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Harvard vs Stanford: Top Universities Go Head-to-Head

15/04/202216 minute read
Harvard vs Stanford: Top Universities Go Head-to-Head

Investing in your education is an investment in your future. When choosing a university, it is important to consider their reputation and resources and how you can contribute to them and develop yourself as a learner and leader.

It is true that the United States is home to the Ivy League, a group of 8 of the world's most prestigious universities. However, the US is also home to numerous world-class universities that are on par with the Ivy League in terms of reputation and academic resources.

If you’re looking to study at a world-leading university in the US, it’s crucial that you consider universities outside of the renowned Ivy League — even if you plan to apply to the Ivies too! With different locations, sizes, academic focuses and research opportunities to take into account, you may find that your best-fit university is one you hadn't previously considered, especially if you look westward!

Stanford and Harvard, in particular, are two of the most prestigious technological institutes in the US. Their classes are just as challenging, their professors just as distinguished, their alumni networks just as esteemed, and their acceptance rates just as competitive.

Each university has its own unique academic and extracurricular programs, and some students may prefer one over the other. What makes each university unique, and how do you decide which university is right for you? What is Stanford known for, and is Harvard better? 

We're here to help you better understand the differences between Harvard and Stanford, so, keep reading to learn more!

Read on to learn about the differences between Harvard and Stanford!

Harvard vs. Stanford Overview

Harvard University is one of the most highly ranked and globally respected academic institutions in the world. The private, medium-sized liberal arts university offers 4-year undergraduate programs, made up of the undergraduate college and 11 other postgraduate institutions, including the highly ranked Business School, Law School, Medical School and John F. Kennedy School of Government. Founded in 1636, it was named for the college’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard, who, upon his death in 1638, left his library and half his estate to the institution. 

Harvard University is one of the most highly ranked and globally respected academic institutions in the world. The private, medium-sized liberal arts university offers 4-year undergraduate programs and 11 postgraduate institutions, including the highly ranked business school, law school, medical school, and John F. Kennedy School of Government. Founded in 1636, it was named for the college’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard, who, upon his death in 1638, left his library and half his estate to the institution.

Did you know: Harvard is the oldest university in the US and has educated seven US presidents!

There are approximately 271,000 Harvard alumni (living) in the United States and another 52,000 located in over 200 countries around the world!

Stanford University is one of the largest college campuses in the United States, sitting on a sprawling 8,180 acres in Palo Alto, California. The private, 4-year liberal arts university is nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley and has a reputation for producing entrepreneurial students who go on to produce, invent, develop and champion globally significant initiatives.

Stanford is home to 18 interdisciplinary research institutes and seven schools on its single campus. It was founded in 1885 by California senator Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane, who sought advice from the presidents of Harvard, Cornell, and MIT on their vision to open a university to “promote the public welfare by exercising and influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.”

Did you know: Stanford is the alma mater of 30 living billionaires and 17 current astronauts!

LocationCambridge, MassachusettsPalo Alto, California
QS World University Ranking 202253
Class of 2025 Acceptance rate 3.43%3.95% (approx)
Average GPA3.7-4.03.7-4.0
Average SAT/ACT scoresSAT: 1460-1580 ACT: 32-35SAT: 1460-1580 ACT: 32-35
Tuition$51,904 USD$55,473 USD
Median starting salary for graduates$69,000 USD$93,000 USD

Location Overview

Stanford is in Northern California on the west coast, while Harvard sits in New England on the east coast. While experiencing the fall foliage of Massachusetts for the first time will be an unforgettable experience for many international students, the year-round clear, blue skies and temperate climate at Stanford is equally attractive.

Which university has a better location? Is Stanford better than Harvard? It all depends on your personal preference. Check out the differences between Harvard and Stanford below!

CityCambridge, Massachusetts — across the Charles River from Boston. The campus is a few steps away from the T, which allows students to explore the different nooks both Boston and Cambridge have to offer. As it is also home to many prestigious universities, the city naturally cultivates an intellectual yet vibrant scene.California's Palo Alto, nicknamed the "Birthplace of Silicon Valley," is a global leader in cutting-edge technological development — perfect for students looking to immerse themselves in the tech world. Palo Alto is also a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking, outdoor movies, and many other fun activities.
WeatherHarvard is located in New England where you can expect all four seasons, from summers averaging 25°C to winters as cold as 0°C. Summers at Stanford are long, warm, and comfortable while the winters are short, rainy, and partly cloudy. The temperature varies from 6°C to 25°C throughout the year and rarely drops below 3°C or rises above 30°C.

