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How to Get Into Harvard: Advice from Admitted Students

December 23, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, How To, Applications


It’s not a popular answer, but the truth is there is no secret formula to be admitted to Harvard University -- Harvard itself writes this as the first thing on their admissions page:

"There is no such thing as a typical Harvard student."

That being said, though Harvard students come from all different walks of life there are clear trends within this group.

Harvard students are not just well-rounded students who were near the top of their high school class.

More importantly, they are typically highly passionate and accomplished in one specific area.

For many Harvard applicants, a stellar academic record is a given, so Harvard must look further to differentiate between candidates.

As a result, Harvard often selects students who have state or even national-level recognition in their craft. This can mean Science Olympiads or musicians who have won international competitions.

This can also mean service projects that have deeply affected your local community.

A sense of deep passion, grit, and work ethic will have the best chances of wooing the admission committee.

The Harvard admission process requires discussion of each candidate after an initial first check.

In order to stand out in this setting, candidates do not want to be just a student with good test scores and grades, or a jack of all trades. Rather, candidates are most memorable when they have a clear arc to their application: the notable scientist, the future political and community leader, the bridgebuilder in times of division.

The best strategy, then, seems to be ensuring a few things:

  1. A Steller Academic Record
  2. An Established Pattern of Passion
  3. Recognition on a Large Scale for that Passion

Why is it So Hard Getting Into a Top College?

July 09, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Early Action, Early Decision, Acceptance Rates, Ivy League, Stanford, Harvard, University of Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn, Duke


Why do top colleges and universities have much lower acceptance rates than they did only a decade ago?

It’s a tragic saga of prestige, tradition, statistics, and a decade-long race to the bottom. Watch it slowly unfold in the charts below:

Image

In the “good ole’ days” depicted on the left , your last name was your college application. Today (on the right ), the high school students competing with you are basically curing cancer.

Unfortunately, the number of spots at top colleges has not kept pace with the explosion of applications:

Image

And yet the total number of students admitted to top colleges has remained stagnant :

Image

This isn’t just a phenomenon of “top” colleges — this problem occurs across the board for all US universities:

Image

As the saying goes, scarcity creates value.

So from the perspective of top colleges, this surge in demand has been a blessing rather than a curse.

Consider the two most prestigious colleges in America — Stanford and Harvard.

Once upon a time, over 1 in 10 students who applied to Harvard and Stanford got in (2001). Now, that number is less than 1 in 20 students.

Image

Both elite schools have fought a race to the bottom in terms of acceptance rates, closely tailing one another for the “top” (or “bottom”) spot.

At the same time, the number that matters most to colleges for prestige — Yield Rate — steadily increased. Yield Rate is the percentage of accepted students that choose to enroll in your institution.

Luckily for top colleges, low acceptance rates and high yields go hand in hand:

Image

The reason why top colleges have much lower acceptance rates than they did a decade ago is because prestige is relative.

If you’re the dean of the only college in your division with a double digit acceptance rate, then you can expect to be reprimanded by your Board of Trustees for failing to uphold the prestige and exclusivity of your college’s brand. Angry alumni who see the value of their diploma depreciating relative to the peers from other institutions will demand action.

And that’s why you see the craziest drops in acceptance rates for institutions that lagged behind their peers in prestige a decade ago.

Consider the Ivies:

Image

Note the most dramatic drops in Ivy League acceptance rates come from schools like Cornell, Penn, Brown, and Dartmouth, which are typically considered the “less prestigious” Ivies.

Their acceptance rates have plummeted from a completely reasonable 15–35% in 2007 to an intimidating <15% by 2018 .

That’s because these “less prestigious” top universities have the most “catching up” to do.

Deflating acceptance rates while filling your incoming class was difficult to do 1–2 decades ago. But now, thanks to...

  1. The Internet

  2. Standardization of the Common App/Coalition App/Universal App

  3. Higher number of international applicants

...there is enough demand for any college to achieve their desired prestigiously low acceptance rate by simply spending enough on marketing/ad flyers/outreach.

The table below shows the 16 colleges with the largest decrease in acceptance rates over the past decade:

Image

You’ll note that most of these schools are good, but not in the upper echelon of “elite” schools.

These are schools like the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Duke, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Rice, Vanderbilt, etc.

