Harvard or Princeton--What Should I Do?

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Discus: Ivy League Schools: Harvard University: 2004 Archive: Harvard or Princeton--What Should I Do?
By Kevi54 (Kevi54) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 10:41 am: Edit

I am very lucky to have been accepted at both Princeton and Harvard. I don't know what I am going to do as of now. I have always loved Princeton, but am starting to worry about social flaws (i.e. eating clubs, preppiness). I am mixed on Harvard, but am worried about the TA situation.

I am:
undecided in terms of a major, but more humanities-focused (Eng, history, film)
interested in acting/singing as an extracurricular
a friendly person
live on LI
a former Yale-lover (got rejected)
a person who likes to welcome people and be welcomed
a non-drinker/non-smoker
a total non-athlete

Help me out here, guys. What do you think?


By Aterashva (Aterashva) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 11:37 am: Edit

Jeez Kevin, this sounds exactly like me.
I too love Yale (got rejected). I too got into Harvard and Princeton and have had internal conflict for like 5 days straight now, almost shifting positions about 70 times. I too want to major in English, History or Film. My God. This is freaky.

likes to welcome and be welcomed
ok - i'm not interested in singing, but acting- hell yeah.


I decided on Harvard yesterday because

a) Harvard students are more quirky, individualistic, eclectic etc. Its a nicer atmosphere for intellectual growth compared to princeton's "social flaws", as you put it.
b) Boston. It has everything. Literally. Its the most amazing (and livable city in America) Arts, film, music, culture, etc.
c) harvard kids are fun and they have just as much fun as princeton kids ( ithought they were competitive as hell and dorky- no, they're just nerdy, which is infinitely better :)
d) although princeton does have a focus on undergrads (and has toni morrison and joyce caroll oates), they still use TA's. So Harvard isn't that different, perhaps only in degree.
e) and since I come from asia, Harvard has the bigger name; princeton by contrast is nonexistent here.
f) i like the rivalry of harvard- yale. Its just so cool.

Ok. Having said that.

a) Princeton students are happier. They donate more money. 15 harvard students have commited suicide in the last ten years. No princeton undergrad kids have.
b) princeton alumni are more likely to bend over their back to get you a job. Till today, the Princeton graduates come to the princeton club in new york and have a drink etc. They could not imagine themselves as anything but Princeton grads. Harvard kids have "school spirit", but by contrast are less rah rah than princeton kids (whom no college, unless you want to go for a big state school) can beat.
c) princeton, though preppy, is a great place for minorities. I have heard of no oppressed ones.
d) you can transfer into harvard (bloody tough) but you can't transfer into princeton (physically impossible- they don't allow it)
e) princeton's campus is one of the most gorgeous campusses in the world. and they're only one way away from new york.

Look, they both get the same type of students. In fact, most at harvard and princeton would would probably have rejected the other (i;m guessing). Eitherway, its a win-win situation for you.

My advice.

See what one school can offer you that the other one cannot.
And see if you're more independent or if you prefer a more hands on learning community.

I hope this helps, and best luck with your decision. Keep it simple stupid. You can't lose.

By Starbucks (Starbucks) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 04:59 pm: Edit

Well, there is a post on CC about an article in the Harvard Crimson, claiming that students are unhappy and truly dislike Harvard. It also claims that Yalies and Princeton Students are much happier. This may be biased, but I've heard many accounts of this. Both are great choices, but I hope you choose Princeton! good luck.

By Hstudent (Hstudent) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 05:17 pm: Edit


IM me at Rourke02 or email me if you wanna talk further

By Mzhang23 (Mzhang23) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 05:20 pm: Edit

Princeton is actually moving to reduce the roles of TA's. Many universities still hold classes in the one lecture - 2 TA sections style, but Princeton is one of the first to require professors to teach the sections in those classes. Look forward to reduced TA encounters if you do matriculate to Princeton. And concerning your judgment that "Harvard students are more quirky, individualistic, eclectic etc," I find it hard how you can possible compare the student bodies of both schools, ultimately calling one quirkier and more intellectual. A lot of the people who apply to H also apply to P, so a lot of potential Harvard admits - the quirky ones - can also end up coming to Princeton. I'm an active member of the Princeton 2008 Yahoo group, and I've certainly met my share of quirky, interesting intellectuals. I've had meetups with a lot of the ED'ers who live around NYC, and I have yet to meet on preppy.

Visit and decide! make sure you overnight!

By Newyorker06 (Newyorker06) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 05:47 pm: Edit

The bottom line here is that you can't lose. However, I feel compelled to defend Harvard on some points.

