Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥


Last updated March 21, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

How to Use the Harvard Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

The Common Data Set usually reveals a lot about institutional priorities in admissions. With Harvard, the case isn't as clear. Still, academic excellence, essays, recommendations, and extracurriculars are vital.

There’s no “hack” to getting into Harvard, but the Harvard Common Data Set is about as close as you can get. It reveals critical information that you can use to write a better application.

Let’s get into it.

How Harvard Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

As far as Common Data Sets go, Harvard’s definitely isn’t the most helpful. We don’t learn much about what’s prioritized in the admissions process because all of the applicable admissions criteria are simply labeled as “considered.” We do learn, however, that class rank, applicant interest, state residency, and religious affiliation aren’t taken into account.

But the rest is up for grabs. Since there’s no way to tell which factors Harvard admissions officers prioritize, you should focus on curating an application that tells your story in the most genuine and strategic way.

Very important Important Considered Not considered
    Rigor Class rank
    GPA State residency
    Test scores Religious affiliation
    Essay Applicant interest
    Character/personal qualities  
    First Generation  
    Alumni/ae relation  
    Geographical residence  
    Racial/ethnic status  
    Volunteer work  
    Work experience  

Does Harvard track demonstrated interest?

No. Harvard does not track demonstrated interest. As you can see from the chart above, the level of applicant interest is not evaluated as part of the admissions process.

Does Harvard care about standardized test scores?

Yes, Harvard cares about standardized test scores like the SAT or ACT. Unfortunately, we don’t get a sense of where test scores rank in importance relative to other admissions criteria like GPA or extracurriculars. But from elsewhere in the Harvard Common Data Set, we can see that 54% of enrolled first-year students submitted an SAT score, and 31% submitted an ACT score.

Does Harvard care about essays?

Yes. Harvard takes your essays into consideration when evaluating your application. Since Harvard doesn’t assign any specific importance to these criteria, we can’t say for sure how Harvard admissions officers take them into account. But it’s a safe bet to assume that your personal statement and Harvard supplementals serve a critical role in your application.

What GPA do I need to get into Harvard?

Of the students who were admitted and enrolled as first-year Harvard students, 99.7% were in the top half of their high school graduating class. What’s more, 98.9% were in the top quarter, and 93.1% were in the top tenth.

Now, we learned from the admissions criteria that Harvard doesn’t take class rank into consideration when reading your application. But class rank data can tell us a lot about the academic credentials of admitted students. With almost 93% of enrolled first-year students in the top tenth, it’s easy to see that Harvard students don’t just excel in the classroom. They also excel in relation to their high-achieving peers.

Unlike many highly selective schools, Harvard provides specific data about how enrolled students fell across the GPA band. As you can see in the table below, almost 73% had a perfect 4.0 GPA. A full 93.73% had at least a 3.75.

So if you want to have a chance of getting into Harvard, you’re likely going to need to be in the top half of your class and have at least a 3.75 GPA as a baseline. More realistically, you’re shooting for the top tenth and a 4.0, and even then nothing is guaranteed. Of course, if you want to actually earn admission, you’ll also need exceptional extracurriculars, writing, and recommendations.

GPA % of Enrolled Students
4.0 72.91
3.75-3.99 20.82
3.50-3.74 4.18
3.25-3.49 1.3
3.00-3.24 0.43
2.50-2.99 0.29
2.00-2.49 0.07

Harvard Acceptance Rate

Almost 60,000 students—57,786 to be exact—applied to Harvard. Admissions officers admitted only 2,318 of them. That makes the acceptance rate a dismal 4%, a full 0.10% lower than MIT’s.

Of those 2,318 admitted Harvard students, 1,951 chose to attend.

Harvard Restrictive Early Action Acceptance Rate

Harvard doesn’t offer an Early Decision application plan, but you can apply Restrictive Early Action by November 1st.

While the Harvard Common Data Set doesn’t distinguish between Regular Action and Restrictive Early Action in the admissions data, the Harvard Crimson has reported on REA acceptance rates for the class of 2026 and 2027.

For the class of 2026, the REA acceptance rate was 7.9%. For the class of 2027, the REA acceptance rate was 7.56%. Those are 3.9 and 3.56 percentage point boosts in your chances.

What’s the right application option for you?

The Harvard Restrictive Early Action application option restricts your early applications to other schools. Because of the level of restriction associated with this option, the students applying REA to Harvard are likely very qualified candidates. That probably accounts for some of the bump in acceptance rates between REA and Regular Decision.

So while the higher REA acceptance rate may entice you, you should still be strategic about where you submit your early applications.

Most popular majors at Harvard

We can’t tell the specific breakdown of majors based on the Harvard Common Data Set alone, but we can see how many degrees were awarded to students in every major academic field. From this information, we can infer what Harvard’s most popular majors are.

As you can see from the data, the top three most popular degree types went to students in the social sciences, the biological and life sciences, and mathematics and statistics. Other popular majors include computer science, history, physics, and psychology.

Compared to some of the other Ivy League institutions—Cornell, for example—Harvard has a relatively low percentage of engineering students, with only 3% of degrees going to engineering majors.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Social sciences 26
Biological/life sciences 14
Mathematics and statistics 12
Computer and information sciences 11
History 9
Physical sciences 8
Psychology 4
Engineering 3
Foreign languages, literatures, and linguistics 3
English 3

This information also helps us see what disciplines Harvard is most well-known for. Even though Harvard is one of the most prestigious schools in the world, you can see from the percentage of degrees in each field that students tend to flock to Harvard for specific disciplines. A student in mathematics, for example, may be more drawn to Harvard than, say, UPenn, where mathematics and statistics account for only 2% of degrees awarded.

What should you do with all this information?

With the second lowest acceptance rate in the Ivy League (second only to Columbia’s 3.89%), your chances of getting into Harvard aren’t great.

But every year, that lucky 4% accomplish what seems impossible.

To be one of those 4% of applicants, you’ll need everything: outstanding academic credentials, noteworthy extracurriculars, recommenders who sing your praises, and a memorable personal story.

Doing that is a lot easier said than done. Keeping the Harvard Common Data Set in mind will help you know what you’re aiming for. When you’re ready, look to our How to Get Into Harvard guide for next steps.




Liked that? Try this next.