Harvard University: Acceptance Rate and Admissions Statistics

HARVARD UNIVERSITY IN CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
Harvard University ( Explore the Harvard campus in this photo tour). Steve Dunwell/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard is an Ivy League university with an acceptance rate of just 5 percent. If you're considering applying to this exceptionally selective school, here are the Harvard Admissions statistics you should know including average SAT/ACT scores and GPAs of admitted students. Harvard accepts the Common Application, Coalition Application, and Universal College Application.

Why Harvard University?

  • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Campus Features: Harvard is home to the historic buildings of the nation's oldest university as well as numerous state-of-the-art research facilities. The school's Cambridge location gives students ready access to downtown Boston, and close proximity to hundreds of thousands of college students.
  • Student/Faculty Ratio: 7:1
  • Athletics: The Harvard Crimson compete in the NCAA Division I Ivy League.
  • Highlights: Harvard is the nation's most selective university, and it frequently tops the rankings of the best national universities. It is also the nation's wealthiest university with an endowment topping $37 billion.

Acceptance Rate

Harvard is one of the most selective universities in the country with an acceptance rate of 5% for students who entered during the 2017-18 academic year. For every 5 students who got in, 95 received rejection letters.

Admissions Statistics (2017-18)
Number of Applicants 39,506
Percent Admitted 5%
Percent Admitted Who Enrolled 83%

SAT Scores and Requirements

Harvard University, like all of the Ivy League Schools, requires all applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. For students who entered the university in the 2017-18 academic year, 67% of applicants submitted SAT scores.

SAT Score Percentiles
Section 25th Percentile 75 Percentile
ERW 730 790
Math 730 800
ERW=Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

These score ranges tell us that successful Harvard applicants tend to be in the top 7% of all students according to national SAT data. If you compare SAT scores for the eight Ivy League schools, you'll see that all are looking for scores that are far above average, but Harvard and Yale have the highest scores of the group. On the evidence-based reading section of the exam, 25% of applicants scored a 730 or lower, while the top 25% all scored either a 790 or 800. Math scores were even higher with all students in the top quartile scoring a perfect 800. To be truly competitive at Harvard, you'll want to have a combined SAT score that is well above 1400.

Requirements

Harvard University requires students to take the optional essay exam with the SAT. The essay is used for admissions, advising, and class placement. The university also highly recommends that all applicants take at least two SAT Subject Tests. Harvard does not superscore the SAT for applicants who have taken the exam multiple times, but the university does take note of the highest scores for each section.

ACT Scores and Requirements

All Harvard applicants must submit scores from either the SAT or ACT, and some applicants submit scores from both exams. The SAT is the slightly more popular exam, but over half of applicants (53%) submitted ACT scores.

ACT Score Percentiles
Section 25th Percentile 75 Percentile
English 34 36
Math 31 35
Composite 32 35

An average ACT score is roughly 21, so you can see that students admitted to Harvard are far, far above average. According to national ACT data, most successful Harvard applicants have scores in the top 3% of all test-takers. A look at ACT data for the entire Ivy League shows that you'd better have a composite score of 30 or better to be at all competitive. Among Harvard applicants, 25% scored a 32 or lower on the ACT, while the top 25% all scored either a 35 or 36.

Requirements

Harvard applicants need to take the ACT with writing, and the score on the essay is used for admissions, advising, and placement. The university also highly recommends that all applicants, including those who take the ACT, submit scores from at least two SAT Subject Tests. Note that Harvard does not superscore the ACT—the admissions folks will look at your highest score from a single test date.

GPA and Class Rank

For new first-year students who entered Harvard University in the 2017-18, the average high school GPA was 4.18. 93% of all enrolled students had a GPA of 3.75 or higher, and no students were admitted who had a GPA below a 3.0. Class ranks were also high with 95% of all enrolled students having been in the top 10% of their high school class. 99% were in the top 25%, and no students were in the bottom half of their class. A strong high school record is an essential component of a successful Harvard application.

Graph of Self-Reported GPA/SAT/ACT Data

Harvard University Graph of Applicants' Self-Reported GPA/SAT/ACT Data
Harvard University Graph of Applicants' Self-Reported GPA/SAT/ACT Data. Data courtesy of Cappex.com.

The admissions data in the graph was self-reported by applicants to Harvard University. GPAs are unweighted. Find out how you compare to accepted students, see the real-time graph, and calculate your chances of getting in with a free Cappex account.

Admissions Chances

In the graph above, the blue and green dots represent accepted students. The density of data points in the upper right corner is extremely high, so typical scores for admitted students are higher than they might appear at first glance. Also, realize that there's a lot of red hidden beneath the blue and green in the upper right corner of the graph. Many students with perfect GPAs and test scores in the top 1 percent still get rejected from Harvard. Even the most qualified students should consider Harvard a reach school.

Don't be misled by the data points in the graph that seem to represent mediocre grades and standardized test scores. Many of these data points can be explained by Harvard's large international applicant pool. Non-native speakers will, understandably, often have standardized test scores on the English language sections that aren't perfect. Also, many foreign countries have entirely different grading standards than the U.S., and a "C" average in one country might be the equivalent of an "A" in some U.S. schools.

If you are from the U.S., don't give up hope of getting into Harvard if you don't have a 4.0 GPA and 1600 on the SAT. Harvard has holistic admissions, and the university is looking for students who bring to campus more than good grades and test scores. Students who have some kind of remarkable talent or have a compelling story to tell will get a close look even if grades and test scores aren't quite up to the ideal. According to the Harvard admissions website, the school looks for "strong personal qualities, special talents or excellences of all kinds, perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances, and the ability to take advantage of available resources and opportunities."

Thus, while Harvard will certainly want to see a strong academic record punctuated by success in AP, IB, Honors, and/or dual enrollment classes, they are also looking for students who bring more than studiousness to the campus community. Make sure your application clearly highlights what it is that distinguishes you from your peers. True depth and accomplishment in your extracurricular activities can play a significant role in your application. Also, make sure you use your essays to showcase your personality and passions. Finally, make sure you ask the proper people to write letters of recommendation: the right words from a teacher who knows you well can provide a useful perspective for the admissions folks.

For some strategies on creating ​a successful Harvard application, be sure to read this article on how to get into an Ivy League school.

Sources: Graph courtesy of Cappex; all other admissions data has been sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Harvard University admissions website.