No university is tougher to get into than Harvard. Its 6.1 percent acceptance rate in 2012 is lower than any other school, according to U.S. News and World Report. So how do you beat the odds? You need to excel in a full curriculum of the toughest courses available, make the most of your time outside of school, try your best and accept that a rejection letter doesn’t make you a failure.

Four-Year Framework

Harvard doesn’t require any specific high school courses for student admissions but encourages its applicants to take, and do well in, the toughest courses available. A recommended course of study includes four years of English with an emphasis on writing; four years each of math and the same foreign language; four years of science, including biology, chemistry and physics; and three years of history, including American and European history. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses can help. Harvard recommends you talk to your guidance counselor for advice on the best classes to take in your area.

2400 Is Just a Number

Academic success is highly valued by the Harvard admissions committee. Most new admissions are in the top 10 to 15 percent of their class, though Harvard doesn't have a specific required grade point average for first-year students. Likewise, while there's no minimum score required for consideration on the SAT or ACT with writing and two SAT subject tests that every applicant must take, most applicants score near the top. The bottom 25 percent of admitted students scored at least a 2100 on the three-part SAT, where a perfect score is 2400. The top 25 percent scored 2350, according to the Harvard admissions website.

Extra Effort

The admissions committee takes different approaches to the merits of extracurricular activities. If you’re involved in lots of activities in school and the community, that can be an advantage as it presents you as a well-rounded applicant. But, you might demonstrate particular promise in a single endeavor, making you what the university calls a “well-lopsided” student. In that case, you should emphasize your accomplishments in that area. The school seeks a diverse set of student talents and doesn’t take a “one size fits all” approach when considering applicants.

Getting To Know You

Harvard requires letters of recommendation. They should come from teachers, preferably those who taught you in your final two years of high school. The teachers should write not only about your academic potential but also about your interests outside school. Harvard will try to set up an interview with an alumnus in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom, though candidates who can’t arrange an interview aren’t at a disadvantage over other applicants. The application process is the same for all candidates, although children of alumni may receive extra consideration among a group of outstanding but similar candidates.

Be Yourself

One 2006 Harvard graduate told Forbes magazine that applicants shouldn’t put too much pressure on themselves. The profile of the ideal Harvard student is daunting. You’re expected to be a fearless leader and a humble follower, intelligent but not stuck-up. She says you shouldn’t read, wear or do things with the sole motive to get into Harvard. If a suit is comfortable for you, then wear one to the interview. She wore corduroys and a sweater to hers. Write in your admissions statement about your true passions. If you are still rejected, it's important to not take it personally, or to see it as a failure. So many top applicants apply, and there is a finite number of students who can be accepted.

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