How do you get into Harvard?

2013 Harvard University CommencementSure, one of the first steps may be getting a high SAT score… and you know we are definitely supporters of anything that helps your student show their strong test taking abilities to what many call the most elite university in the world.

However, another key to answering this age old question would be paying attention to signals from folks “on the inside.”

As a Professor within the sacred walls of Harvard, the Canadian born experimental psychologist Steven Pinker wrote an article in response to a journalistic trashing of his alma mater and employer. In the September, 2014 12 page retort in the New Republic, he specifically wrote:

At an orientation session for new faculty, we were told that Harvard “wants to train the future leaders of the world, not the future academics of the world,” and that “We want to read about our student in Newsweek 20 years hence” … The rest are selected “holistically,” based also on participation in athletics, the arts, charity, activism, travel, and…

While this wasn’t a major premise in his rhetorical piece, this was definitely something parents of potential future students of Harvard or College Consultants helping candidates aiming for this Ivy League institution should pay attention to.

Harvard wants:

  • Future Leaders
  • Well rounded students who participate in:
    • Athletics
    • Arts
    • Charity
    • Activism
    • Travel

While top SAT scores will help significantly and so will top grades from their school, but what’s a future leader?

Some great answers were provided in this article by the Guardian titled “What qualities do future leaders need to meet the challenges of the 21st Century?

Baptiste Raymond, Climate Change Initiatives Manager for Lafarge, a French company specializing in cements, construction aggregates, and concrete says:

  • systems thinking to identify paradigms driving change
  • mediation skills to facilitate knowledge sharing, ensure stakeholders’ ownership and foster innovation
  • vision rooted in community service and ethical behaviour
  • decisiveness in ever changing environments with blurred boundaries

Yuri Itoh, a Manager for the Environmental Strategy Office of Hitachi believes they should have:

  • enthusiasm to create a better world
  • strong principles whilst being flexible and realistic
  • patience
  • sincerity and fairness
  • collaborate and work together
  • take risks and give the fruits to people

You can read some of the other great suggestions here.

If you’re curious how a student shows s/he has “patience,” “sincerity & fairness,” or any of these
qualities, we would be happy to share them. Come and visit us and we’ll show you.

In terms of Athletics, Arts, Charity, Activism, and Travel, we would also be very happy to share many great ideas to exhibit these to Harvard or any top university. A few come that we can share for today’s post:


Choose sports that are unique and not too common. Many students play basketball or maybe even soccer. Here in China, Badminton and Ping Pong might be common. However, these would be unique to the U.S. and so would Squash. How about Seepak Takraw? Or Underwater Hockey? Every heard of Futsal? I’m sure the college admissions staff at Harvard probably would notice your child’s application if s/he was an expert in Seepak Takraw. However, we’re not necessarily recommend this specific activity, but just promoting a unique angle that makes your child’s application “interesting.” Obviously, it’s important that the sport also teaches them other values like “teamwork” and “respect” within “competition.”

And if your child has already jumped into a more common sport, it’s not a problem at all.  Remember, the candidates are evaluated “holistically” and are a balance of all these items.  Thus, being involved in a common sport is not a problem, but your child might want to express their unique characteristics in the other items following.  Or if s/he is excelling at the sport, that can also be a strong credit to their application as well.


I think this is somewhat intuitive, but again, perhaps exploring unique avenues here like technology applied in the arts. Graphic arts on the PC might be more unique than traditional forms. These days, it’s easier to build a website than ever and so is creating art online. Check out Design Crowd.


There are so many available. We would just recommend doing something your child would be passionate about and not something they are doing just to aggregate hours.


We just went through one of the most “activist” focused moments in history here in Hong Kong. Teach your child about this and explain the different ways of expressing ones’ “efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis.” There are many ways of doing this and again, we’re happy to help.

Travel-angencyAnd Travel:

Experiencing different cultures and standards whether it be Internationally or domestically, your child can benefit from the experience of exploring outside their home. Again, this is relatively intuitive. As a result, we won’t offer our advice, but will leave this in your hands.