What are the typical high school classes Harvard admissions expects in a competitive candidate? Can you get into Harvard without taking a physics course?

Is one a competitive applicant for Harvard if they only took Earth and Environmental Science, Chemistry, Biology and AP Biology for sciences (but not physics)? And only three math courses and a math studies course? But they took the highest possible level classes in every subject (i.e., English, History, Arts)...


Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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I agree with the answer provided by the other expert. Physics is not mandatory. But in talking about winning admission to Harvard, you should be focusing on how you can be most competitive, not just meeting requirements. Earth and Environmental Sciences - right or wrong - is often seen as the easier class over physics. So depending on your other qualifications, this may or may not hurt you. Harvard receives an insanely competitive pool of applicants all vying for a spot. If they all took AP Physics, and nailed an A, well you get the picture.

When it comes to academics, (apart from other aspects of your application like your essays, leadership, etc), you will be judged by the difficulty of your course load relative to what your school offers. For example, did you take the most demanding courses you possibly could at your school? This is in fact the benchmark Harvard will use. At many public schools, not all AP classes are offered. Further, with a limited number of AP classes offered, not all students can get into one. If this is the case, it's important to have a guidance counselor highlight this on your application so it can be reviewed in context. Framing your application is very important. Are there other issues to address? If you managed to take demanding classes and maintain a high GPA despite some adversity, this will be more meaningful to the admissions committee than one lone class.

At this point, I would not sweat the physics. Beef up all the other aspects of your application. Talk to a guidance counselor to determine if that physics class is a glaring omission. If it seems problematic, consider taking it as a summer class at a local community college or summer college program. In fact, take Physics 1 which is usually taught freshman year at Harvard. Only do this with the understanding that this by no means guarantees you admission there. Getting into Harvard is like winning the lottery. Few people do. But that summer class just might put you on a more even playing field.

Franca Rawitz, College Admissions Advisor

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It is not mandatory to have studied physics in high school, but Harvard will want to see four years of science (regardless of field), four years of math (regardless of level), four years of English, and four years of a foreign language. That said, Harvard will give preference to applicants who have taken physics. I never discourage students from applying to any university, but it is important to have realistic expectations given the ever-increasing competitive nature of today's college admissions.

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Physics courses are not so important if you want to be a doctor, for example. When I get into Harvard I didn't have physics classes in college but I graduate as a doctor. And now I'm working at HRT clinic in Florida and I am grateful to this university for years I spend there.

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Physics is obligatory in many cases. I guess that's a common rule of Science Department. Volda University College, for instance, has the same rule for international students. It's a Norwegian university, but still, more European colleges now take up the vectors of academic development of US colleges. Look at professional essay writing service reviews of the most severe rules.

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