John F. Kennedy’s Harvard Application Was A Bit Thin

Published January 13, 2011

JFK's Harvard application was, well, ordinary.

JFK's Harvard application was, well, ordinary.

It was a lot easier to get into Harvard in 1935. Or maybe it’s because he was a Kennedy.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has digitized most some of its massive collection of presidential photographs, telegrams, phone recordings, notes and doodles.

While digging through the digital treasure trove — called the largest project of its kind — I turned up Kennedy’s undergraduate application to Harvard. His grades are mediocre and his penmanship poor.

In his admission essay, dated April 23, 1935, Kennedy writes that he wants to become a “Harvard man,” just like his father, alongside a sparse but faithful self-portrait.

Why do you wish to come to Harvard? (The Committee will expect a careful answer to this question.)

The reasons that I have for wanting 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.

…And that’s it.

Enclosed are Kennedy’s average report cards (he was ranked 65th in a class of 110), a letter of endorsement from his father, Joseph P. Kennedy (then chairman of the just-created Securities and Exchange Commission), his extracurricular activities (zilch) and a hand-written letter requesting permission to delay his enrollment one year so that he may study abroad (permission granted).

Kennedy would attend Harvard, of course, and the School of Government would become named after him.

You can browse Kennedy’s college application materials on Scribd.

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