For these schools, a low acceptance rate is a fast track to prestige, something that could otherwise only be achieved through hundreds of years of achievement.

So while all elite colleges have seen their admissions rates decrease over the past decade, colleges like the University of Chicago have been able to attain roughly comparable admissions selectivity as Ivy League schools by simply out-pacing more "prestigious" colleges at lowering their acceptance rates.

Image

To summarize: Top colleges have much lower acceptance rates than they did a decade ago because there’s too many applicants and not enough spots.

This benefits colleges by making their diplomas more valuable, and thus there have been no substantial efforts to resolve this race to the bottom.

Does Your Choice of Major Impact Your College Admissions Chances?

Be careful when "declaring" that you're an undecided or undeclared major

July 04, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Declaring, Majors, Advice, Admissions, Application, Mistakes, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard, UCs


Should I declare an intended major on my college application?

If not, does being undeclared or undecided hurt my admissions chances?

The short answer to both questions is YES, your declared major or the specific program to which you are applying can have a significant impact on your acceptance chances.

Even if schools pretend otherwise, the statistics bear this out (as shown later in this article).

Students who demonstrate interest in different majors/programs have widely different acceptance rates at certain colleges.

I've listed 5 case studies of different schools below to illustrate how the way in which you choose a major for your college application can improve or decrease your admissions chances.

UCLA

At UCLA , different programs have vastly different admissions rates (shown below).

UCLA

Additionally, even within the pool of students interested solely in engineering, the School of Engineering explicitly evaluates students by the specific engineering major that they intend to pursue.

Harvard

At Harvard , students interested in “humanities” are admitted at almost double the rate as students interested in “engineering”:

Harvard

Carnegie Mellon (CMU)

At Carnegie Mellon (shown below), the acceptance rate of different programs ranges from 7% to 26%!

CMU

UC Berkeley

At UC Berkeley , applicants intending on studying “computer science” have an 8.5% acceptance rate, compared to 17% overall.

Cornell

At Cornell , each application is individually considered by the specific college that a student applies to.

As Cornell Vice Provost of Enrollment Jason Locke stated in The Cornell Sun,

"Unlike many other colleges, which review all applications from a central undergraduate admissions office, Cornell has a 'somewhat unique system,' according to Locke.

Once an application is submitted, it will be given to the one — and only — college or school that the student is applying to, where his or her material will undergo what Locke called a 'first review.'"

This leads to wildly different outcomes for students who apply to different schools. For example, the undergraduate acceptance rate for Cornell's School of Industrial & Labor Relations was triple the rate of applicants to the College of Arts and Sciences.


What causes this statistical difference?

There are two main factors which make your choice of intended field of study important on your college application.

  1. Colleges have different strengths. Johns Hopkins’ world-renowned Biomedical Engineering (BME) program is much stronger than its English department. MIT’s Computer Science (CS) department is much stronger than its History department. Thus, more students interested in BME will apply to Johns Hopkins, and it will be harder to distinguish yourself as an applicant interested in BME. Same goes for applying to MIT as a CS major.

  2. Colleges have different weaknesses . Every program or school that a college offers represents a significant investment of time, money, and resources. Applicants that have the potential to dramatically improve relatively weaker programs (e.g. English at Johns Hopkins, or History at MIT) offer a larger marginal return on being admitted than students who would have to be literally world-class (e.g. win a Nobel Prize) to make a noticeably lasting impact on their stronger departments.

Use this knowledge to your benefit!

Most colleges will allow you to switch majors after enrolling.

If you can frame your application to provide an unmet need or fill spots in an under-enrolled program, you can greatly increase your admissions chances .

To learn more about college admissions from Ivy League students who’ve successfully gone through the process themselves, check out the services we offer here

The 5 Types of Students that Get into Harvard

Who gets into Harvard, and why?

June 29, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, Ivy League, Admissions


There are four main categories of students that get admitted to Harvard per Harvard's admissions policy.

Collectively, they comprise roughly 60% of every Harvard class.

Who makes up the other 40% of admits? The students who excel across the other 3 dimensions (Academics, ECs, and PQs) used to rank prospective students.

In this article, I'll walk you through each of the four main categories of Harvard students, then walk you through how the fifth category distinguishes themselves for Harvard's admissions requirements.

