Berkeley vs Harvard: Which School is Right for You?

July 20, 2023
By AdmissionSight

Berkeley vs Harvard: Which School is Right for You?

Making the decision to attend college can be daunting, especially when deciding between two renowned institutions like, the University of California Berkeley and Harvard University. Both schools boast impressive academic programs, prestigious faculty, and a global network of alumni. But which one is right for you? This article will compare Berkeley vs Harvard and provide a detailed breakdown of everything from admission processes to campus life, academics, and extracurricular activities to help you make an informed decision.

History and Background of Berkeley and Harvard

Both Berkeley and Harvard have rich histories that have contributed to their current status as world-class universities. Berkeley was founded in 1868, making it one of the oldest public universities in the United States. The university has a strong reputation for its research programs, and its faculty has won a total of 36 Nobel prizes.

University students talking in front of a laptop.

Harvard, on the other hand, is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, founded in 1636. It is a private Ivy League research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Harvard’s faculty boasts an impressive 158 Nobel laureates, more than any other institution in the world.

Despite their differences in age and status, both universities have made significant contributions to society. Berkeley has been at the forefront of many social movements, including the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s and the environmental movement in the 1970s. The university has also been a leader in scientific research, with groundbreaking discoveries in fields such as physics, chemistry, and biology.

Harvard, on the other hand, has produced many influential leaders in politics, business, and the arts. Its alumni include eight U.S. presidents, 158 Nobel laureates, and numerous billionaires. The university has also been a pioneer in many fields, including law, medicine, and computer science.

Admission Process for Berkeley vs Harvard

The admission processes for both Berkeley and Harvard are highly competitive, with Harvard being one of the most selective universities in the United States. Berkeley has a 15% acceptance rate, while Harvard’s acceptance rate is just under 5%. Both schools require students to submit an application, standardized test scores, transcripts, and essays. Harvard also requires letters of recommendation and an interview.

Additionally, both schools offer early decision and early action options for applicants. Early decision is a binding agreement, meaning that if a student is accepted, they must attend the school. Early action is non-binding, allowing students to apply to multiple schools and make a decision later. However, both options have earlier application deadlines than regular decisions.

Furthermore, both schools have holistic admissions processes, meaning that they consider factors beyond just academic achievements. They also consider extracurricular activities, leadership experience, community service, and personal background. This allows for a diverse student body and gives students with unique experiences and backgrounds a chance to stand out in the application process.

Student Life at Berkeley vs Harvard

Student life at both Berkeley and Harvard is vibrant and engaging, with numerous clubs, organizations, and activities available to students. Both universities offer a range of extracurricular activities such as student government, sports, music, theater, and volunteer opportunities. Berkeley has over 1,200 student organizations, and Harvard has over 500 registered student organizations.

Three students smiling during an event.

Berkeley’s campus is known for its lively and politically active student body. The university’s location in the San Francisco Bay Area also provides students with easy access to numerous cultural and outdoor recreational activities. Harvard’s campus is located in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, giving students access to the vibrant cultural life of the Boston area.

Additionally, both universities have a strong commitment to academic excellence and research. Berkeley is known for its top-ranked programs in engineering, computer science, and natural sciences, while Harvard is renowned for its programs in law, business, and medicine. Students at both universities have access to world-class faculty and research facilities, providing them with unparalleled opportunities to pursue their academic interests and passions.

Cost of Attendance: Which School is More Affordable?

The cost of attendance at both Berkeley and Harvard is high due to their reputations and resources. Berkeley’s estimated cost of attendance for the 2021-2022 academic year for California residents is $35,476, while for non-residents, it is $65,984. Harvard’s estimated cost of attendance for the 2021-2022 academic year is $77,491, including tuition, housing, and fees.

However, it is important to note that both schools offer financial aid and scholarships to help offset the cost of attendance. Berkeley’s financial aid program is need-based and provides grants, work-study, and loans to eligible students. Harvard also offers need-based financial aid, as well as merit-based scholarships for exceptional students. It is recommended that students explore all available options for financial assistance before making a decision on which school to attend.

Financial Aid Options Available at Berkeley vs Harvard

Both Berkeley and Harvard have robust financial aid programs designed to provide access to education regardless of financial means. Berkeley provides need-based financial aid, including grants and scholarships, to over half of its undergraduate students. Harvard also provides need-based financial aid and has a no-loan policy for students from families earning less than $150,000 per year.

