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How to Write the Harvard University Essays 2023-2024

Harvard University, perhaps the most prestigious and well-known institution in the world, is the nation’s oldest higher learning establishment with a founding date of 1636. Boasting an impressive alumni network from Sheryl Sandberg to Al Gore, it’s no surprise that Harvard recruits some of the top talents in the world.

It’s no wonder that students are often intimidated by Harvard’s extremely open-ended supplemental essays. However, CollegeVine is here to help and offer our guide on how to tackle Harvard’s supplemental essays. 

Read this Harvard essay example to inspire your own writing.

How to Write the Harvard University Supplemental Essays

Prompt 1: 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)

Prompt 2: Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)

Prompt 3: Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)

Prompt 4: How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)

Prompt 5: Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

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)

Brainstorming Your Topic

This prompt is a great example of the classic diversity supplemental essay . That means that, as you prepare to write your response, the first thing you need to do is focus in on some aspect of your identity, upbringing, or personality that makes you different from other people.

As you start brainstorming, do remember that the way colleges factor race into their admissions processes will be different this year, after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in June. Colleges can still consider race on an individual level, however, so if you would like to write your response about how your racial identity has impacted you, you are welcome to do so.

If race doesn’t seem like the right topic for you, however, keep in mind that there are many other things that can make us different, not just race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and the other aspects of our identities that people normally think of when they hear the word “diversity.” That’s not to say that you can’t write about those things, of course. But don’t worry if you don’t feel like those things have played a significant role in shaping your worldview. Here are some examples of other topics that could support a strong essay:

  • Moving to several different cities because of your parents’ jobs
  • An usual hobby, like playing the accordion or making your own jewelry
  • Knowing a lot about a niche topic, like Scottish castles

The only questions you really need to ask yourself when picking a topic are “Does this thing set me apart from other people?” and “Will knowing this thing about me give someone a better sense of who I am overall?” As long as you can answer “yes” to both of those questions, you’ve found your topic!

Tips for Writing Your Essay

Once you’ve selected a topic, the question becomes how you’re going to write about that topic in a way that helps Harvard admissions officers better understand how you’re going to contribute to their campus community. To do that, you want to connect your topic to some broader feature of your personality, or to a meaningful lesson you learned, that speaks to your potential as a Harvard student.

For example, perhaps your interest in Scottish castles has given you an appreciation for the strength of the human spirit, as the Scots were able to persevere and build these structures even in incredibly remote, cold parts of the country. Alternatively, maybe being half Puerto Rican, but not speaking Spanish, has taught you about the power of family, as you have strong relationships even with relatives you can’t communicate with verbally. 

Remember that, like with any college essay, you want to rely on specific anecdotes and experiences to illustrate the points you’re making. To understand why, compare the following two excerpts from hypothetical essays.

Example 1: “Even though I can’t speak Spanish, and some of my relatives can’t speak English, whenever I visit my family in Puerto Rico I know it’s a place where I belong. The island is beautiful, and I especially love going to the annual party at my uncle’s house.”

Example 2: “The smell of the ‘lechón,’ or suckling pig greets me as soon as I enter my uncle’s home, even before everyone rushes in from the porch to welcome me in rapid-fire Spanish. At best, I understand one in every ten words, but my aunt’s hot pink glasses, the Caribbean Sea visible through the living room window, and of course, the smell of roasting pork, tell me, wordlessly yet undeniably, that I’m home.”

Think about how much better we understand this student after Example 2. If a few words were swapped out, Example 1 could’ve been written by anyone, whereas Example 2 paints us a clear picture of how this student’s Puerto Rican heritage has tangibly impacted their life.

Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest challenge with this particular “Diversity” essay is the word count. Because you only have 200 words to work with, you don’t have space to include more than one broader takeaway you’ve learned from this aspect of your identity. 

Of course, people are complicated, and you’ve likely learned many things from being Puerto Rican, or from being interested in Scottish castles. But for the sake of cohesion, focus on just one lesson. Otherwise your essay may end up feeling like a bullet-point list of Hallmark card messages, rather than a thoughtful, personal, reflective piece of writing.

The other thing you want to avoid is writing an essay that’s just about your topic. Particularly since you’re going to be writing about an aspect of your identity that’s important to you, you’ll likely have a lot to say just about that. If you aren’t careful, you may burn through all 200 words without getting to the broader significance of what this piece of your personality says about who you are as a whole. 

That component, however, is really the key to a strong response. Harvard receives over 40,000 applications a year, which means that, whether you write about being Puerto Rican or Scottish castles, it’s likely someone else is writing about something similar. 

That doesn’t mean you need to agonize over picking something absolutely nobody else is writing about, as that’s practically impossible. All it means is that you need to be clear about how this aspect of your identity has shaped you as a whole, as that is how your essay will stand out from others with similar topics.

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)

Harvard admissions officers are being considerate here, as they’re telling you explicitly what they would like you to write about. Of course, there are still nuances to the prompt, but in terms of brainstorming, just ask yourself: What is an intellectual experience that’s been important to me?

Keep in mind that “intellectual” doesn’t necessarily mean “academic.” You absolutely can write a great response about a paper, project, or some other experience you had through school. But you could also write about attending a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic, or about a book you read for fun that made a big impact on you. So long as the experience was intellectually stimulating, you can write a strong essay about it.

Once you’ve picked an experience, the key is to describe it in a way that shows Harvard admissions officers how this experience has prepared you to contribute to their classrooms, and campus community as a whole. In other words, don’t just tell them what you did, but also what you learned and why that matters for understanding what kind of college student you’ll be.

For example, say you choose to write about a debate project you did in your American history class, where you had to prepare for both sides and only learned which one you would actually be defending on the day of the debate. You could describe how, although you came into the project with pre-existing opinions about the topic, the preparation process taught you that, if you’re thoughtful and open-minded, you can usually find merit and logic even in the polar opposite position from your own.

Alternatively, you could write about a book you read that had been translated from Danish, and how reading it got you interested in learning more about how to translate a text as faithfully as possible. After watching many interviews with translators and reading a book about translation, you have learned that sometimes, the most literal translation doesn’t capture the spirit from the original language, which to you is proof that, in any piece of writing, the human element is at least as important as the words on the page.

Notice that both of these examples include broader reflections that zoom out from the particular experiences, to show what you took away from them: increased open-mindedness to different perspectives, for the first, and a more nuanced understanding of what makes art, art, in the case of the second. 

A strong response must include this kind of big-picture takeaway, as it shows readers two things. First, that you can reflect thoughtfully on your experiences and learn from them. And second, it shows them a skill or perspective you’d be bringing with you to Harvard, which gives them a better sense of how you’d fit into their campus community.

The only real thing you need to watch out for is accidentally selecting an experience that, for whatever reason, doesn’t allow you to incorporate the kind of bigger-picture takeaway described above. Maybe the experience just happened, so you’re still in the process of learning from it. Or maybe the lessons you learned are too nuanced to describe in 200 words. 

Whatever this reason, if you find yourself unable to articulate the broader significance of this experience, head back to the drawing board, to select one that works better for this prompt. What you don’t want to do is try to force in a takeaway that doesn’t really fit, as that will make your essay feel generic or disjointed, since the “moral of the story” won’t clearly connect to the story itself.

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)

This is a textbook example of the “Extracurricular” essay . As such, what you need to do is well-defined, although it’s easier said than done: select an extracurricular activity that has, as Harvard says, “shaped who you are,” and make sure you’re able to articulate how it’s been formative for you.

As you brainstorm which extracurricular you want to write about, note that the language of the prompt is pretty open-ended. You write about “any” activity, not just one you have a lot of accolades in, and you don’t even have to write about an activity—you can also write about a travel experience, or family responsibility. 

If the thing that immediately jumps to mind is a club, sport, volunteer experience, or other “traditional” extracurricular, that’s great! Run with that. But if you’re thinking and nothing in that vein seems quite right, or, alternatively, you’re feeling bold and want to take a creative approach, don’t be afraid to get outside the box. Here are some examples of other topics you could write a strong essay about:

  • A more hobby-like extracurricular, like crocheting potholders and selling them on Etsy
  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway on your own
  • Caring for your family’s two large, colorful macaws

These more creative topics can do a lot to showcase a different side of you, as college applications have, by their nature, a pretty restricted scope, and telling admissions officers about something that would never appear on your resume or transcript can teach them a lot about who you are. That being said, the most important thing is that the topic you pick has genuinely been formative for you. Whether it’s a conventional topic or not, as long as that personal connection is there, you’ll be able to write a strong essay about it.

The key to writing a strong response is focusing less on the activity itself, and more on what you’ve learned from your involvement in it. If you’re writing about a more conventional topic, remember that admissions officers already have your activities list. You don’t need to say “For the last five years, I’ve been involved in x,” because they already know that, and when you only have 200 words, wasting even 10 of them means you’ve wasted 5% of your space.

If you’re writing about something that doesn’t already show up elsewhere in your application, you want to provide enough details for your reader to understand what you did, but not more than that. For example, if you’re writing about your road trip, you don’t need to list every city you  stopped in. Instead, just mention one or two that were particularly memorable.

Rather than focusing on the facts and figures of what you did, focus on what you learned from your experience. Admissions officers want to know why your involvement in this thing matters to who you’ll be in college. So, think about one or two bigger picture things you learned from it, and center your response around those things.

For example, maybe your Etsy shop taught you how easy it is to bring some positivity into someone else’s life, as crocheting is something you would do anyways, and the shop just allows you to share your creations with other people. Showcasing this uplifting, altruistic side of yourself will help admissions officers better envision what kind of Harvard student you’d be.

As always, you want to use specific examples to support your points, at least as much as you can in 200 words. Because you’re dealing with a low word count, you probably won’t have space to flex your creative writing muscles with vivid, immersive descriptions. 

You can still incorporate anecdotes in a more economical way, however. For example, you could say “Every morning, our scarlet macaw ruffles her feathers and greets me with a prehistoric chirp.” You’re not going into detail about what her feathers look like, or where this scene is happening, but it’s still much more engaging than something like “My bird always says hello to me in her own way.”

The most common pitfall with an “Extracurricular” essay is describing your topic the way you would on your resume. Don’t worry about showing off some “marketable skill” you think admissions officers want to see, and instead highlight whatever it is you actually took away from this experience, whether it’s a skill, a realization, or a personality trait. The best college essays are genuine, as admissions officers feel that honesty, and know they’re truly getting to know the applicant as they are, rather than some polished-up version.

Additionally, keep in mind that, like with anything in your application, you want admissions officers to learn something new about you when reading this essay. So, if you’ve already written your common app essay about volunteering at your local animal shelter, you shouldn’t also write this essay about that experience. Your space in your application is already extremely limited, so don’t voluntarily limit yourself even further by repeating yourself when you’re given an opportunity to say something new.

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)

Although the packaging is a little different, this prompt has similarities to the classic “Why This College?” prompt . That means there are two main things you want to do while brainstorming. 

First, identify one or two goals you have for the future—with just 200 words, you won’t have space to elaborate on any more than that. Ideally, these should be relatively concrete. You don’t have to have your whole life mapped out, but you do need to be a lot more specific than “Make a difference in the world.” A more zoomed-in version of that goal would be something like “Contribute to conservation efforts to help save endangered species,” which would work.

Second, hop onto Harvard’s website and do some research on opportunities the school offers that would help you reach your goals. Again, make sure these are specific enough. Rather than a particular major, which is likely offered at plenty of other schools around the country, identify specific courses within that major you would like to take, or a professor in the department you would like to do research with. For example, the student interested in conservation might mention the course “Conservation Biology” at Harvard.

You could also write about a club, or a study abroad program, or really anything that’s unique to Harvard, so long as you’re able to draw a clear connection between the opportunity and your goal. Just make sure that, like with your goals, you don’t get overeager. Since your space is quite limited, you should choose two, or maximum three, opportunities to focus on. Any more than that and your essay will start to feel rushed and bullet point-y.

If you do your brainstorming well, the actual writing process should be pretty straightforward: explain your goals, and how the Harvard-specific opportunities you’ve selected will help you reach them. 

One thing you do want to keep in mind is that your goals should feel personal to you, and the best way to accomplish that is by providing some background context on why you have them. This doesn’t have to be extensive, as, again, your space is limited. But compare the following two examples, written about the hypothetical goal of helping conservation efforts from above, to get an idea of what we’re talking about:

Example 1: “As long as I can remember, I’ve loved all kinds of animals, and have been heartbroken by the fact that human destruction of natural resources could lead to certain species’ extinction.”

Example 2: “As a kid, I would sit in front of the aquarium’s walrus exhibit, admiring the animal’s girth and tusks, and dream about seeing one in the wild. Until my parents regretfully explained to me that, because of climate change, that was unlikely to ever happen.”

The second example is obviously longer, but not egregiously so: 45 words versus 31. And the image we get of this student sitting and fawning over a walrus is worth that extra space, as we feel a stronger personal connection to them, which in turn makes us more vicariously invested in their own goal of environmental advocacy.

As we’ve already described in the brainstorming section, the key to this essay is specificity. Admissions officers want you to paint them a picture of how Harvard fits into your broader life goals. As we noted earlier, that doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out, but if you’re too vague about your goals, or how you see Harvard helping you reach them, admissions officers won’t see you as someone who’s prepared to contribute to their campus community.

Along similar lines, avoid flattery. Gushy lines like “At Harvard, every day I’ll feel inspired by walking the same halls that countless Nobel laureates, politicians, and CEOs once traversed” won’t get you anywhere, because Harvard admissions officers already know their school is one of the most prestigious and famous universities in the world. What they don’t know is what you are going to bring to Harvard that nobody else has. So, that’s what you want to focus on, not vague, surface-level attributes of Harvard related to its standing in the world of higher education.

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

Like Prompt 2, this prompt tells you exactly what you need to brainstorm: three things a roommate would like to know about you. However, also like Prompt 2, while this prompt is direct, it’s also incredibly open-ended. What really are the top three things you’d like a complete stranger to know about you before you live together for nine months?

Questions this broad can be hard to answer, as you might not know where to start. Sometimes, you can help yourself out by asking yourself adjacent, but slightly more specific questions, like the following:

  • Do you have any interests that influence your regular routine? For example, do you always watch the Seahawks on Sunday, or are you going to be playing Taylor Swift’s discography on repeat while you study?
  • Look around your room—what items are most important to you? Do you keep your movie ticket stubs? Are you planning on taking your photos of your family cat with you to college?
  • Are there any activities you love and already know you’d want to do with your roommate, like weekly face masks or making Christmas cookies?

Hopefully, these narrower questions, and the example responses we’ve included, help get your gears turning. Keep in mind that this prompt is a great opportunity to showcase sides of your personality that don’t come across in your grades, activities list, or even your personal statement. Don’t worry about seeming impressive—admissions officers don’t expect you to read Shakespeare every night for two hours. What they want is an honest, informative picture of what you’re like “behind the scenes,” because college is much more than just academics.

Once you’ve selected three things to write about, the key to the actual essay is presenting them in a logical, cohesive, efficient way. That’s easier said than done, particularly if the three things you’ve picked are quite different from each other. 

To ensure your essay feels like one, complete unit, rather than three smaller ones stuck together, strong transitions will be crucial. Note that “strong” doesn’t mean “lengthy.” Just a few words can go a long way towards helping your essay flow naturally. To see what we mean here, take the following two examples:

Example 1: “Just so you know, every Sunday I will be watching the Seahawks, draped in my dad’s Steve Largent jersey. They can be a frustrating team, but I’ll do my best to keep it down in case you’re studying. I also like to do facemasks, though. You’re always welcome to any of the ones I have in my (pretty extensive) collection.”

Example 2: “Just so you know, every Sunday I will be watching the Seahawks, draped in my dad’s Steve Largent jersey. But if football’s not your thing, don’t worry—once the game’s over, I’ll need to unwind anyways, because win or lose the Hawks always find a way to make things stressful. So always feel free to join me in picking out a face mask from my (pretty extensive) collection, and we can gear up for the week together.”

The content in both examples is the same, but in the first one, the transition from football to facemasks is very abrupt. On the other hand, in the second example the simple line “But if football’s not your thing, don’t worry” keeps things flowing smoothly. 

There’s no one right way to write a good transition, but as you’re polishing your essay a good way to see if you’re on the right track is by asking someone who hasn’t seen your essay before to read it over and tell you if there are any points that made them pause. If the answer is yes, your transitions probably still need more work.

Finally, you probably noticed that the above examples are both written in a “Dear roomie” style, as if you’re actually speaking directly to your roommate. You don’t have to take this exact approach, but your tone should ideally be light and fun. Living alone for the first time, with other people your age, is one of the best parts of college! Plus, college applications are, by their nature, pretty dry affairs for the most part. Lightening things up in this essay will give your reader a breath of fresh air, which will help them feel more engaged in your application as a whole.

Harvard is doing you a favor here by keeping the scope of the essay narrow—they ask for three things, not more. As we’ve noted many times with the other supplements, 200 words will be gone in a flash, so don’t try to cram in extra things. It’s not necessary to do that, because admissions officers have only asked for three, and trying to stuff more in will turn your essay into a list of bullet points, rather than an informative piece of writing about your personality.

Finally, as we’ve hinted at a few times above, the other thing you want to avoid is using this essay as another opportunity to impress admissions officers with your intellect and accomplishments. Remember, they have your grades, and your activities list, and all your other essays. Plus, they can ask you whatever questions they want—if they wanted to know about the most difficult book you’ve ever read, they would. So, loosen up, let your hair down, and show them you know how to have fun too!

Where to Get Your Harvard Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your Harvard essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools.  Find the right advisor for you  to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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Aiming for the world-renowned Harvard University? As part of the application to this prestigious Ivy League school , you'll have the option to submit a supplemental essay. But what should you write about for your Harvard essay? What are the different Harvard essay prompts to choose from, and how should you answer one so you can give yourself your best shot at getting in?

In this guide, we give you advice for each Harvard essay prompt as well as tips on whether you should choose a particular prompt. But before we look at the prompts, let's go over what Harvard actually requires in terms of essays.

Feature Image: Gregor Smith /Flickr

What Essays Do You Need to Submit to Harvard?

Those applying for admission to Harvard must submit an application through either the Common Application , the Coalition Application , or the Universal College Application (UCA) . For your Harvard application, you'll need to write a personal essay in response to one of the prompts provided by the Common App, Coalition App, or UCA (depending on the system you're applying through).

This essay is required for all applicants and should typically be about 500-550 words long (and must be less than 650 words). To learn more about this essay, check out the current prompts for the Common App , Coalition App , and UCA on their official websites.

In addition to this required essay, you have the option of submitting another essay as part of the Harvard supplement. The Harvard supplement essay, as it's known, is completely optional—you may, but do not need to, write this essay and submit it with your application.

Also, this essay also has no word limit, though if you do write it, it's best to stick to a typical college essay length (i.e., somewhere around 500 words).

Harvard advises applicants to submit this supplemental essay "if [they] feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about [themselves] or [their] accomplishments."

Options for essay topics are very open ended, and you have a total of 10 topics from which you can choose (11 if you include the fact that you may also "write on a topic of your choice").

Here are the 2022-2023 Harvard supplement essay prompts :

You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:

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.

