Each year, Harvard receives nearly 40,000 applications from high school hopefuls. Only 5% of them get a Harvard acceptance letter.
For example, in 2015, Harvard College accepted 1,990 applicants from a record 37,307 applications for the Class of 2019. That’s a 5.3% admission rate.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of applicants get a rejection letter. “I am very sorry to inform you…”
When I was in high school, I was one of the lucky few to apply Early Action and receive an acceptance letter in the mail. This validated years of hard work and made me giddy like I'd never been before for what came after high school.
Here’s my complete, official Harvard acceptance letter.
Want to learn what it takes to get a Harvard admit letter yourself?
Read my How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League guide. I'll take you through the philosophy behind how to become the world-class student that schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford are looking for. You'll learn what it means to develop an application Spike, why being well-rounded is the path to rejection, and how to craft a compelling application yourself. Read this guide now, before it's too late.
Here's a scan of the original admissions letter sent to me by the Office of Admissions at Harvard College. (Thanks to my dad for keeping it around).
This is for Early Action, though I'd bet the Regular Decision letter looks similar.
Even though I was admitted to my other top choice schools (Princeton, MIT, Stanford especially), I ultimately decided to attend Harvard. Unlike Princeton and MIT, it had leading graduate schools in every discipline (medicine, law, business), which made me believe it had the broadest set of opportunities and the most diverse community. Because of my interest in medicine and science at the time, it also had the broadest, richest research community. At the end of the day, I also felt like I would regret not attending Harvard more than any other school.
After this letter, I'll give you tips on what it takes for you to get an acceptance letter like this for yourself.
Office of Admissions and Financial Aid
8 Garden Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
Dear Mr. Cheng,
I am delighted to inform you that the Committee on Admissions has admitted you to the Class of 2009 under the Early Action program. Please accept my personal congratulations for your outstanding achievements.
In recent years, nearly twenty thousand students have applied for the sixteen hundred and fifty places in the freshman class. Faced with many more talented and highly qualified candidates than it has room to admit, the Admissions Committee has taken great care to choose individuals who present extraordinary academic, extracurricular and personal strengths. In making each admission decision, the Committee keeps in mind that the excellence of Harvard College depends most of all on the talent and promise of the people assembled here, particularly our students. In voting to offer you admission, the Committee has demonstrated its firm belief that you can make important contributions during your college years and beyond.
By early March, you will receive an invitation to visit Harvard from Friday, April 29, to Sunday, May 1. Our faculty and students have arranged a special welcome for you and we think the experience will be interesting and useful in making your final college choice. Of course, we would also be happy to have you visit at some other time and we hope you will make a special effort to do so if you will be unable to join us in April.
Especially if you cannot come to Cambridge during the next several months, please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of help in any way. You will find our application booklet and our website (http://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu/) good sources of information about college life and we will be sending you a course catalog in the spring to help familiarize you with our academic opportunities. We are enclosing a statement about choosing a college that might be helpful.
You have until May 1 to respond to our offer. However, we are enclosing with this letter a reply card for your use in case you are able to inform us of your decision before the May 1 reply date. A complete admission packet will be mailed to you in early April.
We very much hope that you will decide to attend Harvard, and we look forward to having you join us in September.
William R. Fitzsimmons
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
(Hope you will join us!)
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You probably have a reason for looking at this acceptance letter. Let me try to help you out.
If you just received a rejection letter from Harvard, I'm sorry. When admissions officers say it's a really hard decision when it comes down to the wire, they're speaking the truth.
The good news is that your future is almost entirely up to you. There are Harvard graduates who end up floundering in life, and there are graduates from hundreds of other colleges (and people who don't even go to college) who end up accomplishing amazing things. You're in control of your own fate. So if you're disappointed about a Harvard rejection, I hope you pick yourself up and excel from this point forward. Here's a guide on good study habits to excel in academics.
If you're in high school (or even earlier) and want to apply to Harvard, I hope this acceptance letter inspires you to want one of your own.
Make no mistake, it took a lot of hard work to get to the point where I had a great chance at getting admitted to Harvard and passing their admission requirements. I had to strategize carefully and be ruthless about where I spent my time so I could balance a high GPA, challenging coursework, test scores, and demanding extracurricular activities.
To help you out, I've written everything I know about succeeding in high school and college admissions. If you want your own Harvard acceptance letter, these are must-read guides:
This is my foundational guide to help you understand what top colleges like the Ivy Leagues are looking for. Here you'll learn:
- what kinds of students are most attractive to Harvard and why
- why being well-rounded is the kiss of death in top college admissions
- what a Spike is and why an effective Spike will get you into every college you apply to
- how you can develop a Spike of your own
I'm not saying it's easy, because it's not. But far too many students have the wrong idea about what kinds of students colleges are looking for.
In the process, they waste far too much time on things that aren't important and do nothing to increase their chances of admission. Even worse, they end up miserable and constantly stressed.
That's why I wrote this guide. Read it and you might totally change your application strategy before it's too late.
To complement my "How to Get Into Harvard" guide, I share my entire college application, page by page, word for word. You'll see the exact application that the admissions committee at Harvard saw, including the Common Application, my transcript, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and Harvard supplement.
I also provide commentary on every piece of my application. You'll see what was really important to get me into Harvard, and other things that weren't. You'll even see mistakes I made in my application.
I've never seen anyone else provide this level of detail, so this is a special treat.
Your coursework is one of the most important aspects of your college application. Not only do you need great grades, you need great grades in what Harvard says is "the most demanding college-preparatory program available."
Thus it's no surprise that a lot of high school students are stressed out by coursework and the demands of college applications. Do you feel like you're taking too many AP courses and struggling to stay afloat?
Consistently, I see that the biggest problems are with mindset, habits, and strategy. I've written a comprehensive guide with my complete set of strategies in how to excel in high school coursework.
I take you through three levels of detail, from top-down:
- Mindset and Psychology: Do you have the confidence to know you can improve with hard work?
- Overall Planning and Habits: Do you get the most out of every hour? Do you understand what teachers care about, and how to give them what they want? Do you know how to combat procrastination?
- Individual Class Strategies: How should you be treating English and science classes differently?
I learned a lot of these lessons the hard way, throughout high school and college. This is the guide I wish I had before starting high school.
Take the time to read it and you might save hundreds of hours of time and get even better grades.
In addition to coursework, the other major numbers piece to your application is your SAT/ACT score. Simply put, this number is so important because it compares you on even ground to every other high school student taking the test.
Top schools like Harvard expect you to be in the top 1 percentile of the country. If you're not, you'll cast serious doubt on your academic ability.
Also, check out my series on getting perfect scores in each of the sections on the SAT/ACT:
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT. You can also find Allen on his personal website, Shortform, or the Shortform blog.