How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays

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

This essay is your chance to dive deeper into one of the activities on your Activities List that was difficult to explain in just150 characters. You probably have plenty to say about all ten of your activities, so the challenge lies in choosing which one to write about. For this essay, you should elaborate on an activity that is meaningful, relevant to your hook, and unique. As a Harvard grad myself, I’ll share my personal example. I wrote about a book that my friends and I wrote, edited, and self-published. This was meaningful to me because when I was younger I dreamed of becoming an author, and this project helped me fulfil that dream. It was also meaningful because it brought me and some of my closest friends together, and taught me all about collaboration and cooperation. What is meaningful to you? What is the thing you can’t talk about without your face lighting up? This activity was also relevant to my hook, because several of my other activities had to do with writing, I had submitted a Literature SAT II, and I planned on majoring in English in college. Which of your activities best aligns with your hook? Lastly, this experience was unique because, although my other high school activities like choir and tutoring were things many students did, writing a book was uniquely suited to my 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.

Unlike the first supplement, this essay is meant to introduce another experience or activity that isn’t listed elsewhere in your application. You’ll have to describe the experiences as well as their importance to you within 150 words. Even with the limited word count, you should strive to be as detailed as possible so that your reader knows a lot more about you by the end of this essay. As such, you should only list activities that are meaningful to you, so that you can spend more time describing them.

By asking about your intellectual exploration outside of the traditional classroom, Harvard is seeking to understand whether or not you are curious about your academic interests. A curious student will make use of the resources available to him or her in order to learn. If you’re interested in writing, you might take an online course about publishing or editing, you might read a series of biographies or watch documentaries about authors you admire, or attend talks at the library or university near your home. If you’re interested in architecture, you might visit important architectural sites, or attend a local zoning meeting to understand your potential future responsibilities as an architect.

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.

Even though this essay is optional, you should choose to write it. You already have limited space in your application to convince your admissions officer that you are a good fit for Harvard, so don’t waste an opportunity for them to get to know you better. You can choose any one of these topics, but be careful to avoid making the following mistakes:

  • Try not to brag about yourself or glorify your accomplishments and good deeds. For instance, if you write about a travel experience in another community, be careful not to boast about your humanitarian efforts on your church’s mission trip to Guatemala. That will most likely come off as you having a savior complex. Instead, if you choose to talk about something like that, focus on what you learned about yourself by being in such a different environment, or share an anecdote from your time there that is critical to understanding your personality or worldview.
  • If you write about an intellectual experience, make sure it is distinct from your second essay and provides fresh insights into who you are as a student and person
  • When responding to the list of books prompt, it’s important to write what you want to say, not what you think your admissions officer wants to hear. Write about books you actually read and that convey something about your interests or identity that a more traditional essay could not.