As you can see, some of these topics are more specific and focused, while others are more broad and open ended. When it comes down to it, though, should you write the Harvard supplement essay, or should you skip it altogether?

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Should You Do the Harvard Supplement Essay?

You're already required to submit a personal essay for your Harvard application—so do you really need to submit an extra essay? In reality, opinions are mixed on whether you should write the Harvard supplement essay or not.

While some people are under the impression that this essay is basically mandatory and that your chances of getting into Harvard without it are slim. Others believe that submitting it (especially if you don't have anything particularly impressive or interesting to write about) is simply a waste of time.

So which is it? In general, if you have the opportunity to submit something that you think will only strengthen your college application, definitely do it. By doing this essay, you'll add more flavor to your application and showcase a different side of your personality.

Indeed, in his review of his successful Harvard application , PrepScholar co-founder and Harvard alum Allen Cheng strongly recommends writing this extra essay. He also notes that it's likely that most Harvard applicants do , in fact, submit the supplemental essay (as he himself did).

But it's worth stating again: this essay is not required for admission to Harvard. Whether you submit a Harvard supplement essay is entirely up to you—though I highly recommend doing it!

If you're really struggling to decide whether to do the extra Harvard essay or not, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you consider yourself a strong writer? Are there people you trust who could edit and proofread your essay for you?
  • Are you worried about other parts of your Harvard application that could negatively affect your chance of admission , such as below-average SAT/ACT scores, a low GPA, etc.?
  • Do you feel that you didn't get to write about something you really wanted to for the required essay?
  • Is there something you believe the admissions committee should know about you that you haven't gotten a chance to write about yet?
  • Do you have enough time to dedicate to writing and polishing another essay?
  • Do you think your overall Harvard application is too one-sided or too focused on one aspect of your personality and/or interests? Could your application benefit from more diversity and balance?

Hopefully, by answering these questions, you'll start to have a clearer idea as to whether you will write the Harvard supplement essay or not.

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How to Write the Harvard Essay: Every Prompt Analyzed

In this section, we go through the 10 possible Harvard supplement essay prompts and offer you tips on how to write an effective, powerful essay, regardless of which prompt you choose.

Prompt 1: Unusual Circumstances

This essay prompt is all about highlighting an unusual situation or event in your life and what kind of impact it ultimately had on you. Harvard asks for this in case applicants want to discuss anything significant that has happened to them and has had a major influence on their academic accomplishments, future goals, perspectives, etc.

This is also an opportunity for applicants to discuss any major struggles they have had (that most students their age haven't had) and the way these experiences have personally affected their lives. 

Should You Choose This Prompt?

If you grew up with an uncommon lifestyle or had an uncommon experience that you believe had a strong effect on you, this is a good prompt to choose for your essay. For example, perhaps you grew up speaking four languages fluently, or you were the youngest of fourteen children.

This is also an ideal prompt to choose if you want to provide more background information for a weak point in your application. For instance, say you contracted a serious illness during your sophomore year, and your many absences caused your GPA to drop. You could then write about how you approached this problem head-on, and how working with a tutor every day after school to raise your GPA ultimately revealed to you an inner strength you never knew you had.

Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Choose an experience or situation that is actually uncommon. This doesn't mean that no one else in the world could have it, but try to focus on something that's unique and has had a big impact on your personal growth. As an example, although many teenagers were raised by a single parent, only you grew up with your parent, so concentrate on how this person as well as the overall situation helped to shape your personality and goals.
  • If you're writing about something that was challenging for you, don't just conclude that the experience was difficult. What specifically have you learned or taken away from it? Why is it important for the Harvard admissions committee to know this? For instance, say you had to move six times in just two years. You could write that although it was difficult adjusting to a new school each time you moved, you eventually started to enjoy meeting people and getting to explore new places. As a result of these experiences, you now have a lot more confidence when it comes to adapting to unfamiliar situations.

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Prompt 2: Travel, Living, or Work Experiences

This prompt is asking you to discuss experiences you've had that involved traveling, living, and/or working in a specific community (either your own or another) and what kind of effect that experience has had on you.

Here are examples of experiences you could talk about for this essay:

  • Living or traveling abroad
  • Moving to a new place or living in multiple places
  • Working a part-time job
  • Working a temporary job or internship somewhere outside your own community

If you've had an experience that fits or mostly fits one of the examples above and it's had a big impact on how you see and define yourself as a person, this is a solid prompt for you.

On the other hand, do not choose this prompt if you've never had a significant experience while traveling or working/living somewhere.

  • Choose a truly significant experience to talk about. Although your experience doesn't need to be life-changing, it should have had a noteworthy impact on you and who you've become. If, for example, you traveled to Mexico with your family but didn't really enjoy or learn much from the trip, it's better to avoid writing about this experience (and might be better to choose a different prompt altogether!).
  • Make sure to talk about how this travel/living/work experience has affected you. For example, say you spent a couple of summers in high school visiting relatives in South Africa. You could write about how these trips helped you develop a stronger sense of independence and self-sufficiency—traits which have made you more assertive, especially when it comes to leading group projects and giving speeches.
  • Don't be afraid to get creative with this essay. For instance, if you lived in a country where you at first didn't understand the local language, you could open your Harvard essay with an anecdote, such as a conversation you overheard or a funny miscommunication.

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Prompt 3: Your Future College Roommate

Unlike some of the other more traditional Harvard essay prompts on this list, this prompt is a little more casual and really lends itself to a creative approach.

For this prompt, you're writing an essay that's more of a letter to your future college roommate (remember, however, that it's actually being read by the Harvard admissions committee!). You'll introduce who you are by going over the key traits and characteristics that make you you —in other words, personality traits, eccentricities, flaws, or strengths that you believe are critical for someone (i.e., Harvard) to know about you.

This Harvard essay prompt is all about creativity and describing yourself—not a specific event or circumstance—so it's well suited for those who are skilled at clearly and creatively expressing themselves through writing.

  • Focus on your unique attributes. Since you're describing yourself in this essay, you'll need to concentrate on introducing the most unique and interesting aspects about yourself (that you also think a roommate would want or need to know). What's your daily routine? Do you have any funny or strange habits or quirks? How did you develop these characteristics?
  • Be true to your voice and don't pretend to be someone you're not. Don't say that you're always telling jokes if you're normally a very serious person. Describe yourself honestly, but don't feel as though you must tell every little detail about yourself, either.
  • Strike a balance: don't focus only on the positives or negatives. You want to come across as a strong applicant, but you also want to be realistic and authentic (you're human, after all!). Therefore, try to find balance by writing about not only your strengths and positive attributes but also your quirks and flaws. For instance, you could mention how you always used to run late when meeting up with friends, but how you've recently started working on getting better at this by setting an alarm on your iPhone.

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Prompt 4: An Intellectual Experience

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.

With this prompt, Harvard wants you to focus on an intellectual or learning experience that's had a big impact on you in terms of your personal growth, your academic/intellectual interests and passions, the field of study you want to pursue, etc.

This intellectual experience could be anything that's intellectually stimulating, such as an essay or book you read, a poem you analyzed, or a research project you conducted.

Note that this experience does not need to be limited to something you did for school —if you've done anything in your spare time or for an extracurricular activity that you think fits this prompt, feel free to write about that.

Should You Choose This Topic?

This is a good prompt to choose if a certain intellectual experience motivated you or triggered an interest in something you really want to study at Harvard.

For example, you could write about how you found an old copy of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species at a garage sale, and how reading this prompted you to develop an interest in biology, which you now intend to major in and eventually make a career out of.

This is also an ideal prompt to pick if you want to highlight a particular interest or passion you have that differs from the academic field you want to study in college.

For instance, perhaps you're applying for admission as a computer science major, but you're also a huge fan of poetry and often take part in local poetry readings. Writing about a poem you recently read and analyzed could illuminate to the admissions committees a different, less prominent side of your personality and intellectual interests, ultimately showing that you're open minded and invested in gaining both new skills and experiences.

  • Choose an experience that had a significant impact on you. Don't talk about how reading Romeo and Juliet in eighth grade made you realize how much you enjoyed writing plays if you were already writing plays way before then! If you can't think of any memorable intellectual experience to write about, then it's best to opt for a different prompt.
  • Be specific about the intellectual experience you had and clearly relate it back to your strengths and interests. In other words, what kind of impact did this experience have on you? Your academic goals? Your future plans? For example, instead of writing about how a scientific paper on climate change made you think more deeply about the environment, you could talk about how this paper prompted you to form a recycling program at your school, take a class on marine biology, and so forth.

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Prompt 5: Your Future Goals

This Harvard essay prompt is pretty self-explanatory: it wants you to discuss how you intend to use your education at Harvard after you graduate —so in a future job or career, in grad school, in a particular research field, etc.

Basically, how will your college education help you achieve your future goals (whatever those may be)?

If you have a pretty clear vision for your future goals during and after college, this is a perfect prompt to choose for your Harvard essay.

If, on the other hand, you're still undecided about the field(s) you want to study or how you intend to use your major, you might want to choose a different prompt that's less focused on your future and more concentrated on how past events and experiences have shaped you as a person.

  • Be careful when talking about your future goals. You don't want to come off too idealistic, but you also don't want to sound too broad or you'll come across unfocused and ambivalent. Try to strike a balance in how you discuss your future dreams so that they're both attainable and specific.
  • Clearly connect your goals back to your current self and what you've accomplished up until this point. You want to make it clear that your goals are actually attainable, specifically with a Harvard education. If you say you hope to start your own interior design business after graduation but are planning to major in biology, you're only going to confuse the admissions committee!
  • Emphasize any ways Harvard specifically will help you attain your academic goals. For example, is there a club you hope to join that could connect you with other students? Or is there a particular professor you want to work with? Don't just throw in names of clubs and people but specifically explain how these resources will help you reach your goals. In short, show Harvard that what they can offer you is exactly what you need to succeed.

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Prompt 6: List of Books

Of all Harvard essay prompts, this one is by far the most unique.

Here, you're asked to simply list the books you've read in the past year. This essay is more than just a list, though—it's a brief overview of where your intellectual interests lie. These books may include works of fiction or nonfiction, essays, collections of poetry, etc.

Have you read a lot of diverse and interesting books in the past year? Are you an avid reader who loves dissecting books and essays? Do you enjoy a creative approach to college essays? If you answered yes to these questions, then this prompt is a perfect fit for you.

Even if you haven't read a ton of books this past year, if you were especially intrigued by some or all of what you did read, you could certainly use this prompt for your essay.

  • Instead of just listing the titles of books you've read, you might want to include a short sentence or two commenting on your reaction to the book, your analysis of it, why you enjoyed or didn't enjoy it, etc., after each title. Be sure to vary up your comments so that you're highlighting different aspects of your personality. Also, don't just regurgitate analyses you've read online or that your teacher has said—try to come up with your own thoughts and interpretations.
  • Don't feel the need to stick to only the most "impressive" books you read. The Harvard admissions committee wants to see your personality, not that of a pretentious applicant who claims to have only read Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway. Be honest: if you read Twilight in a day, why not make a short joke about how addictive it was?
  • Go beyond a chronological list of books. It'll be far more interesting if you list the books you read in a more unique way. For example, you could organize titles by theme or in the order of how much you enjoyed them.

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Prompt 7: Honesty

As you can see with this quotation, Harvard strongly values honesty and integrity. Therefore, if you go with this prompt, you're essentially telling Harvard that you, too, embody a powerful sense of morality and honesty.

  • Was there a specific time in your life when you had to make a difficult choice to be honest about something with someone?
  • Could this incident be considered morally ambiguous? In other words, was the "right thing to do" somewhat of a gray area?
  • If you didn't make the "right" choice at the time, how did you come to terms with or learn from this decision? What were the consequences, and what did this experience teach you about your own morals and how you value honesty?
  • Be wary of the topic you choose to write about. Don't discuss a situation in which you did something obviously unethical or, worse, illegal. These types of situations are very black and white and therefore don't pose much of a moral dilemma. Additionally, talking about such an experience might make you seem dishonest and immoral, which you absolutely do not want Harvard to think about you!
  • Try to find a topic that isn't black and white. Choosing "gray" incidents will help emphasize why the choice was so difficult for you and also why it's affected you in this way. For example, say your friend calls you crying right before you have to leave to take the SAT. Do you skip the test to comfort your friend, or do you hang up and leave? This kind of situation does not have an evident "right" answer, making it an ideal one to use for this essay.
  • You could also discuss a time when you did not make the "right" choice—and what you learned from that mistake. As long as you look closely at why you made the "wrong" choice and what this incident taught you about integrity, your essay will be interesting and relevant.

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Prompt 8: Citizens and Citizen-Leaders

This prompt might sound a little vague, but all it wants to know is how you'll have a positive impact on both your classmates and on other people after graduation. Put simply, what kind of leader/citizen will you be at Harvard? After you graduate from college and enter the real world?

This prompt is similar to Prompt 5 in that it wants to know what kind of person you'll become after you leave college and how you'll positively influence society.

If you're a natural-born leader and have had at least a few significant experiences with leading or facilitating things such as club activities, field trips, volunteer efforts, and so on, then this Harvard essay prompt would be a great fit for you.

  • Focus on a time when you led others and it resulted in a positive outcome. For instance, you could write about your position as team captain on your school's soccer team and how you would gather your teammates before each game to offer words of encouragement and advice on how to improve. You could then describe how your team began to perform better in games due to clearer communication and a stronger sense of sportsmanship. Make sure to answer the critical question: how did you lead and what ultimately made your leadership style successful?
  • Discuss what kind of role your leadership skills will have at both Harvard and after you graduate. The prompt is asking about your classmates, so you must specifically address how your leadership skills will contribute to the lives of your peers. How will your past experiences with leading help you approach group projects, for example? Or clubs you join?
  • Make sure to mention how you'll be a good citizen, too. By "citizen," Harvard essentially means a productive member of both the school and society in general. Basically, how have you contributed to the betterment of society? This is a good place to talk about experiences in which you played a crucial supporting role; for instance, maybe you helped out with a local volunteer initiative to feed the homeless, or maybe you joined a community project to build a new park in your town.

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Prompt 9: Taking Time Off

Here, you're being asked what you plan to do with your time if you decide to defer your admission to Harvard or take time off during college. For example, will you travel the world? Work a full-time job? Do an internship? Take care of a sick relative?

Obviously, Harvard doesn't want to read that all you're going to do is relax and play video games all day, so make sure to think carefully about what your actual plans are and, more importantly, how these plans will benefit you as a person and as a student.

Only choose this Harvard essay prompt if you're pretty certain you'll be taking time off from college at some point (either before or during) and you have a relatively concrete idea of what you want to do during that time.

  • Be specific and honest about your plans. While many students like to take time off to travel the world, you don't just want to write, "I plan to backpack Europe and learn about cultures." Think critically about your desires: why do you want to do this and how will this experience help you grow as a person? Don't just reiterate what you think Harvard wants to hear—be transparent about why you feel you need this time off from school to accomplish this goal.
  • Be clear about why you must do this at this particular time. In other words, why do you think this (i.e., before or during college) is the right time to do whatever it is you plan to do? Is it something you can (or must) do at this exact time, such as a one-time internship that won't be offered again?

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Prompt 10: Diversity

This final Harvard essay prompt is all about what you can bring to campus that will positively contribute to student diversity. Though we tend to think of race/ethnicity when using the word "diversity," you can actually interpret this word in a number of ways.

As a large and prestigious institution, Harvard strongly values students who have different and unique backgrounds and experiences, so it's important for them to admit students who embody these values as well.

This prompt is essentially a version of the diversity essay , which we talk about in more detail in our guide.

The main question to ask yourself before choosing this prompt is this: do you have a unique background or interest you can write about?

Here are some key types of diversity you can discuss (note that this is not an exhaustive list!):

  • Your ethnicity or race
  • A unique interest, passion, hobby, or skill you have
  • Your family or socioeconomic background
  • Your religion
  • Your cultural group
  • Your sex or gender/gender identity
  • Your opinions or values
  • Your sexual orientation

If any of these topics stand out to you and you can easily come up with a specific characteristic or experience to discuss for your essay, then this is a solid prompt to consider answering.

  • Choose a personal characteristic that's had a large impact on your identity. Don't talk about your family's religion if it's had little or no impact on how you see and define yourself. Instead, concentrate on the most significant experiences or skills in your life. If you play the theremin every day and have a passion for music because of it, this would be a great skill to write about in your essay.
  • Be clear about how your unique characteristic has affected your life and growth. You don't just want to introduce the experience/skill and leave it at that. How has it molded you into the person you are today? How has it influenced your ambitions and goals?
  • Be sure to tie this characteristic back to the diversity at Harvard. Basically, how will your experience/skill/trait positively influence the Harvard student body? For example, if you come from a specific cultural group, how do you believe this will positively impact other students?

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A Real Harvard Essay Example

Our resident full SAT / ACT scorer and co-founder of PrepScholar, Allen Cheng , applied to, got into, and attended Harvard—and he's posted his own Harvard supplement essay for you to look at. You can read all about Allen's essay in his analysis of his successful Harvard application .

Allen describes his essay as "probably neutral to [his Harvard] application, not a strong net positive or net negative," so it's important to note that this Harvard essay example is not representative of exactly what you should do in your own Harvard supplement essay. Rather, we're showing it to you to give you a taste of how you could approach the Harvard essay and to demonstrate the kinds of simple mistakes you should avoid.

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Writing a Memorable Harvard Essay: 3 Tips

To wrap up, here are three tips to keep in mind as you write your Harvard supplement essay.

#1: Use an Authentic Voice

Having a clear, unique, and authentic voice is the key to making yourself stand apart from other applicants in your Harvard application—and to ensuring you're leaving a long-lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Therefore, write your essay in the way that comes most naturally to you, and talk about the things that actually matter to you. For example, if you love puns, throwing one or two puns into your essay will emphasize your goofier, non-academic side.

Using your voice here is important because it humanizes your application. The essay is the only chance you get to show the admissions committee who you are and what you actually sound like, so don't pretend to be someone you're not!

The only thing to look out for is using too much slang or sounding too casual. In the end, this is still a college essay, so you don't want to come off sounding rude, disrespectful, or immature.

In addition, don't exaggerate any experiences or emotions. The Harvard admissions committee is pretty good at their job—they read thousands of applications each year!—so they'll definitely be able to tell if you're making a bigger deal out of something than you should be. Skip the hyperbole and stick to what you know.

Ultimately, your goal should be to strike a balance so that you're being true to yourself while also showcasing your intelligence and talents.

#2: Get Creative

Harvard is one of the most difficult schools to get into (it only has about a 4% acceptance rate! ), so you'll need to make sure your essay is really, really attention-grabbing. In short, get creative with it!

As you write your personal essay, recall the classic saying: show, don't tell. This means that you should rely more on description and imagery than on explanation.

For example, instead of writing, "I became more confident after participating in the debate club," you might write, "The next time I went onstage for a debate, my shoulders didn't shake as much; my lips didn't quiver; and my heart only beat 100 times instead of 120 times per minute."

Remember that your essay is a story about yourself, so make sure it's interesting to read and will ultimately be memorable to your readers.

