Harvard vs. Brown: Which College to Choose?

May 23, 2024
4 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/23/24

Is Harvard better than Brown? What are the pros and cons of going to either school? We’ll answer these questions and more to help you choose the school that’s best for you.

Harvard University and Brown College boast prestigious Ivy League status, each with its own distinct environments, academic offerings, and campus cultures. 

Both schools will provide you with unparalleled opportunities for growth, learning, and personal development, ensuring that your college experience is nothing short of transformative. So, which one should you choose?

In this article, we'll delve into what sets these schools apart, offering insights into their academic programs and overall student experience. Whether you're a parent seeking guidance or a student on the brink of enrollment, our aim is to provide you with the knowledge necessary to navigate this critical decision.

Let’s get started!

Harvard vs. Brown:  Overview

To shed light on the key differences between Harvard vs. Brown, we’ve outlined key information about both schools in the following table.

Harvard Brown
Location Cambridge, MA Providence, RI
US News Ranking #3 #9
Undergraduate Enrollment 7,240 7,639
No. of International Students 6,963 1,762
Student-to-Faculty Ratio 7:1 6:1
No. of Applicants (Freshmen) >40,000 50,649
Acceptance Rate 3% 5%
Mid-50% SAT/ACT Scores of admitted students SAT: 1490 to 1580
ACT: 34 to 36
SAT: 1490 to 1580
ACT: 34 to 36
Average Tuition (Undergraduate Studies) $59,076 $68,230

Harvard vs. Brown: Admissions Requirements

Securing admission into esteemed institutions like Harvard and Brown is highly competitive. To give you the best chance of getting accepted, you’ll need to put together a stellar application. 

Below, we’ll outline the admissions requirements for both schools so you can strategize effectively, tailor your application to meet their expectations, and stand out among the competition.

Harvard Admission Requirements

Here are the admission requirements you’ll need to get into Harvard:

GPA and Completed Courses

Harvard takes a holistic approach to evaluating applications, considering every aspect without fixating on a minimum GPA requirement. However, it's noteworthy that the average GPA of admitted students stands at an impressive 4.2. Your GPA is weighted, meaning that rigorous coursework such as AP and IB classes can significantly bolster your application.

While Harvard doesn't specify mandatory courses for admission, aspiring applicants should aim for excellence across their academic endeavors to distinguish themselves in the competitive applicant pool.

Essay and Short Answers

Crafting a compelling college essay is a pivotal component of your application to Harvard. This essay presents a prime opportunity to illuminate your personality, writing prowess, and qualities that align with the university's values. Admission officers seek essays that are not only well-written but also offer a distinctive insight into who you are as an individual.

If you're using the Common Application, you'll respond to the designated essay prompts along with Harvard's supplemental essay questions. These responses collectively offer a platform to showcase your unique perspective and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Letter of Recommendations

Recommendation letters play a pivotal role in providing a comprehensive portrait of the applicant to Harvard. These letters, typically penned by two of the applicant's teachers, serve as invaluable testimonials spotlighting the individual's strengths, accomplishments, and distinctive attributes. 

They also serve as additional evidence of the applicant's academic promise and underscore the support garnered from their educators.

Additional Application Items

In addition to the standard application materials required for admission to Harvard University, applicants may be asked to provide supplementary items that further highlight their exceptional talents and achievements. 

These additional materials, which could include artwork, samples of previous academic work, or music recordings, offer the admissions committee a deeper understanding of the applicant's unique abilities and contributions.

Brown Admission Requirements

Let’s take a look at Brown University’s admission requirements. 

GPA and Completed Courses

With a competitive GPA of 4.08, gaining admission to Brown requires exemplary academic performance. If your GPA falls below this standard, bolstering your application with high SAT or ACT scores can enhance your chances of acceptance. Enrolling in challenging coursework can further demonstrate your academic prowess and readiness for Brown’s rigorous academic environment.

Beyond maintaining a strong GPA, Brown University expects applicants to have completed a rigorous secondary school curriculum. The admissions committee looks for candidates who have completed a minimum of four challenging courses encompassing core subjects essential for academic preparedness. 

