Widely acknowledged as one of the most elite colleges globally, Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Found in 1636, it is also one of the world’s oldest institutions of higher learning.
Being such a prestigious school, it follows that admission to Harvard is highly sought after. With acceptance rates dipping into the single digits, getting into Harvard requires applicants to be the best of the best.
The average unweighted high school GPA of students who are admitted to Harvard is an impressive 3.9, or 4.15 on an unweighted scale.
For students who are interested in getting ahead on the application process, Harvard offers the Restrictive Early Action program.
This program offers students the opportunity to make their choice of college ahead of time, also giving them more time to deliberate between schools, gather application materials, and craft a strong, compelling personal essay.
The restrictive early action option at Harvard is non-binding, meaning that those who are accepted are not obligated to enroll at the school.
Under this program, students who apply to Harvard may still apply early to other non-binding public schools or colleges outside of the United States.
However, early action applicants to Harvard may not apply to other private universities within the country.
Early action is an excellent option for applying to Harvard for students whose academic records have been consistently impressive throughout their high school experience. Read on to learn more about Harvard’s restrictive early action application process.
Harvard Early Action Acceptance Rate
The early action acceptance rate for Harvard University this past year is 7.9%, making admission to the school extremely competitive.
In fact, Harvard has the lowest acceptance rate of any college in the United States, excepting specialty schools like the Curtis Institute of Music.
This rate is very low compared to many other schools, as the majority of schools admit most students who apply.
The average acceptance rate for all colleges and universities in the country is around 70.1%.
Still, it can be said that early action applicants have a much better chance at getting into Harvard than regular decision applicants.
The overall acceptance rate for first-year students at Harvard is 5%, as of the fall of 2020.
Harvard received 9,406 early action applications to the first-year class of 2026. From this applicant pool, 740 students were accepted to the school.
Last year, Harvard received 10,087 early decision applications for the first-year class of 2025, admitting only 743 students.
Thus, although the early decision acceptance rate has historically been considerably higher than the average first-year acceptance rate, it appears that early decision acceptance is approaching similarly high rates.
Harvard Early Action Decision Date
Early action applicants can expect to hear back from the Harvard admissions team regarding whether they have been accepted or rejected around mid-December each year.
Applicants will be notified of their admissions decisions via email. To check the status of the submitted application, Harvard applicants can log in to their applicant accounts through the school’s website.
There are a few other notices that applicants may receive, some of which are acceptance or rejection.
Beyond those two types of admissions decisions, students may also find out that they have been deferred or placed on Harvard’s waitlist.
Students who receive offers for admission to the school will have to notify Harvard about whether or not they have decided to enroll in classes by about the end of January.
These decision dates reflect the fact that Harvard does not admit students during the spring semester.
According to the school’s website, the rationale behind this policy is that they want all incoming freshmen to benefit from the special programs designed specifically for first-year students that they offer.
Harvard Early Action Deadline
The deadline to apply to Harvard University under their restrictive early action program is November 1 of each year. For comparison, the regular decision application deadline is January 1 every year.
Importantly, students must submit the completed Common Application or Coalition Application and all other required materials by this deadline.
It may take some time for the Harvard admissions team to receive test scores, high school transcripts, and other supplemental materials, but as long as these are turned in before the deadline, delays in processing will not affect the student’s chances of being admitted.
Harvard states that students who apply under the early action program are not given any special preference during application review.
They note that the generally higher acceptance rates for restrictive early action applicants are a result of the exceptional overall academic merit that this pool of applicants exhibits.
On the other hand, it can still be said that the earlier deadline for the early action program offers students considerable practical advantages over those who apply under regular decision.
These benefits include the opportunity to have more time to contact whoever it is they would like to write their letters of recommendation to the school.
Notably, the deadline for applying for financial aid for restrictive early action students differs from the deadline for regular decision candidates.
In order to be considered for receiving need-based financial aid from the school, restrictive early action applicants must submit all necessary materials by no later than February 1 each year.
For regular decision candidates, the deadline is a month later, at the beginning of March.
Harvard EA Deferral Rate
The deferral rate for restrictive early decision applicants at Harvard University is about 80%.
This means that the majority of students who apply early to the college will have to wait until the regular decision cycle rolls around for their applications to be reviewed.
In recent years, the competition for early decision admission to Harvard has increased. This had led to the school giving out a greater number of deferrals than usual.
According to the school, Harvard receives an overwhelming 40,000 or more applications every year.
Since they aim to admit only around 1660 students to each incoming first-year class, this means that even outstanding applicants may be deferred to regular decision.
In order to ensure that the Harvard Admissions Committee has enough room in each class to maintain these relatively small class sizes, they must leave open spaces in the class so that any exceptionally strong regular decision candidates are not left out.
There are a number of reasons that applicants may be deferred. For one, the school may want to give the student a chance to provide additional application materials, such as final semester grades.
Those whose restrictive early action applications are deferred should take this as an opportunity to strengthen their applications by giving further information about any extracurriculars they are involved in, describe anything noteworthy they have done in the final portion of their senior year, and improve their grades however possible.
The applications of all students who are deferred will be reviewed in full a second time as if it is the first time they are applying to the school.
How to Apply to Harvard for Early Action
To apply to Harvard under the restrictive early action program, students must complete either the Common Application or the Coalition Application. After filling out the application information, students must ensure that all required supplemental materials are submitted to the school before the deadline, which is November 1 each year.
In addition to completing one of the two application options, Harvard applicants must respond to the Harvard College Questions for the Common Application or Coalition Application Harvard supplement.
There will be a $75 processing fee, payable by credit card through the student’s application of choice. Alternatively, students can mail a check directly to the school.
For students for whom the application fee poses an insurmountable financial barrier, fee waivers are available.
Other required application materials include a school report, which must include a letter written by a school counselor.
Students will need to ask two teachers in different academic subjects to complete Harvard’s Teacher Evaluation forms. These can be accessed through the link that will be provided in the application confirmation email the student will receive after submission.
Applicants will also need to provide an official high school transcript or equivalent certificate.
After receiving final grades for the first semester of their senior year, students will need to submit a Midyear School Report. For those who receive offers for admission, a Final School Report will also be required.
Due to the complications for standardized test-taking created by the COVID-19 pandemic, SAT or ACT scores will not be a mandatory element of the application process for any students who wish to be a part of Harvard’s graduating classes of 2027 through 2030.
However, those who feel that their SAT or ACT scores positively reflect their academic capabilities may opt to submit standardized test scores for consideration in the admissions review process.
AP or other examination results, much like SAT or ACT scores, are an optional component of the Harvard application. Applicants who have strong AP test scores should opt to submit these scores as a supplement to their application bundle.