How to Get Into Harvard as a Graduate Student

Ms. Montgomery

I was accepted to, and attended, Harvard University as a graduate student. Attending one of the most prestigious universities on the planet was an amazing experience. Not only did I receive a top-notch education, associate with some incredible people in the form of both faculty and fellow students, and have my worldview expanded, I also gained a professional network for life and the right to put the name Harvard on my resume. The Harvard name has opened many professional doors and continues to benefit me greatly.

I am often asked how I got into Harvard. When people ask this, I think what they are really asking is how they or someone they care about can get into a good school and reap these same benefits in their life. Every program, school, and individual is different and because of this, there is no specific formula to guarantee acceptance.

However, in discussing the application process with others who have successfully gone through it, I have noticed several things that successful applicants to any school or program have in common. Ensuring that you too are able to include these items on your application will greatly increase your chances of getting into the school or program of your choice.


First, have a good G.P.A. in courses that are challenging and, if you are applying to graduate school, relevant to your desired field of study. I know this is common advice, but that is because it is good advice.

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Getting good grades shows your ability to follow through with a task and to be successful. It is important, however, that your grades are in courses that show you are able to do difficult work.

If you’re in high school and have the opportunity to take honors, A.P. or I.B. courses, do it. It looks better on an application to have a less than perfect G.P.A. in challenging courses than a perfect G.P.A. in courses that are easy.

If you are applying to graduate school, make sure that you’ve fulfilled and received good grades in any courses that are required for your desired program.


Second, do well on required standardized tests. It is worth the time to study, to take test preparation courses and to even take tests more than once to increase your score.

Letters of Recommendation

Third, conscientiously think about who you ask to write your letters of recommendation. You do not want all of your letters to say exactly the same thing. Nor do you want recommendations from people who clearly do not know you, or who do not have good things to say about you.

Try to have each letter highlight how wonderful you are in different ways. This is especially important if you are applying to graduate school and have been a part of the work force for a time. Schools in this case care what you have been doing, and how successful you have been since leaving school.

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For example, when I applied to Harvard, I had been out of college for 3 years. I had been involved in some service as well as working. I had my boss write one of my letters, my supervisor in the service organization with which I was involved write another, and two of my former professors write the final two. Each had seen different sides of me and together were able to give a more complete and accurate picture of who I was and how successful I would be in the program for which I was applying.

Your Uniqueness

Finally, highlight the things that make you unique and would be of benefit to the program. This is particularly important for graduate school, where a large part of your learning takes place in seminars and other small groups, and you will learn almost as much from your fellow students as from professors. You want to show that you have experience and perspective that will add to the learning of your colleagues.

Graduate school departments, particularly in business and the social sciences, want to ensure a class that is diverse in numerous ways. You can emphasize your unique attributes through your application essay, interviews, and through other contact with faculty.

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Keep in mind that if you are applying to graduate school, the application decisions are made by the department to which you apply, not by a general application committee like when you apply to an undergraduate program.

As a result, it is even more important to make contact with department faculty to discuss how your research interests fit with theirs, and what you bring to the table that is unique and of benefit to faculty and other students.

Final Word

College and graduate schools are more competitive than they have ever been.

To be accepted, you need to show that you are hard working and successful. Then, you need to stand out among other applicants and highlight what is unique about you and what benefit you can be to the school or program.

A first-rate education is both an amazing experience while it is happening, and will continue to be an advantage to you throughout your life.