What are some top Harvard admissions essays?

Sep 11, 2020


Writing an admission essay to Harvard technically is not much different from writing an admission essay to any other college in the world. Some may even think that it’s easier than in other places as Harvard is famous for having the most open-ended essays. But do not be fooled by the seeming simplicity of this task and underestimate the importance of the admission essay to Harvard. In fact, most Harvard students would agree that the admissions essay was the hardest part of their application. So why is that?

First and foremost, Harvard is among the top colleges in the world, and its academic approach, inside the spirit, and the admissions process are all meant to select and nurture the best out of the best candidates. In your application, they are looking to find out in which ways you are special and why you deserve the chance to study at Harvard. 

That said your essay has to have something that will set you apart from thousands of others. 

Your grades, high school achievements, and scores are all important, but the essay is your chance to bring more life into your application, sort of to make it multidimensional as opposed to one-dimensional grades part of your application. Besides your high achievements, perfect records – all clearly visible in your grades, in the essay you need to show them your motivation, that you have an original and creative mindset, that you can explain yourself in an exquisite yet concise and clear manner. By understanding the impact a strong essay can have on your overall application success, you will start to view the essay as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

There is no fault-proof recipe for a successful Harvard essay, as what worked for others will not necessarily work for you. At the same time, hundreds of examples of essays available in books and online sources are all open success stories that have the power to inspire you, as well as to bring many useful tips on how to make your own application essay a success. 

Below are a few examples of successful Harvard applicants, now students, with a particular focus on what made their essays special:          

Marshall, now a student of Environmental Science and Public Policy, wrote in his essay about the dichotomy between the two characters that live inside himself. That approach helped him to reveal a level of personal depth that otherwise falls unnoticed in his application. He described the two halves of his intellectual curiosities that shape his ambitions for the future: one with scientific aspirations, love for data analysis, more down to the ground, and the other with a keen interest in public life, world politics, leadership, and all those qualities that are often called soft skills.

Phillip, majoring in Computer Science and Linguistics, chose a simple success story, of his experience working with children at a public speaking camp, that perfectly highlights his personal growth. His story has a complete narrative arc, with a definite beginning, middle, and end. Phillip describes a distinct set of opinions that characterize each phase of his short teaching career, illustrated with colorful descriptions of typical moments for each. 

Janice, a student majoring in Neurobiology, was very creative in her essay to show her deep understanding of the core family values that she grew up observing in her Chinese culture. A core strength of her essay is the way it demonstrates Janice’s personal growth. It shows Janice starting at a place of guilt for only professing her love to her grandmother once, and then ends with her realizing that love is expressed differently in her family. By the intimate details that Janice provides about her childhood, such as her mother caring for her when she was sick, the reader gets a true sense of what type of personality she is and where she comes from.


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