Princeton vs. Harvard: Which College to Choose?

Princeton or Harvard?
May 7, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/7/24

Struggling to decide between Princeton vs. Harvard? Uncover the differences and similarities to make an informed choice in our comprehensive comparison.

One of the most important academic decisions most students make is choosing the right college. This decision can shape their academic and personal journey, providing the foundation for their future success. Choosing between these Ivy League schools is an even tougher decision to make.

This guide will explore these two schools to help you decide. The article will include admission requirements, factors for both schools and how to make a decision. After reading, you should be able to decide if you want to attend Princeton or Harvard.

Princeton vs. Harvard: Overview

Here is an overview of Princeton and Harvard.

Princeton Harvard
Location New Jersey Massachusetts
US News Ranking #1 #3
Undergraduate Enrollment 5,604 7,240
No. of International Students 685 6,527
Student-to-Faculty Ratio 5:1 7:1
No. of Applicants (Freshmen) 39,644 56,937
Acceptance Rate 4.50% 3.59%
Mid-50% SAT/ACT Scores of Admitted Students SAT: 1500-1580
ACT: 34-50
SAT: 1490-1580
ACT: 34-36
Average Tuition (Undergraduate Studies) $59,710 $56,550

This table contains a comparison of the two schools. It is important to note that this information can change over time. You can check the school’s page for updated details.

Princeton vs. Harvard: Admissions Requirements

Below are the admission requirements of Princeton and Harvard.

Princeton Admission Requirements

To gain admission to Princeton, prospective students must navigate the following academic requirements.

Princeton University

GPA and Completed Courses

Princeton values academic excellence, and this is reflected in its admissions process. Most successful applicants have an unweighted GPA that is nearly perfect, often between 3.95 and 4.0. Princeton seeks students who have consistently excelled in their high school coursework, demonstrating a strong commitment to their studies.

In addition, Princeton wants a challenging high school curriculum. They seek candidates who have taken several honors, Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. It's not only about getting good grades; it's about demonstrating a love for learning and a willingness to tackle complex subjects.

Essay And Short Answers

Princeton requires all applicants to submit an essay as part of their application. This essay is a crucial component of the admission process, offering candidates a chance to reveal their character, experiences, and aspirations. Princeton provides several essay prompts, each carefully crafted to elicit personal, reflective responses.

In addition to the personal essay, Princeton requires short answers to specific questions. These questions may inquire about your extracurricular activities, experiences, and goals. It's an opportunity to give the admissions committee insights into your interests and personal story.

Letter of Recommendations

Princeton mandates two academic teacher recommendations. These letters should emphasize the applicant's academic potential, engagement, and contributions to the classroom. They give the admissions team an understanding of how you interact in an academic setting and your potential to thrive in Princeton's rigorous academic environment.

Additional Application Items

Princeton wants students who engage actively in extracurricular activities. Your application should include a detailed list of extracurricular involvements, highlighting leadership roles, achievements, and meaningful contributions to your school or community. Princeton is interested in students who excel academically and demonstrate a strong commitment to activities outside the classroom.

Alongside your list of extracurricular activities, Princeton encourages applicants to submit a résumé. This document should provide an overview of your achievements, leadership roles, and community involvement. It provides a structured format for presenting your accomplishments and contributions.

An essential aspect of Princeton's admission requirements is its test-optional policy. As of recent years, the university does not require SAT or ACT scores for admission. This policy reflects Princeton's commitment to fostering an equitable learning environment, recognizing that standardized tests may not accurately reflect all students' capabilities.

Prospective Princeton students must have outstanding academic achievements, engage thoughtfully with essay prompts, provide strong teacher recommendations, and showcase their well-rounded character through extracurricular activities and a comprehensive résumé. 

Harvard Admission Requirements

To secure a place at Harvard, applicants must meet rigorous admission requirements encompassing several academic and personal qualities.

Harvard University

GPA and Completed Courses

Harvard University attracts some of the brightest minds globally. Successful applicants have exceptionally high GPAs, often near the 4.0 mark. The Harvard admissions team seeks students who have consistently excelled academically throughout high school, demonstrating a deep commitment to learning.

Harvard values a challenging high school curriculum. Taking advanced courses, including Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, is essential to stand out in the applicant pool. 

The admissions committee wants to see that you've eagerly pursued demanding academic challenges, showcasing your aptitude and passion for learning.

Personal Insight Questions

One of the central elements of a Harvard application is the essay. Harvard offers several prompts, each designed to allow applicants to reveal their character, experiences, and personal aspirations. 

