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The Requirements: Five essays of 200 words or fewer
Admissions wants to know what has made you into the person you are today and how those experiences will affect the way you engage with and contribute to the Harvard community. So, tell a story about an experience that has shaped you and connect the lessons you learned to the ways in which you will contribute to diversity on campus next fall. Start by thinking about the kinds of experiences you’ve had in the communities you’ve been a part of thus far. Then, once you’ve identified the life experience(s) that have shaped you, think ahead to how those will impact your time at Harvard. Admissions wants to know what your area of influence will look like on campus—whether that be applying the leadership skills you developed in your community theater troupe to the drama productions at Farkas Hall, celebrating intersectional identities with other members of the queer Jewish community with BAGELS, or connecting and networking with your peers through Harvard Black Students Association. Whatever you write about, make sure your response to this prompt shows that you have put some serious thought into the things that have shaped you and how you will apply those lessons and experiences to your time at Harvard next fall.
It’s no surprise that Harvard is hoping to invite students to campus who are excited about learning, so take this opportunity to geek out about an awesome learning experience you had recently. Maybe you find marine life to be absolutely fascinating, so you’ve been reading up on the most dangerous creatures in the deep dark sea (and their preferred prey, of course). Perhaps you had the opportunity to take a class or seminar with a thought leader you really admire or you went on a reading retreat that expanded your horizons. Whatever it may be, this is the perfect opportunity to show admissions your passion for pursuing knowledge and reflect on the impact it had on you.
Next up is a fun twist on the classic activity essay, which asks you to expand on an extracurricular endeavor that has shaped who you are. Our advice is to focus on one or two activities that have made the biggest impact on you. Although we usually urge students to write about items that haven’t appeared elsewhere on their application, the activity essay is an exception since it specifically asks you to address an item on your resume. The trick here is to pick something with meat! Maybe your trip to visit your extended family members in Thailand opened your eyes to how limited your world had been in your small Midwestern town. Perhaps four years of debate club have nurtured your communication skills and ability to speak up for yourself. Whatever activity you choose to write about, be sure to pick one that has been fundamental to your understanding of who you are.
Admissions already knows a bit about what makes you you; now they want to know why Harvard is the obvious next step in the trajectory of your life. Take some time to meditate on what you hope your life will look like after Harvard—we’re talking ten, twenty years in the future. Once you have an idea of what you hope for that person to be like or do on an average day, invite admissions into your vision and show them how a Harvard education is a pivotal step (or three) on the ladder of success to get there. Regardless of your vision, your response should cite programs, activities, and organizations that Harvard offers. Anyone can say they hope to become a renowned doctor or an attorney for the people, but not everyone is going to do their homework to show admissions that they’ve thought through exactly how they want to get there. Of course, admissions isn’t going to hold you to your blueprint, but they do want to see that you’ve given not only your decision to apply to Harvard some serious thought, but your life post-graduation as well.
With this prompt, admissions is hoping to see a different side of you, perhaps one that is less intellectual (unless that’s just who you are, in which case, rock on with your nerdy self) and a little more casual. Start by making a list. Write down everything that comes to mind. You can edit and revise later—no idea is too silly to jot down! Maybe you think your roommates should know that you just can’t not sing while in the shower (we’re talking Celine Dion, Adele, Whitney Houston) or that you make the meanest plate of rice and beans in your pressure cooker (and you love to share). Once you’ve narrowed your list down to three (3) things, see if you can weave together a narrative that gives admissions a little taste of what it would be like to hang out in the dorms with you. How do you connect with your peers? What most excites you about residential life? What are the quirks that make you you? By the time admissions puts down your application, they should feel like your personality is jumping off the page.