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What It Takes To Get Into Harvard University

Are you a parent or grandparent with a teen vying for the Ivy League? These elite eight schools are the crème de la crème of universities, so it’s no wonder that so many kids work themselves ragged in an effort to win acceptance to an Ivy. But earning a spot can be based on a lot more than your academic record.

Harvard University admitted only 4.7% of the almost 42,750 applicants to their freshman class this year. The school is currently embroiled in a federal lawsuit centered on how Harvard’s admissions officers use race to shape its student body.

The legal proceedings surrounding Harvard’s admissions process has shined some light and provided insight on what it takes to get into that storied college.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the litigation:

Step 1: Ask your parents to make a career switch.

Tell Mom and Dad to leave corporate America and get a more “creative” job to help aid your application. This is in jest, of course. Your parents’ jobs are your parents’ jobs, no matter what they do. But Harvard says the campus benefits when its students have parents working “diverse” jobs.

Step 2: Convince Mom and Dad to move to Arizona.

The admission office at Harvard gives particular attention to recruits from the 20 US states labeled internally as “sparse country.” This is because students from these places – such as Maine, Arizona, and Montana – are underrepresented. Plus, a 1978 Supreme Court decision outlined the importance of geographic diversity, saying, “A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer.”

Step 3: Okay, forget Step 2 and move to New York City or Boston instead.

At Harvard, “applications are divided into 20 geographic regions, with each docket containing roughly the same number of applications,” reports the Wall Street Journal. As an example, Texas composes its own docket, while nine states in the Mountain West and Alaska make up another. This news comes from a map shown during the most recent trial.

From the map, applicants from two dockets had roughly double the rates for other dockets. These dockets were the greater New York City and Boston areas, with admission rates of 11.3% and 12.8%, respectively. These dockets “are chaired by Harvard’s two top admissions officials and happen to be areas with concentrated alumni and donor communities,” says the WSJ.

Step 4: Love learning and let it show.

William Fitzsimmons, the school’s director of admissions and financial aid, told the WSJ that he looks for applicants who absorb academic opportunities “joyfully” and would “talk to you for hours about their love of physics.”

Step 5: Study (or say you’re going to study) the “classics.”

For the class of 2018, 7.4% of applicants who said they planned to study humanities were admitted, compared with 4.6% of aspiring engineers and computer scientists, reports the WSJ.

Step 6: Write an essay that would make Mark Twain proud.

During the recent trial, Harvard showed moving applicant essays that they have received, including one from a Vietnamese immigrant who was bullied in school for his accent. You want the admissions officers to feel your story, and, as Mr. Fitzsimmons put it, think, “How could your heart not go out for this person?”

Step 7: Don’t come across in your essay or recommendation letters as arrogant, aggressive, unhappy, boring or a generally dismal person.

Read as: Be a team player. From the WSJ, sample applicant in Harvard’s 2012 discussion guide was dinged when his teacher said he had “difficulties working with others who are less able than he.” Another applicant got waitlisted in part because her recommendation letters described her as “a loner.”

Step 8: Instead, come across as mature, bubbly, kind and focused.

The school reportedly told interviewers to look for signs of “unusual effervescence” and maturity in applicants. One admitted applicant, says the WSJ, was described in recommendations as “calm, kind, and quiet, thoughtful and focused, never anxious but always working toward her goals.” She performed with a ballet company, participated in student government, conducted research in a lab and held a paid job during high school. Whew!

Step 9: Convince your teachers you are “the best student ever.”

Harvard instructs admissions officials to give particular consideration to recommendation letters that are “truly over the top,” with phrases like “the best ever” or “one of the best in X years.”

Step 10: Be from a family that is either well-off or economically disadvantaged.

Children of major donors will be flagged by the admissions offices and can make it on the “Z list,” a roster of applicants who are offered deferred admission, starting the following year. On the flipside, socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants seem also to get special consideration. In a 2013 study by Harvard, low-income students with top academic scores were found to have an admission rate of 24%, compared to the 15% average for other applicants.

Step 11: Be an all-star soccer player.

According to trial testimony, about 86% of recruited varsity athletes who apply to Harvard were admitted.

Step 12: Set up your alumni interview in a public place and tell friends to pop by.

“An alumni interviewer noted in an admitted student’s application, released ahead of trial, that the interview was interrupted twice by classmates saying hello,” reports the WSJ. The interviewer indicated, based on the look of the different friends, that the applicant “may be friends with a wide variety of students in his school.” They count this towards you being great roommate potential, which goes a long way towards admission.

Step 13: Better early than late (or on time, even)!

According to the WSJ, Harvard admitted 14.5% of early-action applicants for the class of 2022, and about 2.9% of regular-decision applicants.

So, there you have it – some secrets to helping your young scholar get accepted to Harvard. Just make sure someone has the ability to foot the bill – at $67,580 for tuition, room, board, and fees combined, we’re not talking small potatoes. But in the end, it could pay off handsomely. Go Crimson!

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