Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-24 – Prompts and Advice
August 17, 2023
A 3.4% acceptance for the Class of 2027 gives you a pretty informative introduction to the ultra-competitive admissions process at Harvard University. To dive deeper, Harvard rejects the majority of valedictorians who apply each year as well as a sizable chunk of those who bring 1600 SAT/36 ACT scores to the table. Further, more than one-third of current Crimson undergrads are legacy students (their parents and/or other close relatives are alumni) and recruited athletes make up around 20% of each incoming freshman class. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that, if you fall outside of those categories, your chances of getting into Harvard are less than 3%. This brings us to the topic of this blog – the Harvard supplemental essays.
Want to learn more about How to Get Into Harvard University? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Harvard University: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.
Yet, this sobering and realistic assessment of the facts on the ground should not discourage those with an extremely strong record of accomplishment—both inside and outside of the classroom—from applying. Rather, we present this information to highlight one glaring truth: the essays are one of the best opportunities you will have to make your Harvard application shine brighter than your competition.
For the 2023-24 admissions cycle, there are five Harvard supplemental essays. Unlike previous years, all essays are required.
2023-24 Harvard Supplemental Essays
Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (200 words)
This prompt asks you to not only share a particular life experience but also describe why that experience will enable you to contribute to Harvard in general. Essentially, it’s asking you to take your essay’s reflection one step further—you’ll need to share why the experience you’ve chosen has impacted you as well as why/how you believe it will allow you to positively impact the Harvard community.
First, choose a key aspect of your experiences or background that reveals something deep and meaningful about you. (Although you could choose more than one, we’d advise against it, given that you only have 200 words in which to respond.) As you brainstorm, consider the following avenues:
- Your role in your family.
- Your role in your social group.
- A challenge you’ve faced.
- A formative experience or realization.
- Core values and beliefs.
- Important aspects of your upbringing.
- Cultural, religious, community influence.
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Second, you’ll need to describe both personal and future impact. Make sure that your answer reveals something about how you will live out Harvard’s values or contribute to an academic/social community. For the latter angle, you could name a specific course, research opportunity, or extracurricular club, to name a few—perhaps living in a beach town has heavily contributed to your passion for the world’s oceans, and you seek to bring that perspective to the biology department’s research opportunities. Alternatively, you could discuss something more intangible—perhaps Harvard’s mission to encourage intellectual transformation resonates with you, and you hope to bring your experience of moving frequently for your dad’s job—and the open-mindedness and resilience you cultivated as a result—to classroom discussions about sensitive topics.
Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)
In short, admissions officers want to see evidence of your drive, passion, and intellectual ambition. You may have taken over a dozen AP courses, but so did most of your competition. Did you pursue independent research or a more formalized research experience at a university? Did you spend your summer pursuing your academic interests to the best extent that was financially feasible (e.g., expensive summer programs are not accessible to everyone)? What were the fruits of your labor? Does your name appear on published research? Did you present at a conference? Did you independently pursue CS certifications, mastering multiple programming languages? Or did you learn a foreign language outside of school hours? Translate a work of literature into another language? In addition to describing the experience, you’ll also need to share why it was important to you.
Ideally, whatever example you cite will be closely aligned with your future academic area of interest.
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Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.
Harvard is not necessarily asking you to write about the activity where you earned the most prestigious awards. Nor does it have to be the one where you held the highest position of leadership. The university is going to see all of your activities in that section of the Common App. As such, you want to ask yourself—which of your entries is crying out for more explanation and detail? Which one is closest to your heart and most representative of your unique passions?
For example, you may be a volunteer EMT and have compelling experiences to share that have significantly impacted your perspective, or contributed to your desire to be a physician, or developed your empathy (or perhaps all of the above). Alternatively, you may have worked in a local restaurant and learned more about the lives of your undocumented coworkers, which shaped and contributed to your advocacy work in that area.
An activity or experience that “shaped who you are” is a big ask, but as long as you can demonstrate how it impacted and influenced you in a significant way, the activity you choose can be something you’ve been doing for ten years or two months.
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How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)
This prompt differs from your quintessential “Why Us?” essay in a small but important way—Harvard isn’t asking why you want to attend but how you hope to utilize the education you receive. This might seem like a rather nebulous proposition—you are seventeen years old, after all—but think about what your goals, passions, and aspirations are right now. You’ll then need to do some projecting, even if generalized. For example, some students can feel in their bones that they’re bound for the law school track while others only have a vague sense of what the future might hold for them but know that—right now—they’re most drawn to psychology. That’s where your research will come into play—spend some time investigating:
- Specific courses offered in your current discipline(s) of interest at Harvard.
- Harvard professors whose work/research/writings you find fascinating.
- Academically-focused student organizations at Harvard.
- Undergraduate research opportunities in the summer or during the school year as well as independent research you would like to conduct under faculty supervision.
Now, merge the two—based on your current goals and what Harvard has to offer, how can you see yourself putting your education to good future use? In short, how will Harvard’s resources prepare you for the real world?
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Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)
Applicants can utilize this response to give greater insight into the little details about themselves that may not appear elsewhere in the application. Keep the old adage “you don’t truly know a person until you live with them” in mind. Think about what your future roommate will learn about your daily habits, hobbies, quirks, passions, and preferences. What music do you like to listen to? What activities do you like to do (that, ideally, have not yet been communicated elsewhere)? Talk about your typical routine.
Once you make a list of potential inclusions, think about what each item communicates about you as a person. For example, if you can seldom be found without a novel in hand or spend an hour every morning practicing yoga, why is that important for us to know? That said, at least one detail could be comical or light-hearted (perhaps you can’t survive without a large supply of lime seltzer or always eat salt & vinegar chips when you’re up late studying). In the grand scheme of things, this is a genuine chance to reveal more about your character, unique personality, and also—sometimes— how to get along with others.
How important are the Harvard supplemental essays?
The Harvard supplemental essays are in the “considered” bucket. They are placed in the same category as factors such as test scores, GPA, and recommendations.
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