Guide to the Harvard College Supplement: Your Blank Canvas

Application Strategy

Guide to the Harvard College Supplement: Your Blank Canvas

Every year, thousands of students apply to Harvard College. In fact, the admitted class of 2018 was among the approximately 5.9% of students admitted to Harvard College, from over 34,000 applicants. This places Harvard among universities with the lowest acceptance rate. So, one might wonder how admissions officers are able to select the incoming class every year among this massive pool of talented applicants. Well, the Harvard supplement may definitely play a significant part in aiding that process.

The supplement can consist of the additional essay, as well as supplementary materials that support an applicant with unique talents in the arts, music or scientific research. The latter is entirely optional and can only help a student when such materials provide evidence of “real unusual talent.” In other words, the applicant demonstrates exceptional skill in their field (akin to our next Yo-Yo Ma in music) or is interested in applying to a visual-arts based concentration at the university.

The additional essay is really the portion of the Harvard College Supplement that gives you the opportunity to share more about yourself with admissions officers. The supplemental essay can greatly enhance your application and help you distinguish yourself among the thousands of students who apply for admission every year!

Think of your Harvard College supplemental essay like a blank canvas. You have the creative freedom to paint a portrait of your passions, talents, personality, and worldview for the reader in whatever way best represents you. Every portrait will be different. The most important part of the writing process is to be yourself (and integrity is important), because this will ultimately set you apart from all other candidates.

The following writing prompts are offered as suggestions for the supplement essay:

    • Unusual circumstances in your life;
    • Travel or living experiences in other countries;
    • What would you want your future college roommate to know about you;
    • 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;
    • How you hope to use your college education;
    • A list of books you have read during the past twelve months.

The thread that ties all these sample questions together is the chance to share how you interact with and reflect on the world around you. The thought and effort you put into this extra piece of your application will go a long way in revealing more about your growth and potential, your interests and activities, and your possible contribution to the Harvard community—all features of a candidate that admissions officers hope to understand thoroughly after reviewing an application.

Start by brainstorming significant or defining moments in your life that have influenced your values, your interests, and your perspectives. What life experiences have made you the person you are today? What moments have brought you the most joy or the most pain? What has been the greatest lesson you have learned thus far? Thinking through these kinds of questions will reveal a lot about you and help you form a topic for your essay.

Remember to use vivid language and imagery to bring the reader into your world. People often remember stories. You want admissions officers to remember you as they read thousands upon thousands of essays. Anecdotes are a helpful tool to incorporate while writing your essay.

Lastly, don’t forget to edit, edit, and edit again. The revision process is crucial and will ultimately yield the product you are most proud to share. Ask people who know you best to read your statement to ensure that your unique voice comes through. The supplemental essay is definitely not a blank page to be filled, but a golden opportunity to share yourself with the admissions committee—make the most of it!