Academics Overview

academics are the biggest differentiator between oxford and Cambridge

Here are a few of the most popular subjects offered at Harvard and Stanford.

Most popular majors at Harvard

Most popular majors at Stanford

Student Body Overview

Student Body

Student-Faculty ratio7:15:1
Total student population35,27616,937
Undergraduate population5,2227,645
International student size15.6%12%

Tuition Overview

Most universities allow international students to apply through their early action and early decision process

Elite universities in the United States typically charge high tuition rates, but the good news is that Ivy League schools and other top universities offer generous financial aid packages (more on that later). Undergraduate tuition rates at Harvard and Stanford for 2021-2022 are $51,904 and $55,473, respectively. After considering additional costs such as fees, accommodation, travel, and personal expenses, the annual cost to attend either Harvard or Stanford is about $74,029 - $85,060.

Harvard vs Stanford 2021–2022 Tuition and Fees
Room (Housing) and Board (Meal Plan)$21,130$18,100
Total estimated cost of attendance$85,060$77,020

Financial Aid/Scholarships Overview

It’s no secret that the sticker price of attending a top university can be quite high. No matter your reasons for pursuing an education, the cost of tuition shouldn't stop you from achieving your goals.

The figures mentioned above may seem out of reach for many, but there are often financial aid opportunities at both Harvard and Stanford!

Typically, students who earn under a certain level of income are not required to pay tuition at Ivy League universities. In fact, over 20% of families at Harvard pay nothing, and over half of Harvard's undergraduate students receive need-based aid through the university's financial aid program

Similarly, Stanford offers need-based financial aid for all admitted undergraduate students, emphasizing that they do not expect students to take loans to meet their needs. Nearly half of Stanford undergraduates receive need-based financial aid, with families earning less than $75,000 paying no tuition or room and board.

Crimson's Admissions Experts have provided this free resource on How Financial Aid Works & How To Apply For Financial Aid if you'd like to learn more.

Extracurriculars Overview

Strong Extracurriculars can help you get into Ivy League Schools

There are more than 450 student organizations at Harvard, including publications, five orchestras, a community service program, 40 intercollegiate athletic teams, and a wide range of other activities - artistic, musical, political, and social.

With over 625 student groups on campus, Stanford boasts a thriving campus with a vibrant community of creative and ambitious students from around the world. Stanford's campus has an abundance of arts and culture, athletics and fitness organizations, and provides excellent opportunities for its graduate students as well.

And when it comes to international opportunities for students, both Stanford and Harvard offer study abroad programs in collaboration with institutions around the world.

Whatever your extracurricular interests are, there will be a club that suits you. You can also create your own student organization if one doesn't exist at Stanford or Harvard! Both universities offer support and encouragement to carve your own path.

Harvard vs Stanford

Application Overview

How can college counselors help with your college application

Harvard and Stanford are highly competitive academic institutions, and applicants must meet minimum GPA requirements. While grades and accolades are important at these top universities, both consider applicants holistically, beyond academics.

Admissions officers at Harvard holistically evaluate every applicant. They look at extracurricular activities, personal interests and endeavors, and 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. Harvard has created an application guideline for prospective students on their website, so don’t forget to check it out.

Stanford also takes a holistic approach in its selection process, examining every aspect of the application as part of an overall assessment of the individual. Admissions officers at Stanford evaluate prospective students based on academic excellence, intellectual vitality, and extracurricular activities, and they pay close attention to each student's unique circumstances in order to determine how you would thrive on Stanford's campus and how you would make an impact on their community.

If you want to learn how to boost your overall application to top universities and make sure your application stands out, download our free eBook on How to Crush Your US College Application!

Which is easier to get into?

Stanford and Harvard have extremely competitive admissions processes, as you are probably aware. Based on these acceptance rates for Harvard and Stanford's Class of 2025, Harvard may be considered easier — by a margin. Nevertheless, whether you choose to apply to Stanford, Harvard, or both, you need to be a top student and submit a holistic application that highlights why you deserve a place at their universities.

You can use our US University Admissions calculator to determine your chances of attending Harvard or Stanford based on your current grades!

Which is better, Harvard or Stanford?

A quality education is guaranteed regardless of which top US university you attend. When narrowing down your university options, remember to prioritize the academics — examine the course descriptions of each university thoroughly and consider attending open days to get a feel for them. It’s also a good idea to reach out to alumni from Harvard or Stanford to hear their perspectives.

To learn more about the other Ivys and what it takes to gain acceptance, check out our Ultimate Guide to Getting into Ivy League Schools. If you still have questions about which universities to apply to, please contact us! We can connect you with one of our academic advisors who can assist you with the admissions process.