Football

1) Recruited Athletes (20% of admitted students)

Harvard has the most D1 sports teams of any college in the nation — 42 — which means there are a lot of spots to fill.

Recruited athletes have a 90% acceptance rate and comprise 10% of the incoming class. (Source: The Atlantic) .

For perspective, the overall Harvard acceptance rate is below 5%.

Walk-ons comprise another 10% of the incoming class, and also get in at a much higher rate since coaches will “soft recruit” them. Harvard’s athletic recruitment process is detailed below.

Athletic Recruitment

2) Director’s List (10%)

The “Directors List” contains the names of top donors and influential families.

Students lucky enough to be on the Directors List have a 42% acceptance rate, and comprise roughly 10% of every class. (Source: The Crimson)

For example, Jared Kushner famously got in after his father donated $2.5 million.

Kushner

3) Deferred (“Z-list”) Admits (3%)

Some students who would otherwise qualify for the Director’s List are not yet ready to begin college. Harvard will force these incoming students to take a gap year before coming to Harvard.

This is roughly 60 students every year, and is colloquially known as the “Z-list.”

On campus, the reputation is that Z-list admits tend to be less than qualified for admission.

As The Crimson reports:

Computer technicians in the admissions office coined the term “Z-list” because the group is the last to get admitted each cycle, after regular and waitlisted admits Students who are Z-listed must take a gap year before enrolling as freshmen the following year.

Faculty Club

4) Faculty Children (1%)

The children of Harvard faculty have a 47% acceptance rate, and roughly 20 students of faculty apply per year. (Source: The Crimson)

It’s a pretty funny sight to see the student of your professor copying off your homework for his dad’s class.

Graduation

5) Legacies (15%)

A legacy is defined as an applicant with at least one parent who went to Harvard or Radcliffe College (Radcliffe was the women’s college that merged with Harvard).

Legacies are admitted at a 33% acceptance rate, and make up 15% of each class. (Source: The Crimson)

Harvard Yard


Assuming these groups don’t overlap much, that brings us to ~60% of Harvard’s admitted class.

Who makes up the other 40% of admitted students?

Those who excelled at the traditional 4 metrics used to rank every Harvard application.

They are, in no particular order:

  1. Academics
  2. Extracurriculars (“ECs”)
  3. Personal Qualities (“PQs”)
  4. Athletics*

*Athletics has already been covered in the 30% of recruited athletes and walk-ons, so we’ll ignore that.

This leaves us with 3 dimensions to rate applicants: Academics, ECs, and PQs.

Each applicant is rated on a scale of 1 (best) to 6 (worst) across each dimension, with +/-’s for more nuanced ratings. The scale is interpreted as follows. (Source: Harvard Admissions Procedures Internal Handbook)

Harvard Admissions Handbook

This image is taken directly from the Handbook given to Harvard’s Admissions Officers.

So, how do you get a 1 in each category?

The answers, quoted directly from Harvard’s Admissions Handbook, are as follows.

Academics

  1. Summa potential. Genuine scholar; near-perfect scores and grades (in most cases) combined with unusual creativity and possible evidence of original scholarship.

  2. Magna potential: Excellent student with superb grades and mid-to high-700 scores (33+ ACT).

  3. Cum laude potential: Very good student with excellent grades and mid-600 to low-700 scores (29 to 32 ACT).

  4. Adequate preparation. Respectable grades and low-to mid-600 scores (26 to 29) ACT).

  5. Marginal potential. Modest grades and 500 scores (25 and below ACT).

  6. Achievement or motivation marginal or worse.

Extracurriculars

  1. Unusual strength in one or more areas. Possible national-level achievement or professional experience. A potential major contributor at Harvard. Truly unusual achievement.

  2. Strong secondary school contribution in one or more areas such as class president, newspaper editor, etc. Local or regional recognition; major accomplishment(s).

  3. Solid participation but without special distinction. (Upgrade 3+ to 2- in some cases if the e/c is particularly extensive and substantive.)

  4. Little or no participation.

  5. Substantial activity outside of conventional EC participation such as family commitments or term-time work (could be included with other e/c to boost the rating or left as a "5" if it is more representative of the student's commitment).

