Harvard Supplemental Essays

Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

If you’re applying to Harvard, you might be wondering how to approach the Harvard supplemental essays. Harvard is one of the most prestigious schools in the United States and the world, and as such is ultra-competitive. As an applicant, you’ll want to take every opportunity to distinguish yourself, starting with the Harvard essay prompts. This may feel daunting, but writing stellar Harvard application essays is guaranteed to make your application shine.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about writing your Harvard supplemental essays. This includes understanding the Harvard essay requirements and showing you where to find Harvard essay examples. We’ll also go over general Harvard application requirements that you should know, including the Harvard acceptance rate and application deadline.

Want some advice on how to get into Harvard? You’ve come to the right place. Now, let’s go over some quick facts about the Harvard supplemental essays. 

Harvard Supplemental Essays: Quick Facts

Harvard University Essay Quick Facts

  • Harvard acceptance rate: 4% – U.S. News rates Harvard a highly competitive school.
  • Requirements for the Harvard supplemental essays: 
    • 5 short-answer questions (200-word limit)
  • Harvard application deadline: 
    • Restrictive Early Action: November 1st 
    • Regular Decision: January 1st 
  • Harvard application note: The Harvard supplemental essays for the 2023-2024 cycle have changed from past years. All five Harvard supplemental essays are required for all applicants.
  • #1 Harvard Essay Tip: Your essays are your opportunity to show Harvard how you’ve interacted with the world. This includes how your experiences have shaped you into who you are and the kind of impact you hope to make.

Please note that essay requirements are subject to change each admissions cycle, and portions of this article may have been written before the final publication of the most recent guidelines. For the most up-to-date information on essay requirements, check the university’s admissions website.

Now that you know the basics about the Harvard application, let’s dive into more information about the Harvard supplemental essays. 

What are the Harvard Essay Prompts?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

The Harvard essay prompts for the 2023-2024 have changed dramatically from past years. Previously, Harvard only required a short extracurricular essay. Students then had the opportunity to write an additional essay, choosing between a few Harvard application essay questions. These included topics such as how you hope to use your college education and unusual circumstances in your life.

Now the Harvard supplemental essays are different. According to the latest information for first-year applicants, Harvard requires 5 short-answer essays of 200 words or less. 

Here are the Harvard essay prompts for this year:

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. 

If you’ve read the Harvard supplemental essay prompts for their optional essay in years past, these questions may look familiar. Before, students might write one long Harvard application essay that only touched on one of these questions. Now, Harvard is requiring their applicants to succinctly respond to multiple prompts. 

You might find writing multiple Harvard application essays is more intimidating than writing just one. And that’s okay! Even though this is the first year the Harvard supplemental essays are structured this way, these prompts are nothing new. We’ve still got all the information you need to successfully tackle the Harvard supplemental essays..

But before we dive into the Harvard supplemental essay prompts, let’s first talk about your Harvard personal statement. 

Harvard Personal Statement

When you apply to Harvard, your Harvard application must include a personal statement. Both the Common App and Coalition App require you to write a personal statement, choosing from a selection of prompts. This essay is also what the Harvard admissions committee considers your Harvard personal statement. Unlike your Harvard supplemental essays, your personal statement is not school-specific. That means it can be submitted to any school you are applying to.

The 2023-24 Common App prompts are broad, and intentionally so! The prompts are meant to give students the space and opportunity to write about something they care about.

You can write about:

  • Your background
  • A lesson you have learned
  • A time that you challenged a belief
  • Something you’re grateful for
  • An accomplishment, a topic that fascinates you
  • Any topic of your choosing!

Harvard encourages students to write about something they’re passionate about, not something they think would impress the Harvard admissions committee. According to this list of tips about the Harvard personal statement, “The point of the personal statement is for you to have the chance to share whatever you would like with us. Remember, your topic does not have to be exotic to be compelling.”

Whatever you write your personal statement about, it should stand apart from your Harvard supplemental essays. Each one of your Harvard application essays should tell the Harvard admissions committee something new about you. Or, it should elaborate and build upon something that you haven’t had enough time to discuss elsewhere in your application. 

What should I write my Harvard essay about?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

There is no one perfect essay topic that will automatically earn you admission to Harvard. The best Harvard supplemental essays will communicate something unique about you, giving the admissions committee a window into who you are. 