In addition to need-based financial aid, both Berkeley and Harvard offer merit-based scholarships to exceptional students. These scholarships are awarded based on academic achievement, leadership potential, and other criteria. At Berkeley, the Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship is the most prestigious merit-based scholarship, covering tuition, fees, and living expenses for four years. Harvard offers a range of merit-based scholarships, including the Harvard College Scholarship, which can cover up to the full cost of attendance.

Furthermore, both universities have programs to support students with unexpected financial emergencies. Berkeley’s Basic Needs Center provides emergency grants to students facing unexpected expenses, such as medical bills or car repairs. Harvard’s Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to students experiencing unexpected financial hardship, such as a family emergency or job loss.

Campus Culture and Environment

Berkeley and Harvard have vastly different campus cultures and environments. Berkeley is known for its politically and socially conscious student body, with a history of activism and protest. The university is surrounded by the vibrant and diverse city of Berkeley and is located near San Francisco Bay.

Harvard’s campus, on the other hand, is known for its historical significance and Ivy League prestige. The university’s campus is located in the heart of Cambridge, a bustling college town that is home to numerous cultural institutions, including the renowned Harvard Art Museums.

a female student with her laptop studying inside her dorm room


Despite their differences, both Berkeley and Harvard offer unique opportunities for students to engage in research and academic pursuits. Berkeley is home to numerous research centers and institutes, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which conducts cutting-edge research in fields such as energy and environmental science. Harvard, on the other hand, boasts a vast network of libraries and archives, including the world-renowned Harvard Library, which houses over 20 million volumes.

Additionally, both universities offer a wide range of extracurricular activities and student organizations. Berkeley has over 1,200 student groups, ranging from political and social activism to sports and recreation. Harvard has over 400 student organizations, including a number of cultural and ethnic groups, as well as a thriving arts and music scene.

Diversity on Campus: How Berkeley vs Harvard Compare

Both Berkeley and Harvard prioritize diversity and inclusion on their campuses. According to U.S. News & World Report, Berkeley has a student body that is 34% white, 23% Asian, 12% Hispanic/Latino, 4% Black or African-American, and 4% international. Harvard’s student body is 25% white, 23% Asian, 14% Hispanic/Latino, 7% Black or African-American, and 10% international.

However, while both universities have made strides in promoting diversity, there are still differences in the representation of certain groups. For example, at Berkeley, the percentage of Hispanic/Latino students is higher than at Harvard, while the percentage of Black or African-American students is lower. On the other hand, Harvard has a higher percentage of international students compared to Berkeley.

Academic Programs Offered at Both Schools

Berkeley and Harvard offer a wide range of academic programs, with both universities boasting world-class faculties and rigorous curriculum. Berkeley has 14 schools and colleges, including the highly regarded Haas School of Business and the School of Public Health.

Harvard also has a diverse set of offerings across its schools, with the most popular majors being Social Sciences, Engineering, and Biological Sciences.

Additionally, both universities offer joint degree programs in various fields, allowing students to earn degrees from both institutions simultaneously. For example, the Berkeley-Harvard Joint Program in Public Policy combines the strengths of both schools in the field of public policy and offers students a unique educational experience.

Faculty and Research Opportunities at Berkeley vs Harvard

Both Berkeley and Harvard have faculty members who are leaders in their fields and are committed to cutting-edge research. According to U.S. News & World Report, Berkeley has a student-faculty ratio of 19:1, and its faculty has won a total of 36 Nobel prizes.

Harvard’s faculty is equally impressive, with a student-faculty ratio of 7:1 and its faculty members having won 158 Nobel prizes, more than any other institution in the world.

Aside from their impressive faculty, both Berkeley and Harvard offer numerous research opportunities for students. Berkeley has over 100 research centers and institutes, including the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute and the Berkeley Institute for Data Science. Harvard, on the other hand, has over 20 research centers and institutes, such as the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Furthermore, both universities have strong partnerships with industry leaders, providing students with opportunities to work on real-world projects and gain valuable experience. Berkeley has partnerships with companies such as Google, Intel, and Tesla, while Harvard has partnerships with companies such as Microsoft, Pfizer, and Goldman Sachs.

Career Services for Students: Which School Offers Better Support?

Both Berkeley and Harvard offer comprehensive career services to their students. Berkeley’s Career Center provides access to job and internship listings, on-campus recruiting, and career counseling. The university also has a robust alumni network that students can leverage for career advice and job opportunities.

Harvard’s Office of Career Services provides similar offerings, including access to job and internship listings, career counseling, and alumni networking opportunities. The university also has an extensive alumni network, with over 338,000 members across the world.