  6. Special circumstances limit or prevent participation (e.g. a physical condition).

Personal Qualities (Essays, Teacher Recs, School Rec, Interview)

  1. Outstanding

  2. Very strong

  3. Generally positive

  4. Bland or somewhat negative or immature

  5. Questionable personal qualities.

  6. Worrisome personal qualities

Athletics

  1. Unusually strong prospect for varsity sports at Harvard, desired by Harvard coaches.

  2. Strong secondary school contribution in one or more areas; possible leadership role(s).

  3. Active participation.

  4. Little or no interest.

  5. Substantial activity outside of conventional EC participation such as family commitments or term-time work (could be included with other e/c to boost the rating or left as a "5" if it is more representative of the student's commitment).

  6. Physical condition prevents significant activity.

For further reading, I recommend checking out this great article from the New York Times which interviewed several Harvard freshmen about why they got in.

And for another blog post analyzing one of our team member's own Harvard admissions file, after getting to view it as part of a FERPA request, check out this post .

If you're applying to a selective college (even if it's not Harvard!) we want to help! We provide 1-on-1 mentorship with experienced editors who can help you craft your application. Sign up here for a free 20-minute consultation .

Acceptance Rates of the 22 Best Colleges in the World

June 02, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Acceptance Rates, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Ivy League, NYU, MIT, Duke, Notre Dame, NYU, Oxford, Cambridge, USC, UVA, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, UCs, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Chicago


The 2019-2020 admissions cycle for the Class of 2024 was one of the most competitive ever , with more and more students from around the world applying to top universities and elite colleges with a limited number of spots.

The 2020-21 cycle is shaping up to be an even more competitive year for admissions to Ivy League schools and other top universities, especially with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Read on to learn more about the admission rate of top colleges in the US and UK.

Ivy League Schools

Gates of Princeton

Harvard Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Harvard acceptance rate was 4.9% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 4.5% . A total of 40,248 students applied for 1,980 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Yale Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Yale acceptance rate was 6.5% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 5.9% . A total of 35,220 students applied for 2,304 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Princeton Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Princeton acceptance rate was 5.6% . This was slightly lower than the previous year, which was 5.8% . A total of 32,836 students applied for 1,823 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Columbia Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Columbia acceptance rate was 6.1% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 5.1% . A total of 40,084 students applied for 2,465 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Penn Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 University of Pennsylvania acceptance rate was 8.1% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 7.4% . (Source)

Brown Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Brown acceptance rate was 6.9% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 6.6% . A total of 36,794 students applied for 2,533 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Dartmouth Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Dartmouth acceptance rate was 8.8% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 7.9%% . A total of 21,394 students applied for 1,881 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Cornell Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Cornell acceptance rate has not been published, as part of a move by administrators to not release regular decision results until the following admissions cycle. However, Cornell did release its Early Decision results, which showed an ED acceptance rate of 23.8% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 22.6% . A total of 6,615 students applied for 1,576 Early Decision spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Top US Colleges (Non-Ivy, Private)

Entrance to Stanford

Stanford Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Stanford acceptance rate has not been published, as part of a move by administrators to not release acceptance rate statistics. However, Stanford did release its results for the previous year, which showed that 47,498 total students applied for 1,900 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 4% . (Source)

MIT Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 MIT acceptance rate was 7.2% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 6.6% . A total of 20,075 students applied for 1,457 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

USC Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 USC acceptance rate was 16% . This was significantly higher than the previous year, which was 11% . A total of 60,000 students applied for 9,500 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Duke Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Duke acceptance rate was 7.7 %. This was the same as the previous year, which was 7.7% . A total of 39,783 students applied for 3,057 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Notre Dame Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Notre Dame acceptance rate was 16.5% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 15.4% . A total of 21,270 students applied for 3,507 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

NYU Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 NYU acceptance rate was 15% . This was lower than the previous year, which was 16% . A total of 85,000 students applied for 13,000 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Georgetown Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Georgetown acceptance rate was 15% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 14.1% . A total of 23,318 students applied for 3,309 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Johns Hopkins Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Johns Hopkins University acceptance rate was 8.8% . This was slightly lower than the previous year, which was 9.2% . A total of 27,256 students applied for 2,604 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

University of Chicago Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 University of Chicago acceptance rate was 6.2% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 5.9% . A total of 34,400 students applied for 2,130 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Top US Colleges (Public)

