Is it Worth Applying to Harvard?


Recently I presented these interesting facts about Harvard applications to one of my Planning 12 classes.

  • In 2008, 27,462 students applied to Harvard.
  • Of those students, 2,500 had scored perfect 800s on the critical reading component of their SAT; 3,300 had 800s in math.
  • Over 3,300 of the applicants were ranked first in their respective high schools.
  • Harvard accepted 1,600 freshmen in 2008, rejecting 93 out of every 100 applicants.

One of the Planning 12 students immediately said, “That’s discouraging.”

Yes, these statistics may seem discouraging. It’s as difficult as ever to get into prestigious Ivy League universities like Harvard. But I don’t think that students and their parents should fall into the trap of thinking that there’s no point in applying to these schools.

In one respect, it’s encouraging that Harvard isn’t accepting all of the students who apply with perfect SAT scores and stratospheric academic records. That means that the Admissions office at Harvard is looking beyond marks in putting together their new freshmen class each year. They don’t want a university filled with students who do nothing but study. They want students who are athletes as well as academics. They want students who can play the cello and recite Shakespeare. They want students who know the value of volunteering at the local soup kitchen.

Those admission statistics also suggest that it’s always difficult to predict who will be accepted at highly ranked universities each year. With the support of their parents, counselors and teachers, students should simply put together the best application package possible and know that the admissions decisions are often based on factors completely beyond their control.

But students are, of course, admitted every year. And like other universities who have strong endowments, Harvard is making it more financially viable for middle class families to send students to their institutions.

When an Admissions Representative from Harvard visited our school this fall, he reminded the students who had jammed into a classroom to hear him speak that Harvard meets the demonstrated financial need of every student admitted. Moreover, students whose family income totaled $60,000 or less would be offered a financial package, without a student loan, that would cover the entire cost of a Harvard education. With a family income of $180,000, a student’s family would be expected to pay only $18,000 of the nearly $48,000 cost. These numbers mean that for some, attending Harvard could be cheaper than studying at a less selective university that doesn’t meet a student’s demonstrated need.

Gaining admission to Harvard isn’t easy. But once they are admitted, some students are able to complete their education with fewer costs to pay back than they would have in the past. And although the admission rate remains low, Harvard continues to admit students from all over the world.


  1. It’s very true that students need to look at many factors in choosing a post-secondary institution including overall environment, location, and future job possibilities. I was looking at the question of whether it is worth applying to Harvard considering its acceptance rate and overall cost.

    Given the fact that no one can offer a magic formula for acceptance into any Ivy League school and given the fact that Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust has recently renewed her pledge to continue offering extensive need-based financial aid for freshmen despite the recent economic turmoil, then applying to Harvard can definitely be worth it.

  2. Short answer – No, it’s not worth it.

    You also need to look at a area of study you’ll be looking into. If you want to become an engineer, you wouldn’t be applying to Yale. If you want to go to business school, you wouldn’t attend MIT.

    From my experience, the 4 years of undergrad, although very challenging, only gives you the basics of what you need to do. Nobody coming straight out of school becomes an exec of a company and makes over $100k a year. You’ll realize that the curriculum in most schools are roughly the same. Most professors’ interests at the school isn’t to teach, but mainly to do their research. If you decide to go into graduate school, now that’s a complete different story. In that case, the professor’s reputation and school’s reputation in the particular area does make a difference.

    I feel that finding a school with a good overall environment is another factor you need to look into. If you’ve never lived out East, moving to a colder climate can get to you. If that’s the case, Berkeley and Santa Clara are just as decent schools.

    One last thing, companies tend to recruit new graduates that are in the same city they are at. Of course there are exceptions but that’s where they look first. Especially in this economy, companies don’t want to spend the extra dollars for relocation costs for their new hires. For example, if you’re an engineer, going to Santa Clara would be good because you would be right in Silicon Valley. Remember, companies also look for co-op/ summer job applicants within their cities first.

    Best of luck in your application!


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