Harvard vs USC: A Look at Their Differences and Similarities

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Two students sitting on the stairs of a building.

Harvard vs USC: A Look at Their Differences and Similarities

When it comes to prestigious universities in the United States, Harvard, and USC are two of the most well-known and respected. Both schools have a rich history, diverse academic offerings, and a dedicated student body. However, they are also very different in terms of location, student life, and other factors. In this article, we will take a closer look at Harvard vs USC to see how they compare and contrast admissions to student life.

History and Background of Harvard and USC

Harvard University was founded in 1636, making it one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the country. It is a private Ivy League research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is named after its first benefactor, John Harvard.

The University of Southern California (USC), on the other hand, was founded much later, in 1880. It is a private research university located in Los Angeles, California. It was formerly known as the California School of Mechanical Arts, and later the University of Southern California when it merged with the College of Liberal Arts in 1884.

Despite the significant difference in their founding dates, both Harvard and USC have a rich history of academic excellence and notable alumni. Harvard has produced eight U.S. presidents, 158 Nobel laureates, and 14 Turing Award winners, while USC has produced 11 Rhodes Scholars, 12 MacArthur Fellows, and three Nobel laureates. Both universities continue to attract top students and faculty from around the world and are recognized as leaders in their respective fields.

Academic Programs Offered at Harvard and USC

Both Harvard and USC offer a wide range of academic programs to students. Harvard has undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs in fields such as business, law, medicine, and more. USC also offers undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as professional schools in fields such as journalism, engineering, and architecture.

Unknown person working on a draft.

One thing that sets Harvard apart from USC is its commitment to research. Harvard has a large number of research centers and institutes, including the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. USC also has a strong research ethos, with many opportunities for students to conduct research in their chosen field of study, but it does not have quite the same historical emphasis on research as Harvard.

Another difference between Harvard and USC is their approach to diversity and inclusion. Harvard has made a concerted effort to increase diversity among its student body and faculty, with initiatives such as the Harvard College Women’s Center and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. USC has also taken steps to promote diversity and inclusion, with programs such as the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs and the LGBT Resource Center.

Additionally, both Harvard and USC offer a variety of study abroad programs for students. Harvard has partnerships with universities around the world, including the University of Tokyo and the University of Cambridge. USC has its own study abroad centers in locations such as London, Madrid, and Hong Kong, as well as partnerships with universities in countries such as Australia and South Africa.

Campus Life at Harvard and USC

Another area where Harvard and USC differ significantly is campus life. Harvard has a traditional campus located in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is a small campus, which means that students are all located within a short distance from each other, and there are plenty of opportunities to interact with fellow students and faculty members through clubs, organizations, and other extracurricular activities.

USC, on the other hand, has a sprawling campus located in the bustling city of Los Angeles. The campus is spread out over multiple blocks and students often have to travel significant distances between classes. The advantage of this is that there is plenty to do in the wider city, and there are many opportunities to explore and experience all that Los Angeles has to offer.

Admission Process: How to Get into Harvard and USC

Comparing Harvard vs USC, both have highly competitive admissions processes. Harvard accepts around 5% of its applicants, while USC’s acceptance rate is slightly higher, at around 13%. To get into either school, students need to have excellent grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation.

One thing that sets Harvard apart from USC is its emphasis on diversity. Harvard has a strong commitment to admitting students from all backgrounds and experiences, while USC also values diversity, but perhaps not to the same extent.

In addition to the standard requirements, both Harvard and USC also consider other factors in their admissions process. For example, Harvard looks for students who have demonstrated leadership skills and a passion for community service. USC, on the other hand, places a strong emphasis on creativity and innovation and looks for students who have pursued unique and unconventional interests.

It’s also worth noting that both schools offer a variety of resources to help students navigate the admissions process. Harvard has a dedicated admissions office that provides guidance and support to prospective students, while USC offers a range of workshops, webinars, and other resources to help students put together a strong application.

Faculty and Staff: A Comparative Analysis of Professors at Harvard and USC

Again comparing Harvard vs USC, both have distinguished faculty members who are leaders in their fields. However, there are some differences between the two schools.

Harvard has about 2,400 faculty members who are considered “full-time equivalents,” meaning that they teach, conduct research, and contribute to university life on a full-time basis. USC, on the other hand, has more than 4,000 full-time faculty members, making it one of the largest private research universities in the country.

Another difference is the faculty-student ratio. At Harvard, the ratio is around 5:1, meaning that there are approximately five students for every faculty member. At USC, the ratio is slightly higher, at about 9:1. This means that students at Harvard may receive more individualized attention from their professors, but USC’s larger faculty also means that there are potentially more resources for students to take advantage of.

Despite the differences in size and faculty-student ratio, both Harvard and USC have a strong commitment to diversity among their faculty. Harvard has made a concerted effort to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities on its faculty, with some success. In 2019, women made up 47% of the university’s ladder faculty, and underrepresented minorities made up 12%. USC has also made diversity a priority, with initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women and minority faculty members.

Another area where the two schools differ is in the tenure process. At Harvard, the tenure process can be quite rigorous and competitive, with only a small percentage of faculty members being granted tenure each year. At USC, the process is also competitive, but it is generally considered to be more flexible and supportive of junior faculty members. This can be an important factor for new faculty members who are looking for a supportive environment in which to establish their careers.

Sports Culture at Harvard vs USC

Both Harvard and USC have a strong sports culture, with many opportunities for students to get involved in intercollegiate athletics. Harvard is a member of the Ivy League athletic conference and fields teams in sports such as football, basketball, and hockey. USC is a member of the Pac-12 athletic conference and has a strong football program, as well as successful teams in other sports such as basketball and volleyball.

Aerial drone of rowers.

However, one notable difference is the level of importance placed on sports at each school. At USC, sports are a major part of student life and there are many programs and resources available to support student-athletes. At Harvard, while sports are still important, the emphasis is more on academic achievement and intellectual pursuits.

Another difference between the sports culture at Harvard and USC is the fan base. USC has a large and passionate fan base, with many students and alumni attending games and supporting the teams. Harvard, on the other hand, has a smaller and more reserved fan base, with fewer students and alumni attending games. This may be due to the fact that Harvard is located in the Northeast, where sports are not as heavily emphasized as they are in other parts of the country.

Campus Infrastructures: Comparing Facilities, Libraries, and Labs

Both Harvard and USC have state-of-the-art facilities, libraries, and labs. However, given their different locations and histories, there are some differences between the two schools.

Harvard’s main library is the Widener Library, which is one of the largest academic libraries in the world. USC also has a large library system, with over 4 million volumes and numerous specialized collections.

USC also has several specialized facilities, such as the Annenberg Innovation Lab, which is dedicated to exploring the intersection of media and technology. Harvard has various museums and research centers, including the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.

Another notable difference between the two schools is their approach to campus sustainability. USC has implemented several initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, including the installation of solar panels and the use of electric vehicles for campus transportation. Harvard, on the other hand, has a comprehensive sustainability plan that includes goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing renewable energy use, and promoting sustainable transportation options.

Social Scene: A Look at Greek Life, Clubs, and Organizations

Both Harvard and USC have vibrant social scenes, with many opportunities for students to join clubs, organizations, and fraternities/sororities. However, there are some differences in the way that social life is structured at each school.

Harvard does not have an active Greek life scene, and most social life takes place in student clubs and organizations. USC has a robust Greek life scene, with over 50 fraternities and sororities represented on campus.

Group of students talking while holding their books.

At Harvard, there are a variety of clubs and organizations that cater to different interests, such as the Harvard Crimson newspaper, the Harvard College Democrats, and the Harvard College Women’s Center. These groups often host events and social gatherings, providing students with opportunities to meet new people and engage in activities outside of the classroom.

At USC, greek life plays a significant role in the social scene, with many students joining fraternities or sororities during their time on campus. These organizations often host parties and events, and provide members with a sense of community and support throughout their college experience.

Financial Aid Availability at Harvard vs USC

Both Harvard and USC are committed to providing financial aid to students who need it. However, the process for applying for financial aid may differ between the two schools.

Harvard offers generous need-based financial aid, with no loans required. This means that students may graduate without any debt. USC also offers need-based aid, but may require some loans to cover the full cost of attendance.

It is important to note that both schools also offer merit-based scholarships, which are awarded based on academic or extracurricular achievements. These scholarships do not require a demonstration of financial need but may be highly competitive. Additionally, both Harvard and USC have resources available to help students find and apply for external scholarships and grants.

Student Demographics: Comparing Diversity at Harvard and USC

Both Harvard and USC value diversity and strive to create a welcoming environment for students from all backgrounds. However, there are some differences in terms of the demographics of each school.

Harvard has a large international student population, with students coming from over 100 countries. USC also has a diverse student body, with over 30% of students identifying as minorities.

Additionally, Harvard has a higher percentage of students from privileged backgrounds, with over 60% of students coming from families with incomes over $125,000 per year. In contrast, USC has a more even distribution of students from different income brackets, with approximately 40% of students coming from families with incomes over $125,000 per year.

Research Opportunities Available for Students at Harvard vs USC

Both Harvard and USC offer many opportunities for students to conduct research in their chosen field of study. However, there may be some differences in terms of the types of research opportunities available.

Harvard has a large number of research centers and institutes, including the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. USC also has many research centers and institutes, but perhaps does not have quite the same historical emphasis on research as Harvard.

Engineering students working together on a lab.

Despite this, USC has made significant strides in recent years to increase its research output and funding. In fact, USC has been ranked as one of the top 20 research universities in the United States by the National Science Foundation. Additionally, USC has a strong focus on interdisciplinary research, with many opportunities for students to collaborate across different fields of study.

Both Harvard and USC also offer undergraduate research programs, allowing students to work closely with faculty members on research projects. These programs provide valuable hands-on experience and can be a great way for students to explore their interests and gain skills that will be useful in their future careers.

Cost of Attendance: Analyzing Tuition Fees and Living Expenses

Both Harvard and USC have high tuition fees and living expenses, which can be a barrier for some students seeking to attend either school.

Harvard’s tuition fees for the 2021-2022 academic year are $51,925 for undergraduate students, with additional fees for activities, housing, and meals. USC’s tuition fees for the same period are $60,275, with similar additional fees for living expenses.

However, both schools offer financial aid and scholarships to help offset the cost of attendance. Harvard’s financial aid program is need-based and covers 100% of demonstrated financial need, while USC offers both need-based and merit-based scholarships to eligible students. It’s important for prospective students to research and apply for these opportunities to make attending these prestigious universities more affordable.


In conclusion, Harvard and USC are two of the most prestigious universities in the United States, with distinguished academic programs and experienced faculty members. While they share some similarities, such as a commitment to diversity and providing students with access to research opportunities, they also have many differences in terms of location, campus life, and student demographics. Ultimately, the choice between Harvard vs USC will depend on factors such as a student’s personal preferences, academic goals, and financial situation.

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