5
8 months ago
Harvard prospective students

ECs for Harvard
Answered

My high school doesn't offer AP classes and doesn't do grades, class ranking, or gpa. I am on the debate team (and do fairly well), I take Latin outside of school, I am planning on getting a book published, and I am a deeply spiritual person who does a lot of meditation, etc. My dream school is Harvard. I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations on what I should be doing to make sure my application is strong, interesting, and stands out in a good way. I was thinking about trying to get bees for my school, and if there's anything else you recommend please tell me! Thanks so much!

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classof2023
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Accepted Answer
8 months ago

My first recommendation is that you should study for and take either the SAT or ACT and aim for a 1500+ SAT score and a 34+ ACT score (ideally a 99% percentile score). Showing evidence of your academic aptitude/potential to do well on college coursework will help the Harvard admissions office fill in the missing blanks for lack of AP classes, no grades, and no GPA. Since 99% of Harvard applicants have grades, GPA, APs or IBs, and class rank (or percentile), I imagine that it will extremely challenging for anyone at Harvard or any Elite College to wrap their heads around how to evaluate you when comparing your file to the other 57,000 applicants.

My second recommendation is to take either dual enrollment courses or two to four online college courses, either during the school year or over the summer to show 1.) evidence of course rigor that challenges you 2.) evidence of being able to get top grades in said coursework, 3.) evidence of some track record of high scholastic achievement that is tangible. Some might argue that what you present on your application without additional evidence is similar to being homeschooled without grades, GPA, APs, or rank.

My third recommendations are to sign up for AP tests or SAT II subject tests and self-study for them to show evidence that you have mastery of the subjects you studied in high school. Many high achieving HS students self-study for APs or SAT IIs if their school doesn't offer these APs or if they have not achieved a high mark on their transcript but actually understand the material well. Since Harvard requires HS students to have 4 years year of English, Maths, Science (2 lab classes), Foreign Languages, and 3 years of history (inc. US and Euro), I would target 5 APs in these 5 areas or 5 SAT subject II tests. Again this is to show that you have mastery of the material and have retained info learning to get either a 4, preferably a 5 on the AP exam, or a 700+, preferably a 750 on the Subject test.

My fourth recommendation is to make sure your ECs are aligned to your talents and interests, preferably things you are interested in pursuing in college and beyond. So if you are thinking of getting Bees (the insect correct?) for your school, explain why this activity is important to your narrative about studying and preserving the environment and marginalized bio-eco-systems that have been affected by climate change, human activities, or other factors like pesticides, pollution or invasive species for example.

My fifth recommendation is to make sure you can show evidence of your intellectual curiosity outside of the classroom. You mention publishing a book. If the book aligns with your future goals or career pursuits or your "spike" for lack of a better term, all the better. You mention taking Latin outside of school, so why did you decide on Latin? Are you interested in studying Classics at Harvard like Greek, Latin, Aramaic, for the purposes of doing future research on historical texts?

Harvard admissions criteria are very complicated and well documented. They have over 200+ data points they use to validate and select their incoming Freshman cohorts. If your application arrives missing a few of the major components that are academic thresholds like grades, GPA, course rigor, rank then it is your job and responsibility to provide them with alternative surrogate data points that can be stubbed in when evaluating your academic record. So if an application reader has a file box of 100 applications to read and weigh in on and 99 of them have grades, GPA, rank, and course rigor, and they come across your application, what can they use as data points to compare and contrast you against them that makes you still a viable candidate to consider. That is why I made those suggestions to further look into.

Lastly, Harvard is a great school, clearly with the most clout in the world, but remember that in that circle of elite schools are the other 7 Ivys, other elite colleges like UChicago, Duke, Rice, Stanford, Vandy, and other elites LACs like Swarthmore, Williams, Pomona, Amherst, Bowdoin. There are probably 25 colleges that will teach you how to think and learn advanced topics just as well as Harvard or better. And there are about another 75 colleges that are excellent institutions of higher learning. I think picking a college should be mutually symbiotic to the applicant and the school. If you are want to create robots, you'd be better off at CalTech or MIT. If you want to perform on Broadway or Carnegie Hall, you'd be better of studying at Julliard, Berklee, Peabody, or NYU. If you want to become a master beekeeper, Cornell and Ohio State would have better resources than Harvard.

When I toured 25 colleges before I narrowed my search, I went to all the Ivys and most of the elites, and some LACs. I narrowed down my top 5 as MIT, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford. I didn't like the expansive flat country club setting of Stanford and I felt Harvard was as a public park with buildings in it, full of voyeurs and tourists. And Yale was gorgeous but the town of New Haven was not a thriving place. The only 2 schools that feel like real places where students hunkered down were Columbia and MIT. I ended up applying and getting into Columbia and happy with my choice because it's the most important city in America and the epicenter for art, culture, dance, theatre, financial markets, opera, and arguably fine dining. What I look forward to is not getting bored and being able to explore Manhattan and the 5 boroughs (honestly maybe just 2 or 3). I don't know if I would have gotten in Harvard or not but it really doesn't matter because at some point it's what you know and what you can do that defines you, not your Alma Mater or society's shortsighted opinion of what a good college is.

Good luck with your college admissions process and make sure you drag your parents to some of these schools before you apply to them.

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