One way to come up with ideas for your Harvard supplemental essays is to read successful application essays! In this list of Ivy League essays that worked, you’ll see essays about everything. From AP Biology to Adventure Time to a family member’s hospitalization for schizophrenia. The quality of your writing, and whether the topic is important to you, is more important than the topic itself. 

Harvard personal statement examples

In this guide to past Harvard personal statement examples, you can read essays from previous years. These essays answered many of the same questions Harvard asks today—except using far more words. Not all of these Harvard personal statement examples align with the current Harvard prompts, but they’re still examples of great writing.

Additionally, these Harvard personal statement examples still show the diversity of topics, as well as styles, that Harvard looks for. Though the Harvard essay requirements are different this year, there are many overlapping topics covered in the Harvard personal statement examples. 

Choosing a topic

If you’re still stuck coming up with a topic for your Harvard application essay questions, try a brainstorm! Brainstorming or free writing about the different short answer questions is a great way to generate potential essay ideas.

Strong essays often focus around moments of change or personal growth. Think about an experience you grew from, or maybe one that demonstrates your values and what matters to you. You can also look to your application for inspiration. What aspects of who you are do you feel like your extracurriculars, grades, or potentially test scores leave out? 

Harvard Short Answer Questions

In the next sections, we’ll go over each of the Harvard supplemental essays individually. For each of the Harvard essay prompts, we’ll discuss what the prompt is asking for and how you might approach it. And we’ll give you tips on what to include in your Harvard supplemental essays to make them stand out. 

This year, the Harvard supplemental essays consist of 5 separate short-answer questions. The Harvard supplemental essays are called “short-answer” because of the word limit. You only have 200 words to provide a strong, detailed, and specific answer to the Harvard essay prompts. Limiting your Harvard supplemental essays to only 200 words can be tricky. So, it’s important you choose your topic wisely, consider the important details, and make every word count.

You can look up the Harvard supplemental essays with the Common App’s search tool. By searching for Harvard, or any other college, you can go over their school-specific writing requirements for that college. On Harvard’s website you can find guidelines for your Harvard application, including requirements for the Harvard supplemental essays. 

Now, let’s go over each of the Harvard essay prompts in more detail.

Harvard Essay #1 – Contributing to Harvard

Harvard Supplemental Essays

The first of the Harvard supplemental essays is about contributing to 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?

This question is a bit misleading. Although it’s phrased as a single sentence, there are really two parts to this prompt. What in your life has shaped you into the person you are today? Then, how does that affect what you’ll contribute to Harvard’s community? 

For the first of your Harvard supplemental essays, think about what “diversity” means to you. Maybe it’s where you grew up, your race, your gender or sexuality. Or maybe you’ve had a unique upbringing that falls outside of those identity categories. Once you have identified the piece of your upbringing you would like to share, think about how it’s shaped you. What value has that brought into your life, and how can that part of you enrich Harvard’s community? 

For example, maybe you went to school in a really homogeneous suburb. Think of a place where everyone was the same race and from the same socioeconomic class. Once you recognized that, you tried to do everything you could to learn about different perspectives. Maybe you volunteered outside your community to try and understand the experiences of people outside of that bubble. This intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness is a product of your upbringing that impacts how you’d interact with others at Harvard.

Harvard Short Essay #2 – Intellectual Experience

Harvard Supplemental Essays

For the second of your Harvard supplemental essays, you’re asked to focus on the intellectual.

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

This Harvard application essay should speak to your academic interests and your intended concentration—Harvard’s version of a major. Even if you don’t know what you want to concentrate in, that’s okay! You don’t have to worry about your Harvard supplemental essays defining what you will eventually go on to study. All you need to do is focus on a moment in your education, or in your life, that stimulated you intellectually.

Each of the Harvard supplemental essays are trying to learn something specific about you. In this one, Harvard is trying to see if you are intellectually curious and passionate about learning. As a prestigious university, Harvard puts a huge value on its students having a desire to learn. If you are applying to Harvard, this should be a pretty easy question to answer! 

If something doesn’t immediately come to mind, try asking yourself these questions. What moment made you love English, or Math, or Science? Was it inside or outside of the classroom? Was it a political debate, or a conversation with a family member? An essay topic you didn’t expect to enjoy but ended up adoring? As long as you explain an intellectual passion, there’s no wrong answer.

