How to Get Into Harvard: Acceptance Rate and Strategies

April 30, 2024

harvard university acceptance rate, how to get into harvard

Outside of “Encourage your ultra-wealthy parents to donate a building” or “Be a heavily-recruited athlete who also happens to have an SAT score in the 99th percentile,” there is no meaningful succinct nugget of wisdom that is going to unlock the gates to Harvard Yard. Successful Harvard applicants possess a sparkling transcript, perfect or near-perfect standardized test scores, and prodigious talents that extend outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, these attributes are necessary but often not sufficient, as the ultra-low Harvard acceptance rate implies. This university rejects valedictorians every single day of the admissions cycle.

However, your quest to get into Harvard can be greatly enhanced by gaining a better understanding of their admissions standards and how their decision-making process works. Accordingly, in today’s blog, we’ll cover the Harvard acceptance rate, applicant rating system, application requirements and tips, essay advice, and how to assess whether you should apply. We’ll also provide real accepted student profiles.

What is Harvard’s acceptance rate?

Harvard’s acceptance rate was 3.41% for the Class of 2027. However, the acceptance rate changes depending on whether you apply Restrictive Early Action (REA) or regular decision (RD). Let’s take a closer look at both options…

What is the Restrictive Early Action (REA) Harvard acceptance rate?

Those applying Restrictive Early Action (REA) to the Crimson Class of 2028 were accepted at a slightly higher-than-average clip. There were 7,921 early applicants and 692 were admitted, for a Harvard REA acceptance rate of 8.7%.  Historical REA Harvard acceptance rates are as follows:

  Applicants Admits Acceptance Rate
Class of 2027 9,553 722 7.56%
Class of 2026 9,406 740 7.9%
Class of 2025 10,087 743 7.4%
Class of 2024 6,424 895 13.9%
Class of 2023 6,958 935 13.4%

REA applications fell by 17% in the most recent cycle, with some attributing the decline to Harvard’s latest controversies, and others seeing it as a signal that application numbers are finally returning to pre-COVID norms.

During the last several cycles, Harvard has admitted approximately one-third of the class via REA. Although REA applicants typically enjoy an acceptance rate nearly double that of the regular round, it is still extremely low. If you apply REA, you cannot apply early action to any other private institutions. Consequently, you should only consider taking this route if Harvard is your first choice and you have the academic qualifications for an actual shot at acceptance (more on that below).

What is the regular decision Harvard University acceptance rate?

Out of 56,937 applicants, a mere 1,942 Class of 2027 hopefuls were admitted. However, 722 of those students were admitted under REA, meaning that we have to adjust the acceptance rate accordingly. Out of the 47,384 students who applied in the regular decision round, 1,220 were successful. This equates to a regular decision acceptance rate of 2.6%.

  Applicants Admits Acceptance Rate
Class of 2027 47,384 1,220 2.6%
Class of 2026 51,815 1,244 2.4%
Class of 2025 47,699 1,575 3.3%
Class of 2024 39,906 1,114 2.8%
Class of 2023 35,791 1,089 3.0%

As you can see, acceptance rates in the regular decision cycle are even lower than the overall Harvard acceptance rate implies.

Has Harvard always been this selective?

Harvard was founded in 1636, making it the oldest university in the American Colonies. It was founded by a Puritan clergyman named John Harvard shortly after the founding of Boston itself. It would be over 50 years before the next Colonial university was founded (William & Mary).

While Harvard’s status as the oldest American university always gave it mass appeal, it became the institution of choice for Boston’s upper class in the late 1800s, raising not only the university’s cost but also its academic standards. As such, extensive preparation for admission became popular. Many families retained private tutors or sent their children to elite boarding schools like Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy Andover. Attending Harvard was seen as a one-way ticket to the top echelon of Boston society; by 1892, over a third of Boston’s millionaires were Harvard-educated.

Since then, the number of applications received by admissions has only skyrocketed and the acceptance rate has only plummeted. For example, in 1996, Harvard received 18,190 applications for the Class of 2000 and accepted 10.9%. However, they received 56,937 applications for the Class of 2027 and accepted just 3.41% overall. As such, admission to this university has never been more competitive.

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What GPA do you need to get into Harvard?

Accepted Class of 2027 students had an average GPA of 4.2. Moreover, 74% had a GPA of 4.0+, and 20% had a GPA between 3.75 and 3.99.

Therefore, you should have an A- or higher GPA—and preferably, an A or higher GPA—for the most realistic chance of Harvard acceptance. If your GPA is 3.74 or below, we’d recommend looking at other colleges and universities that are a better fit for your academic profile, as only 5.23% of applicants with a GPA between 2.5 and 3.74 were accepted last year.

