harvard essay examples

Harvard Essays Examples 

One of the most important parts of the college application process is the essay section. Especially when you’re looking at applying to Harvard, or any of the Ivy League schools, your essays need to stand out. Looking at Harvard essays examples can help give you an idea of Harvard essays that worked and stood out to the admissions team.

Many students find the Harvard essays, or any school’s essays, to be the most stressful part of applying. Reading plenty of Harvard essays examples can help to alleviate that stress. Understanding strong points of Harvard essays that worked will allow you to craft the most competitive application possible. 

In this Harvard Essays Example article, we’ll look at: 

  • The Harvard essay requirements, from topic to word count
  • Various Harvard essays examples from past years
  • How to approach, plan, and write the Harvard essays
  • What admissions officers look for in Harvard essays
  • Advice for transfer essays

Before we dive into some Harvard essays that worked, let’s understand the Harvard essay requirements. 

How many essays do you have to write for Harvard?

harvard essay examples

Harvard requires applicants to complete a total of six essays: five supplemental essays and the personal statement. The personal statement prompt will be based on the application platform you are using, such as the Common Application or Coalition Application. Most students use the Common App platform and complete the Common App essay, choosing the prompt that most speaks to them. 

In addition to the personal statement, students must also submit five short answer Harvard application essays. Each of these Harvard essays has a 200 word maximum. This article focuses on Harvard essays examples for those shorter essays.

What are the Harvard essay requirements?

We know that applicants are required to complete the Common App personal statement in addition to five Harvard essay prompts. Now, we’ll take a look at the current Harvard essay prompts. However, keep in mind that the Harvard essays can change. Be sure to double check the admissions site for the most up-to-date information. 

Here are the current Harvard essay prompts: 

Harvard University Essay Prompts

1. Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?

2. Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

3. Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.

4. How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?

5. Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. 

Next, we’re going to look at some Harvard essays that worked. Keep in mind that reading and analyzing Harvard essay examples can be very helpful when writing your own college essays. These Harvard essay examples, even if not for current essay prompts, can provide insights into writing outstanding essays to impress Harvard admissions. 

Harvard Diversity Essay Examples

harvard essay examples

All universities want to have a diverse student body. Diversity brings unique perspectives to campus that can promote important conversations. In recent years, more and more universities have students write a diversity or community essay

Let’s take a look at the first of our Harvard essays examples, which writes about diversity at Harvard. 

Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? 

I have spent most of my life living in a 41% minority town of 1.8 square miles called Highland Park, NJ. HP has convinced me that we can build institutions that are strong and united while embracing a wide variety of voices and perspectives. It has shaped my core values of diversity and inclusion. An English teacher used to encourage me to talk in front of the class by saying even if I believed my thoughts were “dumb,” I could only enrich the conversation. From my experiences debating in Model UN conferences, I have grown accustomed to being able to present viewpoints from both sides of the argument and to being able to incorporate and respect the viewpoints of all sides of an issue before making up my own mind. 

At Harvard, I will seek to continue my contributions as an active participant in the community and look to actively provide unique perspectives and insights. I will actively participate in student life and engage in public service, such as helping provide after-school tutoring and joining health awareness campaigns. I look forward to a new set of unique experiences at Harvard University.

Why this essay worked

In this diversity essay, the student does an excellent job of clearly and specifically answering the prompt. The use of statistics and experiences specific to the student’s hometown makes it clear that this is no generic response. Additionally, the statistics support the student’s point that they come from a diverse community, while their examples illustrate their character. 

Later, the student speaks about how they have shared their unique perspectives. While doing this, the student also shows that they are active in extracurriculars. Furthermore, they show that they are able to bring their learnings from debating in Model UN into the real world. 

Finally, the student shows how they will bring diversity to Harvard’s campus. Admissions teams want to know how you’ll positively impact their campus. This student specifically states how they will be an active member of the student body and Harvard community. Clear goals and areas of interest are a common feature of successful Harvard essays examples.

