What Does Harvard Look For in Their College Applicants?

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: April 19, 2021

In the world of college admissions, the most selective colleges usually set the tone for everyone else. For example, when Harvard went test-optional, other colleges quickly followed suit. Brown University president Christina Paxon just announced that all students who have been vaccinated for Covid-19 will be welcomed back to campus this fall to attend classes and activities in person; many other colleges jumped on that bandwagon. Northeastern University (MA), Cornell University (NY), Fort Lewis College (CO), Nova Southeastern University (FL), Roger Williams University (RI), Rutgers University (NJ) and St. Edwards University (TX) are also requiring COVID-19 shots for students who wish to return to campus in the fall.

So in that spirit, we’re sharing an excerpt from the Harvard blog, What Harvard Looks For (in its applicants.) If your child is in middle school or 9th or 10th grade, use Harvard’s questions as a guide to understanding what admissions officers value and as a roadmap to college. For a rising junior or senior, Harvard’s list can help answer the question, Is your child ready for college?

Harvard Admissions


  • Have you reached your maximum academic and personal potential?
  • Have you been stretching yourself?
  • Have you been working to capacity in your academic pursuits, your full-time or part-time employment, or other areas?
  • Do you have reserve power to do more?
  • How have you used your time?
  • Do you have initiative? Are you a self-starter? What motivates you?
  • Do you have a direction yet? What is it? If not, are you exploring many things?
  • Where will you be in one, five, or 25 years? Will you contribute something to those around you?
  • What sort of human being are you now? What sort of human being will you be in the future?

Interests and Activities

  • Do you care deeply about anything—Intellectual? Extracurricular? Personal?
  • What have you learned from your interests? What have you done with your interests? How have you achieved results? With what success or failure? What have you learned as a result?
  • In terms of extracurricular, athletic, community, or family commitments, have you taken full advantage of opportunities?
  • What is the quality of your activities? Do you appear to have a genuine commitment or leadership role?
  • If you have not had much time in high school for extracurricular pursuits due to familial, work, or other obligations, what do you hope to explore at Harvard with your additional free time?

Personal Character

  • What choices have you made for yourself? Why?
  • Are you a late bloomer?
  • How open are you to new ideas and people?
  • What about your maturity, character, leadership, self-confidence, sense of humor, energy, concern for others, and grace under pressure?

Contribution to the Harvard Community

  • Will you be able to stand up to the pressures and freedoms of College life?
  • Will you contribute something to Harvard and to your classmates? Will you benefit from your Harvard experience?
  • Would other students want to room with you, share a meal, be in a seminar together, be teammates, or collaborate in a closely-knit extracurricular group?

With an acceptance rate of less than 4%, very few students will be admitted to Harvard; however, the questions posed by the blog offer a look behind the curtain of what matters most in college admissions.

Our experienced educational consultants are members of professional associations with the highest standards for education and ethics: IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association), NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors). We’re available to guide your family through the entire process of preparing for and applying to college.

The greatest gift you can give your child is an early start. We work with middle and high school students to help them choose the right classes, develop extracurricular profiles that can include athletics, performing and visual arts, special projects, research, internships, summer programs, leadership, debate, academic competitions, community service, and more. We’re happy to answer your questions about college admission. Contact us to arrange a free 30-minute Meet and Greet consultation. 

Topics: College Counseling College Planning


Like this post? Share it!

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all

Ready to move to the front of the class?

Let's discuss an educational plan that will get you or your student on a path to success.