#3: Edit and Proofread a Lot

My final tip is to polish your essay by editing and proofreading it a lot. This means you should look it over not once, not twice, but several times.

Here's the trick to editing it: once you've got a rough draft of your essay finished, put it away for a few days or a week or two. Don't look at it all during this time —you want to give yourself some distance so that you can look at your essay later with a fresh perspective.

After you've waited, read over your essay again, noting any mistakes in spelling, grammar, and/or punctuation. Take care to also note any awkward wording, unclear areas, or irrelevant ideas. Ask yourself: is there anything you should add? Delete? Expand?

Once you've done this step several times and have a (nearly) final draft ready to turn in, give your essay to someone you can trust, such as a teacher, parent, or mentor. Have them look it over and offer feedback on tone, voice, theme, style, etc. In addition, make sure that they check for any glaring grammatical or technical errors.

Once all of this is done, you'll have a well-written, polished Harvard essay ready to go— one that'll hopefully get you accepted!

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What's Next?

If you've got questions about other parts of the Harvard application, check out our top guide to learn what you'll need to submit to get into the prestigious Ivy League school .

How tough is it to get into Harvard? To other selective universities ? For answers, read our expert guide on how to get into Harvard and the Ivy League , written by an actual Harvard alum!

What's the average SAT score of admitted Harvard applicants? The average ACT score? The average GPA? Learn all this and more by visiting our Harvard admissions requirements page .

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Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.

Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.

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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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Search the site, search suggestions, the personal essay.

Photograph of blank Microsoft Word document titled "The Most Awesome College Essay Ever"

Unlike the rest of your application, which primarily consists of filling in boxes, the personal essay gives you the freedom to essentially write about whatever you want. No rules! Show who you are! Which sounds pretty cool, until you’re sitting there looking at a blank Word document.

Photograph of blank Microsoft Word document titled "The Most Awesome College Essay Ever"

While the personal essay is a great opportunity to infuse your voice into the application, I think some people (cough, me, cough) can get overwhelmed by it to the point where they don’t know how to begin. What do I write about? What makes me stand out? How can I explain all of this in only a few hundred words?

Well, as someone who eventually managed to get some words down on that blank document and turn out a decent college essay, here are a few words of advice.

1. Start by writing something.

I know, that sounds really obvious. But sometimes the hardest part of writing is just getting started – if you spend too much time criticizing your ideas before you write anything down, you won’t get anywhere. Write a few sentences, jot down some random ideas, note a couple anecdotes that might be interesting… just get something on paper that you can look back to. Maybe one of those ideas will catch, and BOOM you have an essay – or maybe you’ll look back to this list after a few weeks and think of something else that you would rather write about. That’s fine! The beginning of the creative process involves coming up with ideas, judging them comes later. Trust me, I took a class on this (really: it was a psych class called “Creativity: Madmen, Geniuses, and Harvard Students.”)

2. Think about something that has some significance to you.

Many students feel like they have to write about some huge, life-changing, important event in their lives. If you have something like this that you want to write about, that’s great! However, you can also write an awesome essay about something other than The Most Important Thing Ever. It can be the littlest things, if you explain their significance well, that actually stand out. In my case, somewhere in my essay I mentioned that I got up at 5:37am (rather than 5:30 or 5:45) because I liked prime numbers – and the first thing my admissions officer said when I walked into the room for my interview was, “So, prime numbers, huh?” That being said, remember that this is a college essay, so keep this audience and goal in mind as you write. When they finish reading, what do you want the admissions officers to know about you? Does this essay demonstrate something about who you are and what you care about? If not, you might want to go back to the drawing board.

3. Don’t be afraid to start over.

After finishing my first draft, I was glad to have something, but I wasn’t completely happy with it either. A week or two later, as I was reading over my essay again, I had an idea for a totally different topic - so I opened another document and completely started over. The second attempt was so much better, and I felt happy with how it turned out. It can be hard to scrap an initial attempt after spending so much time on it, but think of that time as just part of the process of getting to what you really want to write about.

4. Get an outside perspective.

One of the most useful things I did while working on my college essay was asking a couple people to read it over. At the time, I had two drafts that I was choosing between, and I wasn’t sure which one captured “me” better. When I asked my parents and teacher what they thought, they unanimously picked one option over the other. In the end, it’s important to have an essay that you are happy with – but sometimes having a fresh set of eyes can help you see what that is.

This is an important step! Both you, and perhaps someone who knows you well, should read over your essay and make sure it is in tip-top shape before you turn it in. There should be no grammatical or spelling mistakes – that gives the impression that you did not take your time on it. I know you’ve spent a long time on it by this point, but those last edits are super important!

The personal essay is a snippet of who you are and where you’re coming from – a snapshot for the admissions officers to look at as they read your application. It will never be able to capture everything about you, but you want to make sure that you’re giving them your best angle. So sit down, smile, and get to writing!

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First-years recount the agony and the ecstasy

Late nights. Discarded drafts. That one great idea. Most high school seniors would agree that the admissions essay is the hardest part of a college application. The Gazette asked first-year students to reflect on theirs — the writing, the inspiration, the hand-wringing — and the lessons learned.

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Louisville, Ky.

I stayed up really late at first, when my inhibitions were down, so I could write without being self-critical and brainstorm ideas. I probably went through 20 ideas, narrowed them down to five, wrote drafts of five, and then picked one and edited and edited and edited until I finished. All of the days writing the essay were stressful. I wrote about the transition from independence to interdependence and my personal growth that was catalyzed by my parents’ divorce. I reflected on my early independence as a child and how that transitioned to me depending on other people, working together in teams, and leading people to accomplish important things in our community.

“I stayed up really late at first, when my inhibitions were down, so I could write without being self-critical and brainstorm ideas.”

Nick Nocita

Arlington Heights, Ill.

I distinctly remember writing my Harvard essay at Thanksgiving on my phone. The inspiration just came in waves while I was spending time with my family. I talked about my grandmother, who passed around five or six years ago. She was someone who really influenced me in terms of seeing what one can do with a selfless attitude. She had only ever earned a high school education, and she didn’t have the opportunity to go beyond that. Seeing what someone can do with a high school education was amazing for me, to think about what I could do with the power of a prestigious college education. It was such an inspiration that I immediately wanted to start writing about her. My family was watching a football game, and I was pumping out this essay.

“The inspiration just came in waves while I was spending time with my family.”

Divya Amirtharaj

Portland, Ore.

There were a couple of weeks when I was sitting in front of my laptop and getting nothing. But once I figured out what I wanted to write, it was fast; in a day, I was done. In one of my essays, I wrote about growing up in a predominantly white area and a skin condition that I have called vitiligo. I wrote about how those things impacted my identity as an Indian woman. In another, I wrote about how I went from competitive swimming, to lifeguarding, to teaching lessons, to starting a program for free swim lessons for underprivileged kids in my area. It was interesting to go back at the end and see what I had written, summing up my entire life for 17 years.

“It was interesting to go back at the end and see what I had written, summing up my entire life for 17 years.”

Sophie Clivio

Kingston, Jamaica

I did submit my essay with a typo! I wrote it on Google Drive and made a comment to myself and a reference to switching something around. It’s at the bottom of my essay, and I didn’t realize until yesterday. I also wrote the essay as kind of a spoken-word poem. How many people have done that? I did not want to do the whole paragraph thing. I wrote about the culture shock I experienced moving from Jamaica to Milton, Mass., to attend boarding school, in terms of race and identity, because I’m a mixed-race person. I was really happy with the essay. It was very emotional to write, and I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders when I finished it. The typo was disappointing, but it’s fine! I’m here!

“I wrote the essay as kind of a spoken-word poem.”

Marcus Miller

For my essay, I wrote about being an athlete and finding your way after athletics by applying yourself in school. In eighth grade, I broke my femur, and I wrote about overcoming that. Then in my senior year of high school I tore my UCLs in both hands playing football. [That experience] brought me back to the process of rehabbing through injury. My essay was about finding your identity afterward. I’m more of a math and numbers guy, and I probably went through three or four ideas before I found this one.

“I’m more of a math and numbers guy, and I probably went through three or four ideas before I found this one.”

Kylie Simms

Travelers Rest, S.C.

I wrote about living in Milan when I was younger and how it opened my eyes to other perspectives and taught me not to be so quick to judge other people. In middle and high schools, I lived back in my small town in the U.S. and missed those interactions that helped me grow, so I also wrote about wanting to attend Harvard because I wanted to experience those different perspectives again. I didn’t edit my essay a lot because I wanted it to sound authentic and like my voice. I didn’t want to go through and replace all the words with fancier words. I wanted to sound like a person.

“I wanted it to sound authentic and like my voice.”

Alexander Park

Belmont, Mass.

I had just gotten out of the shower and thought, “Oh, I got this.” I remembered this anecdote of me sitting in the back of my grandfather’s car in Korea, and he was telling me about when Korea was a kingdom and about these kings from the Chosun dynasty. It was really interesting learning about this history that I wasn’t able to learn in America from somebody who was super-knowledgeable and cared a lot about it. I remember my sister was leaning on me, and we were driving on the highway. It was very calming and peaceful. So, I wrote about my love for history and my love for listening to stories. A lot of people say that you have to write down your entire life story in however many words you’re given, but you can highlight one really essential aspect of your identity. Telling a story about that is much more compelling than trying to fit everything in.

“Telling a story about that is much more compelling than trying to fit everything in.”

Nayleth Lopez-Lopez

When I started middle school, my mom went back to college. She emigrated from Venezuela and worked in her own convenience store for 17 years. When she started college, I took on the role of helping her edit her essays. In my essay, I wrote about asking for help and how she inspires me to ask for help, because she had the courage to ask her young daughter for help. It was so emotional to write. The first time I asked my mom to read it, I freaked out because she said she didn’t know if she liked it. She thought it was too much about her. But I think it all turned out OK.

“I wrote about … how [my mother] inspires me to ask for help, because she had the courage to ask her young daughter for help.”

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Harvard Successful Essays | 2019

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Our 2022 edition is sponsored by HS2 Academy—a premier college counseling company that has helped thousands of students gain admission into Ivy League-level universities across the world. Learn more at www.hs2academy.com . Also made possible by The Art of Applying, College Confidential, Crimson Education, Dan Lichterman, Key Education, MR. MBA®, Potomac Admissions, Prep Expert, and Prepory.

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"Ut Italiam laeti Latiumque petamus"

"Sandra, would you mind reading the next few lines and translating them for us?"

The professor glanced at me, a kind glimmer in his bespectacled eyes. I gulped. I was in a classroom of eighteen, five of whom were high school Latin teachers. And I was supposed to recite and translate Livy's Ab Urbe condita — with elisions! After fumbling through a few words and mistaking a verb for a noun, I finished the first sentence. I skimmed the second line, looking for the main verb. Singular. I searched for a singular noun and pieced the two together. Then, I noticed an accusative and added it as a direct object. As I continued, a burst of exhilaration shot through my body. My eyes darted across the page, finding a verb, a noun, and objects. I reached the end of the passage and grinned, relief pulsing in my veins.

"Very good!" The professor beamed at me before selecting his next victim.

A few months ago, I never would have imagined myself sitting in Harvard's Boylston Hall this summer for six hours a week, cherishing the ancient literature of Rome. Even though the professor decided I was eligible for the course despite not taking the prerequisite, I was still nervous. I worked hard in the class, and it reminded me just how much I love the language.

A few months ago, I never would have imagined myself sitting in Harvard's Boylston Hall this summer for six hours a week, cherishing the ancient literature of Rome.

Translating has always given me great pleasure and great pain. It is much like completing a jigsaw puzzle. Next, I look for phrases that connect the entire clause — does this adjective match this noun? Does this puzzle piece have the right shape? The middle of the sentence is the trickiest, full of convoluted dependent clauses, pieces colored ambiguously and with curves and edges on all four sides. I am sometimes tangled in the syntax, one of the worst feelings in the world. After analyzing every word, I try to rearrange the pieces so they fit together. When they finally do, I am filled with a satisfaction like no other. Translating forces me to rattle my brain, looking for grammatical rules hidden in my mind's nooks and crannies. It pushes my intellectual boundaries. No other language is as precise, using inflection to express gender, number, and case in just one word. When I pull apart a sentence, I am simultaneously divulging the secrets of an ancient civilization. Renowned scholars are telling the stories of their time through these words! No other language is as meticulous. Every line follows the same meter and the arrangement of every word is with a purpose. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe includes a sentence where the word "wall" is places between the words "Pyramus" and "Thisbe" to visually show the lovers' separation. Translating is like life itself; the words are not in logical order. One cannot expect the subject of a sentence to appear at the beginning of a clause, just like one cannot plan the chronology of life. Like the delayed verb, we do not always know what is happening in our lives; we just know it is happening.

When translating we notice the nouns, the adjectives, and the conjunctions just like we see the people, senses, and connections of our lives. However, we often do not know what we are doing and ask ourselves the age-old question: Why are we here? Perhaps we are here to learn, to teach, to help, to serve, to lead, or just to live. We travel through life to decide what our purpose is, and it is that suspense and our unknown destinies that make the journey so irresistibly beautiful. I feel that same suspense and unknown when I translate, because I am beautifully struggling to unlock a past I know very little of. It is unbelievably exhilarating.

Thus, I question why others consider Latin a dead language. It is alive in all of the Western world. The Romance languages of French, Spanish, and Italian all have Latin origins. Without Latin, I would not be able to write this essay! It is alive in the stories it tells. You may see an apple and associate it with orchards, juice, pie, and fall. When I see an apple, I think of the apple of discord thrown by Eris that ultimately caused the Trojan War. This event, albeit destructive and terrifying, leads to the flight of Aeneas and eventually, his founding of Rome.

I study Latin for its rewarding return, incredible precision, intellectual challenge, rich history and culture, and deep influence on our world. I study Latin to show others how beautiful it is, to encourage the world that it should be valued. I study Latin to lead our society, like Aeneas did, toward a new city, a new dawn where everyone appreciates a mental trial of wits, everyone marvels at a vibrant past, and no one wonders whether Latin is dead or not.

What is most striking about Sandra's essay was not the fact that she was taking a class alongside high school Latin teachers, or that she was taking a summer class at Harvard. Rather, it was how in-depth Sandra went into her thought process when translating Latin. It became clear from the vivid detail with which she described her translating process that she takes it rather seriously, and it is always a pleasure to read application essays that make such passion clear.

It became clear from the vivid detail with which she described her translating process that she takes it rather seriously, and it is always a pleasure to read application essays that make such passion clear.

That said, there are times where Sandra's writing appears to deliberately make something engaging when there is no need. For example, “One cannot expect the subject of a sentence to appear at the beginning of a clause, just like one cannot plan the chronology of life” seemed to be an intentionally poetic sentence made to fit Sandra's claim that “translating is like life itself.” Overall, the simile works, but you should not feel forced to make dramatic claims in your essay. If you write about something that you are passionate about, that should naturally become clear in the way you write.

Disclaimer: With exception of the removal of identifying details, essays are reproduced as originally submitted in applications; any errors in submissions are maintained to preserve the integrity of the piece.

Christopher

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When I broke the news to my volunteer team, we were in a church basement, cleaning up after the final event of the summer. I tried to downplay it. I nudged Ms. Diana, the neighborhood leader, in the shoulder, and said, "Guess what I'll be doing next Wednesday — having lunch with the president." Her face blazed with a kilowatt smile. Before I could slow her down, she shouted, "Christopher's meeting President Obama next week."

Eldred dropped his broom, Ms. Sheila left the cups scattered on the floor, and all the others came running over and fusilladed me with questions. Yes, the campaign had chosen me from all the other summer organizers. Yes, I would bring photos for everyone. And yes, we had the strongest team by the numbers — total calls, knocks, voters registered, and events — in the country.

I felt guilty that only I could go and told them so. "I wish that I could bring you all with me. You made nearly all of the calls, brought your friends and family along, and made this what it is. I've just been here to facilitate." The others good-naturedly shouted me down. Then Ms. Melva spoke up. Her words were pressed out against the heaving of her respirator. "Christopher, don't feel bad. You'll bring us wherever you go in your pocket. Just pull us out when you meet Barack."

For a long time, I was perplexed by her advice. Then I thought back to the exercise that we employed before any volunteer activity. We sat in a circle and gave our reasons for being in the room, willing to work with the campaign. That way, when it came time to make our "hard ask" on the phones, we would be supported by personal conviction and shared purpose. The "hard ask" is the Obama campaign's tactic for garnering support or a commitment to volunteer, moving from values to idealism to specific action.

In my work on the campaign, I am reminded of my cross-country coach, Rob. Before every single race, from petty league meets to national championships, Rob taps the spot on his thigh where a pocket would be. We look at our teammates who are lining up with us and tap the same spot. Coach Rob is reminding us, and we're reminding each other, that we carry "the bastard" in our pockets with us throughout the race.

I want an education that fills my pockets. And, perhaps more importantly, an education that prompts hard asks, that demands us to use the

"The bastard in your pocket" is a metaphor for the sum of our efforts to succeed as runners. "The bastard" exists as a sort of Platonic ideal form of the high school cross-country runner, melded from accrued mileage and mental conditioning. My goal in a race is to take this ideal form and to transform it into a reality that lives on the course.

I want an education that fills my pockets. And, perhaps more importantly, an education that prompts hard asks, that demands us to use "the bastard" and that uses the compounded experiences of a group for a single purpose.

Through the two examples of his volunteer work and cross-country experience, Christopher is able to depict a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of leadership and a profound dedication to teamwork.

In the opening paragraphs, he describes the moment in which he related news of an invitation to meet the president to his volunteer team. The moment is shown as the culmination of Christopher’s efforts as a summer organizer for the Obama campaign. The mention of the invitation serves as a validation of demonstrable and impressive leadership; further, the reference to members of his team by name displays that his work was meaningful and personal.

The last paragraph in Christopher's essay serves as a succinct but powerful conclusion, one that links the kind of educational experience he seeks with his determined, goal-actualizing mentality.

Throughout the essay, Christopher reveals his passion for forming and being a part of a community as both a goal in itself and as a way to achieve success for the team. This is a point he elaborates upon in his reference to "the bastard in your pocket," which he presents as an ideal that can be transformed into action in order to achieve examples of his volunteer work and cross-country success. An allusion to the words of his cross-country coach, he uses this example to expand upon his views toward community and lived experience. He talks about both action and intention, emphasizing his own success in transforming beliefs and ideas into tangible results. The last paragraph in Christopher’s essay serves as a succinct but powerful conclusion, one that links the kind of educational experience he seeks with his determined, goal-actualizing mentality.

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Tranzicion

I’m a bit of a grandma. I don't wear horn rimmed spectacles, nor perch on a rocking chair, and I certainly wish I carried hard candies in my backpack. However, I do enjoy baking: butter sizzling as it glides across heated metal like a canoe across a glassy lake; powdered sugar fluttering through the air like glitter from a confetti cannon. Some consider themselves math, literature, or history nerds. I rifle through cookbooks, browse the internet for ingenious new recipes, and revel in this year’s birthday gift: a copy of “Bread Illustrated.”

My greatest achievement in elementary school was not the perfect score on a spelling test, but the first time I mastered a batch of cookies that didn’t bear a rigidity comparable to steel. To my parents’ bewilderment, I dismissed Barbies, yo-yo’s, and jump ropes in favor of a wire whisk: It was love at first sight.

