How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

Noel Kim

Harvard University is undeniably recognized as one of the most prestigious academic institutions. With a mere 3.2% acceptance rate, securing an acceptance letter requires facing fierce competition. Therefore, it is essential to utilize the Harvard supplemental essays 2023-2024 effectively because these essays can be your ticket to impressing the admissions officers and securing a spot at this elite institution.

To guide you through the prompts for this year, I have outlined each question and elaborated on the approaches you should take, along with my recommended strategies and tips. This guide will help maximize the potential of your Harvard supplemental essays 2023-2024 and increase your chances of a successful application.

Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-2024: Required Short Answers

1. Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (Min: 10 / Max: 200)

This is one of the most open-ended prompts among the
Harvard supplemental essays. There can be many different parts of your identity to choose from—your cultural background, your gender identity or sexual orientation, your socioeconomic class, or even an activity that you participate in that is unusual. Whether it’s learning languages or playing a little-known instrument, your essay should focus on one or two things that make you different so that you can dedicate more words to each of these qualities. 

Remember, don’t repeat anything you’ve already mentioned in your personal statement. Each component of your application is meant to add an extra layer to your profile. Tell admissions officers about an aspect(s) of your identity that you find valuable and can add to the diversity of the Harvard campus. Do you feel like you’re a part of a bigger community? How has your perspective been shaped by these components of yourself? Have you faced any challenges because of them?

2. Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (Min: 10 / Max: 200)

Think about the many different books that you’ve enjoyed, courses that you’d take again, or discussions that you’ve participated in that you always play over in your head. Which of these have been the most meaningful and of course, why? Guide the reader through your journey of discovery of the material, any anecdotes associated with the impact it has had on you, or how it might have influenced what you’re passionate about. Name the experience, but mainly dedicate your essay to the “why.”

On another note, the topic doesn’t have to relate directly to your primary academic interest and can instead show that you are multifaceted. If there’s a deeper connection between your interests, that would also be interesting to write about here. Avoid common answers—dedicating your Harvard supplemental essays to common books like A Brief History of Time or the topic of Einstein’s theory will not help you stand out. When writing this essay, think about whether admissions officers will be convinced why the paper or book means more to you than any other.

3. Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (Min: 10 / Max: 200)

 prompt is the perfect opportunity for you to explore how you’ve chosen to interact with different communities around you. Carefully think about whether you want to write about the “travel,” “living” or “working” aspect. Or, you could have done all three during a study abroad experience that fits right into the theme as well. 

However, be very careful if you want to write about a community service experience or service trip abroad. This is an activity many students participate in, and will not reflect very uniquely on your part. In fact, it could actually end up seeming more like a display of your privilege if your essay solely talks about how you might have helped people in a third-world country. Instead, focus either on your own community, or a work experience that might have been more humbling. If you had an experience that helped solidify your interest in a culture or selecting your college major, that could also be a good angle.

Regardless of your topic, make sure you connect the experience back to yourself. How did the activity shape you? How has the event influenced your perspective? Are there lessons or values it taught you that you’ll carry with you throughout college?

Additionally, Harvard admissions want to know whether you’ve fully taken advantage of your extracurricular opportunities. They want to gauge how you might contribute to the Harvard community, so it would also be wise to choose an activity that you’re genuinely passionate about and can see yourself continuing after high school. Write about an activity that you haven’t mentioned in your personal statement, preferably one where you’ve demonstrated leadership and can highlight tangible achievements and quantitative progress. Talk about why the activity appeals to you, what it has taught you or if it has inspired growth in you in some way. Since you don’t have a lot of space, make sure to use your words carefully and elaborate on how your commitments have shaped who you are today.

4. How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (Min: 10 / Max: 200)

This is another prompt where you can insert your knowledge of Harvard University. Connect your answer to a certain major or course that can prepare you to take on greater challenges. Think about your academic passions, where you ideally see yourself in ten years, and how specific Harvard concentrations such as “Folklore and Mythology” or “Developmental and Regenerative Biology” can help you reach those levels. 

