Why I chose Yale over Harvard (by a current student)

Posted Sun, 04/10/2011 - 19:33 by Fishville
Inside of Yale Art Gallery, Photo Courtesy: Fishville

Fishville's Notes: We are once again in a month when cross-admit decisions are in the making. This is an old thread posted by a Yale student telling the reasons why he or she chose Yale over Harvard, the post was re-activated in the collegeconfidential recently after it was posted over four years ago. We feel it is still valuable for us to understand more on American student's thinking with regard to make a right decision at this critical moment of their lives. Serving as a background note, Ezra Stiles College is one of Yale's residential colleges. Of course to the contrary, you could come up with a ton of reasons in favor of choosing Harvard over