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Duke University
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Harvard vs. Yale: Which College is Right for You?

When you hear the names Harvard and Yale, you think success. And it’s true: two of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the United States (Harvard is the oldest, and Yale is the third-oldest) have graduated some of the top leaders and professionals in the world, including presidents, Supreme Court justices, Nobel Laureates, and others.


It’s a huge honor to be accepted to these extremely prestigious and selective universities. But if you’re faced with the task of deciding between Harvard vs. Yale, what do you do? Keep reading to learn about distinguishing features of these schools and which one is right for you. 


Harvard vs. Yale: A Quick Overview


Harvard Yale
Location Cambridge, MA New Haven, CT
Campus Type Urban Urban
Undergraduate Enrollment 6,788 5,964
Acceptance Rate 5% 6.3%
U.S. News Ranking 2 3
Sticker Price $72,391 (2020-2021 school year) $74,900 (2020-2021 school year)
Student to Faculty Ratio 6:1 6:1
Middle 50% SAT/ACT SAT: 1470-1560

ACT: 33-35

SAT: 1450-1560

ACT: 33-35

Subject Tests Required? Two recommended Recommended (no number specified)
Median Starting Salary $69,200 $66,800


Harvard vs. Yale: A Closer Look


Location and Weather


Cambridge is located just outside of Boston and is a major collegiate city, home to both Harvard and MIT. It’s very close to Boston, accessible in just minutes on the subway, known as the T to locals. Students can take advantage of the museums, restaurants, and nightlife in Boston, as well as landmarks right in Cambridge, such as Harvard Square.


New Haven is a smaller city, and by some accounts, the area is a bit dangerous, with high crime rates. However, there’s still plenty to do, as long as students stay on the alert. It’s known for amazing pizza, including the famed Pepe’s, as well as cultural institutions like museums and beautiful views. If you want to get out to larger cities, both New York City and Boston are accessible in about 2 hours via train.


Both Harvard and Yale are in New England, so students can expect to experience all four seasons, particularly cold, snowy winters. It will likely be a bit colder and windier at Harvard, as Cambridge is closer to the ocean and right along the Charles River.




Harvard is slightly bigger than Yale, with an undergraduate population of 6,788 and total student body of 20,700, to Yale’s 5,964 undergraduates and 13,433 total student body. 


Class sizes are comparable; at both schools, more than 70% of classes have fewer than 20 students, and the faculty to student ratio is 6:1.




At Harvard, students must take general education courses across four areas, including:


  • Aesthetics and Culture
  • Ethics and Civics
  • Histories, Societies, Individuals
  • Science and Technology in Society


Harvard students are required to declare majors in the fall semester of their sophomore year, although about a third end up switching majors. There are 50 fields of study, along with a “special concentration” path, in which students can create their own concentrations.


Yale offers 80 majors. There are special programs, such as first-year seminars and the Residential College Seminar program, which offers “innovative,” non-traditional courses. While there are distribution requirements, they are fairly lenient and include two course credits each in: 


  • Humanities and the arts
  • Sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Writing
  • Foreign languages


Students at Yale don’t need to declare a major until the end of sophomore year (for STEM majors), or the beginning of junior year for all other majors. Like at Harvard, students may design their own majors with approval, while popular majors include economics, political science, English, history, and biology.



Harvard first-year students live in shared suites on the Harvard Yard and then move into one of Harvard’s 12 houses in their second years. More than 97% of the total undergraduate student body lives on campus, and the vast majority of students stay on campus all four years.


Similarly, first-year Yalies are assigned to one of 14 residential colleges. Students remain affiliated with these colleges throughout their time at Yale, although a very small percentage choose to live off-campus as juniors and seniors. With formal advising programs, seminars, cultural events, and more, these colleges foster community and help students meet and mingle with classmates and faculty. 


Both universities offer gender-inclusive housing options, where students may opt to live in suites with suitemates regardless of gender.




Harvard upperclassmen eat in their House dining halls and are required to be on an unlimited meal plan, while Annenberg Hall is reserved for freshmen. There are many options of cuisines in each dining hall, accommodating many dietary restrictions. There is also a Hillel dining hall that serves Kosher food and is accessible to all students. Harvard students also have easy access to the countless restaurants of all types of cuisines in Cambridge and Boston. 