UCLA

UCLA Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UCLA acceptance rate has not yet been published. The previous year, the acceptance rate was 12.4% . A total of 108,837 students applied for the Class of 2024, which was slightly lower than the previous year at 111,306. (Source 1) (Source 2)

UC Berkeley Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UC acceptance rate has not yet been published. The previous year, the acceptance rate was 16.4% . A total of 88,026 students applied for the Class of 2024, which was slightly higher than the previous year at 87,393. (Source 1) (Source 2)

UVA Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UVA acceptance rate was 20.5% . This was significantly lower than the previous year, which was 24.3% . A total of 40,971 students applied for 8,420 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Oxbridge

Oxford

Oxford Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Oxford acceptance rate has not been published. For the previous year, there were 23,020 total applications for 3,889 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 16.9% . (Source)

Cambridge Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Cambridge acceptance rate has not been published. For the previous year, there were 19,359 total applications for 4,694 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 18.2% . (Source)


If you want direct feedback on your essays from current Ivy League students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, learn more about us here or click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation

How Harvard Grades Applications

Learn How the Harvard Admissions Office Makes Admissions Decisions

December 21, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Harvard, Admissions File


Last year, I was able to view my actual Harvard Admissions file through a Student Records Request, and I have several friends who work/have worked in Harvard’s Admissions Office. Thus, I've been able to learn a ton of inside knowledge about the Harvard admissions process, as well as dispel some common myths propagated by college counselors, teachers, parents, and Harvard itself.

In this article, I'll detail everything I learned first-hand about Harvard's admissions process, and tell you exactly what goes on in the committee room when your application is being voted on.

Freshmen walk through Johnson Gate while moving into the Yard during Opening Days. (Image Source)

Though personal details below have been blurred out, you can get a general sense of what is on the one-page "summary sheet" that Harvard makes for every applicant in the image below. This summary sheet is given to every admissions officer so that they can quickly reference the overall strength of your candidacy when debating the merit of your admission in committee.

Screenshot of my actual Harvard Admissions file. Sections of the summary sheet have been annotated to describe what you will be graded on.

The Harvard Admissions committee will grade you on 4 metrics . They are as follows:

  1. Academics
  2. Extracurriculars
  3. Personal Qualities
  4. Athletics

For each of these metrics, you will be assigned a score of 1–6, where 1 is the best and 6 is the worst.

So which metric you should be optimizing for?

According to a friend who worked in the Admissions Office, it is the "Personal Qualities" metric that is the most underrated by applicants.

In fact, "Personal Qualities" actually ends up having the biggest impact on borderline admissions decisions.

View of Dunster House, a Harvard undergraduate dorm, from across the Charles River (Image Source)

The reason for this is simple — if you’re a 1 in any of the other categories, you’re most likely going to get accepted anyway. (1) Recruited athletes (with a 1 in “Athletics”) will receive a likely letter from their coach months before admissions decisions come out, and are essentially guaranteed a spot. (2) Academic superstars who’ve published papers, proven unsolved theorems, or won prestigious competitions are also a pretty solid lock to be included in the incoming class. (3) Finally, students who’ve excelled in leadership positions in intense extracurriculars , i.e. founding a company or leading a charity or getting elected to a national position of a high school organization, are also much more likely to be admitted.

Harvard’s overall acceptance rate has gone down every year for the past decade (Image Source)

So what if you’re not one of those kids?

Well, after throwing in spots reserved for the children of prominent politicians, billionaires, and mega-donors on the dean’s list, you now have very few spots left for amazing students who aren’t quite “prodigies.”

These students would be considered “very smart” and “Harvard material” in their high schools, but not labeled “prodigies” or “child geniuses,” and wouldn’t assume their admission is “guaranteed” by any stretch of the imagination.

According to the Washington Post, this ends up being the vast majority of applicants.

These students will get a handful of 2’s and 3’s across the four metrics. That puts them in the running for admission, but their profiles could be easily swapped out with another student who has 2’s and 3’s, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Harvard’s admissions process, according to the Harvard Admissions Office. (Image Source)

This is where Personal Qualities really stand out.

At this level, everyone is a great student, participates in extracurriculars, and has won some honors/awards. They can do the academic work at Harvard, no question.

