How Important is the Harvard Application Writing Supplement?

For some colleges, there is little value added to students’ applications resulting from their completing of a college’s writing supplements. Indeed, only a very small percentage of colleges require students to submit a writing supplement. Those who do may use it in a variety of ways. For example, they may use it as a litmus test to see how interested students are in attending that university. Colleges that use the supplemental essays in this way expect that students will do some research and provide meaningful evidence that they are serious about attending. Also, colleges may use the supplemental essay to glean important information about a student’s personality and then try to match that personality to their college application profile. Still others will use the supplemental essay as a gauge of writing skill or ability.

Then, there are the elite colleges. Of course, these colleges, including all the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, Williams, Amherst, University of Chicago and others, consider the supplemental essays to be at least as important as the common application personal narrative. Harvard, and some other top-flight colleges consider the supplemental essay to be even more important than the personal narrative. For these colleges, students must provide meaningful detail that will allow admissions committees to latch onto something that may elevate them over other candidates.

So, then, how should one respond to the Harvard supplemental essay? First, it should be noted that Harvard has two hidden prompts found in the questions section: one under academics and one under activities. These are both quite short at 150 words. For the main essay, students can write about anything they want or choose one of the provided prompts. While I do not intend to give away all my secrets in this article, I can share with you a few things that will definitely help you write a better Harvard supplement.

First, Harvard likes students who have done the most with the opportunities that they have been given in their lives. Therefore, it would make sense to address how you have taken advantage of your opportunities. Harvard also likes leaders and collaborators. Therefore, it would make sense to write about these factors. Third, Harvard wants to know how you will contribute to the “brand.” Yes, I use the term brand instead of campus or culture. Harvard covets its brand and protects it vociferously. It will seek to identify how you will help the Harvard brand. Being on the admissions committee of Harvard is not about building the perfect freshman class, it is about moving its brand into the future. 

Finally, Harvard tends to look more at content than writing style – unless you are planning to become an English major. Also, Harvard admissions is the best in the business! After all, they have been doing this for a very long time. As a result, they can see phony from a mile away.  Therefore, you should try to write honestly about something meaningful and aspirational. Don’t try to fool some of the smartest people on the planet!  Overall, your Harvard supplemental essay should be inspirational as it elucidates a quality that Harvard believes will be good for its brand. So before you write it, think about your qualities and characteristics that are most outstanding and that Harvard believes will translate to important contributions to society upon your graduation. Your writing should be reflective of someone who thinks on a worldly scale rather than a local scale.

About the Author:

Neil Chyten is the founder and president of NC Global Education, Inc. He is also the creator and author of the RANDD Reading and Study Skills System, the College Counseling Collection, Mastering the SAT, Mastering the ACT, Insider Secrets of the SAT, as well as several other books on test preparation, and writing. His strategies for college admission and test preparation have been used nationwide by tens of thousands of students, thousands of whom have been accepted into top colleges across America and around the world.

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