Harvard Essay Example – Intellectual Experience

harvard essay examples

To get into a competitive school like Harvard University, students will need to do much more than simply meet the Harvard requirements. This is where your Harvard essays come into play. Each of the Harvard application essays should show that you are a motivated, curious person, especially the intellectual experience essay. 

Now, let’s take a look at the second of the Harvard essay examples:

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

One of the most valuable experiences I have had was at the Rutgers University WINLAB internship. While I was moderately fluent in many programming languages like Java and C++, I rarely utilized those skills in a real-life setting. In the First Person View Self-Driving Car project, we had to code and revise programs to control the car from our computers effectively. I found the application of computing theory in this project to be much more sophisticated than I anticipated, and some model revisions that would work in theory did not produce the anticipated result. 

From this experience, I realized that the real-life applications in STEM are much more sophisticated and challenging to work out than expected. From my two summers at the Harvard Summer School, I was impressed by the depth of the courses I’ve taken. In Introduction to C++ for Programmers (CSCI 3-38), we built our own games through C++ as the final project, which concurs with the highly practical nature of Harvard University’s curriculums. This gives me tremendous confidence that Harvard University is where I can learn the skills I need to prosper. I’m looking forward to new intellectual experiences at Harvard University!

Why this essay worked

The second of the Harvard essay prompts gives students a lot of room to play with their responses. An “intellectual experience” can mean many things, but it’s a great opportunity to speak to your academic interests. Harvard essays that worked have talked about everything from research experiences to mentorship to self-initiated projects. Ultimately, admissions officers should be able to see that you are driven, curious, and passionate about your topic.

In this essay, the writer shows that they have taken the time to get involved in internships within their field of interest: computer science and programming. By explaining how their experience impacted their real life, the writer shows how the intellectual experience was important to them. Specifically, this student had the important experience of realizing that some things worked in theory, however, not in practice—an important realization especially when working in the STEM field.

Remember that Harvard essays examples strive to provide a full picture of the applicant. This writer not only shares with us their interest in computer science, but also how they’ve grown. It shows that they are willing and ready to try new approaches and expand their horizons.

Harvard Extracurricular Essay Example

harvard essay examples

Within the Harvard essay requirements, you’ll notice that many of the Harvard essay prompts are similar to what you’ll find on other college applications. Among those popular prompts is the extracurricular essay. This can be a tricky one to answer in a way that isn’t cliché but demonstrates your character.

Let’s see how the third of the Harvard essays examples answers the prompt:

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.

My first encounter with the Red Cross club was during the challenging COVID year, when I stepped up as a freshman and took the position of treasurer. My first blood drive experience being marked by masks, social distancing, and low turnout among donors. Needless to say, it was not the greatest first high school service experience for me, and I admittedly started to doubt if the time I spent on this front was worth it. 

However, as we returned in person, things quickly turned around. As the vice president of the club, I helped recruit more than twice the club membership compared to the previous year, and our blood drives regained form; our blood targets have been exceeded every time since. Organizing and participating in blood drives has become a passion. It’s fulfilling, especially when I personally donate, to know that I’m actively serving the community and saving lives. Despite my relatively young age, I am capable of making an impact through public service. I plan to continue my commitment to the Red Cross’s adult program and participate in service programs like the Phillips Brooks House Association to serve the local Harvard community and abroad.

Why this essay worked

Similar to all of the Harvard essay prompts, this one allows students many ways to answer. The student mentions their position as vice president of the Red Cross club, which shows their capacity and willingness to take on a leadership role. They also highlighted the doubt they faced, demonstrating an instance of overcoming a challenge.

These Harvard essay prompts ask about formative experiences you’ve had beyond the classroom to demonstrate what kind of impact you’ll have on campus. This student does an excellent job of specifying the type of extracurricular activity that they plan to get involved in at Harvard: Phillips Brooks House Association. By mentioning the specific club, we know the student has done their research and knows their extracurricular interests. Furthermore, the club they choose is service-based, similar to the Red Cross club that forms the foundation of the essay.