But…

  • Do they fit in at Harvard?
  • Will they be the change-makers of tomorrow?
  • Do they add something unique to the incoming class?

Screenshot from a Student Government campaign video that went viral earlier this year, with celebrities like Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kerry Washington retweeting the video. The students who posted this video won a surprising, come-from-behind victory to take the Presidency and Vice Presidency for 2020. Watch the video here and read a CNN article about it here

As my friend who works in the Admissions Office likes to say, Harvard’s Admissions Office prides itself on building a community, not a classroom.

Harvard wants interesting people who will get along with others, bring unique perspectives to the table, and add something unique to the make-up of the class. If another applicant has the same personality/interests/motivations as you, then your spot will get taken by that applicant. Or the 10 others with identical essays about why they want to go to medical school or why they’re passionate about a certain subject or how they coped with a family member who went through a hardship.

Your essays, teacher recommendations, and interview are incredibly important for Harvard. More so, in fact, than they are at any other Ivy League college (from what I’ve been told by friends in the Admissions Office).

If you have any more specific questions or want to see other parts of my Harvard application, feel free to message me and I’d be more than happy to answer questions.

To learn more about my Harvard admissions journey and the tips/tricks I’ve learned along the way, check out the other posts on our blog .

Or, if you want to learn these secrets yourself for your own college applications, check out the services we offer

How I Got into Harvard

December 01, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, Admissions File, Hindsight


"You'll never get into Harvard," I remember my English teacher chuckling.

It was if my expression of interest in the university had been the punchline of a joke.

Yes, it was devastating to hear. But it was the motivation I needed.

Less than a year later, I was fortunate enough to open up a letter from Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons informing me that I had been accepted to one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

I was completely floored as I read the words "Congratulations" at the top of my letter. I couldn't believe my luck, and was certain they had made a mistake.

That nagging doubt constantly lingered in the back of my mind during my freshman year at Harvard.

Why had I been chosen over thousands of other students who probably deserved this more than me?

Who made the decision that I belonged at Harvard?

What was I supposed to uniquely add to the incoming class?

What was the secret to my acceptance?

As a Harvard student, you are allowed to view your admissions file by submitting a Student Records request . I did this out of curiosity, and was shocked by what I saw.

In this post, I'll share what I learned about my own personal admissions journey, as well as the metrics that Harvard uses to evaluate and rank candidates. Hopefully this gives you a better sense of how you'll be evaluated, and sheds some light on this mysterious process.

But first, some context:

Harvard assigns each applicant a numerical score (1–6) across four metrics (Academics, Extracurriculars, Athletics, and Personal Qualities), your teacher and school counselor recommendations, and your interview performance.

A score of 1 is the "best," while a 6 is the "worst." See this Quora post from an alumni interviewer for more context on what scoring a “1” means/how rare it is.

According to my admissions file, it was my interview and my essay that distinguished my application and secured my acceptance to Harvard.


A) Interview

A screenshot of my Harvard Alumni Interview write-up is below.

Interview write-up

My interview went extremely well, way better than I could have possibly dreamed.

At the time I didn’t think much of it — the conversation had flowed naturally and I thought I made a good impression, but I didn’t realize just how well I had done until looking at my admissions file several years later while a student at Harvard.

Overall, my interviewer remarked that I was probably the “most exceptional” candidate she’d seen in almost a decade of interviewing, highlighting in particular my “intellectual curiosity, internal drive, and creativity.” There were three main themes she highlighted in her write-up:

(1) Structure: In particular, I think that she liked the structured way I answered her questions. I had spent the week prior practicing how to walk through my resume by telling a story, linking everything I’d done into one coherent narrative.

Multiple times in my write-up, she remarked how impressive my “structured thinking and organization” had been during the interview. And while she did note that this could come across as overly rehearsed, she thought that the enthusiasm I showed meant that this structure served me well during the interview.

(2) Coherent Narrative: She also highlighted my ability to synthesize the various fields I was interested in or had done in high school (e.g. debate, research internships at national labs, academic summer camps) into Harvard-specific goals.

For example, I had done a lot of debate and STEM research in high school, and so one of my goals was to work at the intersection of technology and policy after graduating. Tying this back to Harvard, I mentioned the Berkman Center for Internet and Policy as a resource I’d love to take advantage of, as it is one of the foremost research centers on Internet policy in the nation.

