Harvard Vs Yale – Which School Is Better?

Ivy League. Those two words have become synonymous with higher education at its best, recalling images of stately professors and lavish campus greens. 

Although the term itself actually refers to an athletic conference, the popular concept of the Ivy League school exists for a reason. 

These institutions date back to the nation’s founding, if not even earlier, and have defined higher education in the country.

Of the Ivy League schools, none have the name recognition of Harvard and Yale.

America’s third-oldest university, Yale began in 1701 as the Collegiate School. Over the centuries of Yale’s history, award-winners and world leaders have walked the grounds of its Connecticut campus. 

Its alumni range from Presidents William Howard Taft and George H. W. Bush to Pulitzer Prize winners Thornton Wilder and David McCollough.

Even today, Yale continues to make a name for itself with its commitment to innovation. For example, the medical school has pioneered a method known as the “Yale System,” in which first and second-year students work without being graded, giving them space for more experimentation.

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University is America’s oldest university. Since its beginning as Harvard College in 1636, Harvard has trained eight American Presidents, including John Adams and Barak Obama. 

Numerous business leaders have studied at Harvard, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft creator Bill Gates.

In addition to being one of the world’s most respected schools, Harvard is also among the richest. Working with an endowment of approximately $41.9 billion, Harvard has funding to support groundbreaking research institutes and respected resources.

For example, the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library holds 3.5 million books, including an original Gutenberg Bible. In Harvard’s many museums, students can examine works by Rembrandt, Steen, and the German Expressionists.

Are one of these two legendary institutions is the pride of the vaunted Ivy League? In this article, we compare both schools.

Harvard Vs. Yale – Academic Requirements for Admission

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

Unsurprisingly, both Harvard and Yale have incredibly exacting requirements for their students. 

As two of the world’s most respected elite schools, they allow only the brightest and most industrious to join their ranks. 

Hopefuls will demonstrate that they belong in that company with their applications, which admissions counselors use to assess one’s aptitude and potential.

Yale perhaps puts it best on their admissions website, which reminds applicants, “Yale is above all an academic institution.” 

As such, the school expects great grades from its applicants. Yale does not indicate a minimum GPA, but it does hasten to point out that not even high standardized test scores will “persuade the admissions committee to disregard an undistinguished secondary-school record.”

Those applying to join Harvard or Yale as freshmen must not only complete an application but also reports from teachers and high school transcripts. 

Like Yale, Harvard does not list a minimum GPA requirement, but observers note that, on average, those accepted into the school have a 4.18 GPA. Yale boasts similar numbers, with an average GPA of 4.14.

To earn such a high GPA, you must not only receive As in most of their classes, but you must also take AP and honors courses. 

A 4.18 or 4.14 GPA can only come from a weighted grading scale, which gives more credit to those higher-end courses. 

While this average does allow for a B or two over your high school career, those lower grades should not be in AP courses, nor should they be in those related to your major.

For the time being, neither Harvard nor Yale require standardized test scores, though they can be submitted to bolster an application. 

Students at Yale tend to earn between 720 and 770 on the reading and writing portion of the SAT, between 740 and 790 on the math SAT, and between 33 and 35 on the ACT. Harvard scores tend to be between 720 and 780 on the SAT reading and writing section, between 740 and 800 on the math section, and ACT scores between 33 and 35.

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

With such demanding standards, you may wonder why anyone bothers with either Harvard or Yale. But with a quick glance at either school’s rankings, it’s easier to understand the school’s popularity.

According to U.S. News & World Report, Harvard is the second best university in the United States, tied with MIT and behind only fellow Ivy Princeton. 

U.S. News doesn’t put Yale too far behind, ranking it in fourth place, just below Harvard and M.I.T. and above Stanford and the University of Chicago.

Both schools earn distinction on U.S. News’s more specific lists. The magazine gives Harvard eighth place for its writing across the disciplines program, fourth place for its undergraduate research projects, and most surprisingly, third place for best value schools. 

