Harvard vs. Colby: A Comprehensive Look at Two Top Universities

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student looking at her laptop with a hand on her face.

Harvard vs. Colby: A Comprehensive Look at Two Top Universities

If you are considering applying to college, you have likely heard of Harvard University and Colby College. In this article, we will look in-depth at the similarities and differences between Harvard vs. Colby, covering everything from admission processes to athletics programs.

Whether you are interested in the Ivy League or liberal arts college experience, this article will help you decide which university is the better choice for you.

Introduction: Why Harvard and Colby are Worth Comparing

Harvard University and Colby College are both highly respected institutions in the world of higher education. They have different histories, academic programs, and campus cultures, but they also share some similarities.

For example, they both attract highly intelligent and motivated students, offer extensive resources for research and innovation, and have expansive alumni networks. Comparing the strengths and weaknesses of Harvard and Colby can help you make an informed decision about where to apply or attend.

One major difference between Harvard and Colby is their size. Harvard is a large research university with over 20,000 students, while Colby is a small liberal arts college with just over 2,000 students. This difference in size can impact the student experience in a variety of ways.

For example, at Harvard, students may have access to a wider range of academic programs and research opportunities but may also feel more anonymous and less connected to their peers. At Colby, students may benefit from a more tight-knit community and personalized attention from faculty but may have fewer options for academic exploration.

History and Background of Harvard University

Harvard University was founded in 1636 and is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is a private Ivy League research university and one of the oldest academic institutions in the United States.

The university has a rich history, with prominent alumni such as eight U.S Presidents, 158 Nobel laureates, and over 150 MacArthur Fellows. Harvard has a robust endowment, which allows it to offer extensive resources for research and innovation. It also has a long-established reputation for excellence in law, business, and medicine.

Harvard University has a diverse student body, with students from all 50 states and over 100 countries. The university offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs in a wide range of fields, including the arts, sciences, engineering, and humanities.

3 male standing adjacent to each other while the person in the middle is writing on the glass board while the rest of them pays attention

The faculty at Harvard is renowned for their expertise and research, and the university has a strong commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration.

In addition to its academic programs, Harvard is also known for its rich cultural and athletic offerings. The university has a number of museums and galleries, including the Harvard Art Museums and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Harvard also has a strong athletic program, with over 40 varsity sports teams and a number of intramural and club sports. The university is home to the famous Harvard-Yale football game, which has been played annually since 1875.

History and Background of Colby College

Colby College is a private liberal arts college located in Waterville, Maine. It was founded in 1813 and moved to its current location in 1871. Colby is known for its small class sizes, personalized attention from faculty members, and emphasis on experiential learning.

It has produced many prominent alumni, including former U.S. Senator William Cohen, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Elizabeth Strout and Gregory White Smith, and Olympic gold medal-winning rower Jon Fish.

Colby College has a rich history of promoting diversity and inclusion. In 1964, it became one of the first colleges in the United States to admit women on an equal basis with men. Today, the college continues to prioritize diversity and has implemented various initiatives to support underrepresented groups on campus.

In recent years, Colby College has also made significant strides in sustainability. In 2013, it became the first college in New England to achieve carbon neutrality, and it has since continued to prioritize environmental responsibility through initiatives such as installing solar panels and reducing waste on campus.

Admission Process: Harvard vs. Colby

Both Harvard and Colby are highly selective institutions, with acceptance rates of 4.7% and 10.9%, respectively. The application process at Harvard is highly competitive and requires excellent academic records, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and essays.

Colby also looks for strong academic records, extracurricular achievements, and a commitment to community service and global citizenship. Both universities offer need-blind admissions policies, which means that they do not consider an applicant’s ability to pay when making admission decisions.

However, the admission process at Harvard and Colby differs in terms of the interview process. Harvard requires all applicants to participate in an interview with a member of the admissions committee, either in person or virtually.

View of college students studying in a room with a table.

This interview allows the applicant to showcase their personality, interests, and goals beyond what is presented in their application. On the other hand, Colby offers optional interviews for applicants conducted by alumni volunteers. These interviews are not required, but they can provide additional insight into the applicant’s character and potential fit for the Colby community.

Another difference between the admission processes at Harvard and Colby is the role of demonstrated interest. While Colby considers demonstrated interest, such as campus visits and communication with admissions representatives, as a factor in their admission decisions, Harvard does not.

Harvard believes that all applicants should have an equal opportunity to be admitted, regardless of their ability to visit campus or communicate with admissions representatives. Therefore, demonstrated interest does not play a role in their admission decisions.

