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Of all of academia’s greatest challenges, getting into Harvard may very well be the most difficult one. Although many college rankings place Princeton -- and now even Stanford -- above Harvard at the top of their respective lists, the school’s history, brand, and its network are still undeniably special.

That said, don’t let Harvard’s unusually low acceptance rate fool you; the rate is heavily impacted by many students who do not expect to attend the school, but apply simply because of the sheer experience of “applying to Harvard.” What does this mean for you? It means that as long as you’re a great student with a solid track record, anything is possible!

Here are a few of the most important things to remember when trying to get into Harvard University.

To gain some more insight and help on getting admitted into Harvard, check our SAT prep course to get you that little extra help! A little luck never hurt anyone either. :)

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Set Your Sights On The Right Target

It's really important to remember, or at least ask yourself: why do you want to go to Harvard?

Is it because you want to get a great education? Do you simply love Cambridge? Or do you want to tell your friends you’re attending Harvard?!

You’d be surprised at how many students care solely about getting into Harvard simply to announce that they have been accepted into Harvard.

Look, I get it, going to a school like Harvard sounds AWESOME! And it is; the campus is amazing, the students are fascinating, and the professors are world-class leaders. But just because it’s regarded as the best doesn’t mean it is the best for you.

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One of the biggest mistakes sports teams make is that they are managed specifically to win certain games. They are taught to only care about the final score. But great coaches, general managers, and owners know that a score is simply a number. What’s more important is one’s actual performance and day-to-day improvement in pursuit of a more high-level goal (like success and teamwork).

For us, that means understanding that getting into Harvard is simply one route to a great education, but aside from that, it’s just a great brand.

It’s important to remember that there are dozens of terrific schools out there, from other Ivy League institutions to small world-renowned liberal arts colleges. Always keep that in mind when you’re setting your sights solely on Harvard.

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Build Your Admissions Pie

What’s an admissions pie? It’s the trifecta of one’s GPA, extracurricular activities, and test scores.

This is a topic I’ve spoken and talked about many times in the past. It is so important to fully build out your admissions pie, especially when applying to a school like Harvard.

I’m not saying this just because Prep Expert is one of the most popular and high-performing SAT prep companies in the world, but test scores tend to be the most important piece of this pie. Followed closely by GPA and finally, extracurricular activities.

But here’s what’s special about contextualizing this with getting into Harvard.

Obviously, your test scores are going to be of extremely high importance, but your SAT score is not at least in the 99th Percentile, you are going to likely not be considered for admission. That sounds tough, sure, but again, we’re talking about Harvard here!

Likewise, although your GPA is extremely crucial to getting into Harvard, if you’re thinking about Harvard in the first place, you are going to be competing with students around the world who all have 4.0s! If your GPA is not up to that standard, you are going to have a very difficult time getting in.

Thus, in the specific case of getting into Harvard, if we assume that your test scores and GPA are both extremely high, your extracurriculars may very well be the x-factor that gets you over the top and into Harvard’s treasure.

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10x Your Extracurriculars

To break through the barrier and join the 5.0% of students who ultimately receive acceptance into Harvard, you’re going to need some truly unique extracurriculars on your resume.

But first, please remember: you can’t add extracurriculars just to add extracurriculars!

In order to truly bolster your resume with extracurricular activities and get into a school like Harvard, you’ll need to get passionate about something...or several things and do them well. So, what do you like to do? What are you great at? What can you improve?

Students that I see get into Harvard do not simply play on the football team. They excel on their football team, excel on their debate team, and excel serving their community on weekends in a creative way.

And that’s exactly what makes them special and sets them apart: they have a collection of extracurriculars that are so unique and so powerful, that they are intriguing to a school as respected as Harvard University.

To improve your extracurricular resume by 10x, start by compiling a list of all the things you like to do outside the classroom. Athletics, clubs, volunteering, community service...just about anything that you’re passionate about!

From there, narrow down your list to things you are not only passionate about but also successful. It’s important to remember that we only have a certain amount of time in the day (or in this case school year or semester) to give to our responsibilities.

If you spread yourself too thin with extracurriculars, schoolwork, and more, you may actually push yourself and your resume in the wrong direction. When you do a million things at once, how can you expect to do them all well?

So try and stick with anywhere between 3-5 extracurriculars depending on the responsibilities they bring with them. And remember: focus on them extensively and be the best you can be whenever you’re doing them.

If you decide to help your homeless shelter, do it as often and as well as you possibly can! Show the Harvard admissions team that whatever you put your mind to, you do it 110%.

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And by the Way...Debate Is Never A Bad Idea!

I’ve seen a lot of young high school students turn decent resumes into something stellar in large part because of their success debating competitively.

Don’t get me wrong, after what I just said in the last few paragraphs, if you don’t like debate, don’t debate! By all means, only focus on what you’re passionate about. Let your success carry you from there.

However, if you’re in a position to consider multiple extracurriculars and debate is something you enjoy, I highly recommend pursuing it.

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A debate is such a great way for colleges to assess not only your intellectual capacity but also your competitiveness and drive! It’s a true duplicate of two common extracurricular activities: athletics and academics.

Think you could use some additional help to turn your dream of attending Harvard into a reality? Give us a ring at (877) 345-7737 and speak with one of our representatives about how we can help or check out our website at Prep Expert!

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Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation, a #1 bestselling SAT & ACT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’s Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect using 100 strategies that we teach in our Prep Expert SAT and ACT courses.

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