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Columbia vs UPenn: Battle of the Ivy Leagues

18/05/202327 minute read
Columbia vs UPenn: Battle of the Ivy Leagues

It is the dream of many ambitious high school students to study at an Ivy League. It’s no secret Ivy League universities are renowned for their beautiful campuses, esteemed faculty, diverse communities, extensive resources, and ample job opportunities for graduates. Figure out whether Columbia or UPenn is the right choice for you!

According to the QS World University Rankings, Columbia and UPenn are among the top-ranked Ivy League schools. The academic and extracurricular offerings at each university are unique. For most students, one stands out as the ideal fit. What makes each university unique, and how do you decide which Ivy League university is right for you? What is Columbia known for, and is UPenn better than Columbia?

We're here to help you better understand the differences between Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania, so keep reading to learn more!

Columbia vs UPenn Overview

With a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1, University of Pennsylvania has a strong focus on interdisciplinary learning and research, offering double degree programs, unique majors and academic flexibility in 92 areas of study. The university has 12 schools: 5 offer undergraduate and graduate studies, and 7 offer only graduate studies. Penn's highly ranked schools include its world famous Wharton School of Business.

UPenn was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ founding fathers.

Did you know: The first general-purpose electronic computer (ENIAC) - the one that your laptop is modelled after - was born in 1946 at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at UPenn.

Established in 1754, Columbia University comprises three undergraduate schools – Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of General Studies – as well as a number of graduate and professional schools, including the Business School, Teachers College, Law School and College of Physicians and Surgeons. It is also affiliated with Barnard College for women.

Did you know: The prestigious Pulitzer Prize for achievements in newspaper, magazine, online journalism, literature, and musical composition within the United States is administered annually by Columbia University.

View a successful Common Application of a Crimson student for Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania here!

LocationNew York, New YorkPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Number of Students8,1489,962
QS World University Ranking 20232213
Class of 2027 Acceptance rate 3.9%4.1%
Average GPA3.7-4.03.7-4.0
Average SAT/ACT scoresSAT: 1470-1570 ACT: 34-35SAT: 1480-1570 ACT: 33-35
Total Cost of Attendance$85,967$85,738
Median starting salary for graduates$98,000$113,000

Location Overview

Columbia and UPenn are both city-based universities located on the East Coast of the United States. Getting to experience the urban culture will be a memorable experience for many international students. But which university has a better location? Is Columbia better than UPenn? It all depends on your personal preference. Check out the differences between Columbia and UPenn below!

CityNew York, New York. Known as the "Big Apple," NYC is a global hub of culture, finance, fashion, and entertainment. It is home to a diverse population and offers a wide range of activities, including museums, shows and restaurants.Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Known as the "City of Brotherly Love," Philly is a historic and culturally rich city. It played a significant role in the country's founding and is home to iconic landmarks like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
WeatherAs both Columbia and UPenn are located on the East Coast, you can expect all four seasons, from summers averaging 25° Celsius to winters as cold as below 0° Celsius.

Academics Overview

Harvard and Yale both offer excellent academic opportunities

There are a wide variety of academic subjects in which Columbia and UPenn excel - here are some of the most popular at each school!

Columbia University

Columbia offers an outstanding and comprehensive array of academic programs. These include three undergraduate schools, thirteen graduate and professional schools, a world-renowned medical center, four affiliated colleges and seminaries, twenty-five libraries, and more than one hundred research centers and institutes. These are the most popular majors at Columbia:

  • Computer Science - For majors, the Computer Science department at Columbia offers everything from introductory computer science and programming classes to advanced instruction in 11 research areas, with opportunities for undergrads to work on advanced research projects. For non-majors, the department presents a broad range of interdisciplinary offerings., like AI, Entrepreneurship and Data Science.
  • Economics - The Economics Department offers a general economics major in addition to five interdisciplinary majors in areas such as Behavioral and Experimental Economics, Econometrics, Finance, International Macroeconomics, International Trade, Microeconomics, Public Economics, and Urban Economics.
  • Political Science and Government - Founded in 1880, the political science department's faculty includes leaders and prizewinners in every subfield of the discipline. Its graduates are leaders in global and domestic private and public sector organizations and professors in world-class colleges and universities in the United States and abroad.
  • History - The History Department offers a large number of courses that cover all periods of recorded human history. The Barnard History Department offers its own set of courses, most of which are open to Columbia College and General Studies students. There are additional history courses and historians in related departments like Classics, Religion, MESAAS, EALAC, etc.
  • Psychology - Psychology course offerings are designed to meet the needs and interests of a wide variety of students, from those wishing to explore a few topics in psychology or to fulfill the science requirement, to those interested in majoring in psychology or in neuroscience and behavior.  The department offers an honors program as well as advanced seminars and supervised research.

