Harvard Vs Stanford – Which School Is Better?

Harvard and Stanford are two of the best and most competitive universities in the United States. 

Both schools stand ready to fund student endeavors with massive monetary endowments – $37 billion in Stanford’s case and $42 billion at Harvard.

Both institutions are private. Founded in 1636, Harvard was the first college in the American colonies. 

Stanford was established nearly 250 years later by California senator Leland Stanford. In any given year, 7,000 and 8,000 undergraduates pursue their academic interests at Harvard or Stanford. A smaller student population is conducive to an ideal student-to-faculty ratio (7:1 at Harvard and 5:1 at Stanford).

Many of America’s most respected and successful political figures, inventors, and businesspeople got their start in the halls of Harvard and Stanford buildings.

 Harvard is home to eight U.S. presidents and 21 Supreme Court justices! More than 150 Nobel Prize laureates earned their degrees at Harvard, in addition to the CEOs of major corporations like Microsoft, Airbnb, the Coca-Cola Company, and Adidas. 

Stanford has no shortage of famed alumni. Situated in the area known as “Silicon Valley,” many technology entrepreneurs – such as the CEOs/founders of WhatsApp, Netflix, and Instagram – got their start at Stanford. 

Stanford additionally educated four Supreme Court justices, 14 Olympic athletes, and Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space.

We could write pages and pages discussing the various assets that both Harvard and Stanford make available for students’ disposal. 

In the following article, we will discuss the admissions requirements, rankings, competitive acceptance rates, and facts about the learning environment that make either school an outstanding choice for earning an undergraduate degree.

Harvard Vs. Stanford – Academic Requirements for Admission

Stanford University
Pmlineditor, Stanford University Memorial Court, CC BY-SA 4.0

Harvard and Stanford have similar academic requirements for admission. In secondary school, students should earn four mathematics and English Language Arts credits. 

Harvard stipulates four credits in science while Stanford denotes “3+” credits (one of which must be a laboratory credit). 

Harvard requires three credits in social studies and two in history, while Stanford only requires three credits in social studies. 

Stanford positions history within the larger umbrella of social studies. Regarding foreign language credits, Harvard states that students should earn four credits, while Stanford shares a “3+” requirement. 

Neither school factors rank into the admission decision process, though the GPA statistics for enrolled first-time first-year students are telling. 

At Harvard, nearly 73% of the most recently enrolled cohort had a GPA of 4.0; 4.2 was the average GPA submitted. Stanford’s statistics are similar – 75.1% of enrolled first-years had a GPA of 4.0, while the average submitted GPA was 3.96.

To apply to Harvard, students must submit the Common Application or the Coalition Application, along with an $85 application fee. 

Stanford applicants must submit the Common Application with a $90 application fee. Should the fee present a financial hardship, both schools accept a waiver request.

The next requirement is a School Report, which consists of the high school transcript and guidance counselor letter. 

Both Harvard and Stanford require this report and two letters of recommendation from teachers (preferably in advanced-level classes). 

Students should submit a Mid-Year Report to either school after finalizing grades from the first semester. Additionally, Harvard requires a Final School Report from admitted students.

At Stanford, standardized test scores remain optional for the 2022-2023 admissions cycle. Harvard has extended the test-optional policy through 2026. 

That being said, many students submit their scores if they believe it will increase their competitive edge – more on those scores in the following section.

For either institution, the essays are one of the most essential pieces of the application package. It is here where students have the greatest opportunity to set themselves apart from their peers. 

In this section, students generally share how they have already contributed to their communities or pursued specific academic interests. Questions may also ask students to reveal more personal information, such as telling a story about something meaningful to them.

Harvard Vs. Stanford – Ranking, Acceptance Rates, and More

Fewer schools are more challenging to gain admission to than Harvard and Stanford. The number of students who apply to each school annually is overwhelming. 

For the incoming class of 2021, 57,786 candidates applied to Harvard and 55,471 to Stanford. Most of these students received denial letters – each school accepted only 4% of applicants! 

Of those who were accepted to Harvard and eventually enrolled, 93.1% were in the top tenth of their high school graduating classes. 54% submitted SAT scores, and 31% submitted ACT scores. 

Those who took the ACT Composite scored between 33-36. The middle 50% of enrolled students achieved between 730-780 on the SAT Evidence-based Reading and Writing section and 750-800 on the SAT Math section.