Harvard Essay Prompt #3 – Extracurricular Activities Essay

Harvard Supplemental Essays

If the first two Harvard supplemental essays focused on identity and curiosity, you can think of the third as focusing on action. The next of our Harvard supplemental essays centers around the things you do outside of the classroom. 

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

You may have already gone into detail about one of your extracurricular activities or other experiences in your Common App. If so, you should consider selecting a different one to speak about here. Having all of these individual Harvard supplemental essays allows you to share so many facets of who you are. Don’t limit yourself by describing the same thing multiple times!

This question is very open-ended. Since you only have 200 words, focus on answering this question succinctly and honestly. Don’t overthink it — simply pick one of these experiences and describe how it has shaped who you are. 

You could talk about grocery shopping with your mom, working at a summer camp, or being the captain of the swim team. What matters most is that you pick an experience that really impacted you. This could be something that inspired a change in your perspective, or helped you develop a new skill. The most important part of question 3 of your Harvard supplemental essays is not which activity you pick. It’s in showing how it has shaped you. 

Harvard Essay #4 – Education and the future

Harvard Supplemental Essays

For #4 of your Harvard supplemental essays, Harvard tasks you with envisioning your future. 

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

A Harvard education can get you a lot of places. Harvard knows that it’s a renowned institution—there’s a reason that the Harvard acceptance rate is so low. However, you don’t need to inflate its ego by discussing Harvard’s prestige. Instead, think about how a Harvard education will prepare you to make a positive impact in the world.

Also be wary of writing your Harvard supplemental essays in a way that inflates your own ego. Don’t just say you think you’ll be the next Elon Musk or the President of the U.S. Focus less on who you’ll be and more on what you’ll do. Think about what technology you could create to make peoples’ lives easier or policies you could enact to reduce poverty. Many Harvard students go on to achieve amazing things. However, make sure you’re focused on why those things are important and not the achievement itself.

You can also use the 4th of your Harvard supplemental essays to sneak in some “why Harvard” details. Consider mentioning a specific Harvard class or professor that you wish to study under. Maybe five years after graduating, you want to be writing a book with Professor X. And five years after that, you want to be teaching at Harvard on the same topic. 

Harvard Essay #5 – Roommate Essay

Harvard Supplemental Essays

This final question for the Harvard supplemental essays gives you an opportunity to chat with an imaginary future roommate. 

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

In the last of your Harvard supplemental essays, you can get a little creative. Since this question gives you complete freedom over what you include, it can be helpful to save it for last. Then you can look back at your other Harvard supplemental essays and brainstorm what the admissions committee hasn’t heard yet. If you could only describe three things about yourself, in 200 words, what would you say?

Since you’re hypothetically talking to a roommate, don’t be afraid to be more joking or casual—let your personality shine through! But, keep in mind that an admissions officer will still be reading your essay. So long as you’re being appropriate and true to yourself, you get to decide what to share and how to share it!

That being said, don’t mention only things that are superficial. Remember, this is still part of your application, and your reader is deciding whether you belong at Harvard. “I leave my clothes all over my bedroom floor, but I promise to never leave them in the common room,” may be the truth. However, opt for the personal over the mundane! What do you geek out about? How do you like to spend your free time? What Harvard experiences are you most looking forward to?

How to write the Harvard supplemental essays

Harvard Supplemental Essays

So, we’ve gone over the individual Harvard application essays. Now let’s talk about some general tips that you could use to answer any of the Harvard essays.

Be specific

Whether you’re writing about your extracurriculars, your upbringing, or Harvard itself, be specific. Generalizations can feel like they let you say more in fewer words. But, they don’t say as much about who you are or your experiences.

Instead of saying “I’ve always been passionate about history,” get specific! There are lots of people who like history—what exactly about history interests you? A specific time period? A social movement? Is it something about the discipline itself? Did you always feel this way about this subject? The more specific you are, the more the Harvard Admissions team can learn from your Harvard supplemental essays. 

This tip also applies to when you’re talking about Harvard. At some point in your Harvard application essays, you’ll want to mention something about why you want to attend Harvard. There are a whopping five Harvard essay prompts, after all! Avoid the obvious, like that Harvard has good academics and is prestigious. Be specific — you can list clubs, professors, majors like Sociology or Economics, or anything else that’s specific to the school. This shows that you’ve done your research and you want to come for a reason, not just the Harvard degree. 

