With Gratitude to Professor Lee Ou Fan for Sharing Tips to Harvard


      I am 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. 

         2. I 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 personal statement, 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 reference 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 absolutely 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 travel 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,  contribution to the society and artistic talents are much more important. A large number of official awards do not necessarily catch the admissions officers' eyes.

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

Professor 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.