Using Your Harvard Education Essay

harvard essay examples

In the other Harvard essays examples, students show the qualities that they will bring to campus. The fourth of the Harvard essay prompts differs in that it asks students to think about their life after college. Harvard essays that worked for prompts like this speak to both career and larger life goals.

Here is the fourth of our Harvard essays that worked: 

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? 

I envision my education at Harvard as not just a pursuit of knowledge but also a commitment to leveraging that knowledge for meaningful impact. The diverse and collaborative nature of the Harvard community will play a pivotal role in shaping my perspective and helping me establish the strong connections needed to achieve my goals. 

Whether through research initiatives or entrepreneurial ventures, I see myself at the forefront of positive and meaningful change. Harvard University’s education is sophisticated and includes many initiatives that help students including research opportunities (AM 91R & AM 99R) and courses such as Advanced Scientific Computing (APMTH 207). Machine learning, a pivotal technological frontier, stands among many topics shaping the future of technology—an area I am eager to explore. APMTH 207 aligns with my interest in data analysis and optimization, and the highly practical nature of model development will be helpful for any potential job in the future. 

I have already applied skills learned from the Harvard Summer School to real-life applications, and I’m confident a Harvard University education will help me do similar. I hope to my skills and knowledge to contribute to a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world.

Why this essay worked

Harvard wants their students to go on to make big impacts in the world. Basically, the fourth of these Harvard essays examples wants to see that you’re motivated, driven, and forward-thinking. This student does an excellent job of clearly and specifically stating how Harvard will allow them to achieve their future goals. 

Through this essay, we see that the student has done research on specific course offerings that they plan to take advantage of during their time at Harvard University. And, while the student isn’t positive what kind of career they might have, we know that they are committed to an “inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world.” Even if you aren’t certain of your intended major yet, you can talk about how Harvard will create opportunities for you.

It’s easy to talk solely about academic or career goals in this essay. However, the best Harvard essays examples show how you can contribute to society. What kind of world do you want to help create, and how can Harvard help you get there?

Harvard Roommate Essay

harvard essay examples

The last of the Harvard essays examples strays slightly from the “typical” college essay prompt. The last of the Harvard essay prompts asks students to reflect on qualities they’d like to share with future roommates. You may have seen similar prompts at other universities. The Harvard roommate essay is a great opportunity to highlight your uniqueness.

Here is the fifth of the Harvard essays examples:

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

I will definitely let my roommates know that I do not like bread. I have had a psychological impediment to the smell and taste of bread ever since I was sent to the ER when I was six because I ate a piece of rotten bread. Please be aware, future roommates, of keeping the bread contained outside the dorm room unless in extraordinary circumstances. 

On a lighter note, my roommates should know that I am a relatively organized person who very much values personal space. I would prefer for all of my roommates to come together to organize basic protocols, such as which areas in the dorm are personal and which are public, and to be on the same page on important issues such as sleeping schedules. 

One last thing I’d like my roommates to know about me is that I am a huge card game enjoyer. Blackjack, Poker, Hearts, etc., and even games outside the poker deck such as Uno are games that I love. It’d be great if my roommates shared a similar interest and we could have some nice entertainment during our free time.

Why this essay worked

This student clearly, concisely, and creatively approaches this Harvard roommate essay. Through this student’s Harvard roommate essay we learn quite a bit about the writer. We know that they are organized and respect others’ personal space, while also being friendly and open to bonding through games. We also learn some quirky qualities that this person has, such as not tolerating bread in closed quarters. 

Beyond the surface-level information, let’s look more closely at the tone. The first paragraph is ironically serious, using phrases like “psychological impediment” and “please be aware.” Taking this tone about something like not liking bread opens the essay with a note of humor, which can leave a lasting impression on an admissions officer. Many Harvard essays that worked have made their mark with the writer’s tone and voice.

