Harvard College Application Essays Prompts

The Requirements: One long essay with no word limit (optional), one 150 word essay (required)
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Additional Info, Activity

Harvard University 2017-2018 Application Essay Question Explanations

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 or living experiences in other countries
– 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.

First thing’s first. While Harvard lists this essay as “optional,” know that, at least in our minds, no admissions essay is optional. If you have the opportunity to reveal something new about yourself to admissions and speak to them in your own voice, take it!

A “topic of your choice” can be difficult to brainstorm for, especially after you’ve spent so much of your creative energy on your personal statement. But there are other ideas in that head of yours — we know it! Unless Harvard is your first choice and you are tackling this application with an early submission deadline in front of you, you may want to leave this essay until the end of your supplement run. Are you applying to other schools with more specific prompts? Maybe those prompts will pull something unexpected out of your noggin that feels interesting enough to include or expand upon for Harvard? Also feel free to use their sample prompts as inspiration. Overall, remember the purpose of any admissions essay is to showcase something about yourself that admissions would not otherwise know about you. This is called the “Additional Information” essay for a reason — what information would make your submissions feel more complete?

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

This is an activity essay with a bit of a community and leadership-focused twist. Harvard not only wants to know more about one of your activities or work experiences, they also want to know how that experience has proven your leadership and relationship building skills. What have you invested your time in and how has that activity or job made you better able to lead the charge and contribute to the world around you? Be sure to cover something that has not been elaborated on in your Common App or optional-but-not-really-optional Additional Info essay. You want to contribute additional context to what the Harvard admissions officers know about you, and you only have a small space to do it in, so use it wisely.

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)

This is a pretty straightforward prompt. Harvard wants you to list any of your intellectual activities that you have not mentioned elsewhere in your application. Did you try to build an app this summer? Maybe you shadowed someone with a position you’d like to hold one day to get a better idea of what the day-to-day looks like. Perhaps you took an online French course to familiarize yourself with the language before taking a trip to Paris with your family. Harvard wants to know – so get to typing!

This prompt should tell you that Harvard holds leaders in high regard. Here, they test your self-knowledge as to where and how you can help fit society’s needs. In a similar way to Prompt 5, they are trying to see the type of graduate you will become.

 

If leadership has been central to your life experiences, be sure to make note of those roles here. Be picky when deciding what roles to highlight, though! Make sure the group you led has something to show for your leadership (whether that thing be tangible or intangible).

 

For example, if you helped a club on campus better the culture of its membership, talk about how your leadership contributed to that. If you helped a diverse set of teammates come together for a common goal, discuss what aspects of your citizenship helped bring everyone together. Your goal here is in two parts: create an assessment for your personal leadership skills, and address how your community or society has benefited from it (more than simply pointing to trophies or awards, this is intended to show how society itself can change because of you.)

 

Make sure you showcase your leadership style, and how you believe it was effective. More importantly, make sure to show why you think it will be effective in the future. Remember, this essay should relay back to you as a graduate of Harvard!

 

One strategy could be to build up your leadership skills, then direct them to a specific area where you feel inspired to change society. If you choose this route, be specific in terms of the needs you can fill. Ask yourself: What qualities of a leader does a good lawyer need to have? How does citizenship help you be a good engineer? Most importantly: How do those necessities in those positions lead back to who you are?

 

Remember to answer the other aspect of the question. Besides being a good citizen-leader, how will you be a good citizen? Admissions officers want you to discuss how you would be an important part of something greater than yourself. You could use an example of something you did as a part of an extracurricular activity of which you were not the president or the de facto leader. For example, if you built an app for a conference your town was hosting, helped organize logistics for a school recital, or even volunteered at a food bank throughout high school, this prompt would fit your experiences well.

 

Harvard finds it very important that the citizens of their learning community come from diverse backgrounds, allowing students to learn from one another. Think about how you can add to this environment of diversity, or discuss your experience in a diverse environment in relation to your citizenship within it. Essays about discrimination or inequality in your community, and your development as a citizen-leader as a result, could fit well to this prompt.

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