK universities

Question:  I understand the main difference between Harvard and UK universities is a broad liberal arts & sciences degree (Harvard) versus a specialist degree (UK).  But what are the other differences?  
Compared with UK universities, Harvard differs in the following ways:

  • The broad curriculum means that it takes 4 years to complete your bachelor’s degree, rather than 3 years.
  • Financial aid is available to all admitted students who need it, and the amount you receive is means tested against your family’s income.  
  • There is more contact time with teachers and a greater emphasis on classroom teaching and discussion than the UK.
  • There is more emphasis on continuous assessment, rather than end of year exams.
  • Extracurricular activity is strongly encouraged, and there is an expectation that you will become fully engaged in the life of the College.
  • Housing is guaranteed on campus for all 4 years. 
  • Admission is based on a ‘whole person’ review, not just academic ability.
  • Professional degrees such as medicine and law are studied at post-graduate level in the US, although you can prepare for going on to medical school or law school while still an undergraduate


What Harvard looks for in its applicants

Question:  What is Harvard looking for in prospective students? 

  • Admissions decisions are made through a ‘whole person’ review – we look at everything about you, not only your exam grades. 
  • Your extracurricular activities and personal qualities are just as important to us as high academic achievement. 
  • Admission to Harvard is not a reward for what you have done in the past – it is our investment in what we believe you are capable of doing in the future.  

Application timeline

Question:  When is the best time to apply?  

  • Applying to US universities is a marathon, not a sprint, but is perfectly manageable provided you plan in advance and start early. 
  • Refer to the table below for the specific tasks you need to undertake in each school year.  
  • If you intend to take a gap year, the best time to apply is while you are still at school and have the support of your teachers and advisers.  If you are then offered a place at a US college, you can defer your entry and start your degree the following year.  


Application components

Questions:  How do I go about applying to Harvard?  What application materials do I need to submit? 

  • Although there are different types of application forms, UK students will almost certainly use the Common Application Form (or ‘Common App’ as it is usually known), as it is accepted by the largest number of US colleges.  It is an online form that goes live each year on 1st August, and UK students should complete as much of it as possible during the summer holidays at the end of Year 12 (England and Wales), S5 (Scotland), or Year 13 (Northern Ireland).  
  • The Common App includes a Student Essay, which is the American equivalent of the UCAS Personal Statement.  But the style of the Student Essay is very different from the type of essay an applicant would write for UCAS, as it is all about the student as a person, not about the subjects he or she might study.  So applicants should always read through the sample essays on our website before starting to draft their own.  
  • If you are particularly talented in music, dance, art or writing, it is fine to include videos of your performances, art portfolios and publications as part of your application. 
  • Standardised tests: applicants can take either the SAT or the ACT if they wish, but note that these tests are now optional at Harvard and many other US colleges.  
  • Teachers who are asked by students to provide references should look at the sample teacher references provided on the Harvard UK Admissions website.  
  • The references need to be different in style and content to the type of reference teachers would write for a UK university. 
  • Because an applicant’s personal qualities are an important part of the admissions process, as many UK applicants as possible are offered an interview with a volunteer who already holds a degree from Harvard.  Interviews are now mostly undertaken remotely by Zoom, WhatsApp or phone.  It is more of a wide ranging conversation than a normal interview, and allows students to talk about their interests, ambitions and challenges, and to find out more about what life is like at Harvard.


Financial aid

Question:  Will I receive financial aid if I am accepted at Harvard?

  • Harvard has a generous financial aid program, and international students are treated in the same way as US citizens.  All admitted students have access to financial aid if they need it, and the amount of money each student is offered is means-tested against family income.  
  • For family incomes of £65,000 per year or less (at current exchange rates), the student will almost certainly pay nothing.  The university will pay for tuition fees, food, housing, and also provide a book allowance and travel allowance.  Students on full financial aid will also receive a $2,000 cash grant as soon as they arrive to buy the equipment they will need to start their degree.  Additional funds are available for studying abroad in the summer holidays. 
  • For family incomes of between £65,000 and £130,000, the family will be expected to pay between 0% and 10% of their income towards university costs, depending on their other assets. 
  • Financial aid is given in the form of grants, not loans, so students do not have to pay them back after they graduate. 


Question:  Where will I live if I go to Harvard?

  • All students are guaranteed housing on campus for all four years.  Harvard is very keen on creating a thriving campus community.  
  • First year students all live in dorms on Harvard Yard – right in the hub of the university. 
  • In years 2, 3 and 4, students move to one of 12 residential houses.  Each house has its own library, dining hall, gym, and social activities, and all of them are within walking distance of Harvard Yard. 


Life outside the classroom

Question:  What is Harvard like for enrichment activities?  

We look forward to seeing you at USA College Day on 23 or 24 September!

Moving in day – Harvard Class of 2026 arrives on campus!

Move-in teams, family and friends help first year students move their belongings into the dorms
Move-in teams, family and friends help first year students move their belongings into the dorms

On 25 August one of the most important events in the Harvard calendar took place when the new cohort of first year students moved in to Harvard Yard at the start of their four-year adventure to a new future.  The Harvard Gazette reports:

And there to help hoist boxes, bags, and suitcases upstairs were new classmates, tutors, proctors, resident deans, and administrators, including President Larry Bacow and his wife, Adele. In fact, for many of the families who pulled up to Matthews Hall  around 9 a.m., the Bacows were the first to welcome them. 

“This time of year is always special on a college campus,” said Bacow. “It’s a time of renewal for those of us who live and work here.” 

For first-year students in particular, “It’s about new beginnings,” Bacow added. “It’s about the start of their Harvard career. It’s about making lifelong friends. It’s about discovery.”

Harvard President Larry Bacow and his wife Adele were on hand to help move awkward items!
Harvard President Larry Bacow and his wife Adele were on hand to help move awkward items!
Move in day at Harvard College

Convocation for new students – a formal welcome to Harvard

Harvard President Larry Bacow
Harvard President Larry Bacow
and Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana address the Convocation for first year students on 30 August
and Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana address the Convocation for first year students on 30 August

In his address to recently arrived first year students on 30 August, Harvard President Larry Bacow counseled them to be “slow to judge, quick to understand.”

“Our motto at Harvard is Veritas,” Bacow said. “It is more than a motto. It is the reason we exist, to seek the truth. But truth needs to be tested and needs to be revealed and that can only happen on the anvil of competing ideas. If you really seek the truth, it’s important to engage with people who think differently from you. Even more importantly, you need to be willing to change your mind in the face of a better argument or new information. Only when you have this experience will you be well equipped to make a difference in the world.”

In his remarks to welcome the first-years, Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College, also emphasized the importance of being open to changing one’s mind, to discover the truth not only by rejecting conspiracy theories and disinformation, but also by overcoming the temptation to conform or believe that one holds the right views and that there is nothing to learn from people who think differently.

“Searching for the truth requires taking risks and being comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Khurana. “It means inviting criticism. Choosing curiosity over certainty. To make the most of what Harvard has to offer – and to figure out what you can offer to Harvard and to society – you are going to have to be willing to choose this riskier, less certain path through these next four years.”

Read the full article in the Harvard Gazette.

If you enjoyed reading this newsletter and wish to receive future newsletters, click here to subscribe.