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?
With 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.
By Whitney Bruce, 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