Campus Life: Harvard vs. Colby

The campus cultures at Harvard and Colby are different, with Harvard having a larger and more diverse student body. Harvard offers a wide range of extracurricular activities, including hundreds of student-run clubs and organizations, as well as many cultural events and lectures.

The campus is located in the heart of Cambridge, which offers many opportunities for social and cultural enrichment. Colby offers a more intimate campus community with fewer students and a more rural location. Its campus is surrounded by beautiful natural landmarks, including lakes and parks, which offer ample opportunities for outdoor recreation and exploration.

Despite the campus size and location differences, both Harvard and Colby offer excellent academic programs. Harvard is known for its rigorous curriculum and world-renowned faculty, while Colby is recognized for its strong liberal arts program and commitment to sustainability.

Both schools provide students with opportunities for research and experiential learning and access to top-notch resources and facilities.

Another notable difference between the two campuses is the housing options available to students. At Harvard, students are assigned to one of 12 residential houses, each with unique culture and traditions. Colby, on the other hand, offers a variety of housing options, including traditional dormitories, apartments, and even eco-friendly housing units.

Both schools prioritize creating a sense of community and belonging among their students but do so in different ways.

Student Body: A Look at Diversity and Demographics

The student bodies at Harvard and Colby are diverse, with students from all over the world and from various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Harvard has a larger student body of around 20,000, while Colby has around 2,000 students.

Harvard has a higher percentage of international students, while Colby has a higher percentage of students from Maine and the Northeast. Both universities prioritize diversity and inclusion and have extensive resources for student support and engagement.

Despite the differences in size and demographics, both Harvard and Colby have a strong commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students.

Harvard has several student organizations and initiatives focused on promoting diversity and inclusion, such as the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and the Office

of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. Similarly, Colby has a Center for Diversity and Inclusion, which offers programming and support for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Both universities also recognize the importance of providing resources for students to succeed academically and personally. Harvard has a robust advising system, with academic advisors and peer advisors available to help students navigate their coursework and extracurricular activities.

Colby offers a range of academic support services, including tutoring and writing assistance, as well as counseling and mental health services for students in need.

Academic Programs: Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Institution

Female student writing in front of her laptop

Harvard and Colby offer different academic programs, with Harvard offering a broader range of choices. Harvard is known for its strength in the natural sciences, mathematics, and social sciences.

It has renowned graduate schools in law, business, medicine, and engineering. Colby is known for its rigorous academic program in the liberal arts and for its interdisciplinary programs, such as Environmental Studies and Global Studies. Both institutions prioritize faculty mentorship and offer extensive opportunities for undergraduate research.

One of the strengths of Harvard’s academic program is its emphasis on experiential learning. The university offers numerous opportunities for students to engage in hands-on learning, such as internships, research projects, and study abroad programs.

Additionally, Harvard has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, with initiatives aimed at increasing access to education for underrepresented groups.

On the other hand, one weakness of Colby’s academic program is its limited course offerings in certain fields, such as engineering and business. While the college does offer interdisciplinary programs that incorporate these fields, students who are interested in pursuing a more specialized degree may need to look elsewhere.

However, Colby’s small class sizes and personalized attention from faculty members make it an ideal choice for students who thrive in a close-knit academic community.

Harvard vs. Colby: Faculty

The faculty at Harvard and Colby are highly respected and accomplished scholars in their respective fields. Harvard has many scholars who are leaders in their fields and who have won numerous awards and recognitions.

Colby is known for its dedicated and engaged faculty members who are committed to teaching and mentorship. Both universities prioritize faculty development, diversity, and engagement in the wider academic community.

Harvard’s faculty includes many renowned researchers who have made significant contributions to their fields. For example, Professor Stephen Hawking, who was a faculty member at Harvard, was a world-renowned physicist and cosmologist who made groundbreaking discoveries in the study of black holes and the origins of the universe.

Similarly, Professor Amartya Sen, who is a Nobel laureate in economics, has made significant contributions to the study of welfare economics and social choice theory.

Colby’s faculty members are known for their commitment to teaching and mentorship. They are dedicated to helping students achieve their academic and personal goals. Many faculty members at Colby also engage in research and scholarship, and they often involve students in their work. This provides students with valuable opportunities to gain hands-on experience and develop their skills.

Harvard vs. Colby: Research Facilities

Harvard and Colby have different research facilities, with Harvard having more extensive resources for scientific research and Colby having a more focused approach to research in the liberal arts.

Harvard has over 20 research centers and institutes, including the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Colby has research centers in Environmental Studies, Humanities, and Social Sciences, as well as a state-of-the-art Science Center, which includes multidisciplinary laboratories and classrooms.