She highlighted my ability to “synthesi[ze]” my interests, future goals, and past experience as “especially stand-out,” and I think this ability to tie my life’s story up to that point into one big arrow pointing at Harvard was the key in earning such a favorable rating.

Interview write-up

(3) Easy Flow of Conversation: By keeping the conversation constantly flowing and turning the interview into a dialogue with my interviewer, I was able to keep her engaged and invested in our conversation.

For example, I had looked up my interviewer beforehand, so I knew that she worked in healthcare policy. So, when she asked me about my interest in statistics and math, after answering her question I then flipped it and asked her how these subjects factored into her day-to-day work on health policy.

After she mentioned a research report on health insurance, I piggy-backed on her comments by mentioning a few news articles I’d read recently about the same topic, and we had a great back-and-forth on how her time at Harvard shaped her desire to go into health policy, and what she wished she had done more of as an undergrad to prepare her for her current role.

Doing research beforehand was incredibly valuable, as it ensured that I would always have something to say/ask her about whenever there was a lull in conversation. Above all, however, my main advice (in addition to researching your interviewer beforehand) is to just be a normal, social, affable human being like you normally are.


B) Essays

Interview write-up

I was very proud of my Common App essay, as I thought I did an effective job of capturing why I was interested in both Statistics and the intersection of technology with law/public policy.

If you want direct feedback on your essays from Harvard students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, visit us here.

I purposely tried to make my supplemental essays much more light-hearted/humorous to showcase that aspect of my personality, and I think that helped round me out as an applicant, especially as someone applying with a more traditional STEM background.

I wrote, edited, and revised my essays over the span of about 6 months.

The first 4 of those months were spent writing a dozen or so drafts that I ended up scrapping completely, but going through that process and getting feedback on my essays was essential for channeling the mindset of an admissions officer and making sure that I hit all the right notes in the final version I submitted.

Best Spots to See at Harvard

November 29, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Ivy League, Harvard, To-Do


Every tourist goes on a campus tour, wanders through Harvard Yard, and rubs John Harvard’s foot.

They don’t know what they’re missing.

There are a lot of great spots on Harvard’s campus that tourists don’t really know about, and are much more relaxed, beautiful, and chill than the usual tour stops.

My favorite underrated, publicly accessible places at Harvard are (in no particular order):

A view of Eliot House (an undergraduate dorm) from across the Charles River (Image Source)

1. The Charles River

Taking a stroll down the Charles River front can be a beautiful experience during the spring, summer, and fall. Walking along the River near campus, you’ll be able to see most of the River Houses (e.g. Eliot, Dunster, Winthrop). Crossing the River will get you to the Business School, which has even more beautiful architecture and grassy lawns than the red brick undergraduate dorms across the River.

Food trucks and tables full of students studying between classes crowd the Science Center Plaza at noon. (Image Source)

2. The Science Center Plaza

There’s seemingly always something happening on the Plaza, whether its the bevy of delicious food trucks selling lunch every day or the random events that Harvard hosts as part of its Common Spaces initiative. There’s also a local farmer’s market every week, and many student organizations host events/activities in the Plaza. If you come at the right time you might stumble on something fun happening!

A collection of Enlightenment-era scientific instruments which helped revolutionize humanity’s understanding of the world, on display in the Science Center (Image Source)

3. The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Hidden in the Science Center, this small museum has a really cool assortment of scientific instruments that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. It’s usually pretty empty and not many students even know about it, so definitely recommend checking out this hidden gem while on campus.

Radcliffe Yard (Image Source)

4. Radcliffe Yard.

This is where Admissions tours are handled, so you may stumble across this picturesque part of Harvard’s campus anyway. If not, I definitely recommend walking through Radcliffe Yard. I have never seen such perfectly manicured lawns in my life. It used to be Radcliffe College before the two institutions merged to become just “Harvard.” Now, it is the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. (Note: Some students incorrectly refer to this as the “Radcliffe Quad.” It is not, however, the same as the “Quad” that most Harvard students reference — the other “Quad” is a 15 minute walk away, and houses upperclass dorms).

