How to Get Into Harvard as a Foreign Student

“How to get into Harvard?” is one of the most common questions asked by you. This is why I decided to write an overview of things you need to do in order to even be considered by Harvard University. Everyone has equal chances of getting accepted, even as a foreigner.

I’m not a Harvard guru, neither do I work for the admissions office. I just want to give you some advice on how you can make your dreams come true and get accepted as getting into Harvard is possible. Whether you’re an American or foreign student.How to Get into Harvard as a Foreign Student

How to Get into Harvard as a Foreign Student


While this article mainly applies to Harvard it can be helpful if you’re applying to any other good university.

Admission rules vary depending on the level of studies (undergraduate and postgraduate), mode of study (stationary, extension, online etc), faculty and year, so make sure you check Harvard’s Admissions Office website for the most recent updates and deadlines.

Widener Library

Widener Library, Harvard


Do You Know WHY Do You Want to Study at Harvard?

While Harvard might be your dream school just because it’s the best, it doesn’t mean it’s the best school for YOU. Each Ivy League school or even non-Ivy are different in various ways and you should definitely consider looking at other schools as well.

While Harvard is good for some people, it might not be good for you. It doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough, but your methods of studying and learning are simply different. Here’s what I think you should consider when making a decision if Harvard is for you.

Harvard students are self-starters. If you can’t get yourself to be creative, push yourself to work on your own without a kick from your teachers or parents, then it might not be the best choice for you. I’m not saying that people who need a push are worse in any way, but some people just don’t have a specific character and for instance, this is exactly why so many freelancers go back to the office job in a few months – simply because they cannot work on their own.

As I mentioned in my other article regarding Harvard University the methods of teaching are different at Harvard than anywhere else I studied (and I did study at many universities) as a lot of things aren’t going to be told in the class. I often hear from a lot of friends of mine saying for instance “How did you find out about this study abroad opportunity or these scholarships? Nobody told us anything about this in my school”.

I don’t want to be brutal here, but nobody told me about this either. I researched, asked around, tried different options and never stopped until I found what I was looking for. This is how everything is taught at Harvard: teachers are there to answer your questions and point you in the right direction in order to help you improve, but not to give you a list of things to learn for the next test. You should know what to do.

Harvard is not the type of college you’d go to just to have fun and attend parties. Don’t get me wrong, they’re many parties and I enjoyed myself, but Harvard students think about their future after graduation and even beyond that. I’ve been working in NYC while attending Harvard to get a professional experience that allowed me to get a placement in Argentina straight after graduation, but I knew that getting the job in South America wasn’t the end of the goals. I planned way further away.


Things You Can Do To Improve Your Application:

Take Care of Your Grades

A lot of you ask me if it’s important to have good grades in order to be accepted. My answer here is going to be simple: yes, grades obviously matter. Harvard’s acceptance rate is 3%, so people chosen are the best of the best. I know that grades aren’t the most important thing, but they’re still important.

If you’re a foreign student you’re required to take SAT for undergraduate studies and GRE / GMAT for graduate studies apart from the finals required to graduate in your home country. For instance, in Poland, we had to take a final exam and also received other grades and if you want to study in the US you have to take SAT.

Everything matters and while your grades aren’t THE most important thing in your application, someone at the admissions office will look at them at some point, so keep them decent.

Find your Passion and Get Noticed

Whether you’re applying for an undergraduate or postgraduate program you need to show Harvard why should they accept you. Why it should be you and not hundreds of other candidates.

Don’t pretend that you love something, but stay true to what you really enjoy. If you love to dance, try to be the best dancer by training a lot. Why don’t you start coding websites if you’re into IT? If you love linguistics, go learn some lesser-known languages. The possibilities of things to do are endless! It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re great at it.

It’s all right to experiment with your passions if you’re unsure what do you want to do. I actually tried to do it all. I rode horses, danced ballet, learned foreign languages, volunteered with wildlife and did many other things that supported my application. You can also take part in some international competitions like I did with art history and philosophy.

All I want to say is that you need to get noticed and prove that you’re special in some way. Why? Harvard wants to see that you’re not only smart and capable of learning a lot for the exams. They want to know that you can change the world in by making an impact on other people. If you’re from a small town or country with not that many opportunities make your own opportunities. Eg. learn aerial silks from YouTube – that’s how I started doing it!.

Not all of us are given the same chances and for example years ago in Poland, I didn’t have the same range of possibilities as if I’d been growing up somewhere or example in California. But if you work with what you have people will recognize it.

