As you’ll see below, Harvard’s supplemental essays are optional. That being said, if you feel as though you have more to say in addition to your Common Application materials, you should answer the Harvard supplement. Read on to find out how to answer Harvard’s 2020 supplemental essays.You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics.

It’s important to note that Harvard’s writing supplement provides open-ended prompts (see below in bold) for students to respond to. This can be both good and bad, depending on how you address each. Here’s what we would recommend:

Unusual circumstances in your life

Unusual circumstances in your life don’t necessarily need to be negative. Good or bad, it’s important to share a story or experience that has strongly had an impact on you. Try and express yourself in a way that leaves a unique impression on an admission officer and gives her a sense of your personal growth.

Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities

If you have not had any experiences traveling, living or working in any communities, not to worry – simply move on and select another prompt. For students who have traveled, discuss the impact of the experience(s) on you. What did you learn? How did you change or grow from the experience?

What you would want your future college roommate to know about you

Are you the goofy and laid-back type? Or are you more regimented and type-A? Allow an admission officer to get a glimpse of your personality and style and do your best to leave a unique and lasting impression. Remember, admissions officers want to admit students who are honest and confident in who they are.

An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you

Admissions officers use this question to learn more about an applicant’s creative and academic interests. If you are able to discuss a work of art that motivated or inspired you, this essay question is for you. Remember, this work of art can be anything from a book, play, poem, movie, painting, academic class, piece of music or photography. This prompt provides a unique way to reveal how literature or academics may represent different parts of your life, how you perceive life and/or what inspires you.

If you’re an aspiring scientist or engineer, then perhaps you might talk about a research project or a science fair – or even an unsolved mathematical equation that you’ve been trying to solve (and why)!

How you hope to use your college education

Harvard admissions officers are looking for aspiring students who are ready to build their future at Harvard and beyond. A question to ask yourself is, where do you see yourself in ten years? Have you been researching the different programs that Harvard has to offer and, if so, how do those fit in with your own academic goals?

A list of books you have read during the past twelve months

Your reading list can say a lot about your interests, personality and intellectual curiosity. Be honest about the books you’ve read and give a quick synopsis, if needed.

The Harvard College Honor code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

Maintaining a high standard of integrity is not always easy. This question allows an admissions officer to assess your judgment and ability to navigate conflict. Be open about an instance of integrity during your upbringing and be sure to describe how and what you have learned from it.

The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission?

Your college experience is only as strong as the people you spend it with. Harvard wants to establish how you will positively add to the experience of your classmates, friends and/or teammates. Every student is unique and brings something different to campus – think about how your own experiences will help enrich the campus community.

Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do?

This question is especially relevant during the time of COVID-19. As many students are, in fact, requesting a gap year or deferred admission, Harvard is curious to see what you would do with that time. Would you start a business? What is it that you dream of doing but don’t have the time, nor means, to do? Use that as a guide to answer this question.

Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.

Think about your family traditions growing up. Were they different from the traditions of others in your community? Perhaps this is an aspect of your personality that has made you feel like an outcast when you were younger, but is now something you embrace as a strength. Reflect on these potential differences and highlight why they make you, and will make Harvard, better.

About the author
Amanda San Román

Amanda earned a BA in rhetoric from Bates College, where she was a Senior Admissions Fellow, responsible for interviewing applicants and leading information sessions. She continues to conduct alumni interviews both in-person and virtually. Amanda manages communication and partnership efforts for AcceptU by facilitating webinars, events, email marketing and technology management.

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