Clichéd answers to avoid would be issues that are widely talked about such as finding the cure to cancer or ridding the world of poverty. While these are definitely worth the concern, you must think about issues on a more attainable scale that you hope to address in the near future. How can you use your Harvard education to make a significant impact? Your answer can be used to depict your dedication to your community, how you operate as a leader, and how you can take advantage of the resources and facilities of the prestigious Cambridge institution.

Remember, this question strictly asks about how you plan on using your Harvard education, so keep your focus narrowed. In order to impress the admissions officers, your strategy should lie in outlining a strong connection between your intended academic and extracurricular endeavors in college with the role they can play in your goals in the future.

5. Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (Min: 10 / Max: 200)

Even though you could take a more straightforward “I would like my roommate to know XYZ” approach with this essay, it might be better if you frame your response in the form of a letter to your future roommate. Even though they actually won’t be reading it, this could be a more creative way of letting Harvard admissions officers know facts about yourself that don’t come up anywhere else in your application. 

Think about the impression you want to make on the reader. You might want to come across as someone who would be an accommodating roommate. Or you might want them to learn more about your goals, or how you spend your free time. Use your essay accordingly to talk about your hobbies, living habits, and plans for both your freshman year of college and life in general. Since there is no direct “Why Harvard” essay, you could also include what you’re most excited about the opportunity to attend the university. You could talk about a course you can’t wait to take or a club you’re planning to join to show that you’re aware of the unique opportunities Harvard offers. 

This prompt is a chance for you to show admissions officers how you function in your everyday life, so it could be one of the safer options to pick if you’re afraid that writing about bigger issues could put you in more of a controversial spot.

Further Tips for Writing the Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

  • Be as specific as possible - Not only are the Harvard supplemental essays 2023-2024 quite open-ended, there’s no strict word limit enforced either. It can be very easy for you to want to fit in as much information as you can in order to maximize your chances of admission. However, admissions officers don’t want to know every single thing about you. They’ve only got a limited amount of time to look through your essays so make sure your responses cover only what is necessary and keep the focus on yourself and how you would benefit from a Harvard education. This is not a place where you want to go off on tangents. Avoid general statements and stick to characteristics and experiences that make you unique.
  • Demonstrate the characteristics that Harvard is looking for - Harvard looks for students who demonstrate “maturity, character, leadership, self-confidence, sense of humor, energy, concern for others, and grace under pressure.” When choosing a topic, think about how you can bring these qualities forward in your essays. During your brainstorming process, ask yourself whether your topic depicts you as a mature individual, whether you’ve shown that you work well under pressure, and if there are any places you can sprinkle your sense of humor in without it sounding forced. Since a lot of students who apply to Harvard have strong numbers and extracurriculars, you need to further establish yourself as the perfect fit for the school when writing your supplemental essays.
  • Your choice of topic could make a difference - Let’s face it—you have no shortage of options when it comes to picking your topic for the Harvard supplemental essays 2023-2024. If you have a vague idea about what to answer for how you would use your gap year but feel much more comfortable talking about the books you’ve read in the past year, you should obviously choose the latter topic. If you feel like the essay you’ve written fits a prompt differently than the one you initially tackled, go ahead and select that prompt on the Common App. Don’t forget to adjust accordingly to specific requirements asked by the new question!

The reality is: it can be difficult to stand out among over 42,000 applicants. But if you avoid common answers in your Harvard supplemental essays 2023-2024 and show admissions officers that you possess the values that Harvard looks for, you’ll set yourself up for a chance at admission.

At InGenius Prep, we take pride in our record of helping students triple their chances of being accepted into a top 10 school. If you're seeking expert advice on how to effectively strategize your supplemental essays, sign up for a free consultation today with one of our college admissions experts.

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