Harvard accepts international students

How to make it to Harvard

Martin Wallner achieved what many students dream of. The Lower Austrian studied at an Ivy League university. And not at any of these eight American elite universities, but at the most renowned. Between 2007 and 2011, Wallner completed his bachelor's degree with a focus on history and East Asian studies at Harvard. "The time was extremely formative. Harvard is simply the best university," says the now 30-year-old.

Wallner is by no means the only Austrian who studied at the university at which Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg were also enrolled. According to the university's own International Office, there are currently 20 Austrians enrolled at Harvard, plus 47 Austrian scientists. Alexander Schwartz is in no way surprised by this number. The partner at the Viennese management consultancy Aracon Consulting is President of the Harvard Club Austria. "All of our 100 or so members were in one way or another at Harvard. And there are significantly more Harvard alumni in Austria."

But how do you as an Austrian make it to a top American university? According to Wallner, it's challenging. But not as difficult as many think. In his year, 1,800 of around 20,000 applicants were accepted, roughly one in ten. Schwartz, on the other hand, was a postdoc at the elite university in the greater Boston area. In a conversation with SN, Schwartz and Wallner describe how you can make it to Harvard.

1. First you are spoiled for choice
Before the actual application process begins, it must of course be clear where the academic journey should go. In addition to Harvard, Alexander Schwartz studied in Graz, Vienna and Zurich. While the domestic universities differ fundamentally from the top American universities, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, or ETH for short, is "very comparable". The difference in quality between the US elite universities such as Harvard, Yale or Princeton is just as manageable, adds Wallner. And even the top universities don't have to be right for everyone. The Ivy League universities appeal to a certain class of people: "We are primarily looking for liberal and progressive-thinking students. And college life itself is very academic, you have to be civic and professional specialization is limited." Only 50 percent of the Harvard Bachelor studies correspond to the focus, the rest is general. It is similar at other US universities. Columbia University in New York is even world famous for its core curriculum. Brown University in Providence (Rhode Island) offers more flexibility in course selection. If you want to find out more about the US university, then unigo.com is the right place for you.

2. The schedule is crucial
The application deadlines vary from university to university. You have to apply for a semester at Harvard by January 1st of the same year. But you should plan a lot more time for the preparation time. "At least one year before the application deadline," advises Wallner. You will receive the notification as to whether you have been admitted by the end of March. The semester starts in August.

3. Three tests check the suitability
The lead time can indeed be well needed. In order to apply to Harvard, for example, at least four tests must be taken. On the one hand the American College Test (ACT) or alternatively the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) - both standardized aptitude tests for prospective students. The SAT covers math, critical reading, and creative writing. Between 200 and 800 points are awarded for each area, Harvard expects at least 700 points per focus - even if there are no official specifications. In addition, Harvard applicants have to master two "SAT Subject Tests". The exams deal with specific subject areas that applicants can choose themselves. The SATs are carried out by the non-profit organization College Board, outsourced to test centers, primarily international schools. In Salzburg, for example, you can take the exam at the American International School on Moosstrasse. A SAT usually costs around 80 dollars (roughly 70 euros). Contrary to other reports, the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) language test is not compulsory for studying at Harvard. Foreign students are also recommended to interview a local graduate. The respective alumni then transmits their impressions to their alma mater.

4. Certificates, recommendations - and the cover letter
In addition to the test results, application documents must also be sent to the US elite universities. This includes school reports, both in the original and, if possible, translated, as well as two letters of recommendation from teachers, kept as personal as possible. Anyone who thinks that they can only come to Harvard with a smooth 1-cut is wrong. Neither Schwartz nor Wallner had a perfect report, albeit a very good one. The application letter is even more important than school grades. This should be kept as personal as possible. The application committee at Harvard responded to a "fascinating life story". "They try to put together as broadly based years as possible so that the students inspire each other," describes Alexander Schwartz. Martin Wallner wrote about his time in China, where he worked as a memorial servant for the armed forces. "You have to show that you can reflect and understand how the world works," adds Wallner. If you are applying for several universities, Schwartz and Wallner advise you to write individual application letters.

5. The formal application and funding
Once you have all the documents you have to send them to the universities. The page commonapp.org offers a simple way of sending several universities at once. Martin Wallner defends himself against the cliché that studying at Harvard is feasible but not affordable. The application costs 75 dollars (67 euros), with the cost of the entrance tests, etc., you would be between 500 and 600 dollars. And the course itself is just as affordable: there is enough financial aid. Wallner paid less when he was a student than he would have paid in Austria, namely 1,000 dollars a year - including accommodation and food. "It depends primarily on the parents' income," explains Wallner. If the parents earn less than $ 65,000 (around 58,000 euros), you don't pay anything to study. And regardless of the costs, studying at Harvard is worthwhile, adds Wallner. The 30-year-old is now an entrepreneur in Austin, Texas. He builds so-called Macro Houses, i.e. huge residential communities. Years ago he would not have thought of such a career: "It's just worth thinking outside the box."