It is inevitable. Both Yale University and Harvard University are top-notch Ivy League schools with world-class academic credentials both in faculty and alumni rosters. Both speak of esteemed programs in law, medicine, sciences, social sciences and engineering. And both have a heritage to show off, one is the oldest while the other one is the third oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
It is no surprise that Yale University and Harvard University would end up as rivals, eyeing each other’s achievements as a sort of one-upmanship against the other. But the rivalry, ironically, originated in or was at least exacerbated by, something non-academic: football.
Yale had, at one point, the winningest football team, which is no longer true today, while Harvard boasts of a stellar history in the college sport. Actually, both schools along with Princeton University, were known as the Big Three in college football, a phrase that predates “Ivy League,” originating from the 1880s when these schools dominated college football (Synnott, Marsha G. The “Big Three” and the Harvard-Yale Football Break, 1926-1934).
This article on Yale vs Harvard, however, will not dwell on their sports rivalry; rather, it will focus on the academic and relevant aspects that matter to you as a student wanting to know which school will best shape your future.
Yale vs. Harvard Table of Contents
- World Rankings
- Faculty and Alumni Recognitions
- Acceptance by The Numbers
- Campus size
- Demographics & Diversity
Brief Background on Harvard University
Harvard University was founded in 1632, the oldest higher learning institution in the U.S. Named after clergyman John Harvard, it has grown from originally a training ground for Congregational and Unitarian clergy to being one of the elite universities in the world today.
Today, Harvard has 12 degree-granting schools on top of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. What is Harvard known for? These include world-renown institutes such as the Harvard Business School, the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Law School. When people say Harvard or the oldest university in the U.S., they are referring to one of its institutes, Harvard College, which offers 4-year undergraduate degrees as the first step towards higher learning.
Brief Background on Yale University
On the other hand, Yale has 14 constituent colleges where students are distributed and affiliated with one college for the entire four-year course. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest higher learning institute in the U.S. The school was originally named, the Collegiate School, but was renamed in 1716 after the British East India Company governor, Elihu Yale. As with Harvard, Yale started with theological studies but expanded to liberal arts and sciences throughout its history. Today, Yale covers nearly all disciplines in higher learning but is well-known for its arts, social sciences, engineering, history, mathematics, and statistics. Is Yale better than Harvard? Read on to find out.
University world rankings are at best indicators and not to be taken as absolute truths. Still, they provide a good picture of where the school stands. Besides, university rankings are best taken as a whole rather than in parts, that is, if the school belongs to the top 10, you can be sure it is a world-class university.
Harvard Tops Yale Consistently
Harvard consistently tops Yale in the QS World University Rankings year to year. Not only that, Harvard is more consistent in its place. In its 2020 report, Harvard placed 3rd while Yale is at 17th among the world’s top universities (TopUniversities.com, 2020). In fact, Harvard kept its third place from 2018 to 2020, during which time Yale slipped from 15th to 16th in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Harvard Beats Yale in All Major Ranking Factors Save For One
In almost all the major ranking factors, Harvard has the upper hand except for the faculty/student ratio. Here, Yale is ranked at 4th while Harvard is at 40th. This aside, Harvard ranks first in academics and graduate employers while Yale is at ninth. Harvard is also eighth on research impact, or the number of citations per faculty member, compared to Yale’s 190th.
Harvard Scores Higher than Yale in Major Subject Ratings
When broken down into subject strengths, Harvard reveals its upper hand over its rival. It is 1st for life sciences & medicine and social sciences where Yale is 12th and 8th, respectively. It also ranks second for arts & humanities while Yale is sixth. Harvard is 3rd for natural sciences while Yale is 21st. For engineering and technology, Harvard is 12th while Yale is 61st.
Being universities, both Yale and Harvard offer undergraduate and graduate courses. Harvard has 88 undergraduate degrees around 53 majors and 18 broad files, while Yale offers more than 80 undergraduate majors and 2,000 courses or subjects (Polland, J. and Zeveloff, J., April 2013). For graduate programs, both universities provide M.A., M.S. and Ph.D. programs across a wide range of disciplines.
Harvard has 78 departments while Yale has 73 departments with a postgraduate degree program. Likewise, Harvard has M.E. that Yale lacks, while Yale has M.Phil. that Harvard does not offer (Yale, n.d.).
In terms of faculty-to-student ratio, Yale has 6:1 while Harvard has 7:1 (Polland, J. and Zeveloff, J., April 2013). The difference in the numbers is at best nominal, which tells us neither has an advantage over the other when it comes to academics.
Both Harvard and Yale are competitive rivals in academic programs in medicine, law and management. Beyond that, Yale is more popular for drama and music, while Harvard is more regarded for its engineering and government studies.
Yale is known for its world-class Law School (Bill and Hillary Clintons are alumni), School of Management, School of Medicine, School of Art and School of Nursing. Likewise, its a cappella group, Yale Whiffenpoofs, and the Yale Dramatic Association are widely known outside of the campus.
On the other hand, Harvard is a name to reckon with for its Business School, Medical School, Graduate Education School, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Law School and John F. Kennedy School of Government.
- Most Popular Degrees at Yale: Yale: social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, engineering, history, mathematics and statistics (US News, n.d.).
- Most Popular Degrees at Harvard: social sciences, biology and biological sciences, mathematics, physical sciences and history (US News, n.d.).
Faculty and Alumni Recognition
An indirect metric to gauge a school’s reputation is to look at the accomplishment of its alumni or faculty. Here, both Harvard and Yale are not found wanting. In fact, if you start at the number of U.S. presidents both had produced, Harvard and Yale ranked first and second, respectively, at 8 and 5 (University of the People, n.d.).
U.S. presidents from Harvard
- John Adams
- John Quincy Adams
- Rutherford B. Hayes
- John F. Kennedy
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
- George W. Bush
- Barack Obama.
U.S. presidents from Yale
- William Howard Taft
- George H.W Bush
- George W. Bush (undergraduate studies)
- Gerald Ford (Yale Law School)
- Bill Clinton (Yale Law School)
Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize Recipients
You will also know the reputation of a school by the number of awards granted to its faculty or alumni. None, perhaps, is more prestigious than a Nobel Prize for which Harvard has 47 laureates while Yale has 25. As for Pulitzer Prize, Yale bested Harvard with 56 against 47 recipients, respectively.
High-level awards aside, professors are being rated today by their students in the widely popular platform, ratemyprofessor.com, in the same breadth as restaurants are reviewed in Yelp. It may not be scientific, but collectively, the numbers are useful in terms of perception, in this case, the students’. Both Harvard’s and Yale’s average ratings are nearly identical at 3.84 versus 3.80, respectively.
You can also take a look at the famous people who graduated from either Harvard or Yale. Popular figures are generally viewed as successful people and their success may rub off on their alma mater.
- Famous Harvard alumni: Leonard Bernstein, E.E. Cummings, Gertrude Stein, W.E.B. DuBois, T.S. Eliot, J. Robert Oppenheimer
- Famous Yale alumni: Samuel F. B. Morse, Cole Porter (American songwriter and composer), Eli Whitney (inventor of the cotton gin), Bob Woodward (journalist) (Browning, L. October 2014).
Yale tuition is slightly higher than Harvard’s in the undergraduate programs. For the school year 2019-20, an undergraduate degree at Harvard is around $47,730. Inclusive of living costs such as meals, accommodation and travel, the fees jump to $73,800. Meanwhile, at Yale, an undergraduate degree typically costs $55,500; inclusive of living costs the fees increase to as high as $75,925 (Bridgestock, L. June 2019).
At the graduate level for the same period, tuition depends on the program. For comparison, you can compare the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in both universities. In Harvard, a program costs around $48,008 plus $4,208 per month for living costs. In Yale, tuition is at $43,300 plus $2,668 per month for living costs. In this instance, it seems Harvard is the pricier university.
You can also match the popular medicine programs in both schools. Tuition at the Harvard Medical School is around $45,050 full-time, while for the School of Medicine at Yale, tuition is higher at $62,974 full-time.
It has been estimated that the average income of the parents of students who attend Harvard University is equal to the top two percent income hierarchy in the U.S. or $450,000 per year (Piketty, 2014 cited in Lee & Wright, 2016). The same thing can be said of Yale and other Ivy League schools.
Acceptance by The Numbers
The following statistics are based on 2019 figures (Ivy Coach, 2019). Harvard received 37,305 applications that year and only admitted 5.3% of them. On the other hand, Yale received 30,237 applicants in the same year but only accepted 6.5%. Statistically speaking, you have more chances of getting into a program at Yale than Harvard.
Both universities assume you belong to the top of your class when applying for a program. Harvard requires a 4.18 GPA, while Yale a 4.14 GPA. It does not mean that if you go below the GPA benchmark you are out. GPA is just one of the many indicators the admission committee considers. A high SAT or ACT score or an excellent or unique athletic or talent ability may compensate for a low GPA.
Yale vs. Harvard: Other Facts & Statistics
These facts are fun to lay down for comparison but they are likely not a deciding factor for anyone choosing between Yale and Harvard. However, they can help you get a clearer physical feel of both schools.
Simply said, Harvard is the bigger apple in terms of physical size. Harvard’s student body is nearly twice the size of Yale’s and its campus size in acres is over 14 times than that of Yale’s. Harvard has around 22,000 student population at any given time versus 13,433 in Yale. Harvard’s campus is also much bigger at 5,457 compared with Yale at 373 acres.
Both Yale and Harvard provide on-campus living options. In many ways, their housing system is more similar than different, that housing will likely not be a deciding factor when choosing between the two schools.
In both universities, freshmen are housed in a central place called the “Yard” in Harvard and “Old Campus” at Yale. Post-first year, students are sorted into any of the residential colleges. Harvard has 12 residential colleges, while Yale has 14 residential colleges. In both cases, a residential college features suite-style accommodation: multiple bedrooms sharing a common space. Private rooms are usually reserved for senior students.
Both Harvard and Yale have 13 dining halls featuring dozens of meal choices. The food experience in both places may not vary much. In fact, they were ranked close to each other by The Daily Meal, 35th for Harvard and 34th for Yale.
Harvard and Yale boast of food events, a kosher kitchen, vegetarian and vegan options and food sustainability programs. In Harvard, you can grace gastronomical events like Top Chef Harvard and Brain Breaks. Themed meal events are also a regular at Yale campus, where you always have monthly barbecues to satisfy a carnivorous appetite.
Harvard being Harvard, you can dig a morsel of food knowledge by taking a food course or workshops on food writing and food history. Its Food Literacy Project Newsletter updates you on food events around the campus.
Meanwhile, over in Yale, the gourmet can opt to mixology or wine pairing events. Students can check a mobile app that updates them on dining offers. They can also partake in the on-campus Sustainable Food Project initiatives, such as promoting local food and zero food waste.
Not even if you are into armchair weather analysis would you notice the difference in the climate between the areas around Yale and Harvard. They are both in the Northeast, which means the weather is gloomy, cloudy skies covering the sky for the most part of the year. Temperature ranges from 22°F to 82°F and winters are especially cold and wet. As in most northern states, the best time is summertime, allowing for outdoor activities from June to September.
If you are a born-and-bred Californian or coming from a sunny part of the country, you would not see any use for a northeast weather survival guide when studying either at Yale or Harvard.
Demographics & Diversity
Diversity is a major factor, not just for people of color, but for anyone who aspires for a more equitable society. And it starts with choosing a school that identifies with one’s core values. Based on the data below, Harvard and Yale are gaining major inroads into ensuring that the opportunities in life that both afford their students are shared among different types of minorities.
Both universities have a healthy gender balance with Yale rounding off its male-to-female ratio right in the middle. Harvard, on the other hand, has more males but the difference is statistically insignificant at 2%.
Other gender identities are gaining representation in both universities, at least formally. Harvard has the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, while Yale has the Office of LGBTQ Resource, both of which support the community with events, consultations, and workshops, among others.
In terms of diversity, both appear similarly equitable to minorities when seen from the white population. Harvard is generally 46% white vs. Yale’s 43% (Berlinsky-Schine, L. April 2020). But it is in their African-American population where the disparity sinks in. Black comprises 14.3% of the student population at Harvard against Yale’s 5.8%. It does not mean Yale is less open to blacks though, considering that the figures are dynamic year to year. In fact, Yale topped Harvard in black enrollment in 2004.
In both universities, Asian-Americans have the biggest share among minorities at 25.3% and 14.7% at Harvard and Yale, respectively.
Foreign Student Body
Harvard has a larger international student body than Yale, not only in percentage (23% vs. 22%), but also in absolute numbers, Harvard’s overall student population being nearly twice as much as Yale’s (Bridgestock, L., 2019). In 2018, there are 6,572 foreign students at Harvard against Yale’s 2,639 foreign students among undergraduate and postgraduate students (collegefactual.com, 2018).
So, Which One is the Better University?
First of all, it is important that you understand numbers alone do not define a university’s reputation. It is built over an overarching commitment to integrity, truth, fairness, and the transformative power of education. Many of these are unquantifiable and it is no surprise that they are, at least, a part of both universities’ motto, hence, their guiding principle.
But if you go by the numbers above, Harvard does take the cake in almost all aspects. However, the difference may be at best nominal given that both are acclaimed universities in the world. Both have produced world-class leaders in politics, business, medicine, and research. Both excel in a wide range of academic subjects. And both are in New England, if location matters to you.
That said, you have a hard decision to make choosing between the two universities. It will also depend on your academic preference, financial capability, personal and even familial biases, personality, and throw in a bit of luck whichever school decides to admit you, either fairly or for some other reason. At the end of the day, the answer to which is better, Harvard or Yale, is… Princeton, says the Princeton alumnus.
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- Polland, J., & Zeveloff, J. (2013, April). Harvard vs. Yale: Which is really the best Ivy League School? BusinessInsider.
- Yale (n.d.). Graduate & Professional Study. Yale.edu.
- U.S. News (n.d). Overview of Yale University. USNews.com.
- UOPeople (n.d.). Where did most U.S Presidents attend college? University of the People.
- Browning, L. (2014, October). The 22 most successful Yale alumni of all time. Business Insider.
- Bridgestock, L. (2019, June). Top Ivy League Schools: Harvard or Yale? QS TopUniversities.
- Ivy Coach (2019). 2019 Ivy League admissions statistics. IvyCoach.com.
- Ashraf, S. (2018, October). 75 Best Colleges for Food for 2018 Ranking. The Daily Meal.
- Berlinsky-Schine, L. (2020). Harvard vs. Yale: Which college is right for you? College Vine.
- College Factual Staff (n.d.). Yale University International Student Report. College Factual.