How do you write a Harvard essay?

The Harvard essays play an important role in the narrative that you’re telling with your application. The previous Harvard essays examples show that it’s important to be true to who you are while completely answering the Harvard essay prompts. Of course, following the Harvard essay requirements is important—you must answer all five of the Harvard essay prompts within 200 words. 

Harvard admissions states that they use a holistic evaluation, meaning they consider the whole student and how they’ve experienced the world around them. Think of the Harvard essays not as a challenge, but as an opportunity! They are your chance to speak to your unique strengths, qualities, goals, and experiences. You can expand on activities from other parts of your application or, better yet, introduce new experiences that align with your narrative.

When responding to the Harvard essay prompts, try to share new information. If you decide to expand upon something you’ve already mentioned, be sure to go deeper than before. Show how the experiences, extracurriculars, and academics have impacted you, and how you’ll bring those lessons to Harvard and beyond.

As with all college essays, be sure to get a second (or third, or fourth!) pair of eyes on your Harvard application essays. You want to be sure your Harvard essays are free of grammatical and spelling errors. Additionally, you should ask for feedback from friends and mentors who know you well. They can tell you if your essays sound like your voice and are true to your character.

Does Harvard require a personal statement?

harvard essay examples

In addition to the five short answer Harvard essays, students must also write the personal statement as a part of the Harvard essay requirements. Again, this essay is an opportunity to add to your application as a whole. Harvard urges students to write about something you care about, rather than focusing on what you think admissions wants to read. 

Here are the Common App essay prompts that you can choose from in the 2024–2025 admissions cycle:

Common App Essay Prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Students may also complete the Coalition Application when applying to Harvard, which has its own personal statement topics. Despite technical differences between the two platforms, they serve the same purpose: to help you show your best self to admissions committees. Do your research and choose the best platform for you.

What does Harvard look for in essays?

The Harvard essays are an opportunity for applicants to share more about themselves that hasn’t been featured elsewhere in the application. You can see what Harvard is interested in from the Harvard essay prompts. According to the Harvard essay prompts, Harvard looks for values such as diversity, intellectual interests, community involvement, self reflection, and personal development. When thinking about your personal narrative, try to show how you exhibit each of these values throughout your application.

All of the Harvard essays examples we reviewed answered each of the prompts in its entirety with specific answers. You don’t want to give generic responses when writing your Harvard essays. For example, in the Harvard roommate essay, the reader should learn more about your unique personality and experiences. In fact, the Harvard roommate essay is an excellent opportunity to show off your writing skills and voice. 

Applicants also want to highlight how their experiences and backgrounds have shaped who they are. What will you bring to Harvard? How will Harvard help you achieve both your academic and professional goals? As you can see from the Harvard essays examples, your Harvard essays should be personal and specific.

Tips for International Applicants to Harvard

harvard essay examples

The application process for international applicants is almost identical to first-year applicants. The Harvard essay requirements and other application materials are mostly the same. The biggest difference is that international students need a visa or other required documents to study in the US. This is not unique to Harvard; international applicants should always research required documentation for American college admissions.

When it comes to the Harvard essays examples, they can be equally useful to international students as domestic students. However, international students will likely want to highlight their background and how it will affect their educational experience in the US. Overall, admissions wants to see the same things from international students as those applying within the US. Show that you care about community, are intellectually curious and motivated, and have ambitions to positively impact the world long after graduation. 

Harvard Transfer Essay Advice

harvard essay examples

Gaining admissions to Harvard is difficult, whether as a first year or transfer student. However, acceptance as a transfer student is even more selective. Each year, Harvard accepts an average of 12 transfer students out of over 1,500 applicants. Therefore, writing the best transfer Harvard essays is crucial if you want to have a chance at being accepted. 

The Harvard essays examples are good resources to get you started. The Harvard essay prompts are the same for transfer students as first year students. However, you will want to include your experiences at the university level when writing your Harvard application essays. How will Harvard help you meet your academic and professional goals? Why is Harvard the best place for you—what programs and extracurriculars make Harvard your dream school? As a transfer student, don’t speak negatively about your current school. 

