Choosing between Harvard and Stanford - please help me out

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Discus: Ivy League Schools: Harvard University: 2004 Archive: Choosing between Harvard and Stanford - please help me out
By Chrisq (Chrisq) on Monday, April 05, 2004 - 01:32 am: Edit

I was admitted to both (and Yale), and I would like to hear some ideas about what should be done in choosing which one to attend. I understand that this is the Harvard board, but I hope that people can try to give me a fair picture of Harvard, despite this.

I have a gut feeling that I would like the Stanford atmosphere better than the urban atmosphere of Boston. I've spent a month at Stanford already, but only one day touring Harvard, so I realize that my views of the two campuses are probably slanted in favor of Stanford. I got a more inside look at Stanford, because I was actually attending a summer program there.

I have some misgivings about going to Harvard, and I am curious to know whether these concerns are real or imagined. It seems to that Harvard students have a reputation for being overworked, overtired, overstressed, overcompetitive, and so on. I'm sure this is true to a degree at all of the so-called "top" schools, but I am curious to know if the problem is really as pronounced at Harvard as I've heard. And I'm not even talking about the occasional, infrequent suicide; those cases are of course too extreme to generalize from. I'm talking about the fact that when I visited Harvard, several of the students I saw (including the tour guides themselves) basically looked like zombies, completely exhausted.

Is there really a difference in the stress levels at Stanford and Harvard? I am certainly a competitive person (I doubt many people who aren't can get into Harvard), but I am also of the opinion that supercompetitiveness is not the best type of environment for being happy.

It seems to me that the biggest thing Harvard has going for it is its name. I know this because until I learned that I was admitted to Harvard, I had truly wanted to go to Stanford. But then, the next day, I kept thinking, "Harvard is Harvard, how can I turn down Harvard?" I would be very surprised if I were the only admittee in the country to have these thoughts when choosing between Harvard and another excellent school. Prestige would be the tipping factor for me if I decided to attend Harvard. Ironically, out of all of the little anecdotes on the Harvard website that explain why students choose Harvard, none of them mention the prestige factor. A strange omission, I think.

If I sound angry about anything, I'm not really. With these great choices, I couldn't justifiably be angry. But I hope my tone inspires some honest discussion about why Harvard is so special, perhaps aside from its name.

I have also heard that at Harvard, many classes are taught by TAs, whereas Stanford offers more direct contact with professors. But, really, the academic differences between the two schools don't concern me as much as the social differences between them. It's pretty clear that both of them are very good from an academic standpoint.

And a final consideration for me, although this is quite far down the road for my current 17-year-old self to think about - graduate school. I know that in most cases it is rare to go to the same place for undergrad and grad unless there is some special reason for doing so. Harvard claims that there is no disadvantage in their graduate schools' admissions processes to come from Harvard College. Is this really true?

OK, let me simplify my questions into one final, general one:

Why should I go to Harvard?

By Stanfordrulez (Stanfordrulez) on Monday, April 05, 2004 - 01:55 am: Edit

You seem to have left your heart at Stanford.
I had similar feelings -- "How can anyone turn down Harvard?". People DO turn down Harvard.
After similar considerations, I decided that Stanford would get my money. And I haven't felt bad about my decision since [Nor have I thought about it.]

By Collegeguy (Collegeguy) on Monday, April 05, 2004 - 02:37 am: Edit

Hey Chrisq,

Join the club. I'm confused as heck.

By Brownalum (Brownalum) on Monday, April 05, 2004 - 04:55 am: Edit

As someone who didn't attend any of the schools you are considering, perhaps I can give you an unbiased perspective. While I'm a nonpartisan so to speak, I've visited all of these places extensively, and I know several students who have gone to either Harvard, Yale or Stanford (or more than one), for both undergrad and graduate school.

Honestly, and this may seem blunt, you don't go to either Harvard or Stanford for the social life. They have campuses that are kind of dead. Because Yale has a much more compact campus (all dorms across the street from each other versus half an hour walk from each other), as well as one of the best college towns in the country and much more cultural life -- including the only art, music, and drama schools in the Ivy League -- Yale has more campus social life than Harvard and Stanford put together.

Your impressions of Harvard students are unfortunately true to some extent. I've heard Harvard described as an "antisocial hell" by one student who went there. He said just walking into the library was depressing, since the students seemed so isolated from one another. Stanford is apparently at least a little bit more laid back, although it isn't exactly paradise either. One problem with Stanford is that it is, in the views of some, the "most sterile place in the country" (one grad student I know who went there called it that, referring to it being a suburban wasteland with nothing to do).