Why do I bake? Sometimes it’s to thank a friend or reconnect with former colleagues, employers, and teachers. Just as often, it’s the intricate processes involved. Creating the exacting liaison between eggs and flour to create a pâte à choux is, for me, a form of meditation. And sometimes I bake to reflect and even gain insight into my other interests.

Baking pastries for my next Junior Commission meeting, I ruminated on my interviews with officers and local homeless regarding their direct experiences with human trafficking in my own community. I recalled a police detective telling me, “For a youth isolated from family and friends, it doesn’t take much to accept the exploitation because he believes trafficking is his only chance of survival. I remember thinking, “Except that your body has to be sold like a box of cereal at Safeway?” This inspired my exhibit that was presented at high schools in my county, in which a figure, made up of barcodes, stands silhouetted against a black background.

Creating the exacting liaison between eggs and flour to create a pâte à choux is, for me, a form of meditation. And sometimes I bake to reflect and even gain insight into my other interests.

Then there was the time my political interests literally gave me food for thought. As a Senate page, I welcomed Senators and staff back from their Independence Day recess with choux à la crème, that perfect French amalgam of wheat, egg, butter and air we call cream puffs. I had cherry-picked the ingredients from a local farmer’s market, because local and organic is more than just a trend for me; it means contributing to the reduction of food miles and supporting small businesses rather than Big Agra. Ironically, activists that day chose to protest an aggressively lobbied pro-GMO bill by showering the Senate floor with dollar bills. Senators and staff brushed them off of their jackets while gingerly stepping around them to navigate the room.

But the elephant in the room wasn’t the litter of currency, but the senators who paid more attention to corporate lobbyists than the protesters exposing their corruption. It deepened my perspective on how politics intersects our lives, farm to table. Yet, I’ve realized that when I feel empowered to advocate for a cause, I need to remember how the audience — legislators, for example — might view both my side and the opposing side. Sometimes they see us both as intruding groups. Other times, there are unseen advantages to acting in agreement with one side over the other or coming to a compromise.

If, as M.F.K Fisher said, “First we eat, then we do everything else,” then baking is an avenue through which I have connected with people, causes and even intellectual pursuits. But the greatest gift that baking offers me is the responsibility to share. With this, I have realized an innate priority: to turn my talents, whether in the kitchen or an advocacy meeting, into tools to improve the welfare of others. My goal is to employ my compassion, intellect, and creativity into a career in public service. As much as I sometimes feel like a grandma, I also know a lot of grandmothers who happen to run our political system.

Laura opens with a unique opening line, sure to catch the eye of an admissions officer. She proceeds to draw upon compelling and specific imagery, which grounds the reader in her life while adding authenticity and depth to her interest in baking. Referring to her first successful batch of cookies as a moment of pride in her childhood, Laura sets herself apart from peers who may have chosen to focus on other interests.

Through citing baking as a way to connect with others, Laura shows that she sees herself as part of a greater community — something which admissions officers appreciate seeing. Further, Laura sets the stage for an exploration of baking as a form of meditation, showcasing her thoughtful nature, as she writes that “creating the exact liaison between eggs and flour... is a form of meditation.”

Through citing baking as a way to connect with others, Laura shows that she sees herself as part of a greater community — something which admissions officers appreciate seeing.

Writing that baking is a way to “gain insight into my other interests” is a segue into fleshing out her other interests — something which done poorly can read as artificial, but here naturally flows with the essay. We see Laura consider the less fortunate in her community as she bakes, showing rather than telling how she sees baking as a form of meditation. While the second to last paragraph walks the line between reciting a resume and maintaining the momentum of her story, the line "how politics intersects our lives, farm to table," clinches its greater point as a reflection on the impact of politics on everyone's daily lives.

Laura closes with a quote, a tactic which could read as artificial with a cliche choice. However, her quote speaks to the specific intersection of food and a greater purpose, elevating the themes of her essay. She concludes by connecting her passion for baking with the greater world, underscoring how her passion for baking unifies her mindset, compassion for others, and goals for the future.

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My father said I didn’t cry when I was born. Instead, I popped out of the womb with a furrowed brow, looking up at him almost accusatorially, as if to say “Who are you? What am I doing here?” While I can’t speak to the biological accuracy of his story — How did I survive, then? How did I bring air into my lungs? — it’s certainly true that I feel like I came preprogrammed with the compulsion to ask questions.

I received my first journal in preschool, probably because my parents were sick of cleaning my crayon drawings off my bedroom wall. Growing up, my notebooks became the places where I explored ideas through actions in addition to words. If the face I was sketching looked broody, I began to wonder what in her life made her that way. Was she a spy? Did she just come in from the cold? Graduating from crayons to markers to colored pencils, I layered color upon color, testing out the effects of different combinations, wondering why the layering of notes in music filled me with the very same happiness as the sight of the explosion of paired colors beneath my hands.

I began to take notes, on anything and everything. Reading Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up , I took away lessons on presentations, of maintaining a rhythm and allowing crescendos of energy to release every so often. While watching a documentary on people preparing for a sommelier exam, I made note of the importance of an enriching environment where most everything points you to your goals. Flipping through my old journal, I see that even an article about trouble in the South China Sea inspired notes on precedent and maintaining tradition lest you provoke the unknown. I was looking for the rules of the world.

More than just a place to catalogue my observations about the world, my notebooks are places to synthesize, to course-correct, to pinpoint areas for iterative improvement.

More than just a place to catalogue my observations about the world, my notebooks are places to synthesize, to course-correct, to pinpoint areas for iterative improvement. When the words are down on paper, I see my patterns of thought and the holes in my logic stark against the white page. If I have a day of insecurity that leads to a sudden rush of journaling characteristic of that in a teen movie, looking down at the angsty scribbles, I'll recognize my repeated thoughts and actions and look for pressure points in that system of behavior where I can improve.

Now my 2016 notebook returns to exploring the world through actions and experiments. Dozens of doughnut-shaped sketches dot pages that ask “how would you play tic-tac-toe on a torus?” Another page containing bubble letters answers the simpler question of the result of sorting these figures into groups of topological equivalences. Not two pages later are the results of a research binge on Mersenne primes that took me through perfect numbers and somehow deposited me at a Wikipedia page detailing the mathematical properties of the number 127. Once again, I look for the rules of the world.

Whenever I feel discouraged, I look to my stack of notebooks, shelved neatly by my desk. In those pages I’ve learned that I have room to fail and grow, to literally turn over a new leaf if a problem is particularly tricky. Through years of scribbling away, I’ve learned that the most fundamental part of my development has been giving myself the space to try: to sketch mangled faces, to draw the wrong conclusions, to answer a question incorrectly, and to learn from my mistakes without shame. I look to that mass of notebooks filled with my ideas, my mistakes, and my questions, and I'm reminded that I’ve grown before, and that I’ll grow again, all the while asking questions.

Marina’s opening line catches readers' attention, although it’s not immediately clear how it relates to the theme until Marina's reflection on her initial anecdote shows, rather than tells, her predilection for asking questions. Marina stakes her interest in keeping notebooks through anecdotes relating even back to preschool. Although her imagery borders on purple prose, the momentum of the essay keeps the writing from dragging too much.

Marina tracks her shifts in mental framework — from initially gathering information to finally synthesizing and building upon her observations — as she flips through the pages of her notebooks. While the examples of notes taken, in paragraph three, walk the line between adding detail and being repetitive, they deepen the reader's understanding of her notebooks. We see her exhibit a growth mindset, as she notes that she uses her notebooks as a space to process thoughts and find areas for improvement.

Marina tracks her shifts in mental framework — from initially gathering information to finally synthesizing and building upon her observations — as she flips through the pages of her notebooks.

The second-to-last paragraph also walks the line between deepening Marina's interests and adding redundant details. However, it broadens Marina's interests to not only cover pop culture and world events, but also math. This also exemplifies the paragraph's purpose, of the notebooks as a way to explore the world through experimentation.

Marina closes her essay on a positive, grounded note that brings the content of the essay one step further to show her mindset of iterative growth. With a closing sentence returning to "asking questions," she exhibits full-circle imagery which underscores the essay's theme.

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I am African-American, Caucasian, Jewish, and gay, and narrowly escaping the degradation of my ancestors: my great-great-great grandfather's slavery, my grandmother's persecution in the Holocaust, and the denial of gay identity. I am the personification of the culture and struggles of each of these groups. As I walk through life with this mix, I must be able to respect and love all different walks of life. Furthermore, during those times that I stereotype people, I assume roles onto their identity. I am able to stop myself and realize that they hold the wisdom from experiences that I do not, and that I am actually hurting myself. Judging a book by its cover really does make you miss out. Some people I know acknowledge me as the gay guy, a member of that small minority that is stricken with bullying and identity crisis, seldom as a Jew or black. It has always been important to me for people to recognize me by my radiant personality and not by my superficial sexuality or race. My ethnicity and orientation do not define me: they are the tools my ancestors have granted so that I can pursue my destiny, and I have my individual spirit to color my path. I am an independent, positive person.

My ethnicity and orientation do not define me: they are the tools my ancestors have granted so that I can pursue my destiny, and I have my individual spirit to color my path.

I carry the mark of maturity with the essence of vitality. I can only hope that people remember me via my relationships with them and my effects on their lives. And so I apply the same mindset to others. The snappy, aggravated cashier at the grocery store checking me out may be working through her retirement to pay for her granddaughter's tuition. Or the black youth with his jeans hanging low and "speaking Ebonics" is actually executing a facet of his culture from which he takes pride and grows. Moreover my template also allows me to be open-minded; how could I not be cultural? My ancestors would not have succeeded without those that have listened and empathized with their plights. And how could I shut my ears? I cannot; I will not. I will not allow myself to shut out another's opinion simply because I was not introduced to their beliefs in my upbringing. How ignorant and arrogant to speak my gospel and thrive on the grace of others but not even consider others' words? Every breath I take is due to the grace of those magnanimous humans before me who not only listened to those Jews, or those slaves, or that gay person, but also took it upon themselves to advance humanity beyond close-mindedness into a world where every individual's contribution based on their experience is respected. There is never a time to neglect the social fragility of our existence, not in the courtroom or the living room. To assume the serenity of social culture is a blind eye to the macrocosm of daily life. It is my expectation to persevere for the fight for human rights and to respect the nature of all cultures and all peoples through my actions as well as my words. It is insufficient to tell someone they are wrong for persecuting. We have to help them find no solace in their prejudice. Not only do I have a duty to argue for the progress of our humanity, I will do so by example.

In this essay, Aiden immediately captures the reader's attention with a blunt confession of his complex identity before delving more deeply into how his identity has shaped his outlook on life.

This essay emphasizes the importance of struggles and challenges the narrowness of identity. Perhaps the most poignant strength of Aiden’s piece is its message: that superficial aspects of identity do not define a person; rather, one's identity affects how one pursues his or her destiny. One aspect which could have improved this essay is to break the thoughts into more than one paragraph as to give the reader a chance to breathe and pace him or herself. Despite this, Aiden’s thoughts flow gracefully and logically throughout his writing, and the content pulls the reader in so it is barely noticeable that his essay functioned as one large paragraph.

Aiden shows his insightfulness and maturity both by acknowledging the strife his ancestors went through, but also by taking his acknowledgment and great respect for them and applying them to his own life.

Aiden shows his insightfulness and maturity both by acknowledging the strife his ancestors went through, but also by taking his acknowledgment and great respect for them and applying them to his own life. His writing is wise, powerful, and greatly moving, and the depth of his wisdom and maturity clearly impressed those who read it.

I stood frozen in the produce aisle at ShopRite, wondering which of the five varieties of oranges to buy. Valencia, blood orange, organic, Florida navel – what were the differences? When I asked my mom which variety she was looking for, she responded curtly, “It’s your choice. Pick what you want.” The thing was, I didn’t know what I wanted.

For my parents, this level of freedom – even in the orange section of the grocery store — is somewhat unique to the United States. The lingering policies of the Cultural Revolution in 1970s China dictated life choices for my parents; growing up in poverty, their families’ sole concern was putting food on the table. As a result of economic disadvantage, higher education became my parents’ life goal. “If I didn’t make it to college,” my dad told me, “I would have been trapped in that godforsaken village for the rest of my life” (only one-tenth of his high school ever made it). My parents didn’t have a choice: my mom’s entire life revolved around studying, and my dad was spanked into shape at home. Sports, music, or entertainment were out of the question – my parents’ only option was to work hard and dream of a choice in America.

The miraculous thing is that my parents, having no freedom of choice for the better part of twenty years, still had the vision to grant me choice in the United States. Unfortunately, this is not common, even in our beloved land of opportunity. All I have to do is talk to my closest childhood friends - children of other Asian-American immigrants – to see the glass walls that cultural and familial expectation have erected around their lives. For some of them, playing the piano is an obligation, not a hobby, and medical school is the only career option.

The miraculous thing is that my parents, having no freedom of choice for the better part of twenty years, still had the vision to grant me choice in the United States.

Oddly enough, I had always felt a bit left out when I was younger – why weren’t my parents signing me up for American Math Competitions and middle school summer research programs, when all my friends were doing them? I’ve come to realize, though, that having the choice to do the things I’m interested in brings out an enthusiasm I can explore passionately and fully. My many hobbies – playing soccer with our neighbor in my backyard, fiddling around with Mendelssohn on my violin, or even talking to my friend about our latest stock picks – all have come from me, and I’m forever grateful to my parents for that.

The contrast between my parents’ lives and mine is shocking. In the United States, I have so many paths available to me that I sometimes can’t even choose. I don’t even know what kind of oranges to buy, yet oranges – or any other fruit - were precious delicacies to my dad as a child. I can dream of attending a school like Harvard and studying whatever I want, whether it be math, economics, or even philosophy or biochemistry – a non-existent choice for my parents, who were assigned majors by their universities. I can even dream of becoming an entrepreneur, which I see as exploration and self-destiny in its purest form. I can be sure that wherever my true passions take me, my parents will support the choices that I make, as they have for seventeen years.

Most importantly, though, I value that Harvard, with its centuries-long devotion to educating the full person, fosters the same sense of choice for its students that I have come to so deeply appreciate in my parents. I am exhilarated to have the freedom to define my own academic journey and, looking forward, for this upcoming four-year odyssey to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of exploration. For me, thankfully, it’s all possible - but only because of the sacrifice and vision of my parents.

Kevin begins his essay with an anecdote, a tried and true method of grabbing readers’ attention. Through the colorful imagery of choosing oranges in the store, Kevin begins to construct a theme of self-direction.

Through the colorful imagery of choosing oranges in the store, Kevin begins to construct a theme of self-direction.

References to his parents' past show Kevin’s appreciation for their struggles as well as his broader awareness of global issues. This contextualizes not only his application, but also his mindset. We see Kevin reflect on his childhood, his initial mental perturbation about not being like other children finally reconciled with his understanding of his unique opportunity. Kevin further shows his self-awareness of his freedom to pursue his own interests — a strong choice, as many colleges desire intellectually curious students.

Kevin closes his essay with a return to his anecdote about choosing images in the store, a full-circle imagery method which helps to underscore his essay's theme. He makes clear that he would make the most of his college education, and just as importantly, that he appreciates the values of the school to which he's applying. Kevin ends his essay on an uplifting, mature note, reflecting what kind of student he would be on campus.

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I was in 9th grade the first time I stumbled upon a copy of Newsweek. What caught my eye was its trademark title: white type, red highlight, a connotation that stories of great consequence lay beneath. Such bold lettering gave me a moment's pause, and I was prompted to leaf through its glossy pages.

To my surprise, I was instantly hooked.

A new world unfolded before me. Biting social commentary. World conflicts that weren't dumbed down. Piquant reviews of best-selling books, controversial exposés of political figures, tantalizing tidbits on pop culture, full-page spreads of photographs.

And the prose was elegant, sharp, mesmerizing. It radiated sophistication and IQ. As I scanned the credentials of the authors, my only thought was, wow. The articles were written by worldly, ambitious people who were experts in their fields, people with PhDs and MBAS from world-class institutions, people who could write brilliantly, who got paid to give their opinions, who walked with a purpose and ran in the direction of their dreams. People I knew — then and there — I’d like to one day become.

This is what education looks like, I told myself. I was young, I was impressionable. Like a child standing on the outside of a candy store, nose pressed against the glass, I hungered to be a part of that cerebral adult world. So I read that magazine from cover to cover. Twice. And with each turn of the page I felt my small-town naïveté break into smaller and smaller pieces. I remember that day as an incredibly humbling experience. I had an awkward, self-conscious epiphany: that I actually knew next to nothing about the world. There I was, cream of the crop of my middle school, fourteen years of "smart" outwitted by a thin volume of paper. I was used to feeling gifted, to getting gold stickers and good grades, to acing every elementary examination placed in front of my cocky #2 pencil.

I wasn't used to feeling like I'd been living in the Dark Ages.

At the same time, however, I struggled with another realization, one that was difficult for me to define. I felt. . . liberated. I felt as though I had taken a breath of fresh air and found it to be bracing and delicious, like it was the first breath I'd ever taken, and I'd never known that air was so sweet.

I wasn't used to feeling like I'd been living in the Dark Ages.

Talk about a paradigm shift: somehow, reading Newsweek had re-kindled my natural intellectual curiosity; it had, briefly, filled a hole in my soul that I didn't know existed. It had also sparked something within me-a hint of defiance, a refusal to accept complacency. One taste of forbidden fruit, and I knew I could never go back.

Although reading a news magazine seemed like a nonevent at the time, in retrospect it was one of the defining moments of my adolescence. That seemingly unextraordinary day set a lot of subsequent days in motion-days when I would push my limitations, jump a little higher, venture out of my comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, days when I would fail over and over again only to succeed when I least expected it, days when I would build my dreams from scratch, watch them fall down, then build them back up again, and before I knew it, the days bled into years, and this was my life.

At 14, I'd caught a glimpse of where the bar was set. It always seemed astronomically high, until it became just out of my grasp. Sadly, Newsweek magazine went out of print on January 1, 2013. Odd as it may sound, I'll always be indebted to an out-of-print magazine for helping me become the person I am today.

Julia’s strongest skill here is her powerful language and poetic use of metaphors. One of the highlights of the essay is her description of how reading Newsweek humbled her, remarking that she was used to feeling "gifted" but now felt like she had been living in the Dark Ages. Her answer of the prompt is spot-on, expressing precisely how the experience marked a transition from childhood to adulthood.

Her answer of the prompt is spot-on, expressing precisely how the experience marked a transition from childhood to adulthood.

Julia could have elaborated on why being interested in Newsweek was such a surprise for her. She also could have chosen a more reflective and thoughtful conclusion to end an otherwise very strong piece of writing. There is definitely an irony between what was at the time an "out-of-print magazine" and her "natural intellectual curiosity" that could have been teased out further.

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As the first texts came in — “Where are you? The game’s over.” — I grinned, my feet propped up against the trunk and my back relaxed along the incline of the thickest arm of the tree. I swung off the branch and clambered down. The satisfaction on my face a little too apparent, I walked back to my friends, who sat out of sight on a swing set. The competition of the night was manhunt, a combination of hide-and-seek and tag renamed to suit the “dignity” of kids our age.

