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Stanford vs. Harvard: Which College is Right for You?

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Stanford and Harvard are two of the nation’s most prestigious and selective colleges. While both offer top-notch academics, their starkly contrasting locations lead to very different student experiences. If you’re deciding between Stanford vs. Harvard, here’s what you need to know about their academics, extracurriculars, housing, food, and more.


Harvard vs. Stanford: A Quick Overview


Harvard Stanford
Location Cambridge, MA Stanford, CA
Campus Type Urban Suburban
Undergraduate Enrollment 6,788 6,994
Acceptance Rate 5% 4%
U.S. News Ranking 2 6
Sticker Price $72,391 (2020-2021 school year) $74,723 (2020-2021 school year)
Student to Faculty Ratio 6:1 5:1
Middle 50% SAT/ACT SAT: 1470-1560 (combined)

ACT: 33-35

SAT: 720-800 (M); 700-770 (EWR)

ACT: 32-35

Subject Tests Required? Two recommended Optional
Median Starting Salary $69,000 $70,400


Harvard vs. Stanford: A Closer Look


Location and Weather


Harvard is located in Cambridge, just a few miles away from Boston. Students have access to all the famed sites in the city, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Faneuil Hall, and plenty of restaurants. They can also enjoy the major attractions in Cambridge itself, including Harvard Square and the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s easy to get around the city by subway, called the T by the locals. Those coming from farther away will also enjoy easy access to Boston Logan Airport, which is accessible by public transport from Greater Boston.


Cambridge is in the heart of New England, where winters are cold and snowy, though summers tend to get fairly hot. Since Harvard is right along the Charles River, and not far from the Atlantic Ocean, you can also expect a fair amount of windy weather.


Stanford, meanwhile, is located in Stanford, right by Palo Alto. San Francisco is nearby, accessible via Caltrain or a shorter car ride. The city is even closer to San Jose.


Stanford is surrounded by tech giants, including Google and Facebook. There’s plenty to appreciate right in the Stanford-Palo Alto area, including terrific coffee, excellent produce, and frequently sunny weather (don’t expect to experience four seasons in this neck of the words!). Like much of the Bay Area, residents tend to be outdoorsy; you’ll encounter many hikers and mountain bikers.




Although both Stanford and Harvard have undergraduate student bodies of under 7,000, Harvard has far more graduate students, with a total enrollment of 20,700 to Stanford’s 16,384 students. About 69% of Stanford classes have fewer than 20 students, while 72% of Harvard’s do. The student to faculty ratio is 5:1 at Stanford and 6:1 at Harvard.




Stanford is particularly known for tech majors, including engineering and computer science, However, the university also offers majors across a wide variety of disciplines, such as aeronautics and astronautics, art practice, Native American studies, and theater and performance studies. 


Students must fulfill general education requirements across areas including:


  • Thinking Matters
  • Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing
  • Writing and Rhetoric, and Language


 Stanford students are required to declare their majors before junior year.


Harvard offers 50 majors (called “concentrations”), including popular ones like psychology, computer science, history, and economics. Students must fulfill general education requirements in areas including:


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


Most students at Harvard declare their concentrations in the fall semester of their second year, though one-third of students end up changing.


Students at both schools may design their own major or concentration with guidance and approval.




Housing is guaranteed for all full-time undergraduate students at Stanford. Options include residence halls, apartments and suites, and small-group houses. Freshmen and new transfer students are required to live on campus and are assigned to residences based on preference forms they fill out, while upperclassmen use a lottery system. As part of residential life, students may attend and participate in activities such as faculty dinners, lectures, film screenings, trips to nearby attractions, holiday celebrations, community events, and more. Approximately 97% of undergraduates live on campus.


Meanwhile, Harvard’s students live in one of 12 houses after their first year, when they share suites in dormitories with other first-year students on the Harvard Yard. The houses provide a community, helping foster friendships and connections with classmates and faculty. More than 97% of undergraduate students live on campus, and housing is guaranteed for all four years.