If you're talking academics, I think Harvard is actually stronger than Stanford from the undergraduate side. Smaller classes, more faculty, etc. While in terms of providing contact with faculty, neither school even comes close to a place like Caltech, Yale or Princeton, Harvard undergrads tend to be slightly more successful than Stanford undergrads at getting into the top grad programs, etc.

In the end though, it's up to you to visit and see which schools you feel most comfortable at. I think that the slanted views you have left over from your pre-college experiences aren't necessarily that accurate. Your best bet is to start fresh, and visit each campus for a period of two or three days. That's the only way you'll know for sure -- and the only way you won't end up regretting your decision (like some of my friends who went to Stanford and/or Harvard eventually said they did).

Good luck!

By Wwoloszyn (Wwoloszyn) on Monday, April 05, 2004 - 07:04 pm: Edit

Chrisq- Hey man, I know exactly how you feel. Although my delimma is between Stanford and MIT (I'm here to find out about the wait-list :-( ... and it doesn't look good) But I understand your plight totally, I wanted to be a hardcore English major until my whim applying to MIT became a reality, and all of a sudden, I have no clue what to do. As far as atmosphere, I would certainly go with Stanford, it's got the locale, the cool kids, and a lot more laid back atmosphere. Harvard and MIT as well do seem a bit dry, but at least I know MIT is trying to change, letting someone like me in. In any case, I would advise you to go with your gut, and btw, are you going to the April 23rd visitation thing at Stanford? Did you get a note from the dean as well?

By Chrisq (Chrisq) on Monday, April 05, 2004 - 07:22 pm: Edit

To everyone who has responded so far: Thank you! It's very comforting to know that I'm not the only one in this situation.

To Collegeguy: if you want to talk about this over AIM some time, my screename is christopherdumon. I would like to know what other people are thinking and talk about things in real time.

To Wwoloszyn: I won't be going to the Stanford Admit Week, mainly because I saw the campus for an entire month this past summer. I was actually admitted to Stanford EA, so I've known about Admit Week for quite some time, but still see no reason to attend. Sadly, I won't be able to go to Harvard's weekend, either. I live just about 2000 miles from either place, and I just have too many things going on at this time of the year and too many commitments to other people at my high school. Like I said to Collegeguy, if you want to talk about this on AIM, feel free.

By Amylase (Amylase) on Tuesday, April 06, 2004 - 07:07 am: Edit

Come to Stanford, it's BEAUTIFUL

By Tonguelash (Tonguelash) on Tuesday, April 06, 2004 - 10:07 am: Edit

stanford, stanford, stanford

By Tonguelash (Tonguelash) on Tuesday, April 06, 2004 - 11:52 am: Edit

seriously, it's more a matter of where you want to possibly spend the first few years after college. I mean going to Stanford gives you more oppurtunities in the west and for harvard it's the east. Both are great schools. Personally i would go to Stanford. But that decision is based on non-academic factors. It sounds cliche, but here it goes.....
"You can't go wrong"

By Multinational (Multinational) on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 04:49 pm: Edit

As for prestige, Harvard is certainly unrivalled in the world. And actually, Harvard's undergraduates are the best represented at almost all of Harvard's graduate and professional schools.

By Collegeguy (Collegeguy) on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 05:24 pm: Edit

So Tonguelash, are you saying that Harvard has less opportunities in the West?

By Hstudent (Hstudent) on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 08:01 pm: Edit

some stuff on this board is completely false

if you wanna talk about H, feel free to email or IM me at Rourke02


By Fprescott54 (Fprescott54) on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 08:54 pm: Edit

Go to Harvard. I live in California and where I'm from, the people who are independent thinkers go to Harvard. People who have been coddled by their parents and led through high school go to Stanford for the dilute academics and do-nothing atmosphere. Besides there isnt anything to do in Palo Alto.

By Deferreddude (Deferreddude) on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 10:33 pm: Edit

There's nothing in Palo Alto but everything in San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose, and the Bay Area in general! Stanford's location definitely beats out Harvard.

Harvard does indeed have the better name......but by how wide a margin? You think graduate schools, employers, or even people on the street will care whether one goes to Harvard or Stanford, Princeton or Yale, MIT or Caltech? I say if you get into the level of HYPSMC, prestige/name-recognition is irrevelent! I doubt you will hit yourself over the head if you choose Stanford over Harvard. Both are overrated, overly prestigious, impossible to get into, and bastions of priviledge in America. So to quote the words of that cartoon tiger dude in one of those snow-flake cereal commercials.....theyy'rrreeee GREAT!!! Choose one or the other according to your personal preference and not by level of prestige.

