08 Dec

How to Write a Harvard Waitlist or Deferral Letter


Do not write a love letter. Every Harvard applicant who made the waitlist is smart and dreams of enrolling. Fix your original application's deficiencies and strengthen your candidacy with new information.


The Harvard Waitlist Process:

While Harvard doesn’t allow any appeals to admissions rejections, if you’ve been waitlisted (or deferred), there’s still something you can do. Write a polished update letter that patches up any gaps and vulnerabilities within your initial application, as well as demonstrates how you’ve developed into an even stronger candidate for admission since submitting your application.  Note: for the rest of this article, we'll refer to the waitlist letter; however, it's the same the deferral letter.

The Harvard Waitlist Letter:

Harvard allows waitlisted applicants to upload a letter to their online portal, without any length limit. However, that doesn’t mean you should simply jam-pack as much information in as possible; by crafting a concise and well-structured letter, you’ll strengthen your candidacy without conveying desperation or losing your admissions officer’s interest.

The Biggest Mistake:

While your waitlist letter should be formatted as such—a letter—it should not be a love letter to Harvard, nor the department that houses your major. While writing a love letter feels extremely natural given the emotions you're filled with right now, consider the following scenario. Would you date someone whom you were originally indifferent about simply because he or she wrote a love letter double-downing on their undying love for you? No, because it doesn't change your perception of who that person fundamentally is. Harvard feels the same way. 

Your statement of continued interest in enrolling should take no more than one or two sentences. Don’t mention other schools you’ve been accepted to, even if they are Ivy League institutions, and don’t wax poetic about how disappointed you were not to be admitted outright. Just tell the Admissions staff how thrilled you would still be to attend, and then immediately transition to new and compelling information, without rambling. (Note: don’t waste space with Harvard facts or statistics; they already know about themselves and their academic opportunities. It’s you, your new experiences, and your new actions they’re interested in learning more about!)



What Should My Letter Say?

Your letter should include only new and compelling information. New means (1) information from before you applied that wasn’t explicitly stated in your application, and/or (2) developments since you applied. Either way, Harvard personnel are checking to see if you now embody stronger intellect, passion, accomplishments, and ambition than you initially evidenced in your original application.

Find Missing Context

Look back over your application and personal statements in search of significant contextual information that might have slipped through the cracks. A common pitfall among Harvard applicants who were waitlisted was letting their grades and accomplishments plainly speak too for themselves. Therefore, they failed to:

(1) develop the intangible context surrounding their achievements (i.e. so you can spin old information in a new way), and/or

(2) develop their intellectualism obsession compellingly.

Revealing one’s intellectual obsession compellingly is tricky because many applicants confuse “intellect” to mean either a rambling, visceral stream of consciousness and/or a quirky self-portrait in highly stylized verbiage that tries to show weirdness. Some admissions officers further confuse students by vaguely explaining that they want to see candidates who love learning for the sake of learning. However, conveying that you love learning for the sake of learning isn't what they actually mean. That implies that your learning is pursued without a deeper rooted, epic purpose. A better way to demonstrate intellectual obsession is as a pattern of off-script experimentation and application that occurs when one is deeply intent on pursuing and creating new knowledge (or striving to achieve an unprecedented outcome). With this understanding, re-read points (1) and (2) above and what Harvard is seeking will be more clear.

Provide Recent Updates

In addition to revealing new dimensions of your past accomplishments and intellect, share what you’ve been doing since you applied. Awards you’ve received, activities you’ve started, or passions you’ve recently discovered or taken to the next level should be included. Many applicants are worried about bragging. However, there is a difference between bragging (i.e. excessively proud and boastful talk, like the tone used by North Korean television news Anchors) and aptly highlighting the value you bring to the people and passions you care about. One can brag without ever highlighting their true value. Similarly, one can provide evidence of their value without bragging.  

We're Here to Help!

Set up a meeting with a College Zoom Appeals Counselor and we’ll help you craft your strongest Harvard waitlist letter, gleaning out the most compelling information and structuring it into the strongest argument for reconsideration. Meetings are available during the COVID19 pandemic. We’ll utilize proven strategies to help you put your best foot forward. 

The first appeal session is sold as a 1.5-hour meeting (costing $525 for the 1.5-hour session as our rate is $350 per hour). By the end of Meeting #1, you’ll have a finished outline. Another 1.5 hours is typically needed for meeting 2, but it can vary in length. After Meeting #2, students who are decent writers will generally have a submit-ready letter. Additionally, your Harvard appeal letter can be re-used for almost every college that accepts waitlist letters (or rejection letter appeals). It just needs to be adjusted to fit within or fill up each college's word limit.

Contact us to find out more about how we can help you. We are committed to keeping your dream alive. If you've been deferred from applying early, can also help you improve any outstanding applications that you'll be submitting in January so you'll be ahead of the decisions this next time around.

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