There was a Crimson article that reported on the lack of efficient mental health care at UHS. However, it never claimed that there was a school-wide problem with depression. In fact, the figures it reported regarding student "depression" only confirmed that Harvard students are completely in line with national averages in this admittedly troubling arena. Let's not forget that Atlantic Monthly article that documented how stressed and over-scheduled Princeton students were. Of course, this phenomenon is not uniqe to P, but neither is depression unique to, or especially prevalent, at Harvard.

Also, the alumnia giving rate, as reported by US News and World Report, is one of the most easily manipulated stats out there. The fact that colleges can send out mass-mailings begging their alums to donate ANY amount of money to the college calls into serious doubt the validity of the figure. Harvard has the world's largest college endowment and that should be proof enough that there is significant alumni loyalty.

I believe that there have been 12 suicides at Harvard in the past 15 years, rather than 15 in the past 10. Of course, any suicide is tragic. However, remember that, including grad schools (as they were in that suicide number), Harvard's student body is three times the size of Princeton's. So perhaps 5 or 6 COLLEGE students have commited suicide. Despite how sad this is, the truth is that 5 or 6 instances in a pool of 23,000 students (15 college classes) is too infinitesimal a ratio to really signify anything.

The argument that Princeton alums help each other out more in the career world is absurd. There is a very famous Harvard club in NYC (its OWN club, whereas Princeton shares one with Columbia) and there are others in every state in America, not to mention several in Europe. Harvard grads are (in)famous for hiring others whose blood bleeds crimson. And the fact that the grad schools (unlike at Princeotn) churn out leaders in business, medicine, law, education, government etc. etc. gives alums looking for a job a huge advantage.

So, Kev. Visit both schools and know that you can't really go wrong. But, as a Harvard student, I really think you should come and spend your next four years in Cambridge.

P.S.- Aterashva, I take exception to you calling Boston the most amazing city in the US. NYC baby, NYC!!!:)

By Hstudent (Hstudent) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 05:51 pm: Edit

haha Id take Boston over NYC anyday

By Newyorker06 (Newyorker06) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 05:53 pm: Edit

Well, I guess to each his own. However, it's hard (nay, impossible) to argue that Boston has more to offer in terms of culture, art, music, film etc. etc.

By Brunoniana (Brunoniana) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 06:05 pm: Edit

While Boston is fine, New York City makes Boston look like a rat-infested, ice-covered, murder-filled village on the north slope of Alaska.

By Mzhang23 (Mzhang23) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 06:14 pm: Edit

"Let's not forget that Atlantic Monthly article that documented how stressed and over-scheduled Princeton students were."

If you read the article, the author said that these students existed at all top colleges. He was just using his trip to Princeton as an example. And furthermore, he made sure to emphasize that only a small portion of students were this stressed out from doing so much. The article is rather long, but it's a good read. Just don't distort its points.

By Ashleyswimmer (Ashleyswimmer) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 06:17 pm: Edit

Brun, so true...

But bear in mind that Harvard is a 5 min T ride from downtown Boston, whereas Princeton is much farther away from NYC. Take into consideration workload, activities, etc, and I'll bet Princeton folk get into NYC very rarely.

Also, not to start WW3 here or anything, but the Princeton people that I have come in contact with have been quite unfriendly and arrogant...with the exception of a few.

Lastly, bear in mind that the Princeton social scene operates via connections. They have dining clubs and what not, so it turns out you can't even EAT unless an upperclassman invites you.

But, then again, Joyce Carol Oates...


By Ashleyswimmer (Ashleyswimmer) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 06:20 pm: Edit

I'm sorry, but I forgot to mention the most important thing about Harvard!

Filene's Basement is 3 T stops from Harvard Square, and, have mercy, its the only place on earth one can find a Bestey Johnson dress for $10.


By Ct04 (Ct04) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 09:12 pm: Edit

You guys loved Yale? Princeton all the way. The two have a lot more similarities than Harvard and Yale, and Harvard is a little lacking on the undergrad side as compared to Yale and Princeton. Obviously, this is subjective...

By Aterashva (Aterashva) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 09:18 pm: Edit


Boston is the last true liveable big city in the U.S. New York, great. But Boston is actually less frenetic and thus more liveable.

Princeton students too have mental health problems (http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/features/index.jsp?id=5).

Its not a Harvard phenomena. Its an overachiever phenomena and thus all "top schools" have it.