By Chasgoose (Chasgoose) on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 10:41 pm: Edit

I don't know how close you live to Palo Alto, but it isn't that easy to get to San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose without a car. Whereas Harvard has Boston less than five minutes away by subway not to mention Cambridge doesnt suck the way Palo Alto does.

By Bulldogkt08 (Bulldogkt08) on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 01:08 am: Edit

Regardless of your choice, you will be fine at either school. Stanford & Harvard (and YALE!) are great schools.

By Deferreddude (Deferreddude) on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 03:44 pm: Edit

You get use Caltrain to get from Palo-Alto to either San Francisco or San Jose.

By Webhappy2 (Webhappy2) on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 07:41 pm: Edit

S has actually made public transporation in Bay Area sound a bit better than reality (actually, S has made it sound MUCH better). You will probably need to find someone w/ a car; I'm guessing this is part of the reason that ~45% of the students are Cali residents, so it shouldn't be too tough to find someone w/ a car.

By Aim78 (Aim78) on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 07:48 pm: Edit

Location shouldn't be a factor. I dunno about Harvard, but Stanford is around all sorts of awesome places that are easy to get to by car or train. Going out with a gang of friends is more fun if you have a car, or you're taking the Caltrain, so just because it's not a stone's throw away from San Francisco isn't a bad thing. Where do you live Chrisq? Distance from home should be a factor (you don't want to have to take a long plane trip just to go home on holidays). And weather too. If you're used to sunny weather, Stanford is the place.

By Chrisq (Chrisq) on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 08:35 pm: Edit

Thanks for all of the comments, people. Aim78: I'm from Texas.

I turned in my reply card to Stanford; I'll be going there. Turning down Harvard took a few days to digest, but that's only a happy consequence of my admission to all of these great places. I really feel like I've made the right choice for me.

As for the poster who wrote "[people] who have been coddled by their parents and led through high school go to Stanford for the dilute academics and do-nothing atmosphere" I have a few things to say. First, you shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that the local is universal. At my high school, for example, the situation is just about the exact opposite. The best students in my school over the past decade have regularly chosen Stanford over Harvard. I think a lot of our perceptions about which schools attract the most "independent" thinkers have to do with location. Students who go to Stanford or Harvard from Texas are more likely to be independent thinkers in the first place. Why else would someone from Texas be attracted to a distant school like Stanford or Harvard unless they were pretty independent naturally? Of course, I can understand how you might have this perception of Stanford students, coming from a California school. Of course the students who are "coddled" are more likely to stick around near home than they are to venture out to the East Coast. I'm sure there are plenty of kids on the East Coast for which going to Harvard is the easier, less independent thing to do, simply by virtue of geography. And, people I know who have gone to both places say that the students are excellent; so excellent, in fact, that the actual courses are almost part of the periphery of the experience.

Oh well, I wish everyone luck wherever they go.

By Nyc1000 (Nyc1000) on Friday, April 09, 2004 - 12:25 am: Edit

Wouldn't it have been better to attend the H pre-frosh weekend before deciding? With the exception of HStudent, you pretty much got only confirmations of your pre-existing choice on this board. Hope it works for you. Anyway, you can get a good education at both of them. For what it's worth at this point, I do not think that H is competitive, though it's also not as laid back (relatively) as S. Some people like that dynamism though.

By Humbleservant (Humbleservant) on Friday, April 09, 2004 - 02:42 am: Edit

Go to Harvard. It's an Ivy, and will always be prestigious!

By Stanfordrulez (Stanfordrulez) on Friday, April 09, 2004 - 09:49 am: Edit

And Stanford wont be?! Jesus! [I hate the Ivy mentality!]

By Stanfordman99 (Stanfordman99) on Friday, April 09, 2004 - 11:11 pm: Edit

Yeah seriously. If Harvard falls in prestige, which is just as likely as Stanford's fall, the ivy-leagues will be crap! We all know that every single ivy-league school is riding off of the prestige of HYP, and that in many cases the league has a better name than the school itself. Don't be so proud of your reflected glory! The "ivy-league" name came from some schmuck sports writer who mentioned it as an offhand comment in some schmuck sports column in the 1950s!!! (yeah real old).

By the way, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Ivy-league kicked out Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, and Upenn and replaced them with Stanford, MIT, and Caltech. The Superstar Ivy-League will be Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, and Caltech---all of which are entirely able to stand on their own unlike Columbia or Cornell. Maybe some REAL journalist will mention HYPSMC in a REAL column and coin the term "Elite Six" and the ivy-leagues will be forgotten.

By Ambitiousyokel (Ambitiousyokel) on Saturday, April 10, 2004 - 12:06 am: Edit

Hey, Stanfordman99, don't forget to include Brown along with Columbia and Cornell.

*waits for Brownalum to respond*

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