Students lounging in the stairs of a building.

However, there are some differences in the career services offered by the two schools. Berkeley’s Career Center has a strong focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, with resources and programs specifically designed for students interested in starting their own businesses. On the other hand, Harvard’s Office of Career Services has a strong focus on international opportunities, with resources and programs designed to help students find jobs and internships abroad.

Additionally, Berkeley’s Career Center offers a variety of workshops and events throughout the year, covering topics such as resume writing, interviewing skills, and networking. Harvard’s Office of Career Services also offers workshops and events, but they tend to be more focused on specific industries or career paths, such as finance or consulting.

Student Outcomes: Comparing Graduation Rates, Employment, and Salaries

Both Berkeley and Harvard have impressive student outcomes, with high graduation rates and high rates of employment after graduation. According to U.S News & World Report, Berkeley’s six-year graduation rate is 91%, and its median starting salary for graduates is $69,000.

Harvard’s six-year graduation rate is 98%, and its median starting salary for graduates is $83,000.

However, it is important to note that graduation rates and starting salaries do not necessarily reflect the overall success and satisfaction of a university’s graduates. Other factors, such as job satisfaction, career growth, and personal fulfillment, should also be considered when evaluating student outcomes. Additionally, the type of degree and field of study can greatly impact employment opportunities and salaries. Therefore, it is important for students to carefully research and consider their options when choosing a university and degree program.

Extracurricular Activities Available at Both Schools

Both Berkeley and Harvard offer a wide range of extracurricular activities and student organizations that cater to a range of interests. Berkeley has over 1,200 student organizations, including the Berkeley Student Cooperative, the largest student housing cooperative in the country.

Harvard has over 500 registered student organizations, including The Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, since 1873. The university also has numerous athletic opportunities, with its varsity teams competing in the Ivy League conference.

Additionally, both schools offer opportunities for students to get involved in community service and volunteer work. Berkeley has the Public Service Center, which connects students with local organizations and provides resources for community engagement. Harvard has the Phillips Brooks House Association, the largest student-run public service organization in the country, which offers over 80 programs and initiatives for students to get involved in.

Study Abroad Opportunities for Students at Berkeley vs Harvard

Both Berkeley and Harvard value global perspectives and offer study-abroad programs to their students. Berkeley has over 130 study-abroad programs across more than 40 countries, including Russia, Japan, and South Africa.

Harvard also offers numerous study abroad programs, including a flagship program in Paris that has been running for over 50 years.

Additionally, both universities offer financial aid and scholarships to help students cover the costs of studying abroad. Berkeley has a dedicated study abroad office that provides resources and support to students throughout the application process and during their time abroad. Harvard also has a team of advisors who work with students to help them choose the best program for their academic and personal goals.

Alumni Network Comparison: Which School Offers Better Connections?

Both Berkeley and Harvard have extensive alumni networks that provide opportunities for mentorship, networking, and career development. Berkeley has over 500,000 alumni worldwide, with many of them established in Silicon Valley, making it a great network for students interested in tech. Harvard has one of the most extensive alumni networks in the world, with over 338,000 members across the globe, including numerous CEOs, politicians, and celebrities.

A professor talking to a group of students.

However, while both schools have impressive alumni networks, there are some key differences to consider. Berkeley’s network is more focused on the tech industry, with many alumni working at companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. On the other hand, Harvard’s network is more diverse, with alumni in a wide range of industries, including finance, law, and healthcare.


So, which school is right for you? Ultimately, the decision should be based on your individual academic and personal goals, interests, and needs. Berkeley offers a more diverse and politically active campus environment with a strong focus on social justice and activism. Harvard, on the other hand, offers a more traditional and prestigious Ivy League experience with access to some of the top faculty and resources in the world.

Both schools offer students ample opportunities for academic, personal, and professional growth. Whether you choose Berkeley or Harvard, you’ll be part of a global network of alumni who have reached the pinnacle of their professions and who continue to make a significant impact in the world.

It’s important to note that both schools have their own unique campus cultures and traditions. Berkeley is known for its liberal and progressive values, while Harvard is known for its rich history and traditions. Berkeley students are often involved in social justice and activism movements, while Harvard students are known for their academic excellence and leadership skills.

Additionally, both schools have strong alumni networks that can provide valuable connections and opportunities for students after graduation. Berkeley alumni are often involved in social and environmental causes, while Harvard alumni are known for their success in business, law, and politics.



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