As I approached the swings, Marc called out, “You won. Where’d you hide?” “That tree over there,” I replied. “You climbed a tree?” Jack laughed, the surprise clear on his face. As manhunt novices, we had previously confined our gameplay to the ground. They were intrigued, recognizing I had taken our sport to new heights, literally.

As absurd as perching on a tree may be, there’s an undeniable thrill to discovering a new hiding spot and changing the game. In that way, manhunt simultaneously fuels my desire to innovate and my love of competition — passions I transfer from my musical, academic, and athletic pursuits to the boundaries of Jack’s backyard.

I search for new perspectives, new trees to climb, in all my endeavors. When I improvise in jazz band, I enjoy sharing original musical riffs and runs. My bandmates and I persist in the hunt for a “perfect solo.” While we know there's no such thing, we look for the next moment of musical insight that will change the complexion of our improvisation. And though we improve as a group, each of us takes pride in our own unique, musical style. The challenge of blending these varying shades of jazz into a cohesive performance is the reason I love being a part of the band.

In that way, manhunt simultaneously fuels my desire to innovate and my love of competition — passions I transfer from my musical, academic, and athletic pursuits to the boundaries of Jack's backyard.

The classroom brings new perspectives as well. Each day’s lesson engages my curiosity as I consider the world from a different physical, historical, or political point of view. It’s the excitement in my Physics teacher’s voice as he tells us that lightning strikes from the ground up and that Zeus is a lie, or the tightly bound silence in the room as a classmate reads aloud a letter home from an American soldier in Vietnam, that captures my interest.

My competitive drive, meanwhile, kicks in whenever I hear a countdown, whether it’s the measure before a jazz solo or the seconds before a sailing race. When I’m out on the water, the urgent beep of my watch preceding the start refocuses my attention to the wind and waves before me. I envision the race ahead, visualizing the changes in wind patterns and the movement of the fleet of boats. When the pounding of my heart drowns out my thoughts and I fall into the rhythm of maneuvering the boat, that’s when I know I’m at my competitive peak.

Similarly, my drive comes to life during soccer games, when a desire to win embodied in a slide tackle is all that defends our net. Though the steely looks in my opponents’ eyes and the chants from the stands threaten to distract me, my ambition and pride in representing my high school harden my nerves on the game field and fuel my resolve in practice.

As much as I love to compete and innovate, the thrill of achievement is matched by the camaraderie among the friends, bandmates, and teammates with whom I share the journey. The determination to push my limits and reach for the next branch is at the root of my athletic ambitions and musical interests, but the personal relationships and shared experiences along the way make the process all the more rewarding. Even in a casual game of hide-and-seek and tag, I compete, innovate, and develop lasting bonds and memories that make a good-natured competition more than a zero-sum game. That’s what delivers the real joy of manhunt.

Opening in the middle of the action with incoming texts and the imagery "my feet propped up against the trunk and my back relaxed along the incline of the thickest arm of the tree," Reginald immediately grounds the reader in his surroundings. The writing has a clear voice, lighthearted yet confident, exemplified through its easy rhythm.

Reginald's choice of details to set the stage — grinning, clambering down the tree, and explaining manhunt in a tongue-in-cheek manner — serves doubly as a portrait of his personality. Reginald shows, not tells, his innovative nature through recounting how he won a game of manhunt. As his opening anecdote has completed its purpose of humanizing Reginald, he connects the values inherent to the game to his broader interests in "musical, academic, and athletic pursuits." Tales of improvising jazz not only reflect Reginald's appreciation for the arts, but also his ability to collaborate with others and appreciate others' hard work.

Tales of improvising jazz not only reflect Reginald's appreciation for the arts, but also his ability to collaborate with others and appreciate others' hard work.

The details in his paragraph on his academic curiosity add a layer of authenticity, strengthening his essay more than a simple statement of his curiosity. Similarly, because the imagery in Reginald's discussions of sailing and soccer captures readers' attention, we can be sure that it is a deep interest of Reginald's which he is pursuing for far more than just another accolade to add to his resume.

To balance out his emphasis on competition, Reginald closes with appreciation for all of his friends and teammates. We see that his pursuit of competition stems from a desire for constant self-improvement. Returning to the imagery of hide-and-seek, Reginald lands his full-circle theme.

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Languages have played a central role in my life. I have studied a variety of languages, to varying degrees — but always in the name of my greater goal, which is to understand people — to truly comprehend what lies beneath the surface: How does a culture conceive of itself? what can we learn about how the Japanese based on formality of address? What can be said about the Germans, whose language requires the verb appear at the end of a sentence? Maybe not much, but without the knowledge of the language, the possibility of real understanding is impaired. My interest in linguistics — psychology as well — derives from this belief: there is an underlying structure to all language, and through the study and comprehension of this structure, there can be a mutual understanding.

My interest in linguistics — psychology as well — derives from this belief: there is an underlying structure to all language, and through the study and comprehension of this structure, there can be a mutual understanding.

Beyond the underlying structure, words themselves have a deep and rich history, and their usage is a form of beauty in itself. It was my father who opened my eye to this truth — who taught me to love words for their stories and to appreciate etymology. It began as a friendly contest between us, but for me, appreciation soon became full-fledged adoration that was only encouraged by my study of Latin. I began drawing connections I had previously missed between words I use every day, and I found myself spending hours in front of the computer looking for sites to aid me in my discoveries. One of my favorite discoveries (and an apt one to share with you) is the word ​hedera​.

I happened upon ​hedera​ when I noticed the similarity among the words ​apprehend,​ ​aprender,​ and ​apprendre​, in Spanish and French, respectively. It was clear, judging by the orthography and definitions, that these words shared a Latin root, but in my studies, never had I come across such a word. Next thing I knew, I had the following on my hands: apprentice, comprehend, prehensile, apprehensive. What relationship exists between one who is learning a trade and a sense of foreboding? The answer lay within the etymologies, which led to ​hedera,​ the Latin word for ivy. Once suffixes had been stripped away, the remaining word was always ​-hendere​. Alone, the word means virtually nothing; it was contrived from ​hedera​ as a verb form to convey a sense of grasping. What better to do so than ivy, a plant known for its tenacity? I could not help but admire the ivy which had embedded itself into the foundations of language.

Language is all about meaning and understanding, but to grasp the true meaning of language, one must look beyond the surface of the sentence to the structure, and even beyond that to the meaning and histories of the words themselves. Language, therefore, is my passion because it is the study of understanding.

The strength of Valerie’s essay lies, unsurprisingly, in her adept use of language to string together sentences as well written as they are communicative. Valerie’s writing is uncharacteristically advanced for her age: It is free of the attempts at poetic flourish that often appear in personal statements and manages to showcase her extensive vocabulary without using ten-dollar words. As Valerie’s puts forward, words and language are the tools she commands best; her essay is proof of this.

As for its content, this essay successfully exhibits its author's intellectual curiosity by parsing through the reasons why she loves linguistics and then demonstrating her learning process by parsing an actual word. And yet, this exercise causes the writer to stray from her initial discussion of how linguistics helps her better understand cultures and people, a wildly intriguing concept that ultimately doesn't get much airtime here.

This essay successfully exhibits its author's intellectual curiosity by parsing through the reasons why she loves linguistics and then demonstrating her learning process by parsing an actual word.

Beyond that, this essay could exhibit more about its author as an individual. Though Valerie’s alludes to a playful relationship with her father, this is all we get in the way of a glimpse into her personality. At 475 words, this essay is well under the 650-word limit. A more colorful introduction, some insight into how Valerie’s love of linguistics shapes her interactions with others, or a more personal conclusion could liven up what is already a sound argument for the writer's keen intellect.

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Language is not the sole domain of humans. Animals also talk, and over the last few years I have been fascinated by learning two new languages that even foreign language school students have never heard of. Studying animal languages is very different from learning Korean, Chinese, or Spanish. There are always dictionaries to refer to when I learn human languages, but when learning animal languages I don't have a Google translator to spit out satisfactory answers. In fact, I have to use my own judgment, which combines my mind, heart, and instinct to interpret what I hear.

Tree frogs, specifically Japanese tree frogs and Suweon tree frogs, use songs not just to express their amorous intentions but to survive. While these two species may look physically identical, they are sexually incompatible. So in order to lure the right female, male frogs sing serenades that are distinguishable from other species. Analyzing these serenades at an ecology lab with spectrograms and waveforms, I decoded every pulse of sounds emitted by these ravenous tree frogs into the patterns of numbers to let humans understand their lyrics.

Unlike frogs' mating songs, bats use language not only to communicate but also to navigate and locate insects at night. While flying, bats shoot out biosonar sounds and listen to the echoes that bounce off obstacles to grasp the world around them. Visualizing a world just with sound, I was enchanted by their invisible language when I studied the Greater Horseshoe bat's supersonic echolocation at a wildlife conservation lab. When bats cast nets of invisible words every millisecond during free flight and ziplining experiments, we captured and revealed their dialogue that had neither conjugations nor grammar.

After eavesdropping on tree frogs' and bats' conversations, I discovered that they use languages for survival. The language of the frogs exemplifies power — the stronger and bigger a frog is, the louder it can sing, scaring off all its prey and bravely exposing itself to predators. And for bats, their invisible language is their vision. They silently scream out for help and listen carefully as nature's echoes guide their path. In a sense, animals communicate with other species and with nature.

On the other hand, humans have developed esoteric words, convoluted sentences, and dialects to express their sophisticated ideas and feelings. This amazing evolution has, I believe, isolated us from nature. Now we prefer to live away from wildlife, tending to communicate only among other Homo sapiens sapiens through texts, tweets, and e-mails. Taking a page from Dr. Dolittle's pocket diction, I hope that my work helps us broaden our anthropocentric minds and understand animals who also share our biosphere. If our souls are reconnected with nature, maybe we could hear Mother Nature whisper some secrets about her mysteries that we are too wired or unaware to heed.

In the same way, I want to take risks in learning to communicate with other species beyond human beings and become a multilingual biologist who connects human and animal realms.

Early explorers boldly left the comforts of their homeland to learn the languages and traditions of other cultures. Due to their dedication, these self-taught bilinguals were able to bridge cultures and share values between different communities. In the same way, I want to take risks in learning to communicate with other species beyond human beings and become a multilingual biologist who connects human and animal realms. I wish to venture into the animal kingdom and become a pioneer in mastering and sharing nature's occult dialects with our species. When we finally learn to comprehend and harmonize with nature, we humans might become more humane.

Describing her study of animal languages was likely quite difficult for Samantha express through other components of her application. Her essay brings to light this extremely unique academic interest while also depicting the relations and insight she draws between animal and human language.

Instead of writing about her interest in science or biology, she writes about a very specific scientific niche in which academic context is needed; similarly, she focused on providing just as much insight about the topic as she did about the academic details of the topic itself.

Because it isn't a good idea to scholastically ramble in a college essay, Samantha instead weaves a story with a mixture of academic knowledge and self-reflection. Additionally, instead of writing about her interest in science or biology, she writes about a very specific scientific niche in which academic context is needed; similarly, she focused on providing just as much insight about the topic as she did about the academic details of the topic itself.

Samantha’s powerful and articulate description of her interest captivates the reader. Her framing of animal language in humanistic terms, such as when she talks about bats' languages in terms of "conjunctions and grammar," makes the essay exceptional. She develops this comparison further near the end of the essay when she presents her insight about the disconnect between humans and animals and her future desires to reconnect the two. While the unique topic in itself was likely to grasp the audience's attention, Samantha’s expressive reflections and explicit desire to continue studying the topic mesmerizes the reader even further.

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How To Answer Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

How To Answer Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

What's New in 2023/24

What are Harvard's Essay Prompts?

How to Answer Harvard's Essay Prompts

General Guidelines

Explore the changes in Harvard's supplemental essay prompts for 2023/24, understand the nuances of each question, and gain insights on crafting compelling responses with our detailed guide, complete with expert tips and links to successful Harvard essay examples.

Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essay Updates: What's Changed?

Gaining admission to Harvard is no small feat, with acceptance rates sometimes plummeting as low as 3% . In such a competitive environment, every component of your application, especially your essay, becomes a crucial tool to stand out to admissions officers.

Every year, top-tier universities like Harvard fine-tune their application process to get a deeper understanding of their applicants. For the 2023/24 admissions cycle, Harvard University has made notable modifications to its supplemental essay questions .

Last year, applicants had a mix of required and optional prompts, with varying word limits, ranging from 50 to 150 words. These prompts touched on extracurricular activities, intellectual experiences, personal backgrounds, and more.

This year, Harvard has streamlined the process, requiring all applicants to answer five questions, each with a strict 200-word limit . The questions emphasize the importance of diversity, intellectual experiences, extracurricular activities, the utilization of a Harvard education, and personal insights for potential roommates.

This shift indicates a desire for more concise, focused responses from applicants, allowing the admissions committee to gain a clearer, more uniform understanding of each student's background, aspirations, and personality.

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What Are Harvard’s Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2023/24?

For the 2023/24 application cycle, Harvard University has outlined specific supplemental essay prompts to understand applicants better in addition to the Common App or Coalition App questions. These questions delve into your experiences, intellectual pursuits, and personal insights. Students are required to answer each Harvard-specific question in under 200 words. Here's a breakdown of the prompts:

  • Diversity and Contribution : Harvard values a diverse student body. Reflect on your life experiences and explain how they have shaped you and how you plan to contribute to Harvard. (200 words)
  • Intellectual Experience : Discuss an intellectual experience that has had a significant impact on you. (200 words)
  • Personal Shaping Experiences : Elaborate on extracurricular activities, employment, travel, or family responsibilities that have played a pivotal role in defining who you are. (200 words)
  • Future Aspirations : Describe how you envision utilizing your Harvard education in the future. (200 words)
  • Getting to Know You : List three things your future roommates should know about you. (200 words)

These prompts offer applicants a chance to showcase their personalities, aspirations, and experiences, providing a holistic view of their candidacy.

Looking for inspiration? Dive into these Harvard essay examples to see what successful applications look like!

How to Answer Harvard’s Supplemental Essay Questions?

This guide aims to help you craft a compelling response that showcases your unique journey and potential contributions to Harvard's diverse community.

As you begin planning responses to each individual prompt, be sure to consider what experiences, reflections, and qualities you want to showcase once you’ve responded to all the prompts:

  • Ensure you won’t leave out any important experiences, reflections, and qualities you want Harvard to know about.
  • Be sure you’ll avoid repeating the same experiences, reflections, or qualities in the other prompts.

Answering Prompt 1

Harvard values a diverse student body. reflect on your life experiences and explain how they have shaped you and how you plan to contribute to harvard., - 200 words or fewer, 1. understand the question.

Harvard is not merely asking for a list of experiences. They want to understand the depth of your experiences , how they've molded your character, and how you'll use that growth to contribute to the Harvard community.

Since Harvard is telling you they value diversity, consider emphasizing unique experiences or circumstances that highlight the most personal and profound aspects of your personality, values, and perspectives.

2. Reflect on Your Unique Experiences

Consider moments in your life that have had a significant impact on your worldview:

  • Have you lived in multiple countries, exposing you to various cultures?
  • Did you overcome challenges that forced you to view the world differently?
  • Were there pivotal moments in your upbringing that shaped your identity?
  • How did interactions with diverse individuals or groups influence your perspectives?

3. Dive Deep into Personal Growth

Discuss the evolution of your perspectives, values, or aspirations.

  • How did these experiences challenge your beliefs or expand your understanding?
  • What lessons did you derive, and how have they influenced your subsequent actions or decisions?
  • What experiences or reflections shape your deepest beliefs and values? — or, shape some deep questions or doubts you wrestle with?

4. Connect to Harvard

Consider how your unique perspective will enrich Harvard's community .

  • Will you introduce new viewpoints in classroom discussions or help teams work together more successfully?
  • Will you contribute to or initiate student organizations or community projects?
  • Will you exemplify certain traits that enhance a vibrant, curious, and inclusive learning environment?

5. Be Concise and Authentic

With a 200-word limit, precision is key. Ensure your narrative is genuine, making your essay resonate with the reader. Avoid generic statements; instead, provide specific examples that showcase your journey.

Harvard's first supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase the depth of your experiences and how they've shaped you . Reflecting on significant moments, emphasizing personal growth, and connecting your unique perspective to how you'll contribute to Harvard is essential. Remember to be concise, authentic, and ensure your essay is polished to perfection.

Answering Prompt 2

Discuss an intellectual experience that has had a significant impact on you..

This question aims to help you articulate the depth and significance of an intellectual experience and its profound impact on your academic and personal journey.

1. Define "Intellectual Experience"

Before diving in, understand that an intellectual experience isn't limited to classroom learning . It could be:

  • A book that changed your perspective
  • A conversation that challenged your beliefs
  • An experience that triggered a profound insight or understanding
  • Or even a personal project or research endeavor

2. Choose a Meaningful Experience

Reflect on experiences that genuinely transformed your thinking:

  • Was there a particular course or project that ignited a passion?
  • Did a specific book, article, or documentary challenge your pre-existing beliefs?
  • Have you attended seminars, workshops, or lectures that introduced you to new ideas?

3. Delve into the "Why"

Discuss why this experience was transformative:

  • What preconceptions or beliefs did it challenge?
  • How did it expand or deepen your understanding of a particular subject or idea?
  • Did it inspire further exploration or study into the topic?

4. Highlight Personal Growth

Describe how this intellectual experience influenced your academic and personal journey:

  • Did it guide your academic pursuits or career aspirations?
  • How did it shape your values, beliefs, or worldview?

5. Be Authentic and Reflective

Your genuine curiosity and passion should shine through. Avoid using jargon or overly complex language. Instead, focus on genuine reflection and personal growth .

Harvard's second supplemental essay seeks to understand your intellectual journey . It's an opportunity to showcase your curiosity, passion, and the transformative power of learning. By reflecting on a significant intellectual experience and its impact on you, you can demonstrate your academic depth, your own intellectual processes and aptitudes, and intellectual growth.

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Answering Prompt 3

Elaborate on extracurricular activities, employment, travel, or family responsibilities that have played a pivotal role in defining who you are..

This question is designed to help you articulate the significance of experiences outside the classroom and their profound impact on your personal journey.

1. Prioritize Depth Over Quantity

While you might have multiple experiences, focus on one or two that have had the most profound impact on you . This allows you to delve deeper and provide a more insightful reflection.

2. Choose a Defining Experience

Reflect on moments that genuinely shaped your character:

  • Was there an extracurricular activity that taught you leadership, teamwork, or dedication?
  • Did a job teach you responsibility, time management, or the value of hard work?
  • Has travel exposed you to diverse cultures, broadening your perspectives?
  • Were there family responsibilities that instilled in you a sense of maturity, empathy, or resilience?

3. Describe the Experience

Briefly set the scene. Whether it's the bustling environment of a part-time job, the challenges of a leadership role in a club, or the nuances of a family responsibility, paint a picture for the reader.

4. Reflect on the Impact

Discuss how this experience influenced your personal growth:

  • What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
  • What skills or values did you acquire or strengthen?
  • How did this experience shape your aspirations, perspectives, or values?

