What is most important in the Ph.D. application process?

It is very important that you write a clear and informative statement of purpose. You should be able to talk in some detail about your academic interests, what led you to them, and what you envision the focus of your program at Harvard would be. As much as possible, you should familiarize yourself with the faculty and resources at Harvard in your proposed area of study. Reviewers of your application will look for a good "fit" between what you want to do and what Harvard has to offer.

Academic preparation is also extremely important, and reviewers will look for courses on your transcripts which indicate that you have the background necessary to do the program for which you are applying. In particular, for those fields requiring knowledge of one or more foreign languages, you should have evidence of a year or more of study of at least one of the languages. For example, study of Sanskrit prior to admission would be crucial for anyone applying in Hinduism.

Recommendations from faculty familiar with your academic work are crucial as well. When deciding whether to get a reference from a more senior or renowned professor who may not know you well, or from a more junior faculty member who does know your work and your capabilities, it is best to choose the latter. Reviewers of your application are looking for assessments of your academic achievement and future potential, so it is most important to hear from those who best know your work. Personal references, such as from employers or family friends, are discouraged.

While there is no minimum required grade point average or GRE scores, these are nonetheless other important components of your application. Applications missing GRE scores may be reviewed, but will be at a disadvantage.