Harvard University Admissions

Learn About Harvard and the GPA, SAT Scores and ACT Scores You'll Need

Harvard University ( Explore the Harvard campus in this photo tour). Steve Dunwell/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Harvard is an exceptionally selective school with an acceptance rate of just 5% in 2017. Applicants will need stellar grades, strong standardized test scores, and an overall glowing application to be considered for admission. Additional materials also include high school transcripts, multiple essays, and teacher recommendations. Harvard accepts the Common Application, Coalition Application, and Universal College Application.

Why You Might Choose Harvard University

Harvard usually ranks #1 or #2 of all schools in the U.S. With an endowment around $35 billion, Harvard has more financial resources at its disposal than any other university in the world. The result is a world-class faculty, high-level research and AAU membership, state-of-the-art facilities, and free tuition for students from families with modest income. It is also one of the hardest colleges to get into.

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this Ivy League school is in close-proximity to the hundreds of thousands of college students in the greater Boston area. The attractive Harvard campus, including historic Harvard Yard, is an easy walk or subway ride to other well known institutions such as MIT, Boston University, Emerson College, and Northeastern University.

Popular programs at Harvard include political science, economics, biology, computer science, psychology, and math. Academics are supported by an impressive 7 to 1 student / faculty ratio. Harvard also offers degrees at the Master and Doctorate levels, with a range of world-class programs available. Low achieving students need not apply -- Harvard has the lowest acceptance rate of any U.S. university. It should come as little surprise that Harvard ranks among the top national universities20 most selective collegestop New England collegestop Massachusetts colleges, and even best engineering programs.

Harvard University GPA, SAT and ACT Graph

Harvard GPA, SAT and ACT Data for Admission
Harvard GPA, SAT Score and ACT Score Data for Admission. Data courtesy of Cappex.com.

You can see the real-time graph and calculate your own chances of getting into Harvard with this free tool from Cappex. Note that the information in the graph is self reported by Harvard applicants and represents unweighted GPAs.

Discussion of Harvard's Admissions Standards

In the graph above, the blue and green dots represent accepted students, and you can see that most students who got into Harvard had solid "A" averages, SAT scores (RW+M) above 1300, and ACT composite scores above 28. 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 (a 1400 SAT score or 32 ACT are actually on the lower end of the accepted student range). 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.

Harvard Admissions Data (2017)

  • Harvard University Acceptance Rate: 5%

Test Scores -- 25th / 75th Percentile

  • SAT Critical Reading: 730 / 790
  • SAT Math: 730 / 800
  • ACT Composite: 32 / 35
  • ACT English: 34 / 36
  • ACT Math: 31 / 35

If you compare SAT data for the Ivy League schools, you'll see that all eight are extremely selective, but only Yale has middle 50% SAT scores that match Harvard.

Rejection Data for Harvard University

Waitlist and Rejection Data for Harvard University
Waitlist and Rejection Data for Harvard University. Data Courtesy of Cappex

Stripping away the accepted student data from the Harvard graph, you can see the reality of the situation. Many, many extremely qualified students who apply to Harvard do not get in. A straight "A" average keeps you in the running for admission to Harvard, but you're going to need much more than good grades to receive an acceptance letter. It is not an exaggeration to say that students with 4.0 averages and extremely high SAT and ACT scores get rejected from Harvard. For some strategies on creating ​a successful Harvard application, be sure to read this article on how to get into an Ivy League school.

More Harvard University Information

Despite it's extremely high cost, Harvard is generous on the financial aid front, and no student should be unable to attend because of financial reasons. Low income students, in fact, will find that Harvard is essentially free.

Enrollment (2017)

  • Total Enrollment: 31,120 (9,965 undergraduates)
  • Gender Breakdown: 51 percent male / 49 percent female
  • 72 percent full-time

Costs (2017 - 18)

  • Tuition and Fees: $47,074
  • Books: $1,000 (why so much?)
  • Room and Board: $15,951
  • Other Expenses: $2,875
  • Total Cost: $66,900

Harvard Financial Aid (2016 - 17)

  • Percentage of New Students Receiving Aid: 72 percent
  • Percentage of New Students Receiving Types of Aid
    • Grants: 56 percent
    • Loans: 9 percent
  • Average Amount of Aid
    • Grants: $49,870
    • Loans: $7,372

Academic Programs

Graduation and Retention Rates

  • First Year Student Retention (full-time students): 98 percent
  • 4-Year Graduation Rate: 84 percent
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 96 percent

Intercollegiate Athletic Programs

  • Men's Sports: Track and Field, Football, Squash, Tennis, Baseball, Cross Country, Golf, Ice Hockey, Sailing, Skiing, Volleyball, Water Polo, Wrestling, Fencing
  • Women's Sports: Ice Hockey, Soccer, Squash, Volleyball, Basketball, Track and Field, Lacrosse, Field Hockey, Swimming and Diving

Like Harvard? Then Check Out These Other Top Universities

Harvard applicants tend to apply to other Ivy League schools including Columbia University, Princeton University, and Yale University. Other top schools are also popular with applicants including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Duke University.

Keep in mind that all of these schools are highly selective, and as you create your college wish list, you'll want to include a few schools with a lower admissions bar.

Data Source: Graph courtesy of Cappex; all other data from the National Institute for Education Statistics.