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International Students: How to Get Into Harvard

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Harvard University is one of the most prestigious and competitive universities, not only in the United States, but in the world, and it's no surprise that many international students aspire to study there. However, getting into Harvard is not an easy feat, especially for international students who may face unique challenges. In this study guide, I am going to layout what Harvard requires from its students, how hard it is to get into Harvard as an international student, and where international students should start to increase their chances of admission.

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What Does Harvard Require from Its Students?

Harvard University is known for its rigorous academic programs, so it's no surprise that the university has high standards for its students. In order to be considered for admission, international students must meet the same requirements as American students. These requirements include:

1. High School Transcripts: Harvard requires all applicants to submit their high school transcripts. International students must have completed a secondary school program that is equivalent to a US high school diploma.

2. Standardized Test Scores: International students must also take either the SAT or ACT, and submit their scores as part of their application. Harvard does not have a minimum required score, but the average SAT score for admitted students is 1510, and the average ACT score is 34.

3. English Language Proficiency: All international students must demonstrate English language proficiency. Harvard accepts scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, and Duolingo English Test. The minimum required scores for these tests are:

  • TOEFL: 100 (iBT), 600 (PBT)

  • IELTS: 7.0

  • PTEA: 70

  • Duolingo English Test: 120

4. Application Essays: Harvard requires all applicants to submit several essays as part of their application. These essays are an important way for applicants to showcase their writing skills, and explain why they want to attend Harvard.

5. Extracurricular Activities: Harvard also considers applicants' extracurricular activities when making admissions decisions. International students should highlight any leadership roles, community service, or other achievements that demonstrate their passion and commitment.

How Hard Is It to Get into Harvard as an International Student?

Harvard is a highly selective university, and admission is extremely competitive. According to the most recent data, Harvard's overall acceptance rate for the class of 2025 was just 3.4%. However, it's important to note that admission rates for international students may be even lower, due to the limited number of spots available for international applicants.

In addition, international students face unique challenges when applying to Harvard. They may be less familiar with the US college application process, and may have difficulty obtaining transcripts and test scores from their home countries. They may also face language barriers when writing their essays and communicating with admissions officers.

Despite these challenges, many international students have been admitted to Harvard in the past. In fact, international students make up about 12% of the undergraduate student body at Harvard.

Where Should International Students Start?

If you're an international student hoping to get into Harvard, there are several things you can do to increase your chances of admission:

1. Focus on Academic Excellence: Harvard places a strong emphasis on academic achievement, so it's important to excel in your studies. Take challenging courses and strive for high grades. Consider enrolling in advanced placement (AP) courses, which can demonstrate your ability to handle college-level coursework.

2. Prepare for Standardized Tests: Standardized test scores are an important part of the admissions process. Take the SAT or ACT well in advance of the application deadline, and consider taking test preparation courses or hiring a tutor if necessary.

3. Improve Your English Language Skills: English language proficiency is crucial for admission to Harvard. Practice your English skills by reading English-language books, watching English-language movies, and speaking with native English speakers.

4. Build a strong academic profile: Harvard values academic excellence and therefore expects applicants to have a strong academic record. International students who have completed the International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement courses have an advantage. Admissions officers will also look at the rigor of the courses taken and the grades received. International students who have demonstrated a strong academic foundation will stand a better chance of being admitted.

5. Extracurricular activities: Harvard also values students who demonstrate a passion for something outside of academics. International students should engage in extracurricular activities and demonstrate leadership skills. These could include community service projects, internships, sports teams, and music groups. Students should find activities they are passionate about and show their dedication by committing to them over a longer period of time.

6. Essays and recommendations: International students should pay close attention to their essays and recommendations. These are an opportunity to showcase their personality, interests, and character. Students should demonstrate their unique perspective and what they can contribute to the Harvard community. Recommendations should come from teachers or mentors who can attest to the student's character, academic abilities, and extracurricular activities.

7. Language proficiency: International students must demonstrate their English proficiency. Students can provide their TOEFL or IELTS scores, but Harvard also accepts other measures such as the Duolingo English Test or the Cambridge Assessment English. If students feel that their English skills need improvement, they can consider taking an English language course or hiring a tutor.

8. Prepare for the interview: Harvard may invite international students to participate in an interview. This is an opportunity for students to demonstrate their enthusiasm for Harvard and their fit with the university. Students should research Harvard and its values before the interview, and be prepared to discuss their academic and extracurricular activities, as well as their future goals.

9. Be patient: The admissions process can be long and stressful. International students should be patient and not be discouraged if they are not admitted the first time around. Many successful Harvard graduates were not admitted the first time they applied. Students can always reapply after improving their academic profile, extracurricular activities, and essays.

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Remember that students should start early and do enough research of the university that they are interested in. By following these tips, international students from across the globe can increase their chances of being admitted to one of the most prestigious universities in the world.


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