5. Connect to the Present

Highlight how this experience continues to influence you:

  • How do the lessons you learned guide your current decisions or actions?
  • How has it influenced your academic interests or future aspirations?

Harvard's third supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase experiences outside the classroom that have significantly influenced your personal growth . Reflecting on these pivotal moments and their lasting impact can provide a holistic picture of your character, values, and aspirations.

Answering Prompt 4

Describe how you envision utilizing your harvard education in the future..

This question aims to help you articulate how a Harvard education aligns with your future goals and the impact you aim to make in your chosen field or community.

1. Reflect on Your Goals

Begin by identifying your long-term aspirations . Have a clear vision in mind, whether it's a specific career, a desire to address a global challenge, or a passion you wish to pursue further.

2. Highlight Harvard's Unique Offerings

Research specific programs, courses, or opportunities at Harvard that align with your goals. This could be a particular academic program, research opportunities, or extracurricular activities.

3. Draw a Connection

Discuss how these unique offerings will equip you with the skills, knowledge, or experiences needed to achieve your future aspirations . Make it evident that Harvard is the ideal place for you to realize these goals.

4. Go Beyond the Obvious

While Harvard's academic excellence is a given, delve into the broader Harvard experience. Consider the influence of its diverse community, its culture of innovation, or its commitment to leadership and service.

5. Discuss the Broader Impact

Expand on how you plan to use your Harvard education to make a difference . Whether it's in your community, in a particular field, or on a global scale, showcase your commitment to creating positive change.

6. Stay Authentic

Ensure your response is genuine and reflects your true aspirations. Admissions officers can discern genuine passion and commitment from generic responses.

Harvard's fourth supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase your forward-thinking approach and how you plan to leverage Harvard's resources to achieve your future goals. By drawing a clear connection between what Harvard offers and your aspirations, you demonstrate a purposeful approach to your education.

Answering Prompt 5

List three things your future roommates should know about you..

This question aims to help you present a genuine and well-rounded picture of yourself, offering insights into your personality, habits, and values.

1. Reflect on Your Personality

This prompt is an invitation to share more about your personal side. Think about the quirks, habits, or values that define you. What are the things that make you, well, you?

2. Balance Seriousness with Lightness

While one point could be a deep reflection of your values or beliefs, another could be a fun fact or a unique hobby. This mix gives a rounded picture of who you are.

3. Be Genuine

Avoid coming up with things you believe the admissions committee wants to hear. This is your chance to let your true self shine through.

4. Consider Your Daily Life

Think about your habits or routines, the music you listen to, or the books you read. These can offer insights into your personality and preferences.

5. Reflect on Past Living Experiences

Have you shared a space with someone before — roommate, sibling, family members, fellow campers?… Think about what made the experience harmonious. Were there particular habits, routines, or guiding principles you followed that were appreciated by those you were sharing space with?

Harvard's fifth supplemental essay is a chance to showcase your personality beyond academics and extracurriculars . By sharing genuine aspects of yourself related to day-to-day living and the many small ways you interact with those around you in more personal spaces, you give a glimpse into your life outside the classroom and what it might be like to share a living space with you.

5 Tips for the "Why This School?" Essay

General Guidelines for Crafting Stellar Harvard Supplemental Essays

1. Understand the Question: Before you start writing, ensure you fully understand what the prompt is asking. Break it down and consider its nuances. This will help you stay on track and address all aspects of the question.

2. Be Authentic: Harvard isn't just looking for high achievers; they're looking for genuine individuals. Your essay should reflect your true self, not what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.

3. Show, Don't Tell: Instead of just stating facts or beliefs, use anecdotes, experiences, or stories to convey your points. This makes your essay more engaging and paints a clearer picture of who you are.

4. Stay Within the Word Limit: While it might be tempting to write more, respect the word limits. It shows that you can convey your thoughts concisely and respect guidelines.

5. Proofread and Edit: Always review your essay multiple times for clarity, coherence, and grammar. Consider also asking a teacher, mentor, or friend to review it.

6. Connect to Harvard: While the prompts might not explicitly ask for it, subtly showing why your experiences, values, or aspirations align with Harvard's culture or offerings can be a plus.

7. Reflect on Growth: Colleges love to see personal growth. Reflect on how experiences have shaped you, lessons learned, and how you've evolved.

8. Avoid Repetition: Ensure that your supplemental essays present new information and don't repeat what's already in your Common App essay or other parts of your application.

9. Be Forward-Looking: While it's essential to reflect on past experiences, also touch on how these experiences prepare you for future endeavors, especially at Harvard.

10. Start Early: Give yourself ample time to brainstorm, draft, and revise. Starting early reduces stress and allows you to approach the essay with a clear mind.

Remember, the supplemental essays are an opportunity to showcase aspects of yourself that aren't evident in other parts of your application . Use them wisely to provide a holistic picture of yourself and why you'd be a great fit for Harvard.

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Final Thoughts

The journey to Harvard is more than just academic prowess; it's about crafting a narrative that resonates deeply with the admissions committee. Your supplemental essays provide a unique window into your personality, aspirations, and the distinct perspectives you'll bring to the Harvard community.

Every Harvard aspirant has a story waiting to be told. This is your moment to share yours. Approach your essays with authenticity, introspection, and a genuine passion for your narrative.

If you're wondering whether your essay truly captures your essence or if it stands out from the multitude of applications, our essay review service is here to help. Our team of experts will meticulously review and provide feedback to refine your essay, ensuring it resonates with admissions officers. For further inspiration, delve into our ebook , which showcases essays from students who clinched spots at top universities. And if Harvard is your dream, these successful Harvard essay examples will provide invaluable insights.

For those just starting their college application journey, consider booking a free consultation with our seasoned college counselors. We're dedicated to guiding you in creating an application that significantly enhances your chances of donning the Crimson colors. Harvard is within reach, and we're here to help you every step of the way.

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What Makes Crimson Different

Key Resources & Further Reading

  • Everything you need to know about US Application Supplemental Essays
  • Acing your College Application Essay: 5 Expert Tips to Make it Stand Out from the Rest
  • How to Tackle Every Type of Supplemental Essay
  • 2023-24 Common App Essay Prompts
  • What are the Most Unusual US College Supplemental Essay Prompts?

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Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-24

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Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

If you’re applying to Harvard , you might be wondering how to approach the Harvard supplemental essays. Harvard is one of the most prestigious schools in the United States and the world, and as such is ultra-competitive. As an applicant, you’ll want to take every opportunity to distinguish yourself, starting with the Harvard essay prompts. This may feel daunting, but writing stellar Harvard application essays is guaranteed to make your application shine.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about writing your Harvard supplemental essays. This includes understanding the Harvard essay requirements and showing you where to find Harvard essay examples. We’ll also go over general Harvard application requirements that you should know, including the Harvard acceptance rate and application deadline.

Want some advice on how to get into Harvard? You’ve come to the right place. Now, let’s go over some quick facts about the Harvard supplemental essays. 

Harvard Supplemental Essays: Quick Facts

Harvard university essay quick facts.

  • Harvard acceptance rate: 4% – U.S. News rates Harvard a highly competitive school.
  • 5 short-answer questions (200-word limit)
  • Restrictive Early Action: November 1st 
  • Regular Decision: January 1st 
  • Harvard application note: The Harvard supplemental essays for the 2023-2024 cycle have changed from past years. All five Harvard supplemental essays are required for all applicants.
  • #1 Harvard Essay Tip: Your essays are your opportunity to show Harvard how you’ve interacted with the world. This includes how your experiences have shaped you into who you are and the kind of impact you hope to make.

Please note that essay requirements are subject to change each admissions cycle, and portions of this article may have been written before the final publication of the most recent guidelines. For the most up-to-date information on essay requirements, check the university’s admissions website.

Now that you know the basics about the Harvard application, let’s dive into more information about the Harvard supplemental essays. 

What are the Harvard Essay Prompts?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

The Harvard essay prompts for the 2023-2024 have changed dramatically from past years. Previously , Harvard only required a short extracurricular essay. Students then had the opportunity to write an additional essay, choosing between a few Harvard application essay questions. These included topics such as how you hope to use your college education and unusual circumstances in your life.

Now the Harvard supplemental essays are different. According to the latest information for first-year applicants, Harvard requires 5 short-answer essays of 200 words or less. 

Here are the Harvard essay prompts for this year :

Harvard University Essay Prompts

1. 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, 2. briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. , 3. briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are., 4. how do you hope to use your harvard education in the future, 5. top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. .

If you’ve read the Harvard supplemental essay prompts for their optional essay in years past, these questions may look familiar. Before, students might write one long Harvard application essay that only touched on one of these questions. Now, Harvard is requiring their applicants to succinctly respond to multiple prompts. 

You might find writing multiple Harvard application essays is more intimidating than writing just one. And that’s okay! Even though this is the first year the Harvard supplemental essays are structured this way, these prompts are nothing new. We’ve still got all the information you need to successfully tackle the Harvard supplemental essays..

But before we dive into the Harvard supplemental essay prompts, let’s first talk about your Harvard personal statement. 

Harvard Personal Statement

When you apply to Harvard, your Harvard application must include a personal statement. Both the Common App and Coalition App require you to write a personal statement, choosing from a selection of prompts. This essay is also what the Harvard admissions committee considers your Harvard personal statement. Unlike your Harvard supplemental essays, your personal statement is not school-specific. That means it can be submitted to any school you are applying to.

The 2023-24 Common App prompts are broad, and intentionally so! The prompts are meant to give students the space and opportunity to write about something they care about.

You can write about:

  • Your background
  • A lesson you have learned
  • A time that you challenged a belief
  • Something you’re grateful for
  • An accomplishment, a topic that fascinates you
  • Any topic of your choosing!

Harvard encourages students to write about something they’re passionate about, not something they think would impress the Harvard admissions committee. According to this list of tips about the Harvard personal statement, “The point of the personal statement is for you to have the chance to share whatever you would like with us. Remember, your topic does not have to be exotic to be compelling.”

Whatever you write your personal statement about, it should stand apart from your Harvard supplemental essays. Each one of your Harvard application essays should tell the Harvard admissions committee something new about you. Or, it should elaborate and build upon something that you haven’t had enough time to discuss elsewhere in your application. 

What should I write my Harvard essay about?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

There is no one perfect essay topic that will automatically earn you admission to Harvard. The best Harvard supplemental essays will communicate something unique about you, giving the admissions committee a window into who you are. 

One way to come up with ideas for your Harvard supplemental essays is to read successful application essays! In this list of Ivy League essays that worked, you’ll see essays about everything. From AP Biology to Adventure Time to a family member’s hospitalization for schizophrenia. The quality of your writing, and whether the topic is important to you, is more important than the topic itself. 

Harvard personal statement examples

In this guide to past Harvard personal statement examples, you can read essays from previous years. These essays answered many of the same questions Harvard asks today—except using far more words. Not all of these Harvard personal statement examples align with the current Harvard prompts, but they’re still examples of great writing.

Additionally, these Harvard personal statement examples still show the diversity of topics, as well as styles, that Harvard looks for. Though the Harvard essay requirements are different this year, there are many overlapping topics covered in the Harvard personal statement examples. 

Choosing a topic

If you’re still stuck coming up with a topic for your Harvard application essay questions, try a brainstorm! Brainstorming or free writing about the different short answer questions is a great way to generate potential essay ideas.

Strong essays often focus around moments of change or personal growth. Think about an experience you grew from, or maybe one that demonstrates your values and what matters to you. You can also look to your application for inspiration. What aspects of who you are do you feel like your extracurriculars, grades, or potentially test scores leave out? 

Harvard Short Answer Questions

In the next sections, we’ll go over each of the Harvard supplemental essays individually. For each of the Harvard essay prompts, we’ll discuss what the prompt is asking for and how you might approach it. And we’ll give you tips on what to include in your Harvard supplemental essays to make them stand out. 

This year, the Harvard supplemental essays consist of 5 separate short-answer questions. The Harvard supplemental essays are called “short-answer” because of the word limit. You only have 200 words to provide a strong, detailed, and specific answer to the Harvard essay prompts. Limiting your Harvard supplemental essays to only 200 words can be tricky. So, it’s important you choose your topic wisely, consider the important details, and make every word count.

You can look up the Harvard supplemental essays with the Common App’s search tool . By searching for Harvard, or any other college, you can go over their school-specific writing requirements for that college. On Harvard’s website you can find guidelines for your Harvard application, including requirements for the Harvard supplemental essays. 

Now, let’s go over each of the Harvard essay prompts in more detail.

Harvard Essay #1 – Contributing to Harvard

Harvard Supplemental Essays

The first of the Harvard supplemental essays is about contributing to Harvard.

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?

This question is a bit misleading. Although it’s phrased as a single sentence, there are really two parts to this prompt. What in your life has shaped you into the person you are today? Then, how does that affect what you’ll contribute to Harvard’s community? 

For the first of your Harvard supplemental essays, think about what “diversity” means to you. Maybe it’s where you grew up, your race, your gender or sexuality. Or maybe you’ve had a unique upbringing that falls outside of those identity categories. Once you have identified the piece of your upbringing you would like to share, think about how it’s shaped you. What value has that brought into your life, and how can that part of you enrich Harvard’s community? 

For example, maybe you went to school in a really homogeneous suburb. Think of a place where everyone was the same race and from the same socioeconomic class. Once you recognized that, you tried to do everything you could to learn about different perspectives. Maybe you volunteered outside your community to try and understand the experiences of people outside of that bubble. This intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness is a product of your upbringing that impacts how you’d interact with others at Harvard.

Harvard Short Essay #2 – Intellectual Experience

Harvard Supplemental Essays

For the second of your Harvard supplemental essays, you’re asked to focus on the intellectual.

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

This Harvard application essay should speak to your academic interests and your intended concentration— Harvard’s version of a major . Even if you don’t know what you want to concentrate in, that’s okay! You don’t have to worry about your Harvard supplemental essays defining what you will eventually go on to study. All you need to do is focus on a moment in your education, or in your life, that stimulated you intellectually.

Each of the Harvard supplemental essays are trying to learn something specific about you. In this one, Harvard is trying to see if you are intellectually curious and passionate about learning. As a prestigious university, Harvard puts a huge value on its students having a desire to learn. If you are applying to Harvard, this should be a pretty easy question to answer! 

If something doesn’t immediately come to mind, try asking yourself these questions. What moment made you love English, or Math, or Science? Was it inside or outside of the classroom? Was it a political debate, or a conversation with a family member? An essay topic you didn’t expect to enjoy but ended up adoring? As long as you explain an intellectual passion, there’s no wrong answer.

Harvard Essay Prompt #3 – Extracurricular Activities Essay

Harvard Supplemental Essays

If the first two Harvard supplemental essays focused on identity and curiosity, you can think of the third as focusing on action. The next of our Harvard supplemental essays centers around the things you do outside of the classroom. 

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.

You may have already gone into detail about one of your extracurricular activities or other experiences in your Common App. If so, you should consider selecting a different one to speak about here. Having all of these individual Harvard supplemental essays allows you to share so many facets of who you are. Don’t limit yourself by describing the same thing multiple times!

This question is very open-ended. Since you only have 200 words, focus on answering this question succinctly and honestly. Don’t overthink it — simply pick one of these experiences and describe how it has shaped who you are. 

You could talk about grocery shopping with your mom, working at a summer camp, or being the captain of the swim team. What matters most is that you pick an experience that really impacted you. This could be something that inspired a change in your perspective, or helped you develop a new skill. The most important part of question 3 of your Harvard supplemental essays is not which activity you pick. It’s in showing how it has shaped you. 

Harvard Essay #4 – Education and the future

Harvard Supplemental Essays

For #4 of your Harvard supplemental essays, Harvard tasks you with envisioning your future. 

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?

A Harvard education can get you a lot of places. Harvard knows that it’s a renowned institution—there’s a reason that the Harvard acceptance rate is so low. However, you don’t need to inflate its ego by discussing Harvard’s prestige. Instead, think about how a Harvard education will prepare you to make a positive impact in the world.

Also be wary of writing your Harvard supplemental essays in a way that inflates your own ego. Don’t just say you think you’ll be the next Elon Musk or the President of the U.S. Focus less on who you’ll be and more on what you’ll do. Think about what technology you could create to make peoples’ lives easier or policies you could enact to reduce poverty. Many Harvard students go on to achieve amazing things. However, make sure you’re focused on why those things are important and not the achievement itself.

You can also use the 4th of your Harvard supplemental essays to sneak in some “why Harvard” details. Consider mentioning a specific Harvard class or professor that you wish to study under. Maybe five years after graduating, you want to be writing a book with Professor X. And five years after that, you want to be teaching at Harvard on the same topic. 

Harvard Essay #5 – Roommate Essay

Harvard Supplemental Essays

This final question for the Harvard supplemental essays gives you an opportunity to chat with an imaginary future roommate. 

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

In the last of your Harvard supplemental essays, you can get a little creative. Since this question gives you complete freedom over what you include, it can be helpful to save it for last. Then you can look back at your other Harvard supplemental essays and brainstorm what the admissions committee hasn’t heard yet. If you could only describe three things about yourself, in 200 words, what would you say?

Since you’re hypothetically talking to a roommate, don’t be afraid to be more joking or casual—let your personality shine through! But, keep in mind that an admissions officer will still be reading your essay. So long as you’re being appropriate and true to yourself, you get to decide what to share and how to share it!

That being said, don’t mention only things that are superficial. Remember, this is still part of your application, and your reader is deciding whether you belong at Harvard. “I leave my clothes all over my bedroom floor, but I promise to never leave them in the common room,” may be the truth. However, opt for the personal over the mundane! What do you geek out about? How do you like to spend your free time? What Harvard experiences are you most looking forward to?

How to write the Harvard supplemental essays

Harvard Supplemental Essays

So, we’ve gone over the individual Harvard application essays. Now let’s talk about some general tips that you could use to answer any of the Harvard essays.

Be specific

Whether you’re writing about your extracurriculars, your upbringing, or Harvard itself, be specific. Generalizations can feel like they let you say more in fewer words. But, they don’t say as much about who you are or your experiences.

Instead of saying “I’ve always been passionate about history,” get specific! There are lots of people who like history—what exactly about history interests you? A specific time period? A social movement? Is it something about the discipline itself? Did you always feel this way about this subject? The more specific you are, the more the Harvard Admissions team can learn from your Harvard supplemental essays. 

This tip also applies to when you’re talking about Harvard. At some point in your Harvard application essays, you’ll want to mention something about why you want to attend Harvard. There are a whopping five Harvard essay prompts, after all! Avoid the obvious, like that Harvard has good academics and is prestigious. Be specific — you can list clubs, professors, majors like Sociology or Economics , or anything else that’s specific to the school. This shows that you’ve done your research and you want to come for a reason, not just the Harvard degree. 

Be yourself

At the end of the day, your Harvard application essays are for Admissions to get to know you better. The more introspective you can be before writing them, the more you can use the essays to demonstrate your values. Since the Harvard acceptance rate is so low, you’re competing against many incredibly qualified applicants. Sure, you might have stellar grades—but so does the average Harvard applicant. Your answers to the Harvard essay prompts are a way to set yourself apart. And the best way to do that is by being yourself. 

