Harvard University is the second-ranked university in "U.S. News and World Report" for 2014 because of its rigorous curriculum, stellar reputation and selective admission process. No single test score or grade-point average will gain you automatic admission to the undergraduate school, known as Harvard College, but a strong academic history and an application packet that offers something other candidates don't can improve your odds.

The Common College Application

Harvard, along with about 400 other schools, relies on the Common Application. You can complete this application and submit it to any school that accepts it, potentially saving time. You'll provide basic information such as your name and mailing address. The application also requests your GPA, standardized test scores and a list of academic honors. You'll complete a personal essay as part of your application, and this essay needs to be grammatically correct in addition to telling a compelling story.

Transcripts and School Reports

Harvard not only requires all of your high school transcripts, but also a mid-year and end-of-year report. These requirements are designed to ensure that your grades didn't take a nosedive during your senior year. Admitted applicants have an average high school GPA of 4.1. This means that most students who get into Harvard take Advanced Placement classes, which confer grades above 4.0. The school will examine both your overall GPA and the rigor of your classes; a rigorous academic load in conjunction with a high GPA is your best bet for getting in.

Standardized Tests

Harvard requires that students take either the SAT or ACT and submit all score reports directly to the college. The average SAT score for admitted freshmen is 2255, with a 750 in reading, 750 in math and 755 in writing. You'll also be required to take at least two SAT subject tests. Choose tests related to your major or on topics that you know well to maximize your test scores and odds of admission.

Teacher Recommendations

Harvard's admissions committee can learn a lot about you from your high school teachers. The school requires at least two teacher recommendations. Choose teachers whom you know well, as these instructors can provide the most personalized and positive information. You may want to remind your teachers of your recent achievements so that they know what information to highlight in their recommendations.