An open laptop placed on top of a table near a window.

Despite the differences in their research facilities, both universities offer ample opportunities for students to engage in research. Harvard provides undergraduate students with research opportunities through the Harvard College Research Program, which offers funding and support for independent research projects.

Colby offers a similar program, the Colby Undergraduate Research Symposium, which showcases student research across all disciplines.

In addition to their research centers and programs, both universities also have extensive library resources. Harvard’s library system is one of the largest in the world, with over 20 million volumes.

In comparison, Colby’s library system has over 1 million volumes and is known for its extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts. Both libraries offer access to online databases and resources, as well as specialized research assistance from librarians.

Harvard vs. Colby: Athletics Programs

Harvard and Colby have different athletic programs, with Harvard having a larger varsity sports program and Colby having a more focused approach to athletics. Harvard competes in the Ivy League and fields 42 varsity sports teams, including football, basketball, ice hockey, and crew.

Colby competes in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and fields 32 varsity sports teams, including ice hockey, soccer, and lacrosse. Both universities prioritize the development of student-athletes and have extensive resources for athletic support and engagement.

Despite the differences in their athletic programs, both Harvard and Colby have a strong commitment to promoting physical fitness and wellness among their student body. Harvard offers a wide range of recreational sports and fitness classes, including yoga, dance, and martial arts.

At the same time, Colby has a state-of-the-art fitness center and a variety of outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing. Additionally, both universities have programs that encourage student-athletes to give back to their communities through volunteer work and community service projects.

Harvard vs. Colby: Alumni Network

Harvard and Colby have extensive alumni networks, which offer many opportunities for networking and professional development. Harvard has produced many notable alumni, including business executives, political leaders, and cultural influencers.

Colby has a close-knit community of alumni who are committed to helping current students and recent graduates succeed in their career paths. Both universities provide resources for career development and offer robust internship and job placement programs.

However, there are some differences between the alumni networks of Harvard and Colby. Harvard’s alumni network is larger and more diverse, with graduates spread across various industries and locations around the world. This can be advantageous for students who are interested in pursuing careers in different fields or in different parts of the world.

On the other hand, Colby’s alumni network is more focused on specific industries, such as environmental conservation and education. This can be beneficial for students who are interested in these particular fields and want to connect with alumni who have similar career paths.

In addition to networking opportunities, both universities also offer other resources for career development. Harvard has a well-established career services office that provides students with access to career counseling, job search resources, and employer connections.

Colby has a similar career center that offers career advising, resume and cover letter reviews, and networking events. Both universities also have strong internship and job placement programs, with many students securing internships and full-time job offers through these programs.

Tuition Costs and Financial Aid Options at Harvard vs. Colby

Both Harvard and Colby are expensive and offer extensive financial aid options. Harvard’s tuition and fees for the 2021-22 academic year are $57,200, with an estimated cost of attendance of $78,200. Colby’s tuition and fees for the 2021-22 academic year are $61,850, with an estimated cost of attendance of $78,075.

Both universities offer need-based financial aid packages that cover the full cost of tuition for students who qualify, as well as merit-based scholarships and grants. Both universities also offer extensive resources for financial aid planning and support.

However, there are some differences in the financial aid options offered by Harvard and Colby. While both universities offer need-based aid, Harvard also offers a limited number of no-loan financial aid packages for students from families with incomes below a certain threshold.

In addition, Harvard has a policy of meeting 100% of demonstrated financial needs for all admitted students, while Colby meets an average of 97% of demonstrated needs.

On the other hand, Colby offers a wider range of merit-based scholarships and grants, including awards for academic achievement, leadership, and community service. Students at Colby can also apply for funding for research, internships, and study abroad programs.

Conclusion: Which University is the Better Choice for You?

Deciding between Harvard and Colby is a challenging task, as both universities offer rigorous academics, extensive resources, and outstanding opportunities for personal and professional growth. Ultimately, the choice will depend on your individual preferences, goals, and priorities.

View of two civil engineering students drafting on a table.

If you are interested in a broad range of academic programs, a diverse student body, and a vibrant campus culture, Harvard may be the better choice for you. If you value personalized attention, a focused academic program, and a close-knit community, Colby may be the better choice.

Regardless of your decision, both universities offer outstanding education and extensive opportunities for success.

It is important to note that the location of each university may also play a role in your decision-making process. Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which offers easy access to the bustling city of Boston and all it has to offer.

Colby, on the other hand, is located in Waterville, Maine, which provides a more rural and peaceful setting. Consider your personal preferences for location and the opportunities each location may offer when making your decision.


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