Here’s a breakdown of the specific subjects applicants must have completed:

  • Four years of mathematics with a focus on calculus
  • Three to four years of history and social studies, including history and government
  • Four years of English language, which focuses on literature and academic writing
  • Three to four years of sciences, including biology, physics, and chemistry.
  • Three to four years of foreign languages with a high probability of continuous learning of the same language

Brown also encourages students to study subjects like music and art to increase the number of courses taken.

Personal Essay

Brown places a significant emphasis on the personal essay component of the application, providing you with an opportunity to authentically convey your unique narrative and allow the admissions committee to gain deeper insights into your character and experiences.

In addition to the personal essay, you'll be tasked with responding to Brown's supplemental essays, which typically consist of short-answer questions. These prompts are designed to elicit your interests, values, and potential contributions to the campus community, offering a chance to showcase your personality and compatibility with Brown's ethos.

Letter of Recommendations

To get into Brown, you’ll be required to submit a minimum of two letters of recommendation. These recommendations should ideally include one from a high school counselor and another from a teacher, both of whom can provide insights into the applicant's academic prowess and passion for learning.

Additional Application Items

In addition to the primary application components outlined above, applicants may be asked to provide supplementary materials to further support their candidacy. These additional items may encompass standardized test scores, a portfolio showcasing relevant achievements or talents, and detailed documentation of extracurricular involvement.

These supplementary materials are intended to provide the admissions committee with a comprehensive understanding of your qualifications and suitability for the program. Applicants are also required to submit a brief two-minute video presentation where they introduce themselves to the committee and articulate their alignment with their desired program of study.

Harvard or Brown? Factors to Consider

When choosing between Harvard vs. Brown, considering key factors like academics, class profile, costs, and extracurricular activities will help you make your decision. 


Harvard provides a wealth of undergraduate opportunities across various fields, including African American studies and computer sciences. If you aspire to engage with renowned scholars, such as Nobel laureates or Pulitzer Prize winners, Harvard offers an unparalleled platform to do so.

With an extensive catalog of over 3,700 courses in 50 undergraduate disciplines, Harvard's academic offerings are vast and reflect the institution's robust resources dedicated to supporting students' intellectual pursuits. The Harvard College Bureau of Study Counsel, for example, is an excellent resource for students, giving them access to mentoring, tutoring, counseling, and workshops to foster academic success.

Similarly, Brown stands as a distinguished research institution, boasting a rich legacy as the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Differentiating itself with an open curriculum, Brown champions flexible and personalized learning experiences for its students.

The university's undergraduate division offers more than 80 concentrations, spanning diverse disciplines such as applied mathematics and anthropology. Brown also offers postgraduate courses encompassing esteemed programs like the Warren Alpert Medical School, the School of Engineering, and various professional schools.

Class Profile 

Considering class profiles helps students gauge the demographics, academic caliber, and diversity of their peers. It can influence their sense of belonging and the overall learning environment at Harvard and Brown. 

Harvard Class Profile 

Here are key highlights from Harvard’s most recent class profile:

  • Applicants: 56,937
  • Admitted: 1,966
  • Admitted from the waiting list: 27
  • International students: 15.4%
  • Humanities: 16.0%
  • Social sciences: 28.2%
  • Biological sciences: 17.4%
  • Physical sciences: 6.7%
  • Engineering: 9.5%
  • Computer science: 9.0%
  • Math: 6.6%
  • Undecided: 6.7%
  • Total budget: $80,000
  • Parent contribution: $13,000
  • Harvard, federal, and outside scholarships: $64,500

Brown Class Profile

Here is Brown’s class profile for their most recent admissions cycle.

  • 51,316 students applied for admission
  • 2,686 students were accepted
  • 1,699 matriculated
  • 77 new members are transfer students
  • 15% are first-generation college students.
  • 12% are international citizens.

Courses such as economics, computer science, biology, and international and public affairs have the highest number of applicants.


