The Essay Guide Series: Harvard University

Harvard University is a premier institution that has been renowned for its education since it has been established. With an extremely low acceptance rate, they are one of the most selective universities in the US, and getting in is no piece of cake! The school does not only excel in academics but also extra-curricular activities which indicate that they provide a more holistic education. Being an Ivy League, it is one of the most sought after universities in the world and they receive thousands of applicants each year! So, how must you stand out? Read on to find out!


These supplemental prompts are found in addition to the Common App Essay and not all of them are compulsory to answer. It is preferable to answer all of them because it just gives you more space to elaborate on yourself.


Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences (150 words maximum, mandatory)


It is important to showcase that you’re a well-rounded student and will bring much more than academics to the student community at Harvard. This can be done by showing that you’re passionate about something beyond academics and by doing so also reiterate that you have taken the time and effort to immerse yourself in it. This is important because they are looking to understand what exactly you have learned from this activity. Is it team building or critical thinking? What attracts you to this activity? What attributes do you think you have learned? How can you apply this in your life?


It’s best to stick to one activity or work experience that you committed the most time to or are the most passionate about. This will reflect in your writing as well and will also show them that you will be willing to pursue this in university as well. This is not to say that you have to take part once you join college, but it does give them an insight into what your thought process is.


It is important that you show that this activity has had some kind of a positive impact on you and that you have learned from this experience. Try focusing on a unique attribute like whether this is something that is unusual in your community. It’s preferable to choose an activity that you haven’t spoken about yet. This maximizes the amount of information that you put into the application. Set the hook for the essay in the first two lines and then speak about how it can help you in your future career.


Your intellectual life may extend beyond the academic requirements of your particular school. Please use the space below to list additional intellectual activities that you have not mentioned or detailed elsewhere in your application. These could include but are not limited to, supervised or self-directed projects not done as school work, training experiences, online courses not run by your school, or summer academic or research programs not described elsewhere (150 words, optional)


If you have taken part in something outside of academic work, or something that you haven’t mentioned but highlights your intellectual curiosity, this is the place for you. For example, did you take part in something outside of schools such as a research project or a literary club and the like? Did you convert your hobbies into something useful? This would be great information for the admissions committee.


It is important to fill this out because they’re looking for students who are willing to go after activities that fulfill their curiosity. It’s one of the key factors they look for in students. It’s better to list them and explain what each activity is about and what you did. Here’s your chance to show them what you’ve been doing! This is a broad category so it's best to include something outside of academia as well. If there is only one activity you’d like to focus on then turn it into a short essay and hone your creative writing skills here.


You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics: (No word limit, optional)

Unusual circumstances in your life

Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities

What you would want your future college roommate to know about you

An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science, or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you

How you hope to use your college education

A list of books you have read during the past twelve months

The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission?

Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do?

Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development, or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.


This is another aspect of yourself that you can show to the admissions committee about how you are as a person and how your experiences have shaped you. This is an open-ended question where there is no right answer! Talk about how your perspective has changed or how one specific event/ incident has impacted you. How have you come out stronger? What do you hope to achieve through your Harvard education? What are your plans for the future? BRAINSTORM AND BRAINSTORM AGAIN!


Even though this is an optional question, it really isn't. You need to show them a side of yourself that reiterates the fact that you will imbibe the best from their school and further your career in a way that has an impact on the people around you. For example, talk about books or movies that you have read/ watched and how have you perceived them. This shines a light on your thought process and how you use that in your daily life. It should complement the existing information in your application and be authentic. Don’t makeup stories, admissions officers read thousands of applications and can easily see through that.


You can write about anything you’d like but DO NOT repeat the information again. That’s just a waste of your time and theirs. It doesn’t have to be unique, it just needs to be about ‘you’.

(50 word limit, Optional, For International Students Only): What specific plan do you have, if any, for using the education you hope to receive?


This is your chance to showcase something that not many students would have the opportunity to do so. Being an international student comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities and not many of us get to write about them specifically. How do you plan on furthering your education through Harvard and why do you specifically want to go there? This is the kind of information they are looking for. Talk about the serious consideration that you have given this application and why Harvard is the right fit for you. What can you offer them and why should they choose you over a domestic student?


It’s okay to not know exactly what you want to do but a brief hint would suffice. It’s an extremely short prompt so we recommend you keep it minimal and to the point.


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