Langdell Hall, the Law School’s main library, is the largest academic law library in the world and the largest building on the Law School campus. (Image Source)

5. Law School / Business School campus

Though on opposite ends of campus (the Law School is north of Harvard Yard, while the Business School is across the Charles River to the south of campus), it would be a mistake not to visit these two graduate school campuses while visiting Harvard College. You won’t be able to enter the buildings, but the lawns and campus spaces are beautiful to walk through nonetheless.

Artifact on display in Harvard’s Peabody Museum. (Image Source)

6. The Peabody Museum

This is more widely known, but most tour groups don’t stop by there for some reason. One of the world’s oldest museums focusing on anthropology, you should make sure you check out the Peabody’s world famous archaeological exhibits while you’re on campus.

Glass flowers on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (Image Source)

7. Harvard Museum of Natural History

This museum houses arguably the most famous exhibit on Harvard’s campus, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’s “Glass Flowers.” The exhibit is a collection of over 4,300 meticulously crafted glass replications of over 780 plant species. Again, most students won’t take advantage of this during their time at Harvard, but having gone I can say with 100% confidence that you’ll be missing out if you don’t pay this exhibit a visit.

Portrait of President George Washington, housed in the Harvard Art Museum. (Image Source)

8. Harvard Art Museum

Harvard technically has three separate art museums (the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Sackler). However, their collections were combined into one building, and thus functionally they are the same museum. The Harvard Art Museum is a beautiful building, and is usually pretty quiet — students usually only come there to study, attend lectures in the basement, or look at art for a seminar. There aren’t a ton of publicly displayed pieces, but the collection spans several floors and can make for an enjoyable afternoon.

Is It Possible To Sit In on Harvard Classes?

August 16, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, Ivy League, College Life


While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, a stranger off the street could sneak into almost every single non-seminar class I’ve taken at Harvard, for several reasons:

(1) Easy access

Most classes are held in large buildings like Sever, Emerson, Harvard Hall, and the Science Center, none of which have any sort of swipe access restrictions.

So, you wouldn’t even need to wait for someone to hold the door open for you in order to sit in on Harvard’s most popular humanities/engineering courses.

(2) No seating charts

Not a single class I’ve taken at Harvard has a seating chart. Not even seminar-style courses with 12 students around a table. Not even the graduate courses I’ve taken. Seating charts are very “high school”-y and teachers don’t waste time on them.

Now, most students end up sitting in the same seat every day, so there typically becomes a de facto seating chart, but if you sat in someone’s seat they likely wouldn’t bat an eye and would just sit somewhere else (assuming there were enough seats for everyone)

Klarman Hall at HBS, where one of the more popular General Education courses about tech ethics was held this year ( Image Source )

(3) Large lectures (mostly STEM courses)

Most engineering courses at Harvard take place in large lecture halls, so you could easily slip in without anyone noticing.

In my experience, only upper-level and graduate-level seminars would be too small for you to enter a classroom without getting noticed.

(4) Extension/visiting students

Even if you didn’t look like a Harvard student at all, you still wouldn’t stick out.

That’s because there are plenty of older Extension students (i.e. actual adults) who sit in Harvard courses, visiting students from MIT, and one-semester junior transfers from abroad.

Students in the Harvard Science Center take a Math 21b exam (Image Source)

(5) Non-mandatory lectures

Some of the largest lecture courses are recorded. This means that students can skip lecture and watch them online after the fact.

Additionally, some courses do not require attendance.

This means that not even the professor will know who truly is in his/her class, and neither will the students.

To summarize, your main difficulty will be figuring out where/when classes are being taken, not getting in.

What is the easiest major at Harvard University?

July 20, 2019 by Veritas Essays Team | Harvard, College Life, Ivy League


Yes, if you go to Harvard you’re relatively smart.

Yes, every major can be difficult at times.

And yes, some people are better at some things.

But if you’re actually a student here, it’s pretty obvious which of your peers are staying up till 4am every week finishing a CS problem set and which Economics concentrators are partying 5 days a week.

Basically, almost every Science or Engineering major will be harder/require more time every week than a Humanities/Social Science major.

Mean student-reported workload for classes in 2015, sorted by major (Image Source)

According to this really interesting statistical analysis (chart included above), OEB (Organismic and Evolutionary Biology) was also one of the lightest workload majors, which I honestly hadn’t realized, but the major does have this reputation among pre-meds and bio majors.