Real talk: as you’ve probably guessed, it’s not easy to get into Harvard University. Harvard’s admissions process is highly selective, and you’ll have to be a pretty impressive candidate to make it through (and that doesn’t just mean having the perfect Harvard SAT score or ACT score). After all, they are ranked #2 in National Universities! If this is your dream school, read on to learn how to get into Harvard.
So You Want to Go to Harvard…
You dream of singing the fight song as the Harvard Crimson thrashes Yale at Harvard Stadium. You want to join the ranks of such notable alumni as FDR, Bill Gates, and Conan O’Brien. Maybe you’ll even get to hear Will Ferrell give your commencement speech while dressed as a sailor (yeah, this really happened.)
Quick Harvard Admissions Statistics
We’re going to dive in and take a closer look at all of Harvard’s admissions requirements, but here’s a quick overview of Harvard admissions statistics:
|Harvard SAT scores (average composite)||1510 on a 1600 scale|
|Harvard ACT scores (average composite)||34 on a 36 scale|
|Harvard acceptance rate||4.6% (for the class of 2023)|
As you can see, Harvard is extremely competitive. That doesn’t mean you can’t get in though! You can learn more about Harvard admissions here, but read on and we’ll tell you exactly how to get into Harvard University!
Harvard’s Acceptance Rate
Let’s start by acknowledging that statistically, it’s super hard to get into Harvard. The most recent numbers available are for the class of 2023, of which a mere 4.6% of students were accepted! That’s… a very small number.
According to Harvard admissions statistics, 43,330 students applied for the 2019-2020 school year and of that pool, 2,009 were accepted. Of those, 1,650 matriculated, or decided to attend, and 65 were admitted from the waiting list.
So what kind of student DOES get into Harvard? Let’s take a look at all aspects of Harvard admissions!
More About Harvard SAT Scores
First of all, Harvard requires that you take and provide scores for either the SAT or ACT, but not both.
If you take the SAT, you are not required to complete the essay portion.
Currently, the average composite SAT score for admitted students is 1510. The 25th percentile for Harvard SAT scores is 1460 and the 75th percentile is 1580. What does that mean?
It means that if you score below 1460, you’ll be below the average and will have a much harder time being accepted. If you score 1580 or higher, you’ll be above the average Harvard SAT score. So long story short? If you’re taking the SAT and want a strong chance of being accepted, aim for a 1580 or higher.
Now what about the percentiles for each sub section? Here’s how they shake out:
|Test||Average||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
|Reading and Writing||740||720||780|
So again, for a better chance of getting in, keep your eye on those 75th percentiles.
Here’s one last thing to keep in mind: while Harvard does not create a superscore for applicants, the admissions board will consider all of your highest tests scores across all testing dates. This means that you can take the SAT multiple times until you get the scores you desire in each section. That said, we don’t recommend taking it more than 5 or 6 times, as repeated attempts can reflect poorly on you.
For more insight into taking the SAT, check out this guide to SAT scoring.
More About Harvard ACT Scores
Again, you aren’t required to submit both SAT and ACT scores, but you’re certainly welcome to.
Like the SAT, if you submit your ACT scores, you don’t have to include your writing scores.
For the ACT, Harvard will consider your highest composite score on a given test date.
Currently, the average composite ACT score for students accepted to Harvard is 34! The 25th percentile for Harvard ACT scores is 33 and the 75th percentile is 35. So again, this means if you score less than 33, you’ll be below average compared to other applicants. If you score a 35 or higher, you’ll be above average.
The takeaway? Aim for a composite score of 35 or higher if you want a strong shot at getting in!
Here are the percentiles for the sub sections, in case you’re attempting to improve your score in a specific area:
|Test||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
Again, make sure to keep your eye on that 75th percentile if you want to be a strong candidate.
Something to keep in mind when it comes to your Harvard ACT scores is that you don’t need to send every test result to the Harvard admissions board. That means that you can take the ACT as many times as you’d like and then submit your overall highest composite score.
For more insight into taking the ACT, check out this guide to ACT scoring.
A final word on Harvard SAT and ACT scores: according to Harvard admissions, “ “There are no score cutoffs, and we do not admit ‘by the numbers.'”
What does this mean? It means that there’s no minimum score required to apply. It also means that Harvard won’t ONLY take your standardized tests scores into consideration when reviewing your application. You’ll want to be as well-rounded a candidate as possible. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the other guidelines!
Harvard GPA Average
Your GPA, or grade point average, is a solid reflection of how you’ve performed in all of your academic courses in high school (or college, if you’re a transfer student).
And if you want to call Harvard home, you’ll have to have very high grades to get in. The current GPA of students admitted to Harvard is 4.18, so you’ll likely need straight-As all the way.