When you’re writing your Harvard application essays, it can feel intimidating to try and be “unique.” It can feel like you’ve never had a truly unique experience. But no one is exactly like you, so the more true to yourself you can be, the better! In your Harvard application essays, you don’t need to perform anything that you think Harvard wants to hear. Just be honest and speak about yourself and your experiences.

Show, don’t tell

This tip on perfecting your Harvard application essays is a classic: show, don’t tell. Instead of simply stating the facts or your feelings, you put the reader into the experience using dialogue, imagery, and storytelling. 

For example, you might start your Harvard application essay by saying, “I was the most excited I had ever been.” Instead, could you describe how that excitement felt? Were your palms sweaty? Was your heart racing? Paint the reader a picture so they can imagine what it must have felt like to be there with you.

We know you do only have 200 words for these Harvard essay prompts. However, that leaves more than enough room for an evocative anecdote. Many students place this type of anecdote at the beginning of their Harvard application essays as a “hook.” A hook is something that grabs the reader’s attention, and pulls them into the essay. It makes them want to keep reading. Since the admissions committee will be reading so many essays, using a hook like this can make your essay stand out.

Grammar and spelling

It’s not super exciting, but it is non-negotiable: your Harvard application essays must have perfect grammar and spelling. The Harvard acceptance rate is 4%. You don’t want to let a typo or a run-on sentence be the distinguishing factor between you and another applicant. 

Use spell check, use an online grammar checker, or give your Harvard application essay to a parent or friend. Reading the essay out loud is also a great way to catch typos and grammatical errors. If something sounds wrong when it’s read out loud, you know that you have to go in and fix it. Reading out loud also forces you to look at each word. So, it’s less likely that a copy-paste error like having two “and’s” in a row would slip by. 

Get creative

Don’t be afraid to have fun with your Harvard application essays! The Harvard essay prompts might seem pretty straightforward. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t take them in a more fun direction. 

One way to stand out is to get a little creative. Sure, there’s probably such a thing as being too creative. You don’t want to be so quirky that you forget to answer the question, or come off smug. But adding a little natural humor or excitement into your essays is a totally acceptable way to get the admissions committee’s attention. 

If after reading these tips you’re still in doubt, consider reading some Harvard personal statement examples. Keep in mind our Harvard personal statement examples are from before changes were made to the Harvard essay requirements. However, they cover many similar topics as the current Harvard essays. Even though the Harvard essay prompts aren’t exactly the same, and the word count is certainly different, they’re still valuable. Our Harvard personal statement examples can show you how many different ways there are to answer the same questions. And how to write an essay that stands out. 

Does Harvard like risky essays?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

Judging from personal experience, yes! When I wrote my Harvard application essay in 2015, they were still asking for the optional extended personal essay. I chose to answer the prompt that asks what your roommate should know about you—similar to the current prompt. 

Instead of writing an essay, I wrote a play/screenplay where I meet my roommate for the first time. It was formatted like a play, with dialogue and stage directions, and set in the Harvard dorms. I researched specific things about Harvard and Harvard Square, and incorporated different places in the dialogue to make it feel more specific. I also shared a lot about myself: my values, quirks, extracurriculars, and more. And I guess they liked it, since I was admitted in the class of 2020!

In general, Harvard is looking for students who aren’t afraid to stand out. This includes students who are intellectually curious and passionate about what they believe in. It might feel harder to get creative in only 200 words. But, since you have five questions, you can always pick one of them and take a risk! Write a poem, use a quote or song lyrics, write with a specific audience in mind. As long as you’re using correct spelling and grammar, and you’re answering the question, the world is your oyster!

What does Harvard look for in applicants?

So what does Harvard look for in applicants? If you want to know how to get into Harvard, you’ll need some idea of what Harvard is looking for. 

First and foremost, you need to make sure you’re answering all of the Harvard essay prompts. And, be sure you’ve fulfilled all of the Harvard application requirements. That means:

  • Including your Harvard personal statement
  • Answering the Harvard application essay questions
  • Meeting all of the Harvard essay requirements
  • Submitting all of the required materials.

You also need to carefully observe the Harvard application deadlines, and pick which deadline works best for you. 

Outside of these Harvard application requirements, what else do you need to think about to know how to get into Harvard? Start by thinking about why you want to go to Harvard. It can seem like a simple question, but why Harvard specifically? Why are you a good fit? Why would you excel there? And why do you need to be there, specifically, to reach your highest potential?

Looking for more concrete answers to how to get into Harvard? On Harvard’s website, they provide admissions criteria . Stellar academics are understandably important, but Harvard also considers factors like leadership, character, and community involvement. One way to show Harvard that you embody these factors is through your answers to the Harvard application essay questions. 

When is my Harvard application due?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

There are two Harvard application deadlines. Regardless of which deadline you choose to submit by, you’ll need to submit a complete application. This includes:

  • Your answers to the Harvard application essay questions
  • Your (optional) SAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Extracurricular list
  • Any other Harvard essay requirements or supplements

One Harvard application deadline is Restrictive Early Action, and the other Harvard application deadline is Regular Decision.

Harvard Restrictive Early Action

The Harvard application deadline for Restrictive Early Action is November 1 . Restrive Early Action means that you can only submit your application early to one institution. Unlike Early Decision, it’s not a binding acceptance. So if you get into Harvard early, you can still apply to other schools Regular Decision. 

You should only apply to Harvard early if you’re confident that you’ve satisfied the Harvard essay requirements. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve answered all of the Harvard application essay questions to the best of your ability. When writing your answers to the Harvard supplemental essays, give yourself enough time to draft and brainstorm. Don’t write your answers the night before the deadline. If you haven’t filled the Harvard essay requirements or answered the Harvard application essay questions, don’t rush! Rather than hurry to submit Early Action, give yourself until the Regular Decision deadline.

Harvard Regular Decision

The Regular Decision deadline is January 1 . This gives you plenty of time to fulfill the Harvard essay requirements, including answers to all five Harvard essay prompts.  This might make for a busy Winter Break, but it’s worth it to make sure that you’ve confidently satisfied all of the Harvard application requirements. 

Additional Harvard Resources from CollegeAdvisor

Hopefully by this point you’re feeling more confident about answering the Harvard essay prompts. Although the Harvard application essay questions are different this cycle, you’ve still got plenty of resources to depend on. 

If you’re still looking for advice on how to get into Harvard, check out our guide that covers every step of the Harvard admissions process. We also have webinars like this one where you can hear from Harvard students about their college journeys. 

Don’t forget that if you’re still struggling with answering the Harvard essay questions, you can read these Harvard essay examples: Harvard personal statement examples from years past. Even though these Harvard essay examples are a little out of date, Harvard personal statement examples can give you a feeling for what kind of essay Harvard is looking for—regardless of the Harvard application essay questions. 

Harvard Essays – Takeaways

Now that you’ve reached the end of our guide to the Harvard supplemental essays, you’re ready to write your own. Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind: 

Harvard University Essay Key Takeaways

  • The Harvard application essay questions are different this year. Be sure to check Harvard’s website for the most up to date Harvard application requirements. 
  • This year, there are 5 Harvard supplemental essays. Each essay has a word limit of 200 words. 
  • When writing your essays: Be specific. Be true to yourself. Show and not tell. Always check your spelling and grammar. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
  • Be mindful of the two Harvard deadlines: November 1st (Restrictive Early Action) and January 1st (Regular Decision).
  • Wherever you are in your college journey, CollegeAdvisor is here to support you. From guides to Harvard’s extracurriculars , to Harvard personal statement examples and what to expect after you apply, we’ve got you covered. Even though the Harvard personal statement examples aren’t answering the same prompts as this year, they can still be educational. Give them a read and see for yourself! 

Thanks for reading our guide to Harvard’s supplemental essays—now go forth and write!

Harvard Supplemental Essays

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How to Write Harvard's Essays (with Real 2023 Harvard Essay Examples)

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Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education

16 min read

How to Write Harvard's Essays (with Real 2023 Harvard Essay Examples)

Getting into Harvard University is a dream come true for many high school students. But, the application process doesn't end with the Common Application - you'll also need to write supplemental essays. While it may seem daunting at first, writing these Harvard supplementals can be made easier by understanding what admissions officers are looking for and having examples of successful essays to draw inspiration from.

In this article, we’ll provide some tips on how to craft an effective Harvard supplemental essay and showcase real examples from 2023 applicants who were admitted into the university. With these helpful resources in hand, you’ll have all you need to start writing your own supplementals!

Harvard's Essay Prompts

Harvard applicants will have to write three essays in total. While two of these essays are technically optional, they are highly encouraged; students who don't complete those essays are put at a massive disadvantage during application season.

Prompt #1 (Optional, but Highly Recommended): 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)

Prompt #2: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words)

Prompt #3 (Optional, but Highly Recommended): You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that 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:

  • 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.

Writing Harvard's Essays:

Harvard's additional intellectual activities essay.

Harvard's Prompt #1: "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."

Our advice for approaching Harvard's essay prompt asking applicants to list additional intellectual activities outside of their schoolwork is to first understand what "intellectual activities" consist of. Intellectual activities may include but are not limited to hobbies, academic projects, research, or any other activity that's helped you learn something valuable or new.

When structuring your response, make sure to keep it organized. Start by briefly introducing the activity, explaining what it is and how you became involved with it. Focus on the skills that you gained from this activity and how they have helped you develop into a well-rounded individual. Be specific when mentioning the activity or intellectual pursuit, and relate it back to your talents, abilities, or interests. Make sure to highlight how it has impacted your academic performance and personal growth.

Suitable intellectual activities to mention can include but are not limited to, volunteering, research projects, personal interests, internships within a specific field, or pursuing a particular subject on your own outside of a traditional academic setting.

Lastly, make sure to avoid cliches or generic statements that don't add anything new to your story. Rather, use concrete examples and showcase your uniqueness in your writing style. Here's an excellent example of this from Victor, who got into Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Columbia, and UPenn. You can read all of his essays, stats, and awards here!

Leisure Reading: Silent Spring—Rachel Carson; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—Douglas Adams; The Old Man and the Sea—Ernest Hemingway; Blood Meridian, The Road—Cormac McCarthy; Die Welt von Gestern—Stefan Zweig; Cicero—Anthony Everret.

Independent research: Used GIS mapping and Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System to analyze traffic collision data in my city.

Books: The Death and Life of Great American Cities—Jane Jacobs; The Color of Law—Richard Rothstein.

Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance—Andonia E. Lugo.

Historical research areas from hours perusing Wikipedia, YouTube, and scholarly articles: 19th Century Urbanism and the Sanitation Revolution; Implications of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the British betrayal of the Hashemites; Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas’ nationalization of Mexican oil and foundation of PEMEX; Mercantilism and how it stunted Iberian colonies’ development post-independence; Fall of the Roman Republic; Norman Conquest of England; The Trial of Charles I.

Harvard's Extracurricular Essay:

Harvard's Prompt #2: "Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences."

To start, when choosing which activity or experience to write about, think about something that you are passionate about and have put in significant effort into. It should also be something that has had a meaningful impact on your life and that you can speak about in depth. This will make the essay more engaging and interesting for the reader.

Next, your essay should have a clear structure. Start by introducing the topic and providing concrete examples of what you did in this activity or experience. Explain any challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Lastly, discuss what you learned from the experience and how it has shaped you as a person.

When writing the essay, it's important to make it personal and reflective of who you are as an individual. Use specific stories to illustrate your points instead of generalizing your experiences. Avoid using cliches or generic phrases that don't add anything new to your story. Strive to make your essay unique and authentic in your writing style. Here's a great example from Gabby W, who got into Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Yale. Y ou can read all of her essays and extracurriculars here.

I discovered Haven for Hope, a community rehab and homeless shelter, through GirlUp, an initiative by the UN Foundation centered around empowering women and developing leadership. In my first year, I became one of four tutors who visited the teenage girls at Haven for Hope weekly. We developed real bonds and strived to be consistent role models for these girls.

During my junior year, as one of five board members, my role in actively supporting the community grew significantly. Our chapter membership grew to 100+ students, and I managed the funds raised to donate 1200+ menstrual products for Haven for Hope women, stock neighboring Title I schools with feminine hygiene products, and hold a baby diaper drive for the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter.

My involvement with GirlUp developed into a profoundly fulfilling fight for female empowerment and equity, a battle I know will continue as I venture into STEM professions.

Harvard's Additional Essay:

Harvard's Prompt #3: "You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that 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."

We suggest approaching the additional essay prompt with intention and thoughtfulness. This essay is an opportunity to showcase something new about yourself that you haven't already discussed in other parts of your application. Think of it almost like a second personal statement (so stick around 500 words). You're giving the admissions department another look into who you are as a person!

To start, identify what you want to convey about yourself through this essay. It should go beyond your resume or achievements and showcase your personality, interests, values, or worldview. For instance, you could discuss a formative experience that influenced your personal growth or reflect on a specific value that guides your actions.

Once you've identified your topic, make sure you provide plenty of vivid details and specific examples to illustrate your insights. Use descriptive language to help the readers visualize what you're describing in your essay. For example, if you're discussing your favorite hobby, you might describe a particular moment when you discovered your passion for it or the sense of fulfillment you get when you engage with it.

As you write your essay, remember to use an appropriate tone that reflects your personality. You want to come across as authentic and relatable while still demonstrating your unique perspective. It might help to read your essay out loud to ensure that your voice and tone are consistent with your personality.

Don't be afraid to take risks and be vulnerable in your writing. Discussing difficult experiences or challenges can help showcase your resilience and growth mindset. However, you want to avoid oversharing or writing about sensitive topics in a way that could be perceived negatively. Here's an awesome example from Sarah, who was admitted to Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Columbia, UPenn, Johns Hopkins, and Brown! You can see all of her essays, awards, stats, and more here! Sarah answered the prompt "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."

As the other kids prepared to present their 3D-printed towers to students and parents, Nathan fretted, brow furrowed and arms crossed, deeply anxious about the prospect of speaking in front of the large audience. I was in my third year as an assistant teacher for a middle school weekend STEM class when I met Nathan, a student on the autism spectrum.

While the other students worked in pairs, Nathan adamantly insisted he work alone. I was happy to support Nathan as he designed a miniature CAD model of the Big Ben, but he was now tasked with presenting alone, without a partner, unlike the rest of the students. Though he struggled socially and shuddered at the thought of reaching out to his classmates, the other students failed to make an effort to reach out to him. I was perplexed as to why the other kids felt content in excluding Nathan, but as I honestly admitted to myself, I had been no better at their age.

Nathan displayed behaviors reminiscent of those of my older brother Stevie, who has severe autism. Stevie is the most affectionate brother, constantly projecting an infectious smile that has the enchanting power to put me at ease; yet so many people unwittingly deprive him of the fair chance to live a life free from prejudice—including my younger self.

When I was my students’ age, I felt a disgraceful degree of shame upon going into public with Stevie, embarrassed by his random loud outbursts and the disparaging stares we would receive from almost every stranger. However, growing up alongside Stevie, I sometimes observed genuine kindness that made me re-examine my outlook. I began to recognize that autism doesn’t make Stevie disabled; it’s how society accommodates his differences that dictates whether he’s disabled or not. Perceiving the barriers perpetuated by a world not inherently designed for people like Stevie, I felt progressively empowered to try to make life more accommodating for others.

I calmly assured Nathan that he would not need to present in person; instead, I recorded a video of his individual presentation to send to his parents, which alleviated his fears. In the subsequent classes, I put significant effort into connecting Nathan with the other students. I typically spent a majority of each class working with Nathan, trying to support him in any way I could.

I’m eternally grateful that Stevie has helped me become more compassionate and understanding of those around me, whether it’s Nathan or simply a random stranger I encounter in public. Beyond the interactions I share with others, Stevie has also shaped my aspirations for the future. I am drawn in large part to technological innovation because it provides the avenue through which I can continue to better the lives of differently-abled people. I plan to innovate efficient assistive technology, such as AI-powered robotic assistants, to aid those whom society often overlooks. I’m proud that I can serve as an advocate for acceptance and help those who need it most. As I endeavor to provide meaningful assistance to these individuals, I hope I can inspire others to act in a similar manner.

Here's another incredible example of Harvard's optional essay from Dev, who got into Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, Cornell, and Dartmouth. You can read his entire college application here! Dev answered the prompt "What you would want your future college roommate to know about you."

Dear future roommate,

I’m going to apologize in advance.

Sorry for always asking you and subsequently dragging you with me to satisfy my chocolate peanut butter cup and black raspberry chocolate chunk cravings. My friends and I have tried a new ice cream place twice a month for the last year, and I can’t stop my streak now (the best flavor so far has been banana cream pie, if you were wondering). I’m not afraid to admit my ice cream obsession and bring you along for the ride. It will be worth it, I promise!

Sorry for yelling at my laptop or the TV on select Thursdays, Sundays, and Mondays. I always look forward to my Cleveland Browns finding some way to shock me or leave me in shock. But, they’re my unpredictable team, and I think you’ll find that I’m one of the most loyal people you’ll meet – whether it’s about a sports team or relationships.

Sorry for making you stand… rrrright there against the sun and keep four fingers in your pocket with your thumb out. I’ve been a hobbyist photographer for a few years now, and I will give you the Instagram-worthy photos you’ve been wanting. Still, it won’t come without a bit of precision and creativity, which I think is reflected in my personality. You would probably see that best in my closet.

Speaking of my closet, I'm sorry for all of the Amazon packages I’ll be dragging into the dorm. I am constantly refining my wardrobe, buying new sweaters, jeans, and shoes that I definitely do not need. I like to look “put-together,” however, and if I ask you for your honest opinion, feel free to tell me if this cable-knit patchwork Marino wool sweater looks like a bunch of chocolate bars strung together. Part of my put-together attitude is washing my clothes at least once a week, so, thankfully, one less worry for you is that I won’t smell.

Sorry for dropping every responsibility I have at exactly 10:00 PM during the week (and 6:00 PM on the weekend) because the New York Times just released its latest mini crossword. Don’t worry too much, though, as I won’t be separated from reality for too long – my average time is now below 25 seconds. I’ve been competing against my family and friends on the mini-leaderboard for a while, and I usually get the fastest time. Feel free to add yourself to my leaderboard and play along!

Sorry for sending you a new song that I think is really, really good when Spotify releases my Discover Weekly on Mondays. I may overplay it for the next week and then squirm if I ever hear its intro again, but I love listening to music with other people, so join me in ruining a song faster than you can sing the chorus to The Champs’ classic song, “ Tequila.” I’d love to hear your music too. My taste is very diverse, so as long as we dance around death metal and psychedelic rock, I know we’ll be able to jam out easily.

Sorry for the exorbitant number of dad jokes I’m going to make. That’s it.

