6 months ago
Admissions Advice

What should I do if I am aiming for Harvard

I am a rising junior who is interested in applying to Harvard with pre-med aspirations. I have a 3.96 unweighted GPA and a 4.37 weighted GPA. I attended a quite honestly below average school for my freshman year, with little opportunities and advanced classes. I attended an average school for sophomore year, but the combination of my moving to the US and COVID tanked my ECs. I did get accepted into North Carolina School of Science and Math, which seems to be a very prestigious school. I have the opportunity to pursue many academic ECs, as well as courses that can award up to 5.0 GPA.

I am just here to ask a couple of questions:

- Is there any hope that I get accepted to Harvard? Or am I on a sinking ship?

- What should my goal SAT / ACT score be? My current goal is 1550+ (I have high expectations of myself)

- How many ECs / Awards should I have

- What sort of ECs / Awards should I look for (I am really struggling to find things, I have no idea where to look).

Also, one little question. Are weighted or unweighted GPAs used for college admissions? If weighted, how important are my grades in freshman year? Because it is increasingly dragging down my weighted GPA.

Thank you!

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@Isaa6 months ago [edited]

First of all, yes you have hope, technically. Anyone can get into Harvard it is really about how hard they are willing to work for it. However, not only do you need to work hard, you need to work smart. To get into any elite school, you need to have a big spike. By that, I mean a field you are really good in, like top 20 in the country good. For example, if you really like computer science, this might mean being a USACO camper (top 20 in the nation). What your spike will be, you must decide.

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6 months ago

Congrats on your new HS, that's one the best in the US, so you must feel like you won the lottery.


After reading more about your new school and reading the stats of the last few years of grads and where they matriculate, I have come to some conclusions.

1.) Out of the 350 students that will graduate about 2/3rd of them will apply to in-state schools and stay in NC. That is a very weird thing to me. While Duke, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest are all good schools, they are not the best. In the past 3 years, 650 + students matriculated into NC schools.

2) Out of the past 3 admissions cycles, 13 were accepted into Havard and 8 matriculated so that's about 4 students per year and 3 matriculating (rounding). So 1.1% of your senior class gets admitted into Harvard and ) 0.85% matriculates. Believe it or not, that is better than most competitive HS. At mine, it's like every 3 years Harvard accepts 1 o 2 for the same class size. So we would be like 0.2% something like that.

3.) The Stats are very similar to the top private boarding schools in America like Exeter, Andover, St. Pauls, Hotchkiss, and Deefield but fewer than 10% of those students end up going to state schools. 1470 Median SAT, 33 ACT is excellent.

4.) In the past 3 years, there were 126 admits to Ivy League schools and 63 matriculants. So that's exactly 42 per year and 21 attending which corresponds to 12% of the graduating class and 6% attending. Where the other 1/2 who get admitted attend must be the NC schools perhaps because they want to stay close to home or it costs less than attending an Ivy. I don't know.

5.) The 12% admit rate is about twice the 5.3% overall average Ivy admit rate for the 8 schools so attending your school gives you a better chance at getting into an Ivy than attending a regular public high school.

So you are in the right school for the next 2 years but you are as you say a little behind in the ECs and course rigor. I think you should spend some time investigating Harvard more offline, because there are a lot of Harvard documents you can find like the Lawsuits summaries explaining the admissions criteria.

Since this is getting quite a lengthy response, what I know is that you will need 4 years years each of Math, English, Foreign Language (preferably 5), Science with at least 2 lab courses, and History (including US History and European History) for coursework. The test scores don't matter as much as at other schools because Harvard believes that if you have a 99% percentile score it doesn't matter. So if you apply with a 1500 SAT or 34 ACT, you are definitely not going to get a bump for having a 1550 or 1600 or a 35 or 36. Test scores are just there so they know you meet or exceed a threshold. Grades matter more. Harvard is the only Ivy that I believe inhouse recalcs your unweighted GPA and on a 4.3 scale with an A+ counting as a 4.3 versus an A equaling a 4.0 and an A- equaling a 3.7. So if you have a lot of A+ as unweighted grades, that's a plus. So some sites publish the unweighted GPA as 4.18.

There are over 200+ criteria that go into Harvards admissions scorecard. Each student is evaluated on a 1 to 6 scale and most are 2s, either 2+, 2, or 2-. It's very similar to Stanford. It's okay if you are 3 in athletics as long as you are a solid 2 or 2+ in other areas. But if you have no athletic ability and haven't played even on a JV team or club team, yikes, that doesn't fair well for Harvard. And many Ivy's have a swimming requirement so 1 college credit is for taking your swimming assessment. Each school is different but you have to be able to swim like a 100M to graduate. With regards to academics, the top score is a 1. To get a one, only like 0.50% of admits get a 1, so it's virtually impossible. To get a 1 you have to be a scholar and have provided evidence of independent published scholarly work in a national science magazine or something like that. What is expected at Harvard is that you have some forensic evidence of your intellectual curiosity and you will be scored on that just as Stanford scores "intellectual vitality" as a criterion. Other key scores include "Personal rating" which is a numerical score on your character, personality, friendliness, sociability, gleaned from your application and interview. So in a quick summary, your admissions scorers which I believe is 1 but sometimes 2, give you a final score, and then they present you and that score to the admissions team to vote on either thumb up or down. It would be fair to say that unless you are a recruited athlete, legacy, a kid of a billionaire who donated a lot, you are going to need something in the 2s to get admitted. Since Harvard does use affirmative action it is well known that you do get a boost for being LatinA or a Black person but certainly are at a deficit if you are any kind of Asian to a degree Caucasian.

(i borrowed this from Reddit)

Extracurricular Rating (0.3% of applicants get a 1, 23.8% of applicants get a 2):

Rating 1- Unusual strength in one or more areas. Possible national-level achievement or professional experience. A potential major contributor at Harvard. Truly unusual achievement.

Rating 2 - Strong secondary school contribution in one or more areas such as class president, newspaper editor, etc. Local or regional recognition; major accomplishment(s).[in another filing]: "Significant school, and possibly regional accomplishments: for example, an applicant who was the student body president or captain of the debate team and the leader of multiple additional clubs."

Rating 3- Solid participation but without special distinction. (Upgrade 3+ to 2- in some cases if the e/c is particularly extensive and substantive.)

So if you are Student Body or Class President, Editor of the School Newspaper, Varsity Sports Team Captain or served on a Board of Directors in a non-profit or a community service capacity like the City Council, the Parks, and Recs department, the DEI advisory board, the Public Libary, started a 501C non-profit, etc, at Harvard you are a 2 rating.

Hope that helps and good luck

6 months ago

There's no specific recipe to getting into Harvard, which makes it hard to know what you need. I'd suggest you work on getting really strong personal essay and supplemental essays. I'd also recommend that you participate in a few extracurriculars that show your interests. Good grades are great, but you need to show some personality, especially given the competitive nature of admissions at Harvard. At the end of the day, remember, Harvard isn't the only great school out there. Good luck!! You got this:)

(Also your GPA is excellent)


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