“What, like it’s hard?”
That was “Legally Blonde” heroine Elle Woods’ response to her ex-boyfriend when he expressed surprise about her getting into Harvard to study law.
In the real world, getting into Harvard actually is hard—the university’s acceptance rate for 2019 was 4.7 percent. That means over 95 percent of applicants got rejected. Ouch.
For Class of 2023, 43,330 students applied—1,650 of them became enrollees. Of the 1,650, 13 percent are international students.
After seeing how many Filipinos enjoyed imagining a life at the prestigious university during last month’s Harvard Facebook page hijacking, we reached out to Harvard to ask what it would take for a Filipino student living in the Philippines to get into Harvard. Rachael Dane, the school’s head of media relations, led us to the university website (college.harvard.edu/admissions) which, she said, contains “what we look for in all applicants,” meaning their standards are the same for all students, no matter where they’re from.
According to the university, “Harvard welcomes applications from all over the world. Our admissions and financial aid processes are the same for all applicants—regardless of nationality or citizenship.”
Harvard seeks “to enroll students of all backgrounds and beliefs who will learn from and with one another. Integrity, maturity, strength of character and concern for others play a significant role in our evaluations. More important, they are integral to a successful Harvard education.”
In the past, all first-year applicants were asked to complete the Common Application, Universal College Application or Coalition Application, Harvard College Questions for the Common Application, Coalition Application, or the Universal College Application Harvard supplement, ACT or SAT (with or without writing) and two SAT subject tests (recommended, except in the case of financial hardship) and submit their school report and high school transcript, two teacher reports, midyear school report and, for admitted students, a final school report. There’s a $75 application fee but students can request for a waiver if it will cause their family financial hardship.
Applications during the pandemic
Of course, the pandemic has affected everything, including the Harvard application process. So for the Class of 2025, first-year applicants may apply for admission without standardized test scores.
According to Harvard, “We understand that the COVID-19 (new coronavirus disease) pandemic has created insurmountable challenges in scheduling tests for all students, particularly those from modest economic backgrounds, and we believe this temporary change addresses these challenges.”
Harvard hopes to receive predicted or actual national examination results from international students who wouldn’t have the opportunity to take American standardized tests because of the pandemic. They also understand that students may be limited in activities they can pursue because of the outbreak and this will not be a disadvantage for them.
Academic accomplishment is important, of course, but Harvard’s Admissions Committee also looks at a number of other factors including “strong personal qualities, special talents or excellences of all kinds, perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances, and the ability to take advantage of available resources and opportunities.” There’s no such thing as a “typical Harvard student,” says the university, adding that their admissions process gives “careful, individual attention to each applicant.”
“Discussions on a single applicant can last up to an hour,” William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College told the New York Times. “While there are students at Harvard who might present unusual excellence in a single academic or extracurricular area, most admitted students are unusually strong across the board and are by any definition well-rounded.”
According to Harvard, “We seek to identify students who will be the best educators of one another and their professors—individuals who will inspire those around them during their college years and beyond.”
They look at growth and potential (Have you been stretching yourself? Do you have reserve power to do more? How have you used your time? Where will you be in one, five or 25 years? Will you contribute something to those around you? What sort of human being will you be in the future?), interests and activities (Do you care deeply about anything? What have you learned from your interests? What is the quality of your activities? Do you appear to have a genuine commitment or leadership role?), personal character (What choices have you made for yourself? Are you a late bloomer? How open are you to new ideas and people?), and contribution to the Harvard community (Will you contribute something to Harvard and to your classmates? Will you benefit from your Harvard experience? Would other students want to room with you, share a meal, be in a seminar together, be teammates or collaborate in a closely knit extracurricular group?).
If I had applied to Harvard as an undergraduate (not that I had a shot, given my disastrous performance in high school), my biggest concern would have been money for tuition.
But, according to the Harvard website, “Our financial aid program makes Harvard affordable for every family throughout the world… Let’s cut to the chase: you can afford Harvard. Our application process is entirely need-blind, which means that applying for financial aid will have no impact on your admissions decision. Our goal is to bring the most promising students to Harvard—period.”
Apparently, 20 percent of Harvard families pay nothing for their students to attend. “ We’ve created a financial aid program to help ensure that admitted students can afford their Harvard education. Our financial aid officers will work closely with your family to understand your financial situation, then create a comprehensive financial aid package that accounts for the full cost of attendance.”
Fifty-five percent of the Class of 2023 receive need-based scholarships.
On the website is a net price calculator so students can see how much money they need for one year of studying at Harvard.
If you’re Filipino and you do end up getting into Harvard, there’s a Filipino community there waiting for you. There’s the Harvard Philippine Forum, a student-run organization of Filipinos, Filipino-Americans and friends who are dedicated to sharing and celebrating Filipino culture with the Harvard community. The Harvard Philippine Forum is also part of the Pan-Harvard Filipino Club, a network that aims to connect Filipinos in Harvard to one another.