I’m not sorry for the ways that these quirks will bring us together; I can’t wait to be the friend that will stick by your side no matter what. I’ll be there to help you if you’re struggling in class, missing home, or conflicted about your love life. Whether you want to talk about the universe’s biggest questions or if pineapple belongs on pizza, just pick up a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked, grab two spoons, and we can sit for hours figuring it all out together.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, writing standout essays for Harvard University requires time, dedication, and careful planning. It's important to choose topics that highlight your unique experiences, personality, and skills, as well as to demonstrate your passion, curiosity, and resilience. Feedback from trusted sources, such as academic advisors or writing tutors, can be invaluable in refining your essays and ensuring their quality. Another helpful resource for writing strong essays is reading examples of successful college essays. Reading these essays can offer inspiration, ideas, and insights on what works and what doesn't, ultimately helping you write more compelling essays. That's why we highly recommend checking out our platform which offers thousands of successful college essays written by real students that you can read through and learn from. With the right approach, dedication, and guidance, you can craft essays that will stand out in your application to Harvard University.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, looking for harvard college essay examples.

Hey y'all! I'm looking for some inspiration for my college admissions essays. Does anyone know where I could find some Harvard college essay examples to get an idea of what successful applicants have done? Thanks in advance!

Hello! It's great that you're looking for inspiration to help with your college essays. When seeking examples, specifically from Harvard or any other top institution, there are a few places you can check out:

1. Check online for essay compilations: There are websites that compile successful college essays from top institutions, including Harvard. CollegeVine, for example, has a blog that shares successful essays, including one from Harvard ( https://blog.collegevine.com/harvard-university-essay-examples/) , and analysis of what the essays did well and any places for improvement.

2. Purchase books with essays: There are books available that compile successful college essays, such as "50 Successful Harvard Application Essays." These can provide a wealth of examples, as well as analysis on why the essays were effective. Be sure to get the latest editions to stay updated on current trends in college essays.

3. Read essays from current students or recent graduates: If you have connections to current Harvard students or recent graduates, consider reaching out to them. They might be willing to share their essays and provide valuable insights into what worked for them.

Remember that while it's helpful to read successful essays, it's essential to create your own unique, authentic, and personal story. Be true to yourself and your experiences, and avoid trying to match your style too closely to what you've read in other people's essays. Overall, you should be using these essays as inspiration, rather than a template that you try to fill in word-for-word.

Good luck with your Harvard essays!

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CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

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Harvard Supplemental Essay Examples

Harvard Supplemental Essay Examples

Since they are an indispensable part of any application, studying some Harvard supplemental essay examples is the best way to start writing your own essays.

The supplemental essays give you an opportunity to position yourself as the perfect candidate. You need to put a personal touch on your application, stand out as an individual, and show how you connect to the school.

There are lots of ways to go about creating your supplemental college application essay , but the most effective method is to think of them like a story. The admissions committee has seen your amazing GPA and high SAT/ACT score, and now they want to know your story and how you ended up where you are today.

While you can always read up on how to write a college essay , there are other ways to learn besides instruction or guides. Reading sample college essays are a great way to learn about how to craft your own story.

In this article, we provide you with Harvard supplemental essay examples so you can get a feel for how to plan, write, edit, and work through your own essay.

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 13 min read

Harvard supplemental essay #1:.

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences ( 150 word limit )

Sample Essay #1:

My hardest day was just sitting there.

I volunteered at the hospital surgical unit, helping patients and liaising with families. On this day, the surgery had gone wrong, and I was sitting there, with the family, holding the daughter’s hand, having it nearly crushed by her grip. I knew I didn’t have to sit there as long as I did, but I didn’t want to leave them there.

Later on, she said, “Thank you,” and told me how much it meant to her.

My experience that day taught me about the value of dedication and how much a small action can mean. I don’t mind a hard day, if it means something, and I would like to bring and build on these values at Harvard.

Sample Essay #2:

Jack was walking on water. Well, technically a “non-Newtonian fluid”, but it was still very cool. He was showing me how to make it in the laboratory where I had been lucky enough to receive an internship.

The lab was a great place to explore my insatiable curiosity, particularly of the sciences. I was even allowed by my boss (Jack the water-walker) to conduct small experiments of my own using lab resources.

This kindness allowed me to learn a lot of chemistry, which I didn’t understand before, in a hands-on setting, and while working in the lab I found I had a particular interest in catalysis and catalysts. I’m hoping to continue this study and, one day, make some real contributions to the field; I especially want to add to humanity’s green energy technologies.

A lofty goal? Yes. But I’ve seen a man walk on water. Anything’s possible.

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 word limit)

My nose was in my book and Joe asked what I was reading. With some sheepishness, but a little pride, I showed them Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English. “I didn’t know you spoke that,” my friend said. “I don’t,” I replied, “but I’m figuring it out.”

Language is my passion. In high school, I’ve taken French and German, and I’m currently enrolled in an online Latin course. I love learning new languages, and in the case of Middle English, by just diving in and picking it up from context.

Learning a new language is like opening a door to another universe; somewhere you did not have access to before. Not only does it take patience and dedication, but it also requires curiosity and opened mindedness to other worldviews and cultures. Culture and communication are inextricably linked, and I want to dive in and explore both at Harvard.

Additional Essay: 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: (this essay has no official word limit; recommended between 600-700 words)

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.

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

The first and second essays are required. The additional essay is technically optional.

However, even though not necessarily required, you should consider it necessary to your application. You’re applying to Harvard, and how to get into Harvard is with extra effort. Competition will be fiercer here than almost anywhere else. It’s one of the most competitive schools to get into in the world.

Write the essay. Put a lot of effort into it. That extra effort will pay off.

Prompts 1 and 2 are capped at 150.

Prompt 3 has no given word limit, but should be around 600-700 words long.

You need the space to say something more than “hello”, so your essay shouldn’t be too short. But keep in mind that almost 58,000 people submitted applications in the most recent class cycle. The admissions board isn’t going to be thrilled if you submit a novella-length autobiography.

Aim for 600 words, and if you’re a little light or heavy from that number – that's okay. Keep in mind what you want to say, and then write it out in the most effective and economical way possible. You should find, if you’ve chosen your topics properly, that you’ll wind up around that word count. Remember, quality always trumps quantity, so try to keep your essays concise and clear.

While your essays will focus on your personal experiences, reflections, and lessons that you learned, they must be written and formatted like academic essays, with an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Limit familiar and colloquial language as much as possible.

As you can see from the prompts, you have a few choices in Prompt #3, and you can even come up with your own topic. However, we strongly advise you to answer Prompts #1 and #2 directly.

If you do have something you’d rather write about than the provided prompts in #3, make sure that it’s a topic that will showcase what makes you a good candidate for Harvard and how you can contribute to the incoming class.

No. Supplemental essays are personal reflections and experiences, so you don’t need citations.

Classical storytelling structure works for a reason: beginning, middle, end.

Chronological order is useful in most circumstances because you’ll be speaking on your past experiences, so it makes sense to keep those experiences in the order they happened. Reading some college essay introduction examples can be a useful way to learn how to start, as well.

Some prompts have their structure suggested by the prompt.

One important tip: start with an attention-grabbing sentence.

Keep focus on what you’re trying to say with your essay and structure it to maximize impact, so that the main point of your paper is set up in the beginning and is fully-articulated toward the end – just before the conclusion.

The ending needs to be strong, too – the mirror of the opening.

Make use of college essay review services to make sure there isn’t anything in the writing process – structure or otherwise – that you have missed.

If you do not get a deadline, aim to send your essays back within 2 weeks.

The prompts might change, but usually remain fairly similar. You can plan based on the knowledge that you won’t be hit with too much of a curve-ball.

The best preparation (in case of change) is to know what you’ll write about for a few different prompt options. That way, even if the prompts are switched out, you’ll be ready for them. You don’t need to write full, final drafts for all possibilities or anticipate every imaginable prompt, just cover more than one base and you will be okay.

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harvard college essays samples

College of Law

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Benjamin Louviere (23JD) wins Law360 Distinguished Legal Writing Award

The University of Iowa College of Law is delighted to announce Benjamin (Ben) Louviere (23JD) as a recipient of the 2024 "Law360 Distinguished Legal Writing Award" by the  Burton Awards  for his article entitled  Time for a Tune-Up in America’s Healthcare Market: Securing the Right to Repair for Medical Devices , published in the Journal of Corporation Law (JCL).

The Burton Awards program is granted in association with the Library of Congress, presented by lead sponsor Law360, and co-sponsored by the American Bar Association. Since 1999, the program has celebrated exceptional legal achievements, including writing, reform, public service and interest, regulatory innovation, and lifetime contributions. Modeled after the Pulitzers, the Burton Awards stand as a beacon of excellence in law.

Of numerous nominations from the nation’s premier law schools, only 15 writers were chosen for the award. Judges and law school professors from renowned institutions such as Harvard Law School, Georgetown Law Center, and UC Berkeley School of Law led the selection process. 

Reflecting on the caliber of recipients, William Burton, founder and chair of the Burton Awards program, says, “The recipients are truly exemplary, skillful, and effective writers. The highest standard of excellence in legal writing.”

Burton’s praise resonates deeply with Louviere, who attributes much of his success to his peers' invaluable

Ben Louviere (23JD) writing award_in article

 support and feedback in JCL.

“My experience as a student writer for JCL helped me become better acquainted with the world of legal scholarship, which ultimately allowed me to hone my voice and join in on the conversations taking place across the pages of law journals,” says Louviere. “When it came time for my class to take charge of the editorial board, I knew my note would be in capable hands as JCL continued to pour great care into my draft to prepare it for publication. To my colleagues and friends whose involvement with my note spans three volumes of JCL, the writing is yours as much as it’s mine, and so is the honor!”

In addition to the support from his peers, Louviere's achievement underscores Iowa Law's commitment to fostering excellence in legal writing and scholarship. With a robust writing program led by experienced faculty, the college equips its graduates with the skills to excel in a competitive legal landscape.

“The quality of support I received with my writing can't be overstated. And more broadly, the support I received during my time as a student at Iowa Law was beyond incredible,” Louviere recalls. “Although I'm partial, I believe that in addition to Iowa Law's stellar academic standing as far as rankings go on paper, truly Iowa Law shines above every other law school when it comes to relationships. The spirit of collegiality and friendship cultivated by students and faculty at Iowa Law colored every aspect of my experience in law school.”

Since graduating in 2023, Louviere has served as a judicial law clerk to the Hon. Chief Judge C.J. Williams with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. Looking ahead, he plans to pursue a career in corporate transactional practice while remaining actively engaged in legal scholarship.

Today, Louviere marks the ninth Iowa Law graduate to receive the “Law360 Distinguished Legal Writing Award" since 2000:

  • 2024:  Benjamin Louviere
  • 2023:  Barbara Rodriguez
  • 2016:  Lisa C. Castillo
  • 2015 : Zane A. Umsted
  • 2012:  Walter S. Gindin
  • 2011:  Jacob E. Meusch
  • 2010:  Matthew J. Donnelly
  • 2009:  Samuel Langholz
  • 2001:  Sharone Levy

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Voters Doubt Biden’s Leadership and Favor Trump, Times/Siena Poll Finds

The share of voters who strongly disapprove of President Biden’s handling of his job has reached 47 percent, higher than in Times/Siena polls at any point in his presidency.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES / SIENA COLLEGE POLL

If the 2024 presidential election

were held today, who would you

vote for if the candidates were

Joe Biden and Donald Trump ?

Don’t know/

If the 2024 presidential election were held today, who would you vote for if the candidates were Joe Biden and Donald Trump ?

Shane Goldmacher

By Shane Goldmacher

President Biden is struggling to overcome doubts about his leadership inside his own party and broad dissatisfaction over the nation’s direction, leaving him trailing behind Donald J. Trump just as their general-election contest is about to begin, a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College has found.

With eight months left until the November election, Mr. Biden’s 43 percent support lags behind Mr. Trump’s 48 percent in the national survey of registered voters.

Only one in four voters thinks the country is moving in the right direction. More than twice as many voters believe Mr. Biden’s policies have personally hurt them as believe his policies have helped them. A majority of voters think the economy is in poor condition. And the share of voters who strongly disapprove of Mr. Biden’s handling of his job has reached 47 percent, higher than in Times/Siena polls at any point in his presidency.

The poll offers an array of warning signs for the president about weaknesses within the Democratic coalition, including among women, Black and Latino voters. So far, it is Mr. Trump who has better unified his party, even amid an ongoing primary contest.

Mr. Biden has marched through the early nominating states with only nominal opposition. But the poll showed that Democrats remain deeply divided about the prospect of Mr. Biden, the 81-year-old chief executive, leading the party again. About as many Democratic primary voters said Mr. Biden should not be the nominee in 2024 as said he should be — with opposition strongest among voters younger than 45 years old.

Mr. Trump’s ability to consolidate the Republican base better than Mr. Biden has unified the base of his own party shows up starkly in the current thinking of 2020 voters. Mr. Trump is winning 97 percent of those who say they voted for him four years ago, and virtually none of his past supporters said they are casting a ballot for Mr. Biden. In contrast, Mr. Biden is winning only 83 percent of his 2020 voters, with 10 percent saying they now back Mr. Trump.

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“It’s going to be a very tough decision — I’m seriously thinking about not voting,” said Mamta Misra, 57, a Democrat and an economics professor in Lafayette, La., who voted for Mr. Biden in 2020. “Trump voters are going to come out no matter what. For Democrats, it’s going to be bad. I don’t know why they’re not thinking of someone else.”

Mr. Trump’s five-point lead in the survey, which was conducted in late February, is slightly larger than in the last Times/Siena national poll of registered voters in December. Among the likely electorate, Mr. Trump currently leads by four percentage points.

In last year’s survey, Mr. Trump led by two points among registered voters and Mr. Biden led by two points among the projected likely electorate.

One of the more ominous findings for Mr. Biden in the new poll is that the historical edge Democrats have held with working-class voters of color who did not attend college continues to erode.

Mr. Biden won 72 percent of those voters in 2020, according to exit polling, providing him with a nearly 50-point edge over Mr. Trump. Today, the Times/Siena poll showed Mr. Biden only narrowly leading among nonwhite voters who did not graduate from college: 47 percent to 41 percent.

An excitement gap between the two parties shows up repeatedly in the survey: Only 23 percent of Democratic primary voters said they were enthusiastic about Mr. Biden — half the share of Republicans who said they were about Mr. Trump. Significantly more Democrats said they were either dissatisfied or angry at Mr. Biden being the leader of the party (32 percent) than Republicans who said the same about Mr. Trump (18 percent).

What comes closer to how you feel about Joe Biden or Donald Trump being the nominee for president?

Enthusiastic

Satisfied, but

not enthusiastic

Dissatisfied, but

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are unpopular. Mr. Trump had a weak 44 percent favorable rating; Mr. Biden fared even worse, at 38 percent. Among the 19 percent of voters who said they disapproved of both likely nominees — an unusually large cohort in 2024 that pollsters and political strategists sometimes call “double haters” — Mr. Biden actually led Mr. Trump, 45 percent to 33 percent.

The candidate who had won such “double haters” was victorious in the elections in both 2016 and 2020.

For now, though, unhappiness with the state of the country is plainly a drag on Mr. Biden’s prospects. Two-thirds of the country feels the nation is headed in the wrong direction — and Mr. Trump is winning 63 percent of those voters.

The share of voters who believe the nation is on the right track remains a dismal and diminutive minority at 24 percent. Yet even that figure is a marked improvement from the peak inflationary days in the summer of 2022, when only 13 percent of voters felt the nation was headed in the proper direction .

“If we get Trump for another four years, we get a little better on economics,” said Oscar Rivera, a 39-year-old independent voter who owns a roofing business in Rochester, N.Y.

Mr. Trump’s policies were generally viewed far more favorably by voters than Mr. Biden’s. A full 40 percent of voters said Mr. Trump’s policies had helped them personally, compared to only 18 percent who said the same of Mr. Biden’s.

Only 12 percent of independent voters like Mr. Rivera said Mr. Biden’s policies had personally helped them, compared to 43 percent who said his policies had hurt them.

Mr. Rivera, who is Puerto Rican, said he doesn’t like the way Mr. Trump talks about immigration and the southern border, but is planning to vote for him anyway. “Biden? I don’t know,” Mr. Rivera said. “It looks like we’re weak, America’s weak. We need someone stronger.”

Overall, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump were dead even among prized independent voters, drawing 42 percent each.

But over and over, the Times/Siena poll revealed how Mr. Trump has cut into more traditional Democratic constituencies while holding his ground among Republican groups. The gender gap, for instance, is no longer benefiting Democrats. Women, who strongly favored Mr. Biden four years ago, are now equally split, while men gave Mr. Trump a nine-point edge. The poll showed Mr. Trump edging out Mr. Biden among Latinos, and Mr. Biden’s share of the Black vote is shrinking, too.

There are, of course, unpredictable X factors in a race where the Republican front-runner is facing four indictments, 91 felony counts and a criminal trial set to begin at the end of March in New York State Supreme Court.

The poll showed that 53 percent of voters currently believe Mr. Trump has committed serious federal crimes, down from 58 percent in December . But viewed another way, Mr. Trump’s current lead over Mr. Biden is built with a significant number of voters who believe he is a criminal.

The country, meanwhile, remains divided on some of the thorniest domestic and international issues.

By a narrow margin, more voters favor making it more difficult for migrants at the southern border to seek asylum (49 percent to 43 percent). Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden made dueling appearances at the border this week; illegal border crossings set record highs at the end of 2023.

As the Israel-Hamas conflict rages in its fifth month, 40 percent of voters said they sympathized more with Israel compared to 24 percent who said they sympathized more with the Palestinians. Mr. Trump was winning 70 percent of those who backed Israel primarily; Mr. Biden was winning 68 percent of those who sided with the Palestinians, even as he has faced demonstrations and a protest vote over his pro-Israel stance.

Philip Kalarickal, a 51-year-old anesthesiologist in Decatur, Ga., is a Democrat dismayed by Mr. Biden’s handling of the humanitarian fallout from the conflict in Gaza.

“Joe Biden should be doing more to ensure that the Israeli government goes about this in a way that provides safety for them but without the civilian toll,” Dr. Kalarickal said, adding that he would reluctantly back Mr. Biden this fall, given that he lives in a swing state.

“I understand that my vote or lack of vote carries a consequence, and I look at the alternative and that’s worse than the current thing,” Dr. Kalarickal said. “But I do want to register my displeasure. The way I vote doesn’t mean I like it.”

The Biden campaign hopes that more and more voters like Mr. Kalarickal snap back into their usual partisan patterns in the coming months. The return of such reluctant Democrats is one reason the Biden campaign has been optimistic that polling will narrow, and eventually flip, as the choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden becomes clearer.

Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s Republican rival, who has made the case that he will lose in November, leads Mr. Biden by double the margin of the former president: a hypothetical 45 percent to 35 percent. But she has struggled to gain traction in the primary and the poll portends landslide losses on Super Tuesday next week, with 77 percent of Republican primary voters picking Mr. Trump over her.

Alyce McFadden and Ruth Igielnik contributed reporting.

The New York Times/Siena College poll of 980 registered voters nationwide was conducted on cellular and landline telephones, using live interviewers, from Feb. 25 to 28, 2024. The margin of sampling error for the presidential ballot choice question is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points among registered voters. Cross-tabs and methodology are available here .

Shane Goldmacher is a national political correspondent, covering the 2024 campaign and the major developments, trends and forces shaping American politics. He can be reached at [email protected] . More about Shane Goldmacher

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