Columbia vs Brown: Which Ivy League is Better?

24/05/202328 minute read
Columbia vs Brown: Which Ivy League is Better?

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 Brown is the right choice for you!

According to the QS World University Rankings, Columbia and Brown 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 Brown better than Columbia?

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

Columbia vs Brown Overview

Founded in 1764, Brown University is a leading research university known for its innovative educational philosophy where the curiosity, creativity and the intellectual joy of students drives academic excellence. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1, the spirit of the undergraduate Open Curriculum infuses every aspect of Brown University.

Did you know: The university was formerly known as “The College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” However, in 1804 after Nicholas Brown gave the school a donation of $5,000, they changed the name to Brown University.

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 Brown University here!

LocationNew York, New YorkProvidence, Rhode Island
Number of Students8,1487,125
QS World University Ranking 20232263
Class of 2027 Acceptance rate 3.9%5.1%
Average GPA3.7-4.03.7-4.0
Average SAT/ACT scoresSAT: 1470-1570 ACT: 34-35SAT: 1460-1570 ACT: 33-35
Total Cost of Attendance$85,967$84,986
Median starting salary for graduates$98,000$88,000

Location Overview

Columbia and Brown are both city-based universities located on the East Coast of the United States. However, while Columbia is in a large city, Brown is in a much smaller city. 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 Brown? It all depends on your personal preference. Check out the differences between Columbia and Brown below!

SettingUrbanSmall city
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.Providence, Rhode Island. Brown's campus on College Hill offers a classic New England college experience along with a vibrant culinary scene. Being home to the Rhode Island School of Design along with Brown, students, artists, and scholars contribute to the city's creative energy and make it a hub for innovation.
WeatherAs both Columbia and Brown 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.
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Academics Overview

Harvard and Yale both offer excellent academic opportunities

There are a wide variety of academic subjects in which Columbia and Brown 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.

Brown University

One of the most unique features of Brown is its Open Curriculum. Students set their own course of study and do not have to take a required set of core courses. With over 80 areas of concentration to choose from, Brown’s Open Curriculum presents its own challenges for rigor and discipline to students. These are the most popular majors at Brown:

  • Computer Science - The undergraduate program at Brown is designed to combine breadth in practical and theoretical computer science with depth in specialized areas. These areas range from traditional topics, such as analysis of algorithms, artificial intelligence, databases, distributed systems, graphics, mobile computing, networks, operating systems, programming languages, robotics and security, to novel areas including games and scientific visualization.
  • 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.
  • Biology - Brown offers both a BA and BS in Biology. students can expect to learn broadly in the discipline through a selection of courses in three areas: cell and molecular biology, structure and function, and organismal biology.
  • Political Science - Brown’s political science major studies how people — nations, regions, cities, communities — live their common lives. Students passionate about social challenges may also choose to pursue the Engaged Scholars Program, which allows them to connect theory and practice and gain hands-on experience working with community partners.
  • Engineering - The concentration in Engineering equips students with a solid foundation for careers in engineering, to advance the knowledge base for future technologies, and to merge teaching, scholarship, and practice in the pursuit of solutions to human needs. 

Other popular majors at Brown include History, Public Policy, English, Public Health and Entrepreneurial Studies.

Student Body Overview
Median class size2020
Total student population23,73110,425
Undergraduate population9,7397,125
International student size30%15%
Student-Faculty ratio6:16:1
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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 Brown for 2022-2023 are $65,524 and $62,680, respectively. After considering additional costs such as fees, accommodation, travel, and personal expenses, the annual cost to attend either Columbia or Brown is about $85,000.

Columbia vs Brown 2022-2023 Tuition and Fees
Room (Housing) and Board (Meal Plan)$16,156$15,840
Books and Personal$3,672$4,000
New Student Fees$615$2,466
Total estimated cost of attendance$85,967$84,986

Financial Aid/Scholarships Overview

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 Brown 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!

Brown meets 100% of each student's demonstrated financial need. And they do this with no loans — only scholarship grants that do not have to be repaid — included in University financial aid packages. The average family responsibility for the Class of 2026 was $27,230.

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.

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Columbia vs Brown Application Overview

Both Columbia and Brown 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 the university 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 Brown, 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 Brown to learn more about what they look for.

Which is better, Columbia or Brown?

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 Brown.

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.