Have less than a 2.5 GPA? Unfortunately, 0% of students with similar statistics earned admittance.

What class rank do you need to get into Harvard?

Accepted Class of 2027 students were at the top of their classes. Out of the 30% of students who submitted class rank, 92.2% were in the top tenth of their graduating class. 97.6% were in the top quarter, and 99.8% were in the top half.

It’s important to note that only .2% of students in the bottom half of their high school classes were accepted. If you currently rank in the bottom half of your class, you would do well to sink your energy into other options. With these odds, there is a 99.8% chance you will not be successful in Harvard’s admissions gauntlet.

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What is the minimum SAT or ACT score for Harvard?

According to the most recent official statistics available, the average SAT score for enrolled freshmen was a 1550 (760 on Reading and 790 on Math). The average ACT was a 35.

Let’s break this down further. 92% of accepted students scored in the 700-800 range for Reading, and 96% scored in the 700-800 range for Math.

Did you score 699 or below for Reading or Math? Unfortunately, your chances are slim—only 8% of accepted students had a Reading score between 600-699, and only 4% had a Math score in that range. If your scores are any lower than 600, your chances at Harvard are infinitesimal to zero.

Harvard will remain test-optional for Class of 2028 and Class of 2029 applicants. However, 83% of recently accepted applicants submitted a test score with their application. Accordingly, we highly recommend submitting high test scores to Harvard (1400 minimum) for the best chance of admission.

What should I be doing outside of the classroom?

Being a so-called Renaissance man (or woman) was impressive in the 16th century. The local genius might be the very best person in their village at painting, writing, conducting scientific experiments, jousting, and playing the lute. However, in a technologically modern and globalized world, you don’t need to rely on the neighborhood genius when you have a hankering for some lovely lute music. Instead, you can listen to the very best lutenists in the world on Spotify whenever you like.

What does this have to do with Harvard admissions? Simple: Harvard is looking for young people who are among the best, or, have the potential to be among the very best at something in the world. They are less interested in a jack of all trades, master of none type of individual. Just look at the list of notable Crimson alumni and you’ll get a sense of what the university is looking for: the next generation of politicians, award-winning writers, scientists, intellectuals, actors and actresses, musicians, and tech geniuses whose inventions will literally change the world in which we live.

To help you visualize what this might look like, we’ve put together several profiles of real accepted Harvard students, which you can find later in this post.

For advice about how to stand out on the extracurricular front, check out our previous blog entitled How Many Extracurricular Activities Do I Need for College?

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How does the Harvard admissions process work?

Like a jeweler sifting through piles of perfect diamonds trying to find the “most perfect” of the bunch, Harvard admissions officers need a way to categorize differing levels of excellence. Accordingly, they assign a rating of 1-4 (or 1-6, according to some), with 1 being the top rating in four areas: 1) academic, 2) extracurricular, 3) athletics, and 4) personal. Pluses and minuses can be added to the numeric rating for further distinction. The vast majority of successful applicants score an average of 2 or higher in all categories.

In order to project your chances at admission, try to accurately assess yourself in these four areas and remember our previous comments about Renaissance men/women. You aren’t going to earn a 1 or a 2 in athletics for playing a year of JV Volleyball in high school. Someone high in that category is absolutely exceptional—they’re likely being actively recruited by the coach of one of Harvard’s 42 Division I sports teams, have the potential to play at the national or Olympic level, etc.

Likewise for extracurriculars—Harvard is not going to be impressed that you filled the ten spaces on the Common App Activity List with short-term volunteer opportunities. Instead, they are looking for genuine excellence in one or more activities—top leadership roles (think president, co-founder, editor), national and/or international recognition, professional experience, etc. For example, perhaps you won a prestigious international math competition or are one of the top cellists in the United States. Perhaps you published legitimate, original scientific research (not pay-to-play) or started a charitable organization that made a monumental impact.

Academic standards are also quite steep. To earn a 1, you’ll need near-perfect or perfect grades and test scores, a high level of academic promise, and national/international academic recognition.

Who actually gets into Harvard?

Outside of the aforementioned stellar academic and extracurricular profiles, let’s look at the demographics of the admitted Class of 2027.

First, a little history: in the 1960s, Harvard began making a genuine shift toward greater socioeconomic, geographic, and racial campus diversity. New measures and programs included the founding of the African American Studies Department and the Harvard Student Agencies. As a result, racial and geographic diversity have improved significantly over the past fifty years.

