Aug 29

5 Must-Have Qualities for Harvard Admission

by Trent Baumbach

2022 Wrapped: Top Ivy League Universities

5 Must-Have Qualities for Harvard Admission


Everyone knows that the US is home to some of the world’s best universities, from Ivy League schools like Penn and Columbia, to non-Ivy schools like Duke, Stanford, and MIT. But across them all, one stands out – Harvard University. Every year, thousands of students from around the world, including Tokyo, set their sights on this prestigious institution. Yet with an acceptance rate close to 3%, students must plan and strategize if they want to get in.

Here are five qualities nearly all Harvard admits have, making them essentially requirements to get in.

Do you want to improve your chances of getting into a top-tier university? Schedule your consultation with Tokyo Academics today!

The 5 Ways Harvard Admits Get In

1. Academic Brilliance

Sustained Excellence: In the competitive world of Harvard admissions, a top-notch GPA is crucial. But remember, it’s not just about high grades, it’s also about showcasing your academic consistency, without faltering over time. 

Embrace Rigorous Courses: Harvard appreciates students who challenge themselves. Consider taking HL International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and getting the IB diploma, passing 10-14 AP® (Advanced Placement) exams, and opting for any and all advanced courses offered at your school.

If you’re working hard to pass as many AP® exams as possible to get into Harvard, check here for tips on maximizing AP® scores, and here for how to self-study for AP® exams if your school does not offer them. We’ve also outlined the AP® Capstone vs. IB Program, to help students aiming to push themselves academically.

2. High Standardized Test Scores

SAT® or ACT: Despite being test optional, many students still opt to submit SAT® or ACT scores to show potential for academic success at Harvard. Consider enrolling in test prep courses either in person or online to bolster your scores on the SAT® Math or SAT® Reading and Writing sections. For a point of comparison, the average SAT® score for the class of 2025 was nearly 1500 while the average ACT score was 34 (Harvard Crimson, 2021), meaning students will need to put in a lot of hard work to be on par with their peers.

TOEFL or IELTS: If English isn’t your first language, ensuring a strong TOEFL ITP, TOEFL iBT, or IELTS score can also be pivotal. In our ultimate TOEFL guide, we discuss how a score of 100 should be your absolute minimum. For those hoping to improve on TOEFL listening, TOEFL reading, or more, our academic tutors are here to help. Furthermore, focused vocabulary tutoring can be key to building knowledge needed to score high on the IELTS speaking, IELTS reading, or IELTS writing tests.

3. Extracurricular Leadership

Go Beyond Being Well-Rounded: While many students think the more activities they participate in, the more they’ll stand out, this approach poses the risk of spreading yourself thin without making much real impact. Instead, dive deep into one or two areas you’re genuinely passionate about, and make it a core part of your high school experience. 

Showcase Impact and Leadership: Perhaps you led a community initiative in your school or city or made significant strides in a club or sport. Lean into this as something special about you, and make sure these stories shine in your application.

4. Impressive Essays

Your Unique Story: Use your personal essay to share experiences or perspectives you’ve gained that make you, you. For example, the experience of growing up in Japan is vastly different than that of growing up in the US. Harvard values diversity, and will appreciate hearing how your values and personality align with their own, and will add to the campus community.

Strong Recommendations: Choose mentors or teachers who know you well, can vouch for your capabilities, and can contextualize your achievements within the unique international school system. Ensure the way they describe you and your accomplishments aligns with how you describe yourself.

5. A Differentiating “Spike”

Instead of merely being a jack-of-all-trades, strive to be exceptionally good at something, be it research, a special project, or a particular art form. Your “spike” should resonate with what you truly love and wish to pursue further at Harvard. For example, is there a specific career path you feel driven towards? Selectively choose AP® courses that demonstrate your passion for that topic. Additionally, work with a research mentor to investigate this topic in-depth and even get your research published. What could stand out more than getting your own research published as a high schooler?

What should I do next?

Remember, while Harvard is undeniably a symbol of academic excellence, the ultimate goal is to find a university that aligns with your personal and academic aspirations. There are countless prestigious institutions worldwide, and Tokyo Academics knows what steps you must take to get in. Consider meeting with one of our college admissions consultants or academic tutors to get started today.

SAT® and AP® are trademarks owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse Tokyo Academics.

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