Yale comes out even better on these lists, with its writing in the disciplines program ranking third, its undergraduate research projects coming second, and earning  first place as a best value school.

The schools’ rankings stand out even more when examined in a global context. According to Top Universities‘ world university rankings, Harvard is the 5th best institution on the planet, beaten by MIT., the University of Cambridge, Stanford University, and the University of Oxford. 

Yale comes in at 18th place on this list, topping Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and Ivy sister Cornell University.

Simply put, people do not let the exacting standards of Harvard and Yale because the schools are among the best in the world. But with that level of esteem comes a great deal of popularity, resulting in an extremely low acceptance rate at both schools.

In 2021, 32,900 hopefuls applied to study at Yale. From that group, only 2,272 were accepted for a rate of 6.9%. Harvard receives even more applications, with 57,786 people attempting to become students and only 2,320 accepted, for a rate of just 4.1%.

Deciding Whether to Attend Harvard or Yale

Yale University
Ragesoss, Berkeley College (South) at Yale, CC BY-SA 4.0

As you can see, few schools in the entire world can match Harvard or Yale in esteem or exclusivity. 

If your grades and plans involve Ivy League schools, both schools would be excellent choices. But they each have their strengths and weaknesses, which should be considered before making your choice.

Yale boasts one of the world’s finest selections of museums and collections. Not only does Yale boast the oldest university-affiliated art museum, but the Peabody Museum of Natural History has the country’s most respected archeology and anthropology collection. 

The Yale University Library holds over 15 million items and houses the largest collection of 18th-century British literary works in the entire world.

The school’s business and law schools are among the best in the United States. But rather than simply rest on their reputation, the schools seek out innovative approaches to their subjects. 

The School of Management and Yale Law work together to offer a dual-degree program that can be earned in either three or four degrees, depending on the needs of the students.

At Harvard, you’ll find one of the oldest and highest-rated medical schools that has educated figures from Nobel Prize winners to nationally recognized poet Rafael Campo. 

According to U.S. News and World Report, Harvard earns second place on its lists of best schools for internal medicine, radiology, pediatrics, and more. 

Thanks to its $804 million endowment, Harvard Med pursues research projects concerning gene therapy, environmental changes, and the pandemic.

Equally important is the Harvard School of Divinity, home to the world’s best theology programs. The school earns its reputation with its unique approach that combines academic religious study with practical applications, which gives students ample opportunity to put their beliefs into action.

These are just a few of the offerings found at the schools. In short, no matter your academic plans, you’ll find an excellent program at Yale or Harvard to help you prepare.

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

We’ve seen a great deal, and yet we still haven’t answered our main question: is Yale better than Harvard or Harvard better than Yale? While alumni from either school would certainly answer that their alma mater deserves a top place, our investigation into the two institutions should provide a firmer answer.

But does it?

When one looks at the rankings and requirements of the two Ivy League sisters, one finds more similarities than differences. Both schools accept only the best students with nearly all A GPAs, landing within the top 25th percentile on standardized tests.

Both Harvard and Yale are incredibly exclusive, turning down nearly all of the thousands of applications they receive each year. Yale’s 6.9% acceptance rate may be slightly higher than Harvard’s 4.1%, but neither presents good odds to hopefuls.

Both schools count among their faculty and alumni some of the finest minds and powerful leaders, including heads of state, Nobel Laureates, millionaires, and more. 

And both schools can trace their history back before the founding of the United States, making them equally responsible for shaping the American educational system.

We find some differences when we look at the specific programs the two schools offer. 

For example, Yale and Harvard may have vast collections in their libraries and museums, but the former focuses on 18th-century British works in its special collections, while the latter contains items from the age of enlightenment.

The two schools have excellent legal and medical programs, but Yale Law offers unique degrees, such as its JD/MBA program, which emphasizes flexibility for students.

With one of the richest medical schools in the world, Harvard Med provides its students with unparalleled resources, allowing them to conduct ground-breaking research.

So even after examining the facts, we cannot provide a clear answer to our central question. The honest answer is that both schools are excellent, but each has its own strengths.