Be yourself

At the end of the day, your Harvard application essays are for Admissions to get to know you better. The more introspective you can be before writing them, the more you can use the essays to demonstrate your values. Since the Harvard acceptance rate is so low, you’re competing against many incredibly qualified applicants. Sure, you might have stellar grades—but so does the average Harvard applicant. Your answers to the Harvard essay prompts are a way to set yourself apart. And the best way to do that is by being yourself. 

When you’re writing your Harvard application essays, it can feel intimidating to try and be “unique.” It can feel like you’ve never had a truly unique experience. But no one is exactly like you, so the more true to yourself you can be, the better! In your Harvard application essays, you don’t need to perform anything that you think Harvard wants to hear. Just be honest and speak about yourself and your experiences.

Show, don’t tell

This tip on perfecting your Harvard application essays is a classic: show, don’t tell. Instead of simply stating the facts or your feelings, you put the reader into the experience using dialogue, imagery, and storytelling. 

For example, you might start your Harvard application essay by saying, “I was the most excited I had ever been.” Instead, could you describe how that excitement felt? Were your palms sweaty? Was your heart racing? Paint the reader a picture so they can imagine what it must have felt like to be there with you.

We know you do only have 200 words for these Harvard essay prompts. However, that leaves more than enough room for an evocative anecdote. Many students place this type of anecdote at the beginning of their Harvard application essays as a “hook.” A hook is something that grabs the reader’s attention, and pulls them into the essay. It makes them want to keep reading. Since the admissions committee will be reading so many essays, using a hook like this can make your essay stand out.

Grammar and spelling

It’s not super exciting, but it is non-negotiable: your Harvard application essays must have perfect grammar and spelling. The Harvard acceptance rate is 4%. You don’t want to let a typo or a run-on sentence be the distinguishing factor between you and another applicant. 

Use spell check, use an online grammar checker, or give your Harvard application essay to a parent or friend. Reading the essay out loud is also a great way to catch typos and grammatical errors. If something sounds wrong when it’s read out loud, you know that you have to go in and fix it. Reading out loud also forces you to look at each word. So, it’s less likely that a copy-paste error like having two “and’s” in a row would slip by. 

Get creative

Don’t be afraid to have fun with your Harvard application essays! The Harvard essay prompts might seem pretty straightforward. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t take them in a more fun direction. 

One way to stand out is to get a little creative. Sure, there’s probably such a thing as being too creative. You don’t want to be so quirky that you forget to answer the question, or come off smug. But adding a little natural humor or excitement into your essays is a totally acceptable way to get the admissions committee’s attention. 

If after reading these tips you’re still in doubt, consider reading some Harvard personal statement examples. Keep in mind our Harvard personal statement examples are from before changes were made to the Harvard essay requirements. However, they cover many similar topics as the current Harvard essays. Even though the Harvard essay prompts aren’t exactly the same, and the word count is certainly different, they’re still valuable. Our Harvard personal statement examples can show you how many different ways there are to answer the same questions. And how to write an essay that stands out. 

Does Harvard like risky essays?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

Judging from personal experience, yes! When I wrote my Harvard application essay in 2015, they were still asking for the optional extended personal essay. I chose to answer the prompt that asks what your roommate should know about you—similar to the current prompt. 

Instead of writing an essay, I wrote a play/screenplay where I meet my roommate for the first time. It was formatted like a play, with dialogue and stage directions, and set in the Harvard dorms. I researched specific things about Harvard and Harvard Square, and incorporated different places in the dialogue to make it feel more specific. I also shared a lot about myself: my values, quirks, extracurriculars, and more. And I guess they liked it, since I was admitted in the class of 2020!

In general, Harvard is looking for students who aren’t afraid to stand out. This includes students who are intellectually curious and passionate about what they believe in. It might feel harder to get creative in only 200 words. But, since you have five questions, you can always pick one of them and take a risk! Write a poem, use a quote or song lyrics, write with a specific audience in mind. As long as you’re using correct spelling and grammar, and you’re answering the question, the world is your oyster!

What does Harvard look for in applicants?

So what does Harvard look for in applicants? If you want to know how to get into Harvard, you’ll need some idea of what Harvard is looking for. 

