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How to Write the Harvard University Supplemental Essays

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

150 characters can be inadequate to say the least when it comes to synthesizing one of your greatest passions on your activities list. Use this space to elaborate on the entry you feel is the most meaningful. All ten of your activities probably inspire a sense of pride and enthusiasm within you, so it may be a bit challenging to choose one to emphasize. To obviate this challenge, focus on highlighting an activity that is impactful, relevant to your hook, and unique. What means more to you than anything else in the world? What concept, activity, or community makes your heart overflow with excitement?

A Harvard graduate from the Command team offers a helpful personal example: she collaborated with her friends in high school to write, edit, and publish a book! This project aligned with her lifelong aspirations of becoming an author in addition to teaching her the values of cooperation and initiative.

Her self-published book resonated deeply with her hook, since several of her other activities centered around writing, she submitted a Literature SAT II, and she had her eye on Harvard’s English major. Lastly, this experience was unique because, although her other high school activities like choir and tutoring were things many students did, writing a book was uniquely suited to her interests. Is there something you do that most of your friends would never even consider trying? That just might be your unique activity!

Additional Intellectual Experiences: (150 words)

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.

Rather than grant you space to write about an aforementioned activity, this prompt implores you to introduce new ones with a comparable degree of meaning. Although you don’t have the luxury of building upon the introductory details included in the 150-character activity list, you should aim to be as thorough as you can in 150 words. Be sure to include as many relevant activities as you can while maintaining a consistent level of quality throughout.

Through this question, Harvard hopes to gain insight into your authentic curiosity surrounding your academic interests. This is therefore a chance to demonstrate your intellectual endeavors outside of the classroom in which you’ve maximized all of the resources available to learn and grow! Taking an online course about the intersection of philosophy and society would be perfect for you if you’re aiming to major in philosophy, for example! Reading research reports, watching documentaries and attending talks at your local library or university addressing environmentalism would be especially compelling if Harvard’s interdisciplinary Environmental Science and Engineering program piques your interest. If you have dreams of becoming the next Frank Lloyd Wright, attending a local zoning meeting and touring distinguished architectural sites in your city would be strong experiences to catalogue here as well!

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.

Though this essay is technically optional, you should approach it with the same vigor and excitement as the previous two. Why waste a crucial opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light to one of the world’s most competitive institutions? Go for it! In terms of choosing topics, the admissions committee presented each as an option for a reason, so don’t stress about one being “better” or “worse” than another in their eyes. Do, however, heed these key tips:

  • Don’t self-aggrandize here! No matter how many good deeds you’ve done or awards you’ve won, it’s important to place the emphasis on the valor of your academic and personal passions rather than the valor of your ego. Boasting about your humanitarian efforts would reek of a savior complex that could swiftly undo any great impression that your previous two responses may have left on the admissions officer. Instead, only highlight the details that are critical to understanding your personality or worldview (not your “awesomeness”).
  • When presenting an intellectual experience, be careful to introduce a new and distinct idea rather than reiterate the material from your second essay. Make sure that it also says new things about who you are as a student and person.
  • For the book lists prompt, don’t take the pompous route and riff off esoteric titles you think your admissions officer wants to read. Instead, honor your uniquely personal and academic interests by writing about the books you actually read. This list can serve as a proxy for conveying aspects of your identity and passion that would struggle to shine through in a traditional essay.