Which University is better, Harvard or Stanford?

November 28, 2020
By AdmissionSight

Which university is better, Harvard or Stanford? Yale or Princeton? Berkeley or Stanford? MIT or Caltech? The comparisons can be endless. Prestige is in the eyes of the beholder. When it comes to the higher institutions of learning, we see so much social stigma and perception at play among the society that is pervasive across family get-togethers, job applications, athletics, and the media.

High school students and families across the country who pursue degrees at these higher institutions of learning have fallen short of their main goal and mission: to further the intellectual pursuit of knowledge rather than trying to achieve the prestige that these degrees bestow. For the typical citizen, these degrees have become emblems of their social identity rather than the actual education that they hope to gain.

Students sitting on the grass and cheerfully chatting

And so we think the question in itself is greatly flawed. UC Berkeley, for example, is an amazing institution – the professors, faculty, research opportunities can easily match and surpass many of the Ivy Leagues. And the same goes for other institutions like USC and UCLA. In fact, Terence Tao, one of the greatest mathematicians of our time, currently teaches at UCLA.

We have to blame the culprit due to the flawed system of college admissions in the US as well. Students are not merely admitted based on their intellect, but factors like ethnicity, gender, sexual disposition, athletic prowess, wealthy donors, and legacies that have contributed to this social hierarchy and ladder that society seems to place so much importance upon.

So, why does it matter if UC Berkeley isn’t as prestigious as the Ivy Leagues? It certainly is as strong as many of the Ivy Leagues with incredibly brilliant professors who are revolutionizing the forefront of their fields. And for us, at least, we think that’s enough. Certainly, one may argue that the acceptance rate is higher at Berkeley, and therefore less selective. Truth be told, the overall top 20% of students at UC Berkeley are on par with the top 80% of students at Stanford in terms of the quality of the undergraduate body. At the same time, UC Berkeley is also a public institution and has many more students than Stanford.

As admissions consultants, in our spare time we enjoy learning about political science, machine learning/artificial intelligence, behavioral economics, psychology, history, etc. Between Berkeley and Stanford, we’ve personally delved into a few of their computer science courses and have done some of their problem sets just to get a sense of the differences and difficulty.

Overall, our impression is that Berkeley problem sets tend to be more difficult than Stanford’s problem sets.

Don’t get us wrong – Stanford’s level of instruction is very crystal clear and is probably a little better taught than Berkeley’s courses, but Berkeley dives quite deep into the subject material and the problem sets really challenge your understanding of the material. Of course, this is just based on CS, and we don’t know about the other subject areas between the two schools, but this is our overall impression. Berkeley’s problem sets are on par with the problem sets at Princeton, which we would say are quite difficult as well. It’s a data point to consider.

What about the popular question of which university is better, Harvard or Stanford? These are today’s most coveted institutions by high school students and are by far the most popular. The pros of attending Stanford, of course, are its incredible opportunities to venture capital, its stellar CS program, and emphasis on entrepreneurship. On the other hand, Harvard has the brand name recognition that has carried on for hundreds of years, with many going into finance, management consulting, and holding high leadership positions in government.

At AdmissionSight, we believe that Stanford will overtake Harvard within the next few decades. A greater indicator of a university’s prestige, academic prowess, research opportunities, etc., all comes down to its endowment. With a strong endowment, they can fund and finance any of those initiatives, whether it be a state of the art research facilities or fancy dorms for students to live in.

Side view of a happy woman while writing on her notebook

While Harvard will possess much of the old money of famous politicians and whatnot, Stanford grads are producing billion-dollar startups with close access to venture capital on Sand Hill Road. And as long as their alumni continue to produce billion-dollar companies and ride the digital technological revolution, Stanford’s endowment will surpass many of the great universities, including the Ivy League.

What about Wharton vs. Princeton, especially for aspiring high school students who want to go into finance and work on Wall Street? Wharton tends to be much more applications focused – an undergraduate business school that covers a wide array of practical topics like marketing, finance, healthcare policy, operations, real estate, legal studies, accounting, electronic commerce, retail, etc. These real practice skillsets and highly vocational. You also earn a bachelor’s in economics, so it is practical business education combined with a liberal arts Ivy League economics degree.

Princeton, on the other hand, tends to be much more theoretical with a quantitative focus. At Princeton, you can earn a bachelor’s in economics and/or a certificate in finance. That’s as business-oriented as it gets for Princeton. The department also has a mathematical track for those who want to get a stronger quantitative exposure to economic theory. 

So they’re both very different programs, each with its pros and cons. We suggest that you take a look through the websites of both programs to see which interests you better.

A student in the library reading with a pile of books beside him

So which university is better for you? The number of school comparisons can be endless, and remember that prestige is really in the eyes of the beholder. Attending a school that is the best fit for you is the most important part of your decision.

And more importantly, remember that getting into these schools is extraordinarily difficult, so having the opportunity to even get to choose among the upper echelon of universities is a privilege in itself. Book an initial consultation with us today to see which school is not only the best fit for you, but one that you can possibly have a shot at getting into.

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