The Common Application completed its reboot on August 1st, right on schedule. This annual ritual provides colleges with their one opportunity to amend or fundamentally change their applications. By far, the biggest change we have seen is with Harvard’s application. Instead of requiring an extended essay as well as two shorter essays buried within the academic and extracurricular activities sections, the new Harvard Application has five short answer essays, each with a limit of 200 words. Not only is the format new, but so are the not-so-obvious opportunities to use these essays to discuss one’s diversity or adversity, to make up for the deletion of the “race” question. Harvard made no secret of the fact that race had been used as a factor in admission, for all the same reasons that affirmative action had been the policy in the US for the past 50 years: to equalize opportunities for traditionally marginalized groups such as Black, Hispanic, and Native American students. Then, as swift as a bolt of lightning, the Supreme Court made race-based admission illegal.
Here are Harvard’s five new short essay prompts:
• Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?
• Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.
• Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.
• How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?
• Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.
As a college counselor focused primarily on elite college admission, these are like eye candy! I will be diving into these essays full force with my students, understanding how, collectively, they will allow students to discuss their personal priorities, the choices they have made, the struggles they have faced, the experiences that have shaped them, and the elements of character that exemplify the qualities that Harvard values highly in its student body.
Neil Chyten, Founder