Institution Profile: Harvard University

Jun 2024

7 Minute Read

Tagged as: Applying to Elite Universities, Ivy League, Choosing a School/Program

A general overview of Harvard, admissions stats, trivia, and admissions requirements

Harvard College is the oldest university in the United States. Founded in 1639, this private university is part of the eight elite schools that make up the Ivy League, and is regarded today as one of the best research universities in the world.

Academic Life

Students at Harvard choose one of 49 areas to focus on in their degree program—Harvard calls these areas concentrations rather than majors, like most schools. Students are also given the option of designing their own course of study if none of those designed by the college are an ideal fit. About half of courses that students take during their time at Harvard will be in their concentration, while the other half will be General Education courses.

During their undergraduate studies, Harvard students are required to take at least one course in each of the following eight areas:

  1. Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding
  2. Culture and Belief
  3. Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning
  4. Ethical Reasoning
  5. Science of Living Systems
  6. Science of the Physical Universe
  7. Societies of the World
  8. United States in the World

Notable Facts about Harvard Academics

  • The first week of every academic term at Harvard is called Shopping Week, and students are encouraged to attend as many courses as possible during that week before ultimately deciding which classes to continue in for the semester.
  • Courses in a format called Tutorials are common at Harvard after freshman year. These courses are taught in very small groups or sometimes one-on-one with instructors in a student’s concentration area. These courses are designed to help students develop a scholarly approach to their field of study.
  • About 50% of Harvard undergraduates choose an "honors" course of study that requires them to either write senior theses or complete original research in their field of study.

Student Life

  • Harvard University boasts the broad range of student groups and activities expected at a major university, with over 400 recognized student organizations, including those focused around music, visual arts, media and journalism, public service, drama, and culture.
  • Sports are also a significant part of life for many Harvard students: the school has 42 Division I varsity teams as well as a great variety of intramural and recreational sports leagues.
  • The residence hall system at Harvard is unique to the university, and a centerpiece of student life. During their first year at Harvard, students live in residence halls for freshman students only. These dorms host social events and activities designed to help new students become a part of the community at Harvard. After the first year, students typically live in one of twelve upperclass houses, which are chosen for them by lottery. These houses hold academic, recreational, and cultural activities and provide a smaller community within the larger university.
  • Harvard is located in Cambridge, which is immediately adjacent to Boston. In addition to being an area rich in history and beautiful architecture, this area contains 54 different institutions of higher education.

Notable Alumni

  • Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook
  • Margaret Atwood, American novelist
  • B.J. Novak, American comedian, writer, and actor
  • Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States

Admissions Statistics (for the incoming Harvard class of 2026)

  • 61,200 applicants
  • 3.13% admitted (an all-time low!)

Application Requirements

  • Common Application or Coalition Application (each has supplemental questions)
  • ACT with writing or SAT with writing
  • School Report / high school transcript
  • 2 Teacher Reports
  • Mid-Year School Report
  • Final School Report

Note: For the upcoming classes of '27, '28, '29, and '30, Harvard University has chosen not to require applicants to submit test scores. (In other words, they're test optional for now, but you can still submit scores if you'd like.)


  • Average freshman retention: 98%
  • Average graduation rate (2021): 98%

Highly-rated undergraduate programs

  • Business
  • Engineering
  • Physical Sciences
  • Economics

Notable graduate programs

  • Harvard Law School
  • Harvard School of Dental Medicine
  • Harvard School of Divinity

High school summer programs available?

  • Yes

Application Deadlines

  • November 1 (Early Action)
  • January 1 (Regular Decision)

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