Get Into Harvard University The Smart Way
My experience at Harvard proved to be different from my undergraduate career, but the latter had prepared me well. I had taken a writing class with a professor who specialized in rhetoric, and developed the skills I needed for writing strong essays. These skills have been invaluable, first in my application essay, and then in my proseminar and thesis at Harvard, which both required strong, concise writing in combination with extensive research. My classes often required enormous amounts of study, but made up for the drudgery with engaging lectures from accomplished professors. Indeed, Harvard is an excellent place to develop a network of colleagues.
Yet, Harvard’s culture is unique, and I had to adjust many of my expectations about academic culture and university procedures. My Harvard experience taught me much about my chosen field, and about my world and myself. Harvard truly contains a global forum with fascinating faculty members, students, and guests.
Those Darn Extra-Curriculars
How can you follow your dreams to Harvard? First, there are no guarantees. You may be an excellent candidate in every way, and not be selected. Even the applicants who have a family legacy of attending Harvard are not always admitted (though this status does factor into the admissions decision). If you have no family connection to Harvard, you can still call on your academic network–do you have well-connected professors to write your recommendations? Of course, your grades and test scores are important, and must be above a fairly high threshold, but they comprise only part of a larger picture. Most people know that the Admissions Committee at any university looks for well-rounded applicants–those students who found time amid their studies to pursue extracurricular activities and volunteering, and especially those who took leadership roles. At Harvard, though, the various units’ admission committees say they also look for “well-lopsided” candidates: those people who distinguished themselves in one particular activity or interest, perhaps performing work far beyond the norm for someone of their age or experience. For instance, one of my peers founded a charity while still in high school, and continued to direct it even while pursuing her doctorate–she clearly possesses the time-management skills needed for success at Harvard. Another way to distinguish yourself from the crowd involves demonstrating how you have overcome adversities to achieve what you have so far. Here is where rhetoric comes in handy: you should remember that Harvard likes to maintain its graduation rates around 96-98% in the various schools, and accordingly seek to persuade the committee that you are someone who will graduate.
Your Harvard Essay
What is the most valuable tool in your application? Here is a hint: it is also the most dreaded part of the process. If you guessed the essays or personal statement, you are correct. Your grades, test scores, and other activities can only tell the committee what you have done; your personal statement can show them who you are and who you want to become–and, of course, how attending Harvard will be your stepping-stone to greater achievements. Submitting a great essay distinguishes you from the crowd immediately because it is so difficult to achieve the right subject matter and tone. While it is appropriate and even advisable to submit an informal or unusual essay to some universities, to do so in a Harvard application would show a lack of understanding of the culture and traditions that define the University. At the same time, you should not submit an essay so bland and generic that readers may suspect you purchased it. By the way, do not purchase an essay. Whatever your writing ability, have someone edit your work, but make sure the thoughts contained in the essay are your own. If you are not a native English speaker, take heart. Your dedicated study of English can be one of your talking points on how you have overcome challenges. For instance, in your essay, you might discuss your process of studying for and taking the TOEFL exam, and this will help the committee know more about you and understand why you achieved the score you did. Speaking of the TOEFL, you must score at least 100 for some Harvard schools, and 109 for others. To understand the application requirements, make sure you rely on the website of the program to which you are applying (e.g., Harvard Business School’s MBA program), rather than any Internet sources. Failure to follow rules and requirements such as minimum scores and essay word limits may disqualify your application.
What if you do your best, follow the rules, and your application is rejected anyway? First, do not call the admissions office. I guarantee this will not help your case, and you will not learn anything substantive because the staff cannot tell you why you were rejected. Instead, you should consider carefully how to proceed. Do you want to reapply next year or attend another university? Harvard rarely admits transfer students, so do not assume you could begin your studies elsewhere and transfer to Harvard later. If you decide to reapply, what will you do in the meantime to strengthen the next application? Traveling, volunteering, working internships, and studying English or another language will all provide you with more meaningful experiences; you can incorporate some of them into your next application.
Indeed, applying to Harvard is a worthy goal, because the steps you take to become a strong applicant–studying hard for exams, earning good grades, building relationships with your instructors and peers, pursuing extracurricular activities, studying foreign languages–will enrich your life greatly no matter the outcome of your Harvard application. Your Harvard experience will build upon this foundation and shape who you become, pushing you to learn more than you thought possible, and connecting you with people around the world who have passed through Harvard’s gates.