First and foremost, you need to make sure you’re answering all of the Harvard essay prompts. And, be sure you’ve fulfilled all of the Harvard application requirements. That means:

  • Including your Harvard personal statement
  • Answering the Harvard application essay questions
  • Meeting all of the Harvard essay requirements
  • Submitting all of the required materials.

You also need to carefully observe the Harvard application deadlines, and pick which deadline works best for you. 

Outside of these Harvard application requirements, what else do you need to think about to know how to get into Harvard? Start by thinking about why you want to go to Harvard. It can seem like a simple question, but why Harvard specifically? Why are you a good fit? Why would you excel there? And why do you need to be there, specifically, to reach your highest potential?

Looking for more concrete answers to how to get into Harvard? On Harvard’s website, they provide admissions criteria. Stellar academics are understandably important, but Harvard also considers factors like leadership, character, and community involvement. One way to show Harvard that you embody these factors is through your answers to the Harvard application essay questions. 

When is my Harvard application due?

Harvard Supplemental Essays

There are two Harvard application deadlines. Regardless of which deadline you choose to submit by, you’ll need to submit a complete application. This includes:

  • Your answers to the Harvard application essay questions
  • Your (optional) SAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • GPA
  • Extracurricular list
  • Any other Harvard essay requirements or supplements

One Harvard application deadline is Restrictive Early Action, and the other Harvard application deadline is Regular Decision.

Harvard Restrictive Early Action

The Harvard application deadline for Restrictive Early Action is November 1. Restrive Early Action means that you can only submit your application early to one institution. Unlike Early Decision, it’s not a binding acceptance. So if you get into Harvard early, you can still apply to other schools Regular Decision. 

You should only apply to Harvard early if you’re confident that you’ve satisfied the Harvard essay requirements. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve answered all of the Harvard application essay questions to the best of your ability. When writing your answers to the Harvard supplemental essays, give yourself enough time to draft and brainstorm. Don’t write your answers the night before the deadline. If you haven’t filled the Harvard essay requirements or answered the Harvard application essay questions, don’t rush! Rather than hurry to submit Early Action, give yourself until the Regular Decision deadline.

Harvard Regular Decision

The Regular Decision deadline is January 1. This gives you plenty of time to fulfill the Harvard essay requirements, including answers to all five Harvard essay prompts.  This might make for a busy Winter Break, but it’s worth it to make sure that you’ve confidently satisfied all of the Harvard application requirements. 

Additional Harvard Resources from CollegeAdvisor

Hopefully by this point you’re feeling more confident about answering the Harvard essay prompts. Although the Harvard application essay questions are different this cycle, you’ve still got plenty of resources to depend on. 

If you’re still looking for advice on how to get into Harvard, check out our guide that covers every step of the Harvard admissions process. We also have webinars like this one where you can hear from Harvard students about their college journeys. 

Don’t forget that if you’re still struggling with answering the Harvard essay questions, you can read these Harvard essay examples: Harvard personal statement examples from years past. Even though these Harvard essay examples are a little out of date, Harvard personal statement examples can give you a feeling for what kind of essay Harvard is looking for—regardless of the Harvard application essay questions. 

Harvard Essays – Takeaways

Now that you’ve reached the end of our guide to the Harvard supplemental essays, you’re ready to write your own. Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind: 

Harvard University Essay Key Takeaways

  1. The Harvard application essay questions are different this year. Be sure to check Harvard’s website for the most up to date Harvard application requirements. 
  2. This year, there are 5 Harvard supplemental essays. Each essay has a word limit of 200 words. 
  3. When writing your essays: Be specific. Be true to yourself. Show and not tell. Always check your spelling and grammar. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
  4. Be mindful of the two Harvard deadlines: November 1st (Restrictive Early Action) and January 1st (Regular Decision).
  5. Wherever you are in your college journey, CollegeAdvisor is here to support you. From guides to Harvard’s extracurriculars, to Harvard personal statement examples and what to expect after you apply, we’ve got you covered. Even though the Harvard personal statement examples aren’t answering the same prompts as this year, they can still be educational. Give them a read and see for yourself! 

Thanks for reading our guide to Harvard’s supplemental essays—now go forth and write!

Harvard Supplemental Essays

This essay guide was written by advisor, Rachel Kahn. 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.