Don’t Be Afraid of Standing Out

I’ve been called crazy for years as my friends and even family couldn’t understand my passion for traveling. They didn’t know why I wanted to help kids and lions in Africa or desperately tried to learn Dutch. I should have been just trying to study in order to get a job that’s respected by society. Later on, just settle down, just like everyone else was doing.

Remember that it’s fine to be different, the more different you are the more chance of getting accepted you have. Be crazy, be original!

Don’t Ignore Things Around You

For many years I’ve been surprised that I can find a common ground with almost anyone and I always had something to talk about. How is it possible? Simply because I never ignore any information around me. For instance, I’m not a bit fan of basketball, but when I had a chance to listen to my friends talking about it I didn’t think that it’s stupid and walked away. By living this way I’ve gained some knowledge about literally everything.P1030163


The Most Important Part of Your Application is the Student Letter

The student letter is the most important thing from your application! It’s your chance to shine and show Harvard who you are. Don’t just write that you’re smart, you’re good at math etc. Tell a unique story as you want this letter to be engaging and not make them stop reading it after the first paragraph. Use this advice also when it comes to cover letter for a job as well.

You also should explain why do you want to attend Harvard (and not, for example, Yale or Brown). This part obviously shouldn’t say that it’s because Harvard is the best.


Your Interview Can Go Different Ways

I cannot say much about the interview at Harvard as my program was specific and I didn’t have one. However, I had an interview for postgraduate programs at University College London (UCL) and King’s College London and in both cases, I got accepted, so here’s my advice: you shouldn’t talk about yourself too much during the interview, keep it short and try to engage with the person interviewing you.

In the case of my interview for UCL (University College London), it was just a casual talk about my passions, plans for the upcoming summer and my potential research. As you can imagine I didn’t speak about heading to Ibiza with my friends for a party in July but showed that I’ll use the summer to travel in order to learn this and that. I was obviously going to enjoy myself during the summer, but there are many ways to portray the same thing.

My interview at King’s College way more strict. The woman interviewing me wanted to check my knowledge about my BA thesis in order to see if I was actually interested in my topic. I cannot tell you what kind of questions you’re going to get, but be prepared for any individuality.


Money & Financial Aid

You always ask me if you can get a scholarship for Harvard. Good news: you can! Harvard officially states on their website: The financial aid policies for foreign citizens are exactly the same as those for US citizens. All aid is need-based, and admissions decisions are made without regard to whether an applicant has applied for financial assistance. Problem solved 🙂5688848007_1610d99fc2_b

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Language Skills

If English isn’t your first language you obviously need to pass either TOEFL or IELTS exam. I can’t tell you if it’s easy or not, as it all depends on YOUR language knowledge. But what I can say that you shouldn’t worry about it too much. For a very long time, I was doubting myself a lot. Even after Harvard, I thought that my English wasn’t good enough.

Don’t worry, everyone is in the same position. While I was the only non-native English speaker in my class it didn’t mean I was the worst. Remember that many Americans can’t even spell properly. Many others hold an American passport but English isn’t their first language either. Do your best and you’ll be fine.

Good luck!

If you have any specific questions or doubts, post a comment below. However, these days I decided not to reply to all comments on this post for a reason: some things can be found in Google search within 5 minutes. For instance, I don’t know where you can pass SAT in your country, or if Harvard offers a course you’re interested in – but their official website will tell you this. While I can find this information for you, it won’t get you to Harvard or any good school, as they value research abilities. 

51 Comments

  1. Jonathan
    Oct 15, 2016 / 8:55 am

    Hi! I’m a foreign student from Zimbabwe and I was wondering how important the SAT is when applying to Harvard. My SAT Score is at the 25th percentile and I’m really worried that this will hurt my chances. I’m doing Early Action so I will be unable to retake the SAT before I apply. However, I did great in the Math section but my critical reading and essay scores weren’t so good which brought me down to the 25th percentile. Math is my passion and I definitely plan to study it in college. I guess my question is, will Harvard be willing to overlook my English scores because I’m international and have a Math focus? For what it’s worth, my new SAT scores are 790 in Math and 680 in critical reading and stuff. I do the IB Diploma and get pretty consistent good grades. Thanks so much for your time! 🙂

    • Oct 15, 2016 / 4:47 pm

      Hi Jonathan! Being international gives you no bonus points – there are many foreigners who apply, so nobody cares about your nationality. The most important part of application is as I mentioned the cover letter, so I’d focus on that 🙂 Good luck!