At Stanford, the statistics are equally impressive. 96% of enrolled students ranked in the top ten percent of their high school graduating cohorts.

Of those who took the ACT, the middle 50% scores between 34-35. Many more submitted SAT results: the middle 50% scored between 720-770 on the Evidence-based Reading and Writing section and between 750-800 on the Math section.

What makes Harvard and Stanford such desirable schools? Acceptance statistics are public information. 

Many applicants pay the application fee and take the time to submit an outstanding application package knowing that the odds are stacked against them. 

In addition to the power of name recognition that Harvard and Stanford have on a resume, both schools maintain high positions atop illustrious rankings lists. For example, Harvard is ranked #2 in National Universities and #3 in Best Value Schools by U.S. News. Harvard’s business and medical schools are top-ranked, as are the Graduate Education School, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Law School.

While Stanford is ranked slightly lower at #6 in National Universities, they are also named #2 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs and #1 in Computer Science by the same publication.

Deciding Whether to Attend Harvard or Stanford

Harvard University Comstock Hall
Harvard University Comstock Hall – Public domain photo via Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

A diverse student body is one of the best things about attending Harvard or Stanford. Both schools attract applicants from all over the nation and the world, and these students bring rich backgrounds and perspectives to the learning environment. 

Classes at either institution are often composed of fewer than 20 students, so there is a strong chance that students will develop closer relationships with their classmates than at other schools.

It should come as no surprise that two of the most competitive colleges in the United States also have two of the highest costs of attendance compared to their peer institutions. 

After computing tuition, required fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses, the total cost to attend Harvard is $80,263 per year. Stanford costs $78,898 per year.

That being said, both schools offer incredibly generous financial aid packages – 100% of students who demonstrate financial need at either institution receive 100% assistance via scholarships, grants, or self-help aid (like loans and work-study placements). 

The financial awards are another reason many may consider attending Harvard or Stanford.

Last year, Harvard forked out $177.9 million in need-based scholarships, $7 million in merit-based scholarships, and $1 million in work-study placements. Its average financial aid package was $62,252.

Stanford disbursed $175.6 million in need-based scholarships, $8.7 million in merit-based scholarships, and $313,153 in work-study placements. 

The key distinction is that Harvard does not award athletic scholarships, while Stanford awards many. 

Last year, Stanford awarded $26 million in athletic awards. This makes sense, given that Stanford is known for its athletic prowess. The average Stanford financial aid award was $56,991.

RECAP – Which Is the Better School, Harvard or Stanford?

If we’re being honest, there’s no “better” school when it comes to Harvard versus Stanford. 

The schools’ large monetary endowments provide endless opportunities for students who attend. 

Undergraduates can expect access to one-of-a-kind research endeavors in the sciences, arts, humanities, and engineering fields.

Instead of wondering which of the two schools is “better,” it may be more prudent to consider which programs are best suited for your academic goals. 

Harvard confers the majority of its degrees in the Social Sciences, followed by the Biological Sciences and Mathematics and Statistics. Students interested in pursuing the liberal arts may find more resources and faculty members devoted to that realm of study.

Students more interested in the sciences may find a better home at Stanford. There, the most popular degrees conferred are in Computer Science, Engineering, and Interdisciplinary Studies (respectively). 

Stanford boasts 18 interdisciplinary institutes, such as the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. Here, students and faculty specializing in engineering, medicine, law, and education collaborate to develop treatments for brain disorders.

Alternatively, the “better” school for a student may come down to the surrounding community. Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is close to “America’s college town” of Boston. 

First-year students live adjacent to Harvard Yard and eat most of their meals in the same dining hall. As they progress in their studies, they are placed in one of twelve “Houses,” each designed to form a close-knit community.

Stanford’s residential life is less centralized. Undergraduate housing is sorted into eight “neighborhoods,” entitled S, T, A, N, F, O, R, and D. These neighborhoods are scattered throughout Stanford’s expansive campus; generally, they comprise a mix of undergraduate students and Greek fraternities/sororities.

One of the coolest assets of Stanford’s housing system is that students can apply to live on particular “themed” floors. 

For example, Otero is devoted to public service. Students living in that house make a one-year commitment to a specific community service organization and spend time outside of their studies participating in social change pursuits.

Whether in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Palo Alto, California, students can expect to reside in a thriving cultural and social scene. Any individual would consider themselves incredibly lucky to gain an admissions offer at either school. 

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