Writing the Harvard College “Additional” Essay Prompts for 2019-2020

Harvard does not tend to post their “additional” supplemental essay prompts prior to the Common Application site going live on or around August 1st of each year.

But Harvard uses two portals for applications. That second portal is the Universal Application, the latest in the competition to overthrow the Common Application. And the universal application has the Harvard prompts posted as of now for the 2019-2020 year. You will have to register and go through the usual informational drudgery to get to them, but you will eventually see those prompts and that nice rectangle in which you can drop your shiny, new and hopefully successful Harvard application essay. Have a look: Universal College Application.

About the Harvard College Additional Application Essay Prompts for 2019-2020

So the first thing of note is this: there are a lot of them. In fact, at 11 total (10 prompts plus a choose-your-own option) Harvard sets the standard for the most essay choices on any college application I have seen this year, and in fact on any that I can remember seeing. (Kudos Harvard! Though for the most difficult app statistically, that would still be Stanford for this year, but Harvard and Princeton are only lagging by about 1%.)

Speaking of Stanford, Harvard has added something that looks suspiciously like the Stanford Roommate Letter prompt as they ask you to talk about what you’d like your roommate to know about you. That is new for this year.

I have talked about that Stanford Roommate Prompt already this year, here: Stanford Roommate. My suggestions for approaching this essay will be useful on Harvard’s essay as well, should you choose it. Keep in mind, however, that this Harvard essay is not meant to be a letter per se, and that you also have a lot more space to work with. Speaking of which:

Length Requirement for the Harvard Additional Essay for 2019-2020

The word/character count limit is set at 6,000 for the Universal Applications upload box. This is far less than Harvard has suggested on the Common Application in the past, but it’s still pretty long–the average single-spaced page has about 3,000 characters on it. A typical, 650-word Common Application essay tends to be a bit north of 3,000 characters, in my experience. Rule of thumb: If you are writing two pages for an app essay, make it worth reading. Better to be at one page, or a bit over one. Consider your poor app reader.

Overview of the Harvard Additional Essay Prompts for the Universal Application in 2019-2020

And now, here are your Harvard Additional Essay Prompts:

You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel 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: 

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
  • What you would 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 the books you have read during the past twelve months
  • 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
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.

I have written some how-to on most of these prompts in the past (the majority are repeats). For some advice on writing the Harvard prompts can be found in this post:

Writing the Harvard Supplement

That post has been around awhile, but its advice on the continuing prompts is solid. Note the incredibly large file size–it will be interesing to see if Harvard puts a 6k character limit on the Common App site.

For help with essay editing and development, Contact Me.

As for that essay that informs your roommate–let me make my final suggestion that you not reveal quite this much in that essay:

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