Do I Need Perfect Scores To Get Into Harvard?

A big misconception about Harvard University is that you can only get into Harvard if you have perfect GPAs and SAT or ACT scores. If this was true, every spot in the incoming freshman class – all 1,660 – would be filled by 4.0 students. If this was true, the average SAT score of admitted students would be a 2400 and not a 2255 and the average ACT score would be a 36 and not a 32.

What does this mean? It means it takes more than all A’s. It takes more than academic perfection. It takes more than getting a higher score than everyone against whom you are competing. So, what does it take?

What Harvard Really Looks For in a Student

According to William R. Fitzsimmons, the longtime Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard, “while we value objective criteria, we apply a more expansive view of excellence. Test scores and grades offer some indication of students’ academic promise and achievement. But we also scrutinize applications for extracurricular distinction and personal qualities.”

At Harvard University, the admissions office is looking for applicants and applications that stand out in a stack of thousands – 35,023 to be exact. Readers are looking to identify students who have the potential to influence the classroom, the Harvard community at large, and eventually, the world. This type of potential and ability derives from having diverse experiences or perspectives, exemplifying strength of character, being a leader, and by being the best at what you do, whatever it is you have chosen to do with your life thus far.

I would go so far as to argue that if you are the best female Taekwondo fighter in the country, or if you have started a successful business in your hometown, or if you have published a book, you have a better chance of getting into Harvard than a 4.0, 2400 student who has spent his or her free time studying (of course, grades and scores aren’t flying out of the window here).

When it comes time to approach the application, it’s important to show how you stand out, as an applicant and as a unique individual. What about you is different from every other applicant?  What about you is different from other applicants that might initially seem strikingly similar to you? What about you will grab the attention of an admissions officer reading thousands of applications? The answers to these questions must be conspicuous.

In the end, you must remember that diversity – not of race, ethnicity, or nationality – but of backgrounds, academic interests, extracurricular talents, and career goals, is what drives the admissions process. The approach is holistic, meaning that candidates are evaluated by the comprehension of the applications’ parts, how those parts connect, and how they tie together the entire application.

If you are applying to Harvard University and need help identifying and exemplifying your diverse factor, schedule a consultation with our admissions experts today.

About the Author


Yosepha Greenfield grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science. While at Yale, she was the Captain of the Women’s Basketball team and the starting point guard. Under her leadership, the team advanced to the NIT tournament for the first time in program history.

Throughout her academic, athletic, and professional career, Yosepha has dedicated herself to helping people become the best version of themselves. She has mentored several young female athletes, promoted the importance of fitness through children’s exercise videos and fitness startups, and now works to help as many students as possible achieve their admissions goals.

Yosepha is also a six-time National Champion in Tae Kwon Do.