Geographically, the Class of 2027 was comprised of students from:

  • International: 15.8%
  • Mid-Atlantic States: 22%
  • Southern States: 17.4%
  • Western/Mountain: 17%
  • Midwestern States: 10.1%
  • New England States: 15.9%

Competition is stiffest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Northeast & the West Coast). However, if you hail from a less-populated state like Wyoming or North Dakota, your location is more likely to boost your admissions chances. This is due to something called geographic diversity.

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The intended majors of those admitted to the Class of 2027 were:

  • Humanities: 16%
  • Social Sciences: 28.3%
  • Biology: 17.4%
  • Physical Sciences: 6.8%
  • Engineering: 9.5%
  • Computer Science: 8.8%
  • Math: 6.5%
  • Undecided: 6.7%

Since students do not officially declare their concentrations until sophomore year, your choice of major in and of itself is unlikely to boost or lower your admissions chances. Instead, it’s all about how you’ve engaged with your area of interest relative to your peers.

Finally, recruited athletes made up about 10% of the most recent incoming class.

What is the Harvard admit rate by race?

Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown of the admitted Class of 2027 was as follows:

  • Asian: 29.9%
  • Hispanic: 11.3%
  • African American: 15.3%
  • Native American: 2%

Amazingly, one study revealed that 43% of white students admitted into Harvard in the last six years were either legacies (their parents were alumni), recruited athletes, children of faculty members, or teens whose relatives had donated large amounts of money to the university. A case of alleged discrimination against students by Harvard made its way all the way to the United States Supreme Court, but the university prevailed.

In addition, Harvard admitted their highest proportion of Asian American students to the Class of 2027.

Does Harvard take financial need into account during the admissions process?

Due in part to Harvard’s astronomical $50 billion endowment, they have a need-blind admissions process, meaning that they do not take your family’s ability to pay into account when making admissions decisions. In 2023, 19% of admits were Pell Grant-eligible.

However, in a recent study, Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist, found that the vast majority of Harvard students—68%— hail from families whose incomes fall in the top 20% (average of $168,000+ per year). While this information alone shouldn’t stop you from applying to Harvard, it should give you a sense of the socioeconomic makeup of the school.

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What is Harvard’s yield rate, and why does it matter?

A college’s yield is the percentage of students who choose to attend out of those who have been admitted. Colleges with low yield rates typically have higher acceptance rates, as they need to accept more students in order to enroll enough students to fill their class.

Harvard’s yield is absurdly high: 83%. As such, it helps to explain why the acceptance rate is so very low. In other words, Harvard can afford to admit fewer applicants because they know that the vast majority of students they admit will ultimately choose to attend.

For comparison, elite schools such as Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, Vanderbilt, Rice, Emory, and Georgetown all have yield rates closer to (or under) 50%.

Should I apply to Harvard?

Ah, the million-dollar question. If you are academically qualified (your credentials are above the 25th percentile of accepted students), there is no harm in filling out a Harvard application. However, your chances will depend on how academically qualified you are. For example, if your academic profile is in the 75th percentile of accepted students (or above), you have the most realistic chance of earning admission. However, as with all uber-elite colleges in 2024-25, even the best and brightest teens need to have a rock-solid backup plan.

In addition, example student profiles can be helpful tools in assessing how your credentials might stack up. Below, you’ll find the academic and extracurricular profiles of four real accepted students (names changed):

GPA 104.2/100
Class Rank 1
Standardized Test Scores SAT: 1600. 5s on all AP exams.
AP/Advanced Coursework AP US Government, Comparative Government, Chinese, Microeconomics, World History, European History, BC Calculus, Music Theory, Chemistry, Physics. Took dual-enrollment math courses.
Extracurricular Highlights Placed at state and national math, Quiz Bowl, and Chemistry Olympiad competitions; research experience in bioinformatics; held leadership roles on Quiz Bowl, Chemistry Olympiad, and Math Team.
Academic Interests Computer science, economics, finance


GPA 4.0/4.0
Class Rank 1
Standardized Test Scores ACT: 36
AP/Advanced Coursework AP Calculus BC, Computer Science A, Japanese, Statistics, Physics C, Language and Composition, Literature, Chemistry. Took five college-level courses.
Extracurricular Highlights Completed academic research and submitted 2 papers to journals as first author; USACO Gold; national app challenge finalist; held top leadership roles in Machine Learning Club, Web Development Club, and Computer Science Club, designed popular app, fluent in 4 programming languages.
Academic Interests Computer science, artificial intelligence