This essay is a critical part of your application, allowing you to convey what sets you apart and how your experiences have shaped your identity and goals.

Letter of Recommendations

Harvard requires two teacher recommendations. These letters should discuss the applicant's academic potential, classroom engagement, and learning environment contributions. The recommendations should provide insights into how you interact with peers, contribute to class discussions, and approach your studies.

In addition to teacher recommendations, Harvard also expects a recommendation from your school counselor. This letter should provide a broader perspective on your achievements, character, and contributions to your school and community.

Additional Application Items

Harvard values extracurricular engagement. Your application should include a list of your extracurricular activities, highlighting leadership roles, significant achievements, and meaningful contributions to your school or community. Harvard is interested in students who excel academically and show an unwavering commitment to activities beyond the classroom.

Harvard encourages students to submit supplementary materials that offer a deeper insight into their talents and passions. These materials can include art portfolios, scientific research papers, or a recording of musical compositions. Applicants should ensure that these materials genuinely represent their skills and interests.

While not mandatory, an interview can provide a valuable opportunity to introduce yourself to a Harvard representative. Harvard offers optional interviews, which applicants are encouraged to take full advantage of. Interviews serve as a way to discuss your experiences, aspirations, and what you can contribute to the Harvard community.

While the admissions process in both schools is highly competitive, Harvard values diversity and seeks students who excel academically and show a genuine passion for learning and a desire to make a meaningful impact in the world.

Princeton or Harvard? Factors to Consider

Choosing between two Ivy League powerhouses, Harvard or Princeton, is a decision that requires careful consideration of various factors. Let's explore some critical factors to help you decide which university aligns with your aspirations and goals.

Princeton University


Both Princeton and Harvard are known for their academic rigor and excellence. Your choice should depend on your specific academic interests. Princeton is known for its exceptional undergraduate focus, offering smaller class sizes and a strong emphasis on teaching. 

However, Harvard is renowned for its comprehensive academic offerings and a wealth of resources. Consider your preferred major and research opportunities when making your choice.

Both institutions boast distinguished faculty members who are leaders in their respective fields. Harvard's vast research resources and affiliations with countless research centers offer unparalleled opportunities. Princeton's smaller size can lead to more personalized attention from professors and a close-knit academic community.

While both schools offer a broad liberal arts education, some curriculum differences exist. Princeton follows a strong core curriculum emphasizing independent work, while Harvard's open curriculum allows for more flexibility. Your academic preferences should guide your choice.

Class Profile

Harvard, with a larger student body, offers more diversity in terms of majors, activities, and opportunities. Princeton, being smaller, fosters a close-knit community. Consider whether you prefer a larger or more intimate campus environment.

Princeton's smaller size often results in more intimate class settings, allowing closer interactions with professors. Harvard's larger classes might offer broader perspectives. Consider your learning style and how you thrive in different class settings.


Both universities have a substantial price tag, but the tuition cost is almost similar. It's essential to check both institutions' current tuition and fee rates and determine if they align with your financial resources.

The cost of living can differ significantly depending on the university's location. Housing, transportation, and general expenses can impact your overall costs. Harvard's cost of living is about $30,000, while Princeton is estimated at $36,600.

Financial Aid

Both Princeton and Harvard have robust financial aid programs that aim to make their institutions accessible to students regardless of their financial backgrounds. Harvard's financial aid is need-based, and the university meets 100% of demonstrated financial need. Princeton follows a similar approach, committing to a no-loan financial aid policy.

In addition to need-based aid, consider any merit scholarships or special programs you may qualify for. Explore scholarship opportunities at both universities to understand how they align with your financial needs.

Sports and Extracurriculars

Both Princeton and Harvard offer several extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations. Consider your interests and what each university offers regarding clubs, sports, and other non-academic pursuits.

If you're a student-athlete, evaluate the athletic programs at each institution. Both universities have strong athletic traditions, but specific sports and programs can vary.

Choosing between Princeton and Harvard requires a thoughtful examination of multiple factors. Remember that both universities offer an outstanding education and opportunities for personal and intellectual growth. The decision ultimately hinges on your priorities and aspirations.

Choosing Between Princeton and Harvard: How to Decide

Deciding between Princeton and Harvard is not an easy decision. That’s why it’s important to weigh the Princeton pros and cons and Harvard pros and cons before landing on a decision. To help you decide between Princeton and Harvard, consider the following:


Academic Excellence

Academic rigor is a common thread between Princeton and Harvard. Both universities boast top-ranked programs, renowned faculty members, and rigorous curricula. When choosing between them, consider your intended major or field of study. 

