Cornell vs. Harvard: Which College to Choose?

June 18, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/18/24

Do you need help with choosing between Cornell and Harvard? If yes, read on to see the detailed comparison between the two prestigious schools and their unique characteristics to guide you in making an informed decision.

Choosing a university is an essential decision students need to make in the course of their academic journey. Two institutions stand out in the league of schools, confusing students about which one to choose: Cornell vs Harvard.

This article will guide students and parents in deciding which school to attend. We will explore the features that make each of them stand out and see their academic programs, admission requirements, extracurricular opportunities, and overall student experience.

Cornell vs. Harvard: Overview

Cornell and Harvard are top-tier universities with many academic opportunities for their students. Although they offer academic excellence and personal growth, some differences remain. The overview below shows the features that set them apart.

Cornell Harvard
Location Ithaca, New York Cambridge,
US News Ranking #12 #3
Undergraduate Enrollment 15,735 7,240
No. of International Students 5,146 6,963
Student-to-Faculty Ratio 9:1 7:1
No. of Applicants (Freshmen) Over 71,000 Over 40,000
Acceptance Rate 7% 3%
Mid-50% SAT/ACT Scores of admitted students SAT: 1470 to 1570
ACT: 33 to 35
SAT: 1490 to 1580
ACT: 34-36
Average Tuition (Undergraduate Studies) $66,014 $59,076

Source: Cornell University, Harvard University 

Cornell vs. Harvard: Admissions Requirements

Students who want to enroll in either Cornell or Harvard should ensure they diligently review the specific requirements needed to enter any of the schools. These requirements are different for each school; hence, meeting them might increase your chances of admission.

Cornell Admission Requirements

Below are the admission requirements for Cornell University:

GPA and Completed Courses

The average GPA at Cornell University is 4.07 on a 5.0 scale. GPA is a significant factor in getting admission, although it is not the only determining factor. 

Like the GPA requirement, the school also checks your completed courses and the rigor of the high school coursework. Sometimes, students seeking admission into Cornell take honor classes, AP, IB, and other advanced courses to prove their academic capacities further.

Moreover, Cornell University shows interest in applicants who have passed through a challenging curriculum during their high school days. A rigorous curriculum is one with a strong foundation in mathematics, science, and social studies. 

All these details, with the grade and class rank, will appear on your transcript. After this, the admission committee reviews all this information to know the academic capacity of each applicant.

Essay And Short Answers

Cornell University requires you to submit a personal essay for your application. A personal essay is an opportunity for you to share your personal stories that resonate with your admission to the school. This way, the admission committee will know you beyond school activities and have a glimpse into your writing proficiency.

In addition to writing a personal essay, applicants must answer short questions. These questions are different for each program in the university and are necessary to assess your fitness and interest in the program. All these are needed for the admission committee to know if you can keep up with the academic rigors when admitted.

Letter of Recommendations

Cornell University requires applicants to submit two letters of recommendation as part of the application procedure. The recommendation letters should be from your teachers and people who can attest to your academic capability and potential.

Also, the school requires the applicant to submit a written statement from the school counselor and teachers who taught core subjects such as Mathematics and English. Applicants must provide their recommenders' names and contact information online through the common application or other platforms.

Additional Application Items

After submitting all necessary materials, Cornell University may require applicants to submit additional application items. Examples include a recommendation letter from someone who is not a teacher, an update regarding a recent honor or award received, or an explanation of a change in coursework.

Harvard Admission Requirements

If you want to go to Harvard University, you should know the admission requirements. Below are some of them:

GPA and Completed Courses

Harvard University does not have a specific minimum GPA requirement for admission. This is because they consider the entirety of your application, not excluding any information. 

Although there is no particular GPA, we can use the average GPA of students admitted to know the type of applicants they accept. The average GPA of admitted students at Harvard University is 4.2.

The GPA above is weighted, which shows the grades and difficulty of the courses you took in high school. This way, challenging courses like AP and IB classes have additional value.

Personal Insight Questions

Harvard University requires applicants to answer personal insight questions. If your application is through the common app, then you will answer the essay prompts and Harvard's supplemental essay questions

Letter of Recommendations

Harvard requires applicants to ask two teachers in different subjects to complete the teacher recommendation forms.

You can also submit additional letters of recommendation after sending your application. Your application confirmation email has a personalized link for applicants to send to their recommenders.

In addition, the university requires the applicant to submit a letter of recommendation from the school counselor with the school report and the high school transcripts.

Additional Application Items

There might be additional application items for Harvard University applicants. The items listed above are standard materials needed for admission. However, the admission committee may recognize an applicant with exceptional achievements, awards, talents, and skills they want to know more about.

Hence, the admissions committee may request additional items such as music recordings, artwork, and samples of academic work. These items might increase the chances of the applicant's admission.

Cornell or Harvard? Factors to Consider

Choosing between Cornell and Harvard universities will involve considering various factors because both schools are prestigious with unique characteristics. Here are some factors to consider to make an informed decision:


Cornell and Harvard universities are known for good academic programs, which are divided into different prestigious faculties.

Cornell has several undergraduate colleges, which include the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. You can work with different professors in this school dealing with groundbreaking research in genetics, management, and science.

For course offerings, Cornell has over 4,000 courses available across all disciplines, colleges, and departments. Also, the school offers academic support for its students. 

Moreover, Cornell's Learning Strategies Center ensures students can access tutoring, study groups, and workshops on significant topics like test-taking skills and time management.

Similarly, Harvard University has many opportunities in various fields, such as liberal arts education, computer science, neurobiology, and African American studies. Harvard can give you the most sought-after opportunities, such as studying with Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other scholars.

Regarding course offerings, Harvard has 3,700 courses available for students yearly, and there is an opportunity to take classes for these courses at schools in Boston, including MIT and Tufts University.