Yalies usually eat in the dining halls of their colleges, although they aren’t required to do so. However, those who do will be able to dine with the heads, deans, and resident fellows of their colleges. First-year students must partake in the Full Meal Plan, while upperclassmen may purchase alternative meal plans. Those on any meal plan can use a meal transfer for Kosher meals at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life. The school also provides vegan and vegetarian options at every meal.


Financial aid


Harvard’s full cost of tuition, room, board, and fees is $72,391, although 50% of students are on financial aid, and 20% pay nothing to attend. 


Yale’s sticker price is comparable at $74,900. Sixty-four percent of students are on financial aid, and the median net price for those on aid is $13,000.


Both schools are known for their extremely generous financial aid policies, as they are no-loan, need-blind, and meet full demonstrated financial need. This means that you won’t receive loans in your financial aid award, that your ability to pay will not impact your admissions decision, and that your financial aid award will cover 100% of the difference between your expected family contribution and the cost of attendance.


Neither Yale nor Harvard awards merit scholarships; they are given on the basis of need only. However, you can still receive scholarships from outside organizations. These will be factored into your financial aid package and may lower the need-based aid you receive from your college.


Want to learn how much Yale or Harvard will actually cost you based on your income? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to see your estimated cost of attendance, based on real data for each school.


Sports and Extracurriculars


Harvard and Yale both participate in the NCAA Division I and Ivy League. Harvard has 43 teams, and Yale has 35; both schools also offer clubs sports. 


Harvard doesn’t officially recognize Greek life, although some fraternities and sororities are run off-campus. Meanwhile, more than 10% of Yale undergraduates participate in Greek life. 


There are plenty of other extracurricular opportunities available at both schools, including a capella, theater, political groups, and more. Students can also participate in study abroad programs around the world. At Harvard, those on financial aid will bring their aid with them to their study abroad programs, and will not pay any more to study abroad than they would attending Harvard. At Yale, those on financial aid can also receive aid during their time abroad.


Culture and Diversity


Both schools have diverse student bodies, the majority of Harvard’s student body identifying as people of color. 


Harvard’s diversity makeup is as follows:


Ethnicity Percentage of Student Body
African American 14.3%
Asian American 25.3%
Hispanic or Latino 12.2%
Native American 1.8%
Native Hawaiian .6%


Yale’s university-wide ethnic makeup is the following, for domestic students:


Ethnicity Percentage of Student Body
American Indian or Alaska Native 0.3%
Asian 14.7%
Black or African-American 5.8%
Hispanic of any race 9.8%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 0.1%
White 42.7%
Race/ethnicity unknown 1.0%


Harvard is also making strides to be as inclusive as possible, including an LGBTQ+ Resources Center (called the Office of BGLTQ Student Life) with social events, consultations, workshops, and support groups.


Yale is known for being particularly LGBTQ-friendly. Like Harvard, there is an Office of LGBTQ Resource, offering a Campus All Gender Restroom Map, community events, and more. 


Student Outcomes


Both Harvard and Yale students have bright futures, with average starting salaries in the upper $60,000 range. Ten years after graduation, average salaries are $136,700 (Harvard) and $118,400 (Yale). 


In terms of careers, graduates of both schools end up in a wide variety of industries. Many pursue graduate degrees in fields like business, law, or medicine, and others seek employment immediately. At Harvard, top sectors include finance, engineering, and consulting, and at Yale, graduates end up in fields such as finance, education, and consulting.


How to Decide Between Harvard and Yale


Both Harvard and Yale offer strong educations and student outcomes, and you’d be hard-pressed to find two universities whose names carry more cache. The schools are also similarly selective.


While the universities draw talented students in nearly every discipline from around the world, artistic-minded people may tend to gravitate toward Yale, given its reputation as a leader in theater and other arts. Meanwhile, those intending to pursue careers in areas like business, medicine, and technology might prefer Harvard (although, again, both schools are strong in these disciplines).


Additionally, while both universities are more liberal than not, Yale has a reputation as being particularly left-leaning. Students who prefer a more intimate setting may also appreciate the smaller size of Yale, though Harvard is only somewhat larger. Meanwhile, if you see yourself in a city, Harvard’s proximity to Boston will be more appealing than New Haven.


Either way, you can’t go wrong. Decide what factors are most important to you, and go with your gut! 


If you’re looking to boost your chances of admission to Harvard, Yale, and other colleges, check out CollegeVine’s Admissions Calculator. Not only will you find out your real odds of acceptances, but you’ll receive personalized tips for upping your likelihood of success. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get started!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.