Due to its focus on the arts and sciences, other popular majors at Columbia include Social Sciences, Engineering, English, Philosophy and Neuroscience.

University of Pennsylvania

Due to the popularity of Wharton, many would assume that Business and related majors would be the only popular ones at UPenn. However, this Ivy League offers nearly 100 majors across four schools. These are the most popular majors at UPenn:

  • Finance - The finance concentration develops the skills necessary to work at a high level of expertise in all areas of finance, including asset management and financial markets, investment banking, financial management, as well as the financial aspects of venture capital, mergers and acquisitions and global management consulting.
  • Economics - Economics is an important component of the liberal arts curriculum and provides a useful background for students planning to enter any profession. A major in economics gives training in economic principles and in the application of economic modeling techniques to understanding a variety of economic and social phenomena.
  • Management Sciences and Information Systems - Offered by the Operations, Information and Decisions Department, this major allows students to gain a better understanding of operational strategies, product development and innovation, information systems and technology, rigorous data analytics, and individual and managerial decision making.
  • Business - Offered by the Wharton School, this program is for students interested in the role of economics in business, competition and public policy. The course specializes in market structure and competition, insurance and risk management, behavioral economics, energy, public finance, business & international politics, and business and development. 
  • Nursing - As a top nursing school, Penn Nursing offers a variety of undergraduate and masters programs in the field along with some dual degree options as well. The nursing program integrates science, nursing, and liberal arts education to prepare future nurses with necessary skills.

Other popular majors at UPenn include Biology, Philosophy, Political Science, Information Science and Neuroscience.

Student Body Overview
Median class size2015
Total student population23,73128,201
Undergraduate population9,73910,412
International student size30%13%
Student-Faculty ratio6:16:1

Tuition Overview

Although elite universities in the United States tend to charge high tuition rates, Ivy League schools offer some of the most generous financial assistance. Undergraduate tuition rates at Columbia and UPenn for 2022-2023 are $65,524 and $56,212, respectively. After considering additional costs such as fees, accommodation, travel, and personal expenses, the annual cost to attend either Columbia or UPenn is about $85,000 - $90,000.

Columbia vs UPenn 2022-2023 Tuition and Fees
Room (Housing) and Board (Meal Plan)$16,156$17,888
Books and Personal$3,672$4,398
New Student Fees$615$7,240
Total estimated cost of attendance$85,967$85,738

Financial Aid/Scholarships Overview

Crimson Education can help you apply for financial aid

There is no denying that the sticker price of attending a top university can be quite expensive. No matter your reasons for pursuing an education, the cost of tuition shouldn't stop you from achieving your goals.

While the figures mentioned above may seem out of reach for most, the good news is that many prospective students at Columbia or UPenn would qualify for financial aid!

At most Ivy League universities, students who make under a certain annual income are not expected to pay anything at all. Nearly half of Columbia students receive grants from the university and the average amount awarded is $63,971, and students coming from families with annual incomes less than $150,000 (and typical assets) are able to attend Columbia tuition-free!

Since 2004, UPenn has awarded $2.6 billion in undergraduate aid to more than 24,000 students. Forty-five percent of traditional undergraduate students received grant-based financial aid in 2021-22. 

If you’re looking to learn more about financial aid from Crimson’s Admissions Experts, check out this resource on How Financial Aid Works & How To Apply For Financial Aid.

Columbia vs UPenn Application Overview

Both Columbia and UPenn are highly competitive academic universities, and candidates must meet minimum GPA requirements. While grades and accolades are important at these top universities, both universities consider each applicant holistically, beyond academics.

Columbia considers every aspect of an applicant - from extracurricular activities to their personal interests and endeavors, as well as their plans beyond university studies. Through essay questions and supplemental information, admissions officers at Harvard want to know how you plan to make the most of your time at the university. Be sure to checkout our guide on How To Get Into Columbia!

If you want your application to stand out at UPenn, you have to bring it to life! Every part of your application should be a window into your character. Admissions committees are more likely to admit you if they can envision you on campus, participating in student clubs and organizations, and taking advantage of their extensive resources. Check out our blog on How To Get Into UPenn to learn more about what they look for.

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Which is better, Columbia or UPenn?

No matter which university you attend, you will receive an excellent education. Keep in mind that academics are the most important factor to consider when making your decision. Examine the course descriptions thoroughly or consider attending open days at each university to get a feel for them. You might also consider getting in touch with alumni from Columbia or UPenn.

If you still have questions about which universities to apply to, please feel free to contact us! We can connect you with one of our academic advisors who can assist you with the admissions process.