  2. Cherrie Rose Ang
    Jan 27, 2017 / 6:57 am

    Hi, Anna! I really like your article. I am hoping to go to Harvard to improve my understanding of e-learning and distant learning, but I am a bit worried about my grades in my undergraduate degree. I was just an average student since I needed to work multiple jobs along the way to finish my education and help my family. I did not fail any course but I got some low grades. Do you think it will affect my application? I know you said that the cover letter si the most important part but I am still worried. Hope to hear from you! =D

    • Jan 27, 2017 / 2:31 pm

      While the cover letter is the most important, grades matter as well. I know someone who got in with lower grades, but he had outstanding extracurricular things in his CV. You’ll definitely have to pass GRE/GMAT with a perfect score in this case.

    • Ren
      Feb 24, 2017 / 6:23 pm

      Cherie
      Google Harvard Extension School. Easy back door into a “Harvard” degree. If you read her blood g, Ana mentions this is what she did to get into Harvard. And tuition is cheaper than regular Harvard.

    • Anna
      Author
      Feb 24, 2017 / 8:53 pm

      Yes, I took this course, but it looks like things have changed quite a lot. Lecturers used to change every year, as this course was led by Nieman Fellows. I just looked into Martha Nichols and she’s not a Nieman Fellow.

      • Ren
        Feb 27, 2017 / 1:39 pm

        Thanks for your input. I think I’ll sit this one out.

  3. Franz
    May 6, 2017 / 8:25 pm

    Hi anna.. I like your atticle.. I wanted to go to harvard because i want to reach my goals as a lawyer. Really hope to talk to you more one day for strong inspiration

  4. Brandydy
    Aug 8, 2017 / 11:32 am

    You should also read some articles or blogs of alumni that would help you a bit. They can give you some interesting tips and tricks.

  5. Pia
    Oct 6, 2017 / 6:35 pm

    Hey Anna! Thank you for this helpful article. I am already a degree holder, and I’m planning to take up further studies through a second bachelor’s degree or a masters degree. Do you have any tips for me? Thank you

  6. Khush
    Nov 14, 2017 / 10:09 am

    Hey Anna! I’m still in middle school in Australia and I was wondering how old I have to be to take the SAT’s. I want to be an entrepreneur so could you also recommend some other universities? Thanks!!!

    • Anna
      Author
      Nov 14, 2017 / 8:51 pm

      Noone can really recommend universities unless they know how you learn things, what do you want to get from the university, and details of your desired career. An ‘entrepreneur’ is a very broad term. I quickly searched on Google and I know that you need to be at least 13, but under special circumstances you could be even 12.

  7. Hadyl
    Nov 29, 2017 / 6:03 pm

    Hi ,Anna i’m from Tunisia and my base subjects are maths , sciences and physiques but theire graduate are not very well but i’m very good in languages …I do well on them … And i’m also crazy about travelling and i’m an active girl on my town and Harvard is my dream ..do you think that i have chance tout go to Harvard ? And what i should do to developpe my chances ? Answer me please as fast as you can and thanks for your articel

  8. Misaki
    Jan 3, 2018 / 2:12 pm

    Hi! Anna.I’m in Japan.
    I like your article!
    I found a Japanese website that says I should do volunteer or charity and things like that to enter Harvard .
    What dou you think about this? Is this true?What did Harvard students do as a volunteer ?
    I hope you reply me!

    • Anna
      Author
      Jan 3, 2018 / 10:41 pm

      Hi! It’s always good to volunteer or do any extracurricular activities, but the niche depends on your desired major and what do you want to do in the future, so it all makes sense.

  9. Alberto Mattia Perronace
    Jan 24, 2018 / 4:59 pm

    I have passed Cambridge English Proficiency (C2 level). Do I have to obtain TOEFL or IELTS too? Or should I stay with what I already have? How much does this matter?

    • Anna
      Author
      Jan 26, 2018 / 11:53 am

      You need to check current requirements.

  10. Samia
    Feb 3, 2018 / 3:42 am

    Hi Anna, I’m a masters student from nigeria but studying in India, I’d really like my PHD in pharmacology from Harvard. But was told international certificate is not being accepted except certificate from Canada. how true is this? I’ll really like you to put me through, as I felt harvard will help me open doors to discovery of new drugs for diseases tormenting humanity.Thank you

  11. Hugh Scaffidi
    Feb 13, 2018 / 6:08 am

    As a high school student in Australia looking to attend Havard for an undergraduate degree. I have not yet found my passion but have attempted to explore it in as many ways as I can manage. Is this an issue and what can I do to increase my chances of acceptance?

  12. Mia
    Mar 18, 2018 / 4:12 am

    Hi Anna, i wanted to know why do you want to work in Argentina?

    • Anna
      Author
      Mar 18, 2018 / 6:33 pm

      I did an internship there.

  13. Martha Leezenberg
    Mar 19, 2018 / 3:57 pm

    Hey Anna, I’m only 14 so it’s a bit early to think about college, but anyway: I live in the Netherlands, and my parents don’t have a huge income. And I would like to know how you get a scholarship if your school doesn’t give opportunities for you to study abroad. I want to go for the Ivy-League schools especially. My dad did study in Princeton, and I’ve heard that children from graduates get in faster. I have done passed the Cambridge Masters exam, does this maybe help? Thanks a lot in advance, really want to know if it is possible for me!

  14. Patrick
    Mar 31, 2018 / 11:32 am

    My name is Patrick from Ghana.I’m an undergraduate student; My question is do you always have to write a Professional Exams like the SAT to get into Harvard. Don’t they have any entrance Exams as a means of getting into the university?

    • Anna
      Author
      Mar 31, 2018 / 12:19 pm

      You need to pass SAT to be accepted to any university in the US.

  15. Emmanuel Bosike
    May 2, 2018 / 5:34 pm

    HI ANNA!
    Thanks for taking the time to write this article on getting into Harvard.
    I’m Emmanuel Bosike and I’m from Papua New Guinea, which is where I’m residing right now while studying online at Torrens University Australia for their Bachelor in Business program.
    Is it possible for me to get into Harvard with a Diploma?
    This is my first year. I believe having two leadership roles in high school (School Captain & Scripture Union President) as well as participating in various extracurricular activities will further boost my chances.
    Please Advise.

  16. Minh Huyen
    May 11, 2018 / 11:04 am

    Dear Anna,

    I am an international student. I believe that the minimum requirement for Havard Undergraduate is at least has an ielts 6.5. I already had an IELTS 6.5 since last year and now wondering how to allocate my time efficiently. I am learning ACT now so obviously have some times contraint. I am just curious whether I should aim for a higher IELTS score or just be done with it as a bare minimum and focus on other stuffs such as ACT score, community work, and essay

  17. Raquib
    Jun 5, 2018 / 6:45 pm

    Thanks for those information. ☺️☺️

  18. Rico Valencia
    Jun 8, 2018 / 10:56 pm

    Hi Anna, I am 12th grade student from the Philippines, I currently preparing for the final examination this week. And I will soon graduate high school. I want to major medicine. Is it possible for me to prepare and comply all of the requirements for the admission application to get into Harvard? What usually the time gap for me to complete all of my essentials? I know that it is too late for me to prepare and be able to get in yet I am just asking if I have any chances or possibilities? Thank you very much, hoped you to respond. Whatever would be the answer, I would love that and it will be so much appreciated. Thank You. Salamat !!!

    • Anna
      Author
      Jun 10, 2018 / 5:07 pm

      You can’t study medicine in the USA as an undergrad to start with, you need to pick another subject first. Most people prepare for years to be the best of the best, so I’m afraid I can’t give you a timeline – everyone’s case is different.

  19. Kgalalelo
    Jun 19, 2018 / 12:26 pm

    Hi Anna, I live in South Africa. Thanks for the enlightening article.. I would like to ask, how do I go on about writing the SAT? Which website can I visit, I would like to apply to Harvard University.

    • Anna
      Author
      Jun 19, 2018 / 6:52 pm

      I honestly had no idea, since I didn’t have experience with South African test centers for SAT, but I searched in Google, and in about 180 seconds (I swear I looked at the timer for a reason) found a list of test centers, dates and more. Harvard is very competitive and all about students knowing to do their research and finding information 😉

      https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/find-test-centers

  20. Ritu
    Jun 20, 2018 / 7:38 pm

    Hi Anna , I’m from India and I want to know that Can IELTS be waived off in Harvard for pursuing PhD as my medium of instruction was English in Graduation ?

    • Anna
      Author
      Jun 20, 2018 / 7:46 pm

      You would have to check with them. In my case, IELTS was never waived for any university despite my previous programs being taught in English.

  21. ikram
    Jun 23, 2018 / 4:43 pm

    hi Anna .

    firstly i’m thankful for all those helpful information but i still have one question…
    I’m 16 years old Moroccan student and this is my last year in high school .
    but i’m worried if i’m to late to prepare for my SAT and my TOEFL
    ; so please .. should you tel me if i still have a chance or not …

    • Anna
      Author
      Jun 23, 2018 / 6:45 pm

      I’m afraid it’s too late for you. Work on improving your English.

      • ikram
        Jun 25, 2018 / 12:06 am

        so …. It’s too much late for me . Harvard was one of my dreams for years . but as a foreign student it was and still impossible for me . so i should drop all those things as quick as possible . thanks Hanna .you know ? your helpful article gave me for a short moment such positives vibes ….. I’m sorry….

  22. Maria
    Jul 26, 2018 / 4:16 pm

    Hi!
    In my country, there’s no elementary, middle or high schools. Whatever, I’ve left 2years until I graduate. I’ve been reading about Harvard requirements and so on. There’s only one thing I don’t get:in Georgia after school, you take specific exams and continue studying at university and I’m wondering should I take them or not because I don’t know how long can I study in Harvard and if I can even graduate there. I just don’t like that VUS thing…
    I loved an article and I’ll be glad if you help and give me some advice 🙂
    With love <3

    • Anna
      Author
      Jul 26, 2018 / 7:29 pm

      In order to get accepted to any college in the US you need to take SAT, which I assume is an equivalent of the exam in Georgia. I’d suggest you take both because you should have a backup plan 🙂

  23. Malik
    Aug 23, 2018 / 6:13 pm

    Hey Anna
    I am from India and I want do Psychology postgraduate from Harvard University
    Then for which exam I should prepare GMAT/GSE or something else.
    Please help

    • Anna
      Author
      Aug 24, 2018 / 4:36 pm

      You need to check the requirements for your specific program on their website.

  24. Maddie
    Aug 26, 2018 / 1:02 pm

    Hi Anna,
    I am a Nigerian and want to study surgery in Harvard University.
    Do they offer surgery please?

  25. Samraa
    Sep 7, 2018 / 7:41 am

    Hey, I heard if you have a bachelor degree then you can’t apply again for a bachelor degree in Harvard. Like you can’t retake it in another major. I’ve been looking everywhere to check it that’s true but I can’t find anything. Can you help me?

    • Anna
      Author
      Sep 8, 2018 / 2:06 am

      Yes, it’s true. They have the same rule in the UK as well. If the university finds out that you have another undergraduate degree or currently pursuing one they have the right to remove you. That said, I know people who did it and never admitted it and were fine, but some others were not.

  26. Rayhan Ahamed
    Oct 6, 2018 / 3:49 pm

    Hi, Anna. I am a pharmacy student from Bangladesh. I intend to my masters in pharmacology from harvard or from a good university. But is charity or social work recommended for a science studen?

    • Anna
      Author
      Oct 6, 2018 / 11:11 pm

      I don’t understand your question.

  27. Dawood Ahmad
    Oct 6, 2018 / 5:45 pm

    Hi Anna, I am from Pakistan.My Sat score is 1550.My TOEFL ibt score is 117.I want to take admission in Harvard.My family income is $10000(year).I hear that all university in USA require proof to pay for one year to college.We cannot pay to much money.Can I get in Harvard with full scholarships without proof to pay for one year to college.

  28. Laureta
    Oct 26, 2018 / 4:42 pm

    Hi, thank u Anna for giving me a little hope but as a high schooler from Macedonia(poor and unknown country)I dont know if I CAN make it to Harvard.My family doesnt have too much money and I really want to became a doctor(neurosurgeon) but as I see I cant go to Harvard College without someone helping me ,so I will pray to God every day and every night to send me someone that knows more about US and how to arrive there.
    Hope everybody of us will be happy in the future and will be in that college where we dream ourselfes to be. 🙂

  29. Ovez
    Oct 28, 2018 / 7:16 pm

    Hello, You mentioned that the most beneficial thing one can gain from studying at Harvard University are connections and you can meet a lot of intelligent and influential people from all over the world that can open many doors to your future career and I’ve heard it a couple of times before but I don’t fully understand what do you mean when you say that people who study there can open many doors to your furure, can you make an example, please? Thank You.

  30. Hassan Amir
    Nov 9, 2018 / 7:46 am

    I am an Engineering Student from Pakistan. I want to do my masters from Harvard University.
    What are the basic requirements for my bright chances in Harvard?
    Also How much minimum GPA is required?
    Is there anything else required ?

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