Michael Z., If a school has a reputation (Harvard for quirky students), then it attracts those type of students no matter what. You see, reputation sticks and thus, more preppy people will be comfortable with Princeton while more eclectic people will feel comfortable with Harvard. Reputation attracts- and thats the distinction I make with the student bodies.

So there

By Aparent4 (Aparent4) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 10:52 pm: Edit

Ashleyswimmer, when you say "Lastly, bear in mind that the Princeton social scene operates via connections. They have dining clubs and what not, so it turns out you can't even EAT unless an upperclassman invites you," I'm sorry, but you make me laugh out loud. Princeton students eat in their residential colleges or the Frist campus center for the first two years, then in the eating club, on-campus apartment, or (in the future) residential college of their choice. Pay a visit to campus and you are likely to find Princeton students very friendly, as long as you don't try to tell them that underclassmen there don't eat. ;-)

And students do go into Manhattan to restaurants, the theater, bars, museums, etc. (It was at Harvard, actually, that many students told me they hardly ever left Cambridge because they didn't need to.) In addition, each residential college sponsors about 1 trip per month which gives students a chance to see a Broadway show; including dinner and bus transportation, this (subsidized) trip is $20!

These are both great schools. To me Princeton has more of an undergraduate feel. One thing about acting at Harvard is that, based on what we were told during a tour, all students audition at the beginning of the year and are then cast in all productions. At Princeton theater seems to be more fluid.

By Mzhang23 (Mzhang23) on Tuesday, April 13, 2004 - 12:46 am: Edit

It's amazing what tales get passed around about Princeton.

By Aterashva (Aterashva) on Tuesday, April 13, 2004 - 02:09 am: Edit

Its amazing what tales get passed around about any of these universities.

Bottom line: when you're choosing between Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or whatever in the top echelons of colleges, you need to see what the school will offer you. You're already going to be in one of the best schools in the world (best is subjective and whats best for you may not be best for me, and that is why these posts sometimes can dissolve into irrelevancies).

So by god, let us not let our fetish for rankings get in the way of a good and fun education. All these universities are fantastic (yes, even Harvard- which I have decided to attend this fall instead of Princeton, because of Boston and a film program). So, seriously, you can help people make a decision based on their preferences.

But any attempt at an absolutely heirarchy of excellence is by definition false because excellence itself has many criteria and might mean different things to different people.

By that standard, someone could say that Wharton was better than Harvard, Princeton or Yale and still be correct.

By that standard, someone could go to the Tisch film school at NYU and have a better education than Harvard, Princeton or Yale.

So seriously. Choose based on what you want.

If your choice of colleges is dependent on another person's values (how much he/she

By Julie66 (Julie66) on Sunday, April 18, 2004 - 08:13 pm: Edit

judging from what u said abt yourself, I think Harv would be a better fit. Harvard has a highly respected film department whereas Prin doesn't have one at all (I think they offer like two film-related classes in the visual arts department). Harvard stronger acting (dont really know abt singing). Prin, with eating clubs and all, has a much stronger drinking culture than Harvard. Stud body at prin known to be snobby, not the most welcoming (with certain exclusive eating clubs) - of course this is a repuation and doesnt apply to everyone, but reputations dont come out of thin air. Also, prin has stronger jock/preppy culture than harvard.

By Mzhang23 (Mzhang23) on Sunday, April 18, 2004 - 09:05 pm: Edit

"but reputations dont come out of thin air"
Yup, they came from two decades ago. I don't know if you've overnighted at Princeton, but, honestly, how can Princeton's student body be snobbier when they pick from the same applicant pool as HYPS? The eating clubs aren't as exclusive as they used to be; i was surprised to learn that the head of Ivy, which had a reputation as one of the most "exclusive" clubs, is African-American. From what I've seen, the snobby and preppy ones prefer Harvard for the prestige. You'll find your group of snobs and preppies at both schools.

It's best to visit overnight with a student before deciding. Even though princeton's student body is generally more laid-back and fun-loving and the overall undergrad experience is somewhat better, you may still prefer harvard in the end.

By Residentevil (Residentevil) on Monday, April 19, 2004 - 04:54 pm: Edit

Is it true that Princeton dorms are horrible?


4th Paragraph.

By Mzhang23 (Mzhang23) on Monday, April 19, 2004 - 09:16 pm: Edit

"but by and large housing at Princeton is what most of you would expect from a college dorm."

He doesn't say that they horrible. Princeton has its share of old dorms that no one wants, but there are plenty of new ones. Wilson has some of the best suites on campus while Forbes, a renovated inn, offers private bathrooms for all singles, doubles, and suites.

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