Research the specific strengths of each university in that area and determine which aligns more closely with your academic interests and goals.

Campus Culture and Student Life

The atmosphere on campus can significantly impact your experience. Princeton and Harvard have distinct campus cultures, so it's essential to consider which one resonates with you. Think about the campus size, the student-to-faculty ratio, and the extracurricular activities available. 

Are you looking for a more intimate, tight-knit community like Princeton's residential college system, or do you prefer Harvard's vibrant, diverse setting? Campus visits, conversations with current students, and attending virtual events can provide valuable insights into these aspects.

Location and Environment

Princeton offers a peaceful and idyllic setting in Princeton, New Jersey. However, Harvard is situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts, providing a bustling urban environment.

Consider which location suits your lifestyle, whether you prefer the tranquillity of a suburban setting or the vibrant energy of a city.

Financial Considerations

Higher education often comes with substantial costs, so evaluating the financial aspect is crucial when choosing between Princeton and Harvard. Compare the total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, and living expenses. 

Analyze the potential long-term financial impact of attending either institution and weigh this against your future career prospects and earning potential.

Reputation and Prestige

Perceptions of prestige vary depending on your field of study or intended career path. Research the reputation of each university within your specific industry or profession. For some disciplines, one institution may have a more renowned program or stronger connections to your desired career field.

Networking and Alumni Connections

Princeton and Harvard have extensive alumni networks that can significantly benefit your future career. These connections can offer mentorship opportunities, internships, and job placements. 

Consider the breadth and reach of each university's alumni network and the support and resources it provides graduates. Evaluate which institution's alumni network aligns more with your career goals and ambitions.

Career Services and Opportunities

Investigate the career services and opportunities offered by Princeton and Harvard. These services range from resume workshops and interview preparation to exclusive job fairs and internship placements. 

Assess the track record of each institution's career services office in helping students secure internships and job placements in their desired fields.

Research and Academic Resources

If you're interested in research or plan to pursue graduate studies, examine both universities' research opportunities and academic resources. 

Investigate the libraries, laboratories, and facilities dedicated to your field. Determine which institution offers the resources necessary to support your academic and research ambitions.

Study Abroad and Global Opportunities

Global exposure and study abroad programs can broaden your horizons and enhance your education. Compare the study abroad options, international partnerships, and global programs at Princeton and Harvard. Consider which university provides the opportunities you need to gain a global perspective and cultural understanding.

The decision between Princeton and Harvard is both daunting and life-altering. Remember, while rankings and prestige are essential, the best fit for your academic, social, and financial needs is paramount. Trust your research, instincts, and aspirations for your academic journey and beyond.

FAQs: Princeton vs. Harvard. Which College to Choose?

Here are answers to questions about which college to choose Princeton vs. Harvard. 

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

Yes, getting into these Ivy colleges is challenging. Both universities have single-digit acceptance rates. However, Harvard University is harder to get into than Princeton.

2. Is Princeton Considered a Better School than Harvard?

Princeton and Harvard are both top-tier institutions and opinions on which is "better" can be subjective. However, Princeton ranks #1 in the Best National Colleges, while Harvard ranks #3. 

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

Harvard has historically held a slight edge in terms of prestige due to its longer history and widespread recognition. However, both universities are highly prestigious, and the distinction is minimal. Although Princeton is currently more prestigious, your decision should be based on which aligns better with your academic and personal aspirations.

4. What Are the Main Differences Between Princeton and Harvard?

Princeton and Harvard share many similarities but differ in some aspects. Princeton is known for its strong focus on the undergraduate experience with its residential college system. Harvard offers a broader range of graduate programs.

5. Which University Offers Better Financial Aid, Princeton or Harvard?

Both universities are renowned for their generous financial aid programs. They are committed to meeting the demonstrated financial need of admitted students.

6. Can I Apply to Both Princeton and Harvard?

Yes, you can apply to both Princeton and Harvard. However, remember that each has its application process, and applying to highly selective universities requires a strong application.

Final Thoughts

The choice between Princeton vs. Harvard comes from your preferences and priorities. Both universities offer world-class education and abundant opportunities. When deciding, consider academic programs, campus culture, location, and financial aid options.

Reach out to current students and alumni for insights, visit the campuses if possible, and reflect on your goals and aspirations. Remember that there's no one-size-fits-all answer; what matters most is finding the university that best aligns with your individual needs and ambitions.

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