Professor Lee Ou Fan, Harvard University. The following
ten tips are the results of my observation at Harvard
University for many years. Students who wish to
apply to U.S. universities, and their parents, are
welcome to take note of them for reference. The
points are not in any order, although the last five
might be particularly helpful to overseas applicants,
especially Chinese ones.
1. Excellent academic results alone do not get a student
into Harvard. Alll applicants to Harvard are the
best of the best. One should not only foucs on the
acadmics and ignore other aspects. However, of
course, a student's
score must not be too low.
believe a student's character,
exhibited in his/her passion, extracurricular activities
and non-academic talents, is of higher importance.
If you were Yo-Yo Ma number two (he was an undergraduate
student at Harvard), Harvard surely welcomes you.
3. A student's
therefore, is utterly
critical. This short essay demonstrates an
applicant's uniqueness and talents. It has to be
stylistically outstanding and original, not pretentious
and overly boasting. In short, a personal
statement highlights an applicant's personal aspects.
Illustrating them with a certain extra-ordinary
experinece is desirable.
4. The three
letters are also crucial (absolutely pivotal if
applying to a graduate school). The letters should not
be stylistically similar or rigid. They need to
reflect an applicant's character and uniqueness.
Hence, an applicant needs to consider carefully whom to
invite to write the reference letters.
5. All the application
documents and reference letters mentioned above must be
truthful and original. Admissions
officers are all highly intelligent and experienced
enough to identify any copied or dishonest writings.
6. No matter which country you
are from, language skills are
important, especially English of course.
One can best show his/her master of English in the
personal statement, content and structure.
Fluency in other languages such as Chinese adds more to
an applicant's chance. To Harvard, a school that
emphasizes its global vision, bilingual or even
trilingual students always go hand in hand.
7. Students with
experience in different countries also have an edge.
Harvard values the cultural diversity of students' experiences. It is
expected that Harvard will gradually admit more
international students in the future.
8. Whether an applicant coming
from a prestigious high school, such as an
international school in Hong Kong and Mainland China,
is not a factor that admission officers consider.
Harvard wants to a diverse background, culturally and
financially, from which their students come . (The
expensive tuition fee that prestigious schools charge
tends to exclude less rich students. ) Since
all admitted students can apply for scholarships or
financial aid, do not let your financial standing hinder
you from applying to top universities. In my
opinion, applicants from well-off families are those who
are at a disadvantage. They hardly get a chance
without extraordinary talents.
9. Similarly, students whose
parents are top government officials or famous in
society do not necessarily have a higher admission
chance. What Harvard aims to admit are
leaders in different fields, who are definitely not
limited to famous families. Also,
to the society and artistic talents are much more
important. A large number of official
awards do not necessarily catch the admissions officers'
10. Parents should not pressure on their children.
Harvard is not everyone's dream school, nor is it the
absolute best. Students should apply
to different universities according to their talents and
characters. For example, those talented in
sciences and mathematics should apply to Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and California Institute of
Technology. Other prestigious universities such as
the University of Chicago (best for students only
interested in studying and thinking), Columbia, Yale,
Stanford, UC Berkeley, Michigan, Brown etc. and smaller
colleges like Dartmouth, Amherst, Williams, Oberlin and
Wellesley are all special in different ways. Of course, another option besides the U.S. is the UK.
Even universities in Hong Kong such as Chinese
University and University of Science and Technology,
where I have both been a professor, are good choices. However, if one would like to pursue higher education in
Hong Kong, one should better learn Cantonese before
applying, although it is not too late to learn at
university if one is clever enough.
Professor Lee Ou Fan
Lee received his BA from National Taiwan University and
his MA and PhD from Harvard University. He is Professor
of Chinese Literature at Harvard University. In
addition, he has taught at UCLA, Chicago, Indiana,
Princeton, and The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Currently, he is a member of the Research Grant Council
in Hong Kong.