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GPA 4.0/4.0
Class Rank N/A
Standardized Test Scores ACT: 35.
AP/Advanced Coursework AP Physics, AP World History, AP Calc AB, AP Japanese, AP Language and Composition, AP Physics C: Mechanics, AP US History, AP Music Theory, AP Government, AP Literature, AP Chemistry
Extracurricular Highlights Held leadership roles as student body spirit leader and band section leader; founded spirit club; co-founded nonprofit; nationally competitive jazz musician; attended selective physics summer program.
Academic Interests Engineering, architecture, physics


GPA 103.28/100
Class Rank 1
Standardized Test Scores SAT: 1570
AP/Advanced Coursework AP Computer Science A, AP Biology, AP World History, AP Physics 1, AP US History, AP Statistics, AP Calculus BC, AP Chemistry, AP English Language, AP Spanish Language, AP Physics 2, AP Physics C, AP English Literature, AP US Government, AP Microeconomics, AP Macroeconomics, Beyond AP: Multivariable Calculus, Organic Chemistry, Modern Physics
Extracurricular Highlights Leadership role in Mu Alpha Theta; multiple regional and national math competition awards, including Math Prize for Girls winner, Math Olympiad bronze medalist, & AMC perfect scorer; managed research group and completed individual research; research paper was a finalist in competitive national competition; accepted to and attended highly competitive summer math and research program; nationally competitive dancer.
Academic Interests Finance, economics

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Should I apply to Harvard if I’m not academically qualified?

By “not academically qualified,” we mean that your academic profile is below the 25th percentile of accepted applicants. Very, very few of these applicants are ultimately admitted to the university. In today’s test-optional landscape, and with the ease of the Common Application, many students want to at least attempt to throw their hat in the ring, no matter how feeble of a toss. However, applying to Harvard is an intensive process that can detract focus from other outstanding schools where you may have a more realistic chance of acceptance.

If you have an SAT below 1490, an ACT below 34, and/or a GPA less than 4.0, your academic profile will be in the bottom quartile of accepted students, meaning your chance of admission falls dramatically. And if you have less than a 30 on the ACT, less than a 1360 on the SAT, and/or less than a 3.75 GPA, your chances of admission are practically zero (no matter how many extracurriculars you’ve been involved in or how wonderful your essay is). Remember, the primary objective of any college admissions office is to make sure that those who are accepted are academically qualified for the rigor of the institution and capable of graduating within 4-6 years.

Bottom line: if your academic profile places you in the bottom 25th percentile of accepted students, proceed with massive amounts of caution. If your academic profile is below the 25th percentile, we strongly urge you to set your sights elsewhere.

Do I have better odds of Harvard acceptance if I apply as a transfer student?

Quite frankly, no. The Harvard acceptance rate for transfers is even lower than it is for freshmen. In the 2022-23 cycle, only 15 students were accepted out of 1,735 applicants. Here is a sampling of past transfer acceptance rates:

Year Acceptance Rate
2022-23 .86%
2021-22 .81%
2020-21 1.2%
2019-20 1.1%
2018-19 1.0%

If you are going to apply as a transfer student to Harvard—and be successful—you must have an incredibly compelling reason to attend. Read more about Harvard transfer acceptance rates and requirements here.

Tips for Applying to Harvard

If you plan on joining the 56,000+ Harvard hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • Harvard does schedule alumni interviews for most qualified applicants; over 15,000 alumni around the globe serve as interviewers. For advice on what types of questions you should be prepared to answer/ask visit our blog—College Interview Tips.
  • Harvard does not consider “demonstrated interest” so you will not be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit, contacted an admissions officer, etc. However, you should go out of your way to communicate fit within your Harvard supplemental essays.
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay and short answers required by Harvard. In the 2023-24 cycle, five essays were required:
    • 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)
    • Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)
    • Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)
    • How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)
    • Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

For detailed advice on how to write the Harvard essay/short answers, visit our blog: Harvard University Supplemental Essay Prompt and Tips.

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How should I approach my Harvard essays?

Writing school-specific essays becomes much more straightforward when you understand what each school finds important. Luckily, there’s a simple way to decipher what any given school prizes: look at how its essay prompts are worded.

For example, Harvard is most interested in the experiences you’ve had—academically, personally, and outside of school—that have majorly contributed to who you are as a person and what you think is important. In addition, they want to know how these experiences will enable you to be an active, engaged member of Harvard’s campus.

Harvard’s essay questions are clear reflections of their mission. As mentioned earlier, Harvard is on the hunt for the next set of visionaries and leaders, for the students who are ready to take advantage of what Harvard has to offer and can contribute something unique and important to the campus community. Before answering, you’ll want to carefully consider how you can speak to that aim.

Many students applying to Harvard may also find the following blogs to be of interest: