LIVE MASTERCLASS: 7 Strategies For Parents To Help Your Child Earn $100,000 College Scholarships & Ace The New 2024 Digital SAT. Enroll Free!

Harvard Brings Back Standardized Testing Requirements

Harvard College has just joined the ranks of Ivy League schools that have recently made the decision to reinstate standardized testing requirements as part of the admissions process. The announcement came on the heels of similar decisions from Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown. So far, each institution has provided a similar rationale for the choice: opening their doors to students from more diverse backgrounds.

So, what do these changes mean for students looking to apply to Harvard in Fall 2024? What do you do if you were hoping to apply but hadn’t planned to send in your SAT or ACT score? Keep reading to learn more.

Why the Return to Testing?

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges, including Harvard, decided to pause the requirement of standardized test scores as part of the admissions process for incoming students. The point of this choice was to make sure that students who did not have reliable access to testing centers during the pandemic still had a fair shot at being accepted to their top schools.

Throughout the beginning of 2024, we have started to see more and more colleges reversing this decision. Dartmouth College was the first Ivy League school to bring back standardized testing requirements, followed closely by Yale, Brown, and now, Harvard. Harvard’s decision comes as a particular surprise because the school had previously promised to remain test-optional through the admissions cycle for the Class of 2030.

So, why this sudden shift for the Class of 2029? According to Harvard, the decision sprouted from various factors, though the main one seems to be a lack of important information. 

“Standardized tests are a means for all students, regardless of their background and life experience, to provide information that is predictive of success in college and beyond,” the official announcement reads. “Indeed, when students have the option of not submitting their test scores, they may choose to withhold information that, when interpreted by the admissions committee in the context of the local norms of their school, could have potentially helped their application. In short, more information, especially such strongly predictive information, is valuable for identifying talent from across the socioeconomic range.”

By bringing back standardized testing requirements, Harvard and other Ivy League schools hope to help students from low or middle income backgrounds have a better chance of acceptance. The extra information that standardized test scores provide allows admissions officers to paint a more complete picture of each student and assess their compatibility with the school with greater accuracy.

It’s true that standardized test scores can be a great way to set your application apart from the rest of your peers. Exceptionally high test scores are often more telling of college readiness than a high GPA in the eyes of an admissions committee, especially with the increase in grade inflation over recent years. Whether they are required by a given school or not, sending in good test scores could be the extra push you need to secure acceptance.

A Look at Harvard’s Admission Requirements

But, what does all this mean for students hoping to apply to Harvard in Fall 2024? Let’s go over Harvard’s current list of application requirements to better understand this change.


Harvard accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application by Scoir. You will also have to answer additional questions unique to Harvard College and pay an $85 application fee. You can request a fee waiver online for financial assistance.

The supplemental questions will be:

  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?
  2. Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 
  3. Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.
  4. How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?
  5. Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

You must provide an answer no longer than 200 words in response to each question. Make sure you submit both your application and your answers to the supplemental questions.


When you apply, you must submit a secondary school report that includes your academic transcript(s), a letter of recommendation from your counselor, and a school profile, if available. If your counselor cannot write a letter of recommendation for you, you can submit one written by another teacher or school leader.

As soon as your midyear grades become available, you must also send in a midyear school report. This allows the admissions team to evaluate your performance throughout the first half of your senior year. Make sure to submit it as early as you can to avoid any hiccups in the admissions process.

Teacher Evaluations

You must also ask two teachers who know you well to complete Teacher Recommendation forms. These forms include an evaluation and a letter of recommendation. Keep in mind that the teachers must teach different subjects.

Standardized Test Scores

SAT and ACT scores are the standard for standardized test scores. However, the Harvard admissions team has acknowledged that the decision to suddenly shift back to the inclusion of standardized testing requirements may be detrimental to some students who cannot access these tests. For that reason, they have made it possible for students in these circumstances to meet the standardized testing requirement with one of the following alternatives:

  • AP exam results
  • IB Actual or Predicted Scores   
  • GCSE/A-Level Actual or Predicted Results   
  • National Leaving Exams Results or Predictions

Supplemental Materials

If you feel that you have talents or achievements outside the scope of the standard Harvard application that would better your chances of acceptance, you can submit them in addition to the rest of your application. Common academic examples include:

  • Advanced Placement
  • International Baccalaureate
  • A-levels
  • National leaving examinations
  • National or international contests
  • Early high school assessment scores such as the PSAT or pre-ACT
  • Courses taken outside your school during the school year or summer

You can also submit artwork, dance or choreography, and musical performances or compositions.

How to Prepare a Strong Application

If you want to apply to Harvard in Fall 2024, but you weren’t planning on sending in your SAT or ACT scores, you have two main paths you can follow: strengthening other areas of your application or improving your test scores.

Strengthening Your Application

Your test scores are just one piece of your application. That means you can better your chances of acceptance without improving your test scores by instead focusing on strengthening other aspects of your application:

  • Academic excellence. Ensure that your GPA is as high as possible and that you’ve taken a challenging course load, including AP or IB classes if available.
  • Extracurricular activities. Highlight your involvement in extracurricular activities, especially those where you’ve demonstrated leadership, initiative, or a commitment to your community. This could include sports, clubs, volunteer work, internships, etc.
  • Personal essay. Write a compelling personal essay that showcases your personality, passions, and unique experiences. Use this opportunity to explain why you’re a good fit for Harvard and how you’ll contribute to the campus community.
  • Demonstrated interest. Show your interest in Harvard by attending information sessions, campus tours, or virtual events, and by reaching out to admissions representatives with thoughtful questions.

Improving Your Test Scores

Believe it or not, you actually have plenty of time to fit in another SAT or ACT exam before Harvard’s application deadlines roll around. It may not be an ideal studying timeline, but it is doable. The SAT will hold exams in June, August, October, November, and December 2024. The ACT offers test dates in June, July, September, October, and December 2024. If you plan ahead and study hard, you can improve your scores on one or multiple of these exams.

Prep Expert can help you get ready for success quickly! We offer year-round SAT and ACT courses that fit every student’s study style. Whether you prefer a self-paced review or a fully-guided course taught by expert instructors, we have the materials you need to reach your target score, even in a time crunch.

Check out our catalog of courses for more information!

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

More from Prep Expert