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Last updated March 8, 2023

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How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

We show you all the Harvard supplemental essay prompts and give you advice for writing effective essay responses.

You’ve got a few supplemental essays to write for your Harvard application. Since essays can make or break your chances of admission, getting them right is essential.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the Harvard supplemental essay prompts.

Let’s dive in.

Prompt #1

Your intellectual life may extend beyond the academic requirements of your particular school. Please use the space below to list additional intellectual activities that you have not mentioned or detailed elsewhere in your application. These could include, but are not limited to, supervised or self-directed projects not done as school work, training experiences, online courses not run by your school, or summer academic or research programs not described elsewhere. (150 words)

At only 150 words, you don’t have much room to elaborate here. Remember from our How to Get into Harvard guide that Harvard admissions officers are on the lookout for exceptional students who know how to take initiative. This essay prompt is one of your main opportunities to show that you’ve taken your education into your own hands and sought learning experiences outside the classroom.

Your response can list your activities, but you should also make the significance of each activity clear. If you did research during the summer, explain who you worked with, where, and on what project. If you took an independent online course, state what the topic was. Or if you worked on your own project, describe its impact and significance. Be clear, specific, and thoughtful.

Prompt #2

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 words)

Your second essay is a straightforward extracurricular activities essay. In it, you’ll want to select your most salient extracurricular. In which activity have you had the biggest impact or most meaningful participation? Which is most impressive? Where did you have the farthest reach?

Remember that many successful Harvard applicants have regional, national, or international achievements. If you have one, then you should probably write about it. If not, you might think about which activity was most meaningful to you or those around you—activities like caring for a grandparent, volunteering at a food bank, or working a summer job can demonstrate admirable values that your Harvard admissions officer will love.

Prompt #3

You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
  • What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
  • How you hope to use your college education
  • A list of books you have read during the past twelve months
  • The Harvard College Honor code declares that we "hold honesty as the foundation of our community." As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
  • The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission?
  • Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do?
  • Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.

As you can see, you’ve got a lot of possibilities with this third optional essay. You can write about basically anything, and you have quite a bit of flexibility with the length because you’ll be uploading your essay as a document.

If you’re going to submit an essay here, make it count. Your Harvard admissions officer won’t want to read pages and pages of something that ultimately won’t make a difference to your application, and you won’t want to waste your time if your essay isn’t tipping the admissions scales in your favor. Whatever you include should be compelling.

To help you decide what to submit, take a step back from your supplemental essays and think about your Harvard application holistically. Picture yourself as a Harvard admissions officer. From your application alone, what do you learn about you, the applicant? If you were to sum yourself up in one sentence, what would it be?

Now take your admissions officer hat off. Are there any holes in your application? Any ideas, values, or information you want to really drive home to the admissions committee? A particular skill or character trait you want to emphasize?

This essay is your opportunity to fill in any gaps in your application or hone in on what you want your Harvard admissions officer to take away from your application.

Now you’re ready to get to writing! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Harvard Common Data Set post for more admissions insights. And if you want even more college essay tips and tricks, join the ranks of Essay Academy students who are learning to write college essays that stand out. See you there. 👋

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