Do your best to craft the best application possible to overcome the sub-1% transfer admission rate. However, the best way to ensure your transfer admissions process is a success is to have other schools on your college list! The applicant pool to Harvard is beyond competitive—all students will have high grades and outstanding extracurricular records. Therefore, the Harvard essays are an important way to help you stand out and personalize your transfer application. 

More CollegeAdvisor resources about Harvard

In addition to this Harvard Essays Examples article, CollegeAdvisor has plenty of resources to help you learn how to get into Harvard. While it’s useful to look at Harvard essays examples, you should also check out our Harvard supplemental essay guide. You’ll get plenty of useful advice on how to craft your own Harvard essays. Additionally, take a look at our How to Get Into Harvard guide to learn how to boost your chances of gaining admissions to this selective school. 

Since Harvard is an Ivy League university, you can also look at some Ivy League essay examples in addition to these Harvard essays examples. You’ll find more Harvard essays that worked as well as other successful Ivy League admissions essays. Reading Ivy League and Harvard essays examples is a great way to get in a good mindset before writing. Studying Harvard essays examples can help inspire you to write your best Harvard application essays. 

Understanding acceptance rates can also help you prepare for the college admissions process. Harvard is among the most selective colleges in the nation. While this shouldn’t necessarily deter you from applying, your college list should have a good balance of reach, match, and safety schools

Being prepared is the best way to tackle your college admissions journey. Therefore, learn all you can about your top schools of interest. In addition to reading Harvard essays examples and Harvard essays that worked, learn about the Harvard acceptance rate before applying. 

Harvard Essays Examples – 5 Takeaways

We’ve looked at five different Harvard essays that worked and analyzed why they are model Harvard essays examples. To review, let’s look at five takeaways from these Harvard essays examples:

5 Takeaways for Harvard Essay Examples

1. Follow the Harvard requirements

This applies to every part of the application, but always carefully read and complete the requirements by the specified deadline. The Harvard requirements for the essay portion include writing the personal statement as well as five supplemental essays. Don’t forget the word count, especially when you reach the editing phase.

2. Be specific

You’ll notice from the Harvard essays examples that each writer is specific in their responses. You certainly won’t find generic essays when looking at Harvard essays that worked. Reference specific courses, clubs, resources, and other opportunities you’re interested in that are found only at Harvard. 

3. Get personal

You’ll need to do some self reflection when writing your Harvard application essays. Think about aspects of your upbringing that have shaped you as well as other experiences. In the Harvard essays examples we learn more about each writer’s unique personality. Harvard essays that worked show the writer’s core values and interests to Harvard admissions officers.

4. Harvard is competitive

This may seem obvious, but Harvard is one of the most competitive schools in the nation. Harvard essays that worked helped students get the attention of admissions; however, evaluations of applicants are holistic. So while knockout essays are undeniably crucial to your application, so is a track record of academic and extracurricular achievement. 

5. Start early

As with all aspects of the college application journey, preparing early will help you do your best. Give yourself plenty of time to write, review, and revise these essays with the help of peers and mentors. The Harvard essays examples we looked at certainly weren’t written overnight. Nearly all Harvard essays that worked took quite a few drafts to get it right.

A large part of knowing how to get into Harvard is knowing how to write clear, concise, impactful essays. Reading plenty of Harvard essays that worked can help you get inspired. In the end, your essays will likely be very different from Harvard essays examples, since every student has a unique story to tell.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by these Harvard essays examples and want some personalized guidance in college admissions, CollegeAdvisor is here to help! We have expert advisors that have helped thousands of students get into the school of their dreams. They’ve even guided many students to write their own Harvard essays that worked. Reach out to us to find an admissions expert to help you today.

Harvard Essay Examples

This article was written by Sarah Kaminski. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.