Read JFK’s Surprisingly Short Harvard College Application Essay

Long before he became one of America’s most beloved presidents, John F. Kennedy was a high school student worrying about his college applications.

JFK’s 1935 Harvard University application essay has hit the Internet thanks to the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The scanned document gives us a look at Kennedy’s grades, academic interests (politics and economics, naturally), whether he intended to live in the freshman dorms (“yes”), and a brief, five-sentence essay written in Kennedy’s own cursive hand.

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The essay prompt is a simple one: “Why do you wish to come to Harvard?” JFK responded with this short message, citing Harvard’s prestigious status, superior academics, and the legacy of his father attending the university in his answer.

The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a “Harvard man” is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.

April 23, 1935
John F. Kennedy

Of course, Kennedy was accepted and joined his older brother, Joe, at Harvard. At first, JFK was “not particularly devoted to academics,” according to Harvard’s website. But he buckled down as an upperclassman and made the Dean’s List his junior year and his senior thesis, written about Great Britain’s lack of preparation for World War II, became a bestselling book, Why England Slept, after JFK graduated in 1940.

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Kennedy is one of eight presidents who call Harvard their alma mater, making the college the top producer of future presidents. John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama also hold Harvard degrees.

Take a look at the digitized version of JFK’s Harvard essay:

JFK’s Harvard essay

(Courtesy Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

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Study in the UK – What if Five A*s are no Longer Enough?

If you want to go to a top university you have to achieve brilliant results, this is still as true as it has always been. However, at Bellerbys we’ve noticed a change in the way UK universities are awarding places to students.

We have hundreds taking A Levels with us every year on their way to study at a top UK university. Exam results and progression rates remain high across the four Bellerbys campuses in London, Brighton, Cambridge and Oxford. But if we look closely we can see that the correlation is loosening between exam results and offers from the best universities.


 “… taking A Levels ….”

In straightforward terms, some students with good grades are getting better offers than students with similar or better exam results. These students all share similar characteristics, which have informed our thinking behind the new enrichment programmes we’ve embedded into our curriculum – they’ve demonstrably embraced specialist subject development.

The truth is universities want you to have more than good grades. They want to see that you have real life skills, self motivation and that you’re really passionate about the subject you’re applying for.

At Bellerbys we aren’t happy until we know that all of our students achieve the best they’re capable of. So we decided to dramatically shake up the way we teach to make sure our students are in the best position to secure those precious university places.

Now, every A Level and Foundation student studying with us attends a series of activities, workshops and tours that we’ve put together to broaden their horizons and build up a whole new range of exciting experiences, which will enable them to develop skills that will help them prepare for university life and even beyond.

It’s not just with universities in mind that we have developed this new programme but employers too. Indeed, Umut Uysal at HSBC Investment described our Enterprise Programme as a “a truly exceptional programme that I have no doubt every student involved can look back on ten years later and realise just how much they learnt at an early age.”

Education should be comprised of core skills – i.e. academic study – but also employability skills such as CV writing, interview technique and communication. During A Level or Foundation degree study, students at Bellerbys work on projects all of which help build crucial research, statistical and presentation skills. Through our enrichment programme students also have the opportunity to complete a project for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), which is highly regarded by Russell Group Universities and is a way of attaining extra UCAS points to support your university applications.


“… interview technique and communication.”

All this helps students bridge the gap between total coursework guidance and unguided university work. Guest speaker programmes with representatives from companies or organisations like HM Treasury PWC, Goldman Sachs, Ernst & Young also offer motivation-boosting exposure to students’ chosen professions.

The other stand-out aspect of our enrichment programme is that Bellerbys colleges are embedded in communities that reflect their specialist teaching and facilities. Our Cambridge college, situated at the heart of the UK’s thriving tech industry, focuses on science and engineering; our London campus, less than a mile from the global financial centre at Canary Wharf, excels at business and finance, whilst our Oxford college focuses on arts, law and humanities. These schools are set up so that you can develop your own interests in the way that works best for you, developing the skills to enable you to flourish as a rounded individual. Our enrichment programme is not just a tag on to our teaching; it is at the heart of our curriculum.


“Cambridge and Canary Wharf, London”

We believe that enrichment is now one of the most important aspects of international education and all our students have the opportunity to take part. Even on our intensive one year GCSE course we have taster programmes and master classes essentially ‘enrichment days’, featuring visits to global companies like BP and KPMG and organisations like the Bank of England

As international students, you already stand out from the crowd. You’ve taken a bold step in coming to the UK to study. UK universities know this. They’re always on the lookout for strong international applicants: they really appreciate the diversity you bring to their campuses. Therefore, if you embrace academic enrichment and are determined to get the most out of it, you’ll never look back.


“Written by Bhavini Pathak, enrichment manager at Bellerbys College, London”