Harvard College's tuition stands at $59,076, with additional expenses including $1,408 for health services, $12,424 for housing, $3,399 for student services, $7,950 for food, and a $200 student activities fee.

Conversely, Brown University's tuition has increased to $68,230 from previous years. Additional fees comprise $1,360 for miscellaneous expenses, $1,652 for books and supplies, $16,346 for room and board, and $2,268 for other miscellaneous expenses.

Notably, at Brown University, the cost of attendance for in-state and out-of-state students is the same, totaling approximately $82,570 for full-time enrollment.

Financial Aid

Financial aid at Harvard is provided for students who cannot afford tuition. For example, 24% of students in the institution do not pay fees, 55% receive scholarships, and the average parent contribution is about $13,000. This way, all students can graduate debt-free.

Similarly, Brown University's financial aid always aims to meet 100% of students' demonstrated financial needs. Brown does not include student loans as part of the financial aid because all assistance comes from grants and scholarships. The students are expected to supplement these aids with earnings from summer jobs and work-study.

Sports and Extracurriculars

Harvard presents a wealth of extracurricular options tailored to students' diverse interests, whether in sports, the arts, or community service. The Harvard athletics program, for example, caters specifically to those passionate about sports and physical fitness, offering ample opportunities for participation in both traditional and intramural sports.

In a similar vein, Brown University offers an extensive array of extracurricular activities, boasting over 500 student organizations that encompass a diverse range of interests and pursuits. Additionally, students can partake in club sports, physical education sports, and intramural sports, ensuring a vibrant and inclusive campus life.

Choosing Between Harvard and Brown: How to Decide

Choosing between Harvard and Brown for undergraduate education ultimately hinges on your preferred learning style. Harvard, known for its traditional approach, offers a classic academic environment with prestigious resources and a competitive atmosphere. 

However, if you prefer a more flexible and innovative learning experience, Brown may be the better fit. At Brown, undergraduates appreciate the university's emphasis on autonomy and interdisciplinary exploration. The open curriculum encourages students to pursue their interests freely, fostering a collaborative and inclusive community. 

Overall, while Harvard provides a traditional and prestigious setting, Brown stands out for its flexibility and innovation, making it a beloved choice among undergraduates seeking a more dynamic educational experience. It's essential to consider both Harvard's pros and cons vs. Brown's pros and cons to ensure you're making the best decision for your unique situation.


Still haven’t made up your mind about Harvard vs. Brown? Our responses to these frequently asked questions will clarify any remaining questions you may still have. 

1. Is It Harder to Get Into Harvard or Brown?  

Harvard generally has a lower acceptance rate and receives a larger number of applications compared to Brown, making it slightly more difficult to gain admission. However, both universities are highly selective and competitive.

2. Is Harvard Considered a Better School than Brown?

Both Harvard and Brown are prestigious universities with excellent reputations. Harvard is often viewed as one of the top universities globally, known for its academic excellence and extensive resources. Brown, while slightly smaller, is also highly respected for its commitment to undergraduate education and interdisciplinary study. 

Whether Harvard is considered "better" than Brown depends on individual preferences and goals.

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

Harvard University is generally considered more prestigious than Brown University.

4. Are There Opportunities for Internships and Career Development at Harvard and Brown?

Yes, both Harvard and Brown offer extensive opportunities for internships and career development through their career services centers, departmental resources, alumni networks, and connections with top companies and organizations.

Final Thoughts

When weighing the decision between Harvard and Brown, understanding the pros and cons of each institution is crucial. Harvard's esteemed reputation, extensive resources, and competitive atmosphere offer unparalleled academic and professional opportunities, but its large class sizes and intense environment may not suit everyone.

Conversely, Brown's commitment to flexibility, innovation, and a more personalized educational experience fosters a vibrant and inclusive campus culture. While Harvard's tradition and prestige appeal to some, Brown's dynamic approach to learning attracts those seeking autonomy and interdisciplinary exploration. 

Ultimately, choosing between Harvard and Brown depends on individual preferences and priorities in undergraduate education.

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