High schools vary in how they calculate GPA (on weighted vs. unweighted scales), but usually, challenging, college-level courses like AP and IB are weighed more heavily. For example, a “B” in AP Bio may be weighted the same as an “A” in a regular-level class.
So earning high grades in AP, honors, and/or IB classes is a good way to stand out as a candidate. More than likely, your GPA will be higher because of these grades, but they’ll also reflect your ability to take on and excel in rigorous courses.
A final word on GPAs: they tend to be very tricky to improve dramatically after your second year. So if you have your heart set on Harvard, you’ll want to start getting high grades even as a freshman and sophomore.
Harvard Freshman Profile
Taking a closer look at the most recent incoming freshman class can help give us a sense of who Harvard accepts. Now this doesn’t mean that the student demographic will be the same every year, but it’s good intel.
Harvard has published a profile of the class of 2023 that you can read, but here are some of the highlights.
As far as diversity goes:
- 14.3% of freshmen are African American
- 25.3% of freshmen are Asian American
- 12.2% of freshmen are Latino or Hispanic
- 1.8% of freshmen are Native American
- 0.6% of freshmen are Native Hawaiian
Additionally, 12.8% of the incoming class of are international students. You can read more about Harvard’s commitment to diversity and access, but in short, Harvard is making a point to become increasingly inclusive and diverse within its student body. This is a good thing!
Other Admissions Requirements for Harvard
Here’s a checklist of exactly what you’ll need to apply:
- The Common App, Coalition app, or Universal App (psst… check out our guide to writing a killer common app essay)
- Completed Harvard-specific questions on the apps above
- A $75 fee (or fee waiver form)
- ACT or SAT scores (with or without optional writing test scores)
- 2 SAT Subject Tests (recommended but not required and will depend on your specific program of study)
- AP or other exam results (optional)
- High school transcripts, including a midyear report (your grades after the completion of your first semester)
- Two letters of recommendation from teachers who know you well (or as Harvard refers to them, “teacher reports”). We have an awesome guide on how to ask for a letter of recommendation!
- Your final school report/transcripts (once you’re admitted—yay!)
For more information, check out this detailed overview of how to complete your Harvard application.
You may feel a little overwhelmed applying to one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, which can lead to a lot of questions. Here are some of the most common questions students tend to have:
What does your GPA have to be to get into Harvard?
Well, we’ve already discussed that the average GPA of students admitted to Harvard is 4.18, but that doesn’t mean you have to score this exact GPA. Technically, there are no minimum Harvard GPA requirements. That said, you’ll still want as high a GPA as possible, so aiming for a 4.0 or higher is a good call. And if your GPA is a little lower, then you’ll want to strengthen your application with stronger test scores and essays.
Is it hard to get into Harvard?
It’s very hard to get into Harvard, but it’s not impossible, as evidenced by how many students attend and graduate yearly. With enough hard work and preparation, you might just get in!
What are my chances of getting into Harvard?
This is actually a pretty hard question to answer accurately, since every applicant is a little different from the next and you never know which of your unique attributes will stand out to the admissions board (for example, your personal statements). That said, as we mentioned, Harvard’s acceptance rate is quite low—historically low even. For the class of 2023, Harvard only accepted 4.7% of its applicants!
Is Harvard need-blind?
“Need-blind” means that a school does not consider your need for financial aid when deciding whether or not to admit you. Harvard, like most universities, is indeed need-blind. This is good news, since it means that if you can’t afford the cost of attending Harvard out of pocket, this won’t hurt your chances of getting in.
So there you have it! All in all, you’ll have to be an exceptional student and very impressive candidate if you want to call yourself a Crimson. Taking everything above into consideration, here are our recommendations:
- Recommended Harvard SAT score: Composite SAT score of 1580 or higher
- Recommended Harvard ACT Score: Composite ACT score of 34 or higher
- Earn a GPA of 4.0 or higher (weighted)
- Take and excel in challenging honors, AP, and/or college-level courses
- Write strong, compelling, and unique essays that are professional but also communicate your unique voice and a vivid picture of you as a candidate.
- Provide letters of recommendation from teachers who know you very well and can speak to your aptitude, potential, and growth. Ask for your letters early and give your teachers ample time to construct thorough, thoughtful reflections about you.
- Participate in plenty of extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities, especially in leadership roles.
We also love this rundown of what Harvard looks for in a student. Keep in mind that, according to Harvard, there is “no such thing as typical student.” The type of thinker and person you are in the world is as important as your (predominantly) qualitative attributes on paper. Harvard values students who push themselves out of their comfort zones, who are self reflective, who are upstanding citizens of the world, and who are forward thinking.
Does this sound like you?
Finally, since test scores play such a significant role in your admission, we strongly suggest that you start preparing for the SAT and/or ACT in advance! We have a great 1-week SAT free trial and 1-week ACT free trial to get you started!
Best of luck!