Stanford undergraduates have a choice of three meals plans: 19, 14, or 10 meals per week. Certain dorm residents enjoy meals cooked in their halls. There are several dining halls offering a range of cuisines. Additionally, the university accommodates dietary restrictions including allergies, Kosher, and Halal.


Harvard freshmen eat at Annenberg Hall, while upperclassmen eat in their respective Houses. There are plenty of options, and the university accommodates dietary restrictions, too. That includes offering a Hillel dining hall that serves Kosher food, where all students are welcome to eat. 

Financial aid


While the list price to attend Stanford or Harvard is above $70,000, many students receive 

financial aid. About 70% of Stanford students receive some aid to attend, while 58% receive aid directly from the university. Fifty percent of Harvard students receive financial aid.


Neither Stanford nor Harvard offers merit-based aid. However, both institutions are committed to meeting 100% of students’ financial need, and they are both need-blind and no-loan.


Want to learn how much Harvard or Stanford 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


Stanford Cardinals excel in the sports arena as well as the classroom. The NCAA Division I school has the most championships, with 123 under its belt. In addition to varsity teams and club sports, the university offers a wide array of extracurricular activities and organizations, including ballet, political and religious associations, publications, community service, and much more. Around 30% of Stanford students participate in Greek life, with 30 fraternities and sororities officially recognized by the university.


Approximately 50% of Stanford students study abroad. The university offers the Bing Overseas Studies Program, with locations in Berlin, Florence, Hong Kong, Kyoto, Santiago, and others. Students may also participate in external programs offered by other institutions and organizations. Students on financial aid will have their aid carry over during study abroad.


Harvard Crimson participates in the NCAA Division I and Ivy League. There are 43 varsity teams, as well as club sports. There are plenty of extracurricular activities, including theater, a capella, theater, political groups, public services, media, and more. While some Greek organizations run off-campus, the university doesn’t officially recognize fraternities or sororities. 


Roughly 60% of Harvard students study abroad, participating in programs around the world. Harvard guarantees that students will not pay more to study abroad than they would to study at Harvard, and that financial aid carries over for students receiving aid.

Culture and Diversity


The majority of Harvard’s student body identifies as people of color. Below is the diversity makeup of Harvard:


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%


Stanford’s diversity makeup is as follows:


Ethnicity Percentage of Student Body
White 32%
Asian 23%
Hispanic or Latino 17%
Black or African American 7%
International 11%
American Indian or Alaska Native 1%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander <1%
Two or more races 9%
Unknown <1%


Student Outcomes


Graduates of both Harvard and Stanford can expect to have thriving careers, with a median starting salary of around $70,000. Ten years out, the average salary is $136,700 for Harvard alumni and $122,900 for Stanford alumni.


Graduates end up in a wide variety of industries. Given Stanford’s proximity to Silicon Valley and strength in relevant disciplines, many alumni work in the tech sector, although you’ll also find them in plenty of other fields. Harvard alumni, meanwhile thrive in areas like finance, medicine, engineering, and consulting.


How to Decide Between Stanford and Harvard


Of course, both institutions will provide you with an excellent education and future. For many students, the choice comes down to location: Would you rather attend school in an area where it’s perpetually warm on the West Coast, or do you prefer seasons and an East Coast, New England atmosphere?


It’s also worth paying attention to each school’s particular strengths. For example, if you’re an aspiring computer scientist or software developer, Stanford may appeal to you, given its renowned technology-related programs. Meanwhile, Harvard produces some of the top aspiring physicians and businesspeople. Those who are pre-med may also appreciate Harvard’s proximity to the many top-notch hospitals in Boston.


It’s worth remembering that both Stanford and Harvard are extremely selective. If you want to increase your chances of admission to these colleges and others, check out CollegeVine’s Admissions Calculator. We’ll give you insight into your real chances of acceptance, as well as advice on how to improve them. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

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.