Are You Applying to Harvard College?


This post about the Harvard supplement to the Common Application is part of a series of posts written to help you complete the 2012 Common Application supplement for Ivy League schools

Last year, almost 35,000 students applied to Harvard College.  Of those, 2158 received offers of admission to join the class of 2015.  That’s 6.1%.  With 35,000 applicants, most of whom present nearly perfect academic credentials and outstanding commitments to extracurricular excellence, you face a critical question: How do you stand out?

Harvard College Eliot HouseWith the entire college process, be yourself.  Be your best self, but yourself. Your Harvard application is no different.  

This year, Harvard has reinstated the restrictive early action process. If Harvard is your first choice, you can consider applying early, with a preferred deadline of October 15th and a final deadline of November 1.  The restrictive early action choice prohibits applicants from filing additional single choice early action, or early decision applications.  It does allow for submission of rolling admission or regular decision applications prior to receiving a decision from Harvard.  If you are admitted to Harvard under the early action program, you have until May 1 to decide whether or not to accept the offer of admission.

A completed Harvard application includes either the ACT with writing or the SAT exam.  Harvard also requires two SAT II subject tests.  To allow for your application to be fully reviewed, and to save the expense of rush reporting, try to complete all of your testing requirements in advance of the deadline, by the October deadline for early action and the November test date for regular decision.   

The Harvard Common Application supplement does not require an additional essay, however, you may choose to submit one on the topic of your choice.  Before you feel compelled to fill blank space, be certain that you will enhance your application by adding additional information.  Has there been more to the last 18 years of your life than you have already explained?  Probably.  Will it take time and introspection to write a worthwhile supplemental essay?  Yes.  Before you begin writing, consider the information you have already provided through your common application.  Brainstorm about other experiences that might differentiate you from other candidates, and put yourself at the initial center of your essay.  You are the person the admission committee wants to understand. The key in answering this open-ended essay is to be certain that the reader knows more about the way you think about, engage in, or reflect on the world around you after reading the supplement than before.

One of the Harvard suggestions is to include a list of books that you have read in the last 12 months.  If you spend substantial time reading for pleasure or intellectual engagement, this list might provide compelling insight on your application.  If your list outside of AP English includes only a few bestsellers and a “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, consider a different approach to the question.

While it is tempting to ignore the question, or submit an essay that you have already written for another application, take the time to put your best work in front of the Harvard admission committee.  When you have finished the first draft, consider the reader of your application.  One extra page, times 35,000 applicants, means you best have something meaningful to say.


Whitney BruceBy , who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as an Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to provide you with college admissions consulting as you apply to college.

Photo credit: roger4336

Ivy League Acceptance Rate Down


Acceptance rates at Ivy League institutions hit an all-time low this year, reports a Daily Pennsylvanian article last week. Penn, for example, accepted only 12.3% of applicants this year, compared to 14.2% last year. And this low rate is actually the second highest in the Ivy League, following Cornell admitting 18%, the highest rate.

The most selective school this year in the Ivy League was Harvard, which accepted only 6.2% of applicants. At both Penn and Harvard, minority students accounted for 44% of acceptances.

Waitlist numbers also vary among the schools in the Ivy League. Penn placed 2,400 on the waitlist; Cornell’s total was 2,988; Princeton waitlisted 1,248; and Yale waitlisted just 996 students.

You can see an interactive chart on acceptance rates by visiting the DP article, “Ivy admissions hit record low.” For a more extensive chart on acceptance rates (i.e. not just of Ivy League schools), check out the New York Times blog post, “Stanford and Duke Accepted How Many? Colleges Report 2011 Admission Figures.” (P.S. Stanford admitted 7.07% and Duke accepted 12.59.) ~ Helping You Write Your Best

College Applications Continue to Rise…

…which means competition for colleges is also on the rise. Ivy League schools in particular are receiving record numbers of applications, some with double-digit percentage increases for the second year in a row.

According to a article, “Competition for colleges increasing as applications rise,” 1.5 million students apply to four-year colleges every year. This year, about one in 50 of those students applied to Harvard. Last year, Harvard only accepted 6.9% of its applicants. With a limited number of seats per class, it makes sense that as more applicants believe they deserve a spot, the more rejections there will be. (This year Harvard received close to 35,000 applications, an almost 15% increase.)

One reason for the boom in applications is the recent increased generosity of financial aid packages at the Ivies and other elite schools. A Chronicle of Higher Education article indicates that in the 2008-2009 academic year, 79% of first-time, full-time undergrads received financial aid, up 3% from the year before. 40% of these students received Pell Grants.

Harvard is one such school that offers a generous financial aid package. 70% of Harvard undergraduates receive financial aid; families with annual income below $60,000 are not required to pay tuition at all, while those who earn up to $180,000 will pay no more than 10% of their income towards tuition.

At Penn, even high-income families qualify for financial aid—more than 100 students from families with an annual income of more than $190,000 received, on average, $16,000 in financial aid. Penn also has a no-loans policy in place.

Other contributing factors to the application boom include an improving economy, an increase of international applicants, an increase in applicants from California and the Southwest, the fact that students are applying to more schools, and increased competitiveness among high school students.

Although not cited in this article, the sheer ease of applying to multiple schools using the Common Application is frequently considered a contributing factor in the soaring application numbers. ~ Helping You Write Your Best

How to Attend College at a Low Cost

SmartMoney just published an article on the most affordable colleges in America. While the increase in sticker prices pretty much across the board may suggest otherwise, this article reports that colleges across the country are actually becoming more generous. “No-loan” policies have been adopted by 74% of colleges, including all of the Ivy League schools, and more generous financial aid packages are being delivered to make top colleges more affordable to a wider pool of applicants. The article states that “a good financial aid package is a competitive advantage.” “We want to make sure we’re not walking over the next poet laureate,” says Douglas Christiansen, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University, one of the no-loans schools.

Meanwhile, while many schools have hit or exceeded the $50,000 a year mark, some are still offering their students free tuition (though usually not free room and board and most are not absent of “fees”). Cooper Union, a free college (and a highly selective one at that) is one such example, located in New York City’s East Village. U.S. service academies are free, as are a number of others, which then require their students to serve in the military or perform community service or take on-campus jobs in exchange for their free tuition. Other schools, like Harvard or Dartmouth, offer free tuition to students from families in a particularly low income bracket.

Other options that will reduce your academic financial burden include in-state schools (for state residents, that is) and two-year colleges. Note, however, that some state schools are better bargains than others, including UNC Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, and schools in the UC system. ~ Helping You Write Your Best

Application Volume Soars at Top Colleges

We recently posted an article on the increase of applications at Harvard; apparently it’s not the only school experiencing an undergraduate application boom. A few more articles were recently published which report on record-breaking application increases at other top colleges in the U.S.

According to a article, applications at Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania hit an all-time high this year. There were more than 29,500 Duke applicants for next year (a 10% increase over last year), and 30,800 applicants to Penn (a 14% increase). The main attraction? New financial aid policies.

With sticker prices exceeding the $50,000/year mark, many families rely heavily on financial aid packages to make the possibility of attending a top school a reality. The article states that Duke has a “need-blind” admissions policy and will “meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need.”

Eric J. Furda, Penn’s dean of admissions, explains Penn’s application increase: “We believe that one of the primary reasons for this significant increase is Penn’s no-loan financial aid policies, which enable students who qualify for aid to graduate free of debt.”

According to a second article in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Columbia, Princeton, MIT, Brown, Stanford, and Dartmouth have also hit record highs in their undergraduate application volumes. Columbia saw a 32% increase over last year; Princeton experienced a 3.3% increase; MIT’s application volume increased by 7%, as did Stanford’s; and Brown and Dartmouth each saw 2.9% and 15.7% increases, respectively.

With Columbia accepting the Common Application for the first time, this past application cycle “marked the first year in which every Ivy League school accepted the Common Application.” The ease of applying with the Common App helped contribute to the increase of applications at these top schools.

A third article on the application boom discusses the record level undergraduate application increases at UCLA. UCLA received 81,235 applications, 6.4% increase over last year. The total for all UC schools combined was 142,235, a 6.1% increase from last year. UC San Diego experienced the greatest increase at 11.2%. The article elaborates on the specific increases for freshman, transfer students, various ethnicities, California residents, out-of-state applicants, and international applicants. You can view more information by downloading an info sheet from the University of California Office of the President website.

While not touched on so much in these articles, the surge in applications probably also stems from increasing use of the Common Application. That tool simply makes it easier to apply to more schools. Ironically, the Common App, which was intended to reduce stress and ease the college admission process, has led to a situation of heightened stress, more intense competition, and a greater insanity in the admissions process.

The Law of Unintended Consequences runs amok. ~ Helping You Write Your Best