Also, Harvard has resources to support its students academically. For example, the Bureau of Study Counsel ensures students can access counseling, workshops, and peer tutoring.

Conclusively, both schools have good academic standards that students who want to explore can enroll in. Also, both schools have libraries with vast collections of journals, articles, books, and other academic resources that will aid research and learning.

Class Profile 

The class profile is a summary of the students who are admitted into a particular year. Below are the most recent class profiles for Cornell and Harvard universities.

2025 Class profile for Cornel University

  • 3,765 first‐year students are expected to enroll for Fall 2021
  • 55.0% are women
  • 45.0% are men
  • 62.1% attended public high schools
  • 14.7% are descendants of Cornell alumni
  • 19.4% are first‐generation college
  • 6.1% are recruited athletes 
  • The average age is 18 

2027 Class profile at Harvard University

  • Applicants 56,937
  • Admitted students 1,966
  • Admitted students from the waiting list 27
  • International students 15.4%


The cost of attending Cornell University is more than that of Harvard. However, Harvard has more additional costs which the student will pay after the resumption and during study. 

The annual tuition at Cornell University is $66,014, which is for both instate and out-of-state students. The board and room fees are $16,396. Moreover, the students will pay for educational materials such as books and supplies for $1000. Also, the students should have about $729 for the other fees charged by the university.

On the other hand, Harvard College tuition is $59,076. Additional costs include health services, $1,408; housing rate, $12,424; student services, $3,399; food rate, $7,950; and student activities fee, $200.

Financial Aid

Both Cornell and Harvard have provisions for students who cannot afford the tuition. This provision includes grants, work-study, and scholarships. 

The cost of attending college is a significant source of concern for students. The total cost of attending Cornell or Harvard is different. Fortunately, both schools offer financial aid packaging for their students.

At Cornell, the financial aid is based on need and not merit, and the school meets a hundred percent of the demonstrated financial need of the admitted students. Families with a total annual package of about $60,000 with the typical assets for the income range are assigned a $0 parent contribution, thereby increasing the university's grant aid.

For a family whose annual income is up to $75,000, there are yearly aid offers that include grants and work-study. It is important to note that there are no student loans. 

Harvard helps give financial aid to people who want to attend school but cannot afford it. For example, 24% of Harvard students do not pay fees. 55% receive the scholarship aid, about $13k is the average parent contribution, and all the students can graduate debt-free.

In addition, Cornell and Harvard have various scholarships and grants that students can apply for. Getting any of these is based on significant factors like academic achievement, leadership roles, and community service. Hence, students should thoroughly research and apply for scholarships and grants to help reduce the cost of attendance.

Sports and Extracurriculars

Both Cornell and Harvard have a wide range of extracurricular activities and sports. Hence, students interested in sports and the community can choose anyone that interests them most.

Cornell offers its students many extracurricular activities. The activities include sports and fitness, arts and cultural clubs, and academic and professional organizations.

It is important to note that the school has athletic facilities that offer different sports, which include basketball, soccer, swimming, tennis, and others. Also, school students can join different teams and participate in friendly matches.

On the other hand, Harvard University always has a wide range of extracurricular opportunities for students. Students interested in academics, sports, arts, or community service can easily choose anyone that interests them the most.

Concerning sports, there is a Harvard athletics program solely for people highly passionate about sports and physical fitness. Hence, students can engage in traditional and intramural sports. 

Choosing Between Cornell and Harvard: How to Decide

Choosing between Cornell and Harvard can be difficult since they are two of the best universities in the world. The two universities have a lot of things to offer their students, ranging from good academic programs to exciting and engaging extracurricular activities.

Before deciding which one to go for, you should examine some significant factors that make up a school. Before deciding, you should consider Harvard's pros and cons and Cornell's pros and cons.  

Factors such as academics, campus culture, location, student life, and career opportunities should be considered too. You can go further by knowing the size of the university and the type of program and extracurricular activities available.

FAQs: Cornell Vs. Harvard

Below are some frequently asked questions when deciding which one to choose between Cornell vs Harvard:

1. Is It Harder to Get into Cornell or Harvard?

It is harder to get into Harvard than Cornell. This is because the acceptance rate for Harvard, which is 3%, is low compared to that of Cornell, which is 7%.

2. Is Cornell Considered a Better School than Harvard?

Cornell is not considered a better school than Harvard. Both universities are great and filled with many academic and career opportunities for personal growth. However, any of the schools may appeal to different applicants using their preferences as a basis. 

3. Which University Is More Prestigious, Cornell or Harvard?

Both schools are prestigious and unique in their ways. The prestige of an institution is subjective and is based on factors like academics, values, and recognition.

For example, Cornell, a top private university in Ithaca, is ranked #20 in the QS World University Rankings in 2023—similarly, Harvard, a top private university in Cambridge. United States ranked #5 in QS World University Rankings in 2023 and #1 in US universities.

Both institutions have great histories with outstanding reputations; hence, it is difficult to determine which one has greater prestige.

4. Which School Has A Stronger Alumni Network?

Harvard has a stronger alumni network than Cornell, although both schools have accomplished graduates in different fields.

5. Is Harvard or Cornell Better for Liberal Arts?

Cornell has a stronger focus on undergraduate liberal arts education than Harvard. The school's College of Arts and Sciences is the largest undergraduate college in the university. 

6. Which University Has More Career Opportunities, Cornell or Harvard?

Harvard has more career opportunities than Harvard because they have better job prospects. Although both have produced successful graduates, Harvard's reputation gives the students better access to opportunities.

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult to know if Cornell is better than Harvard. One of the things that can help you to make an informed decision is to consider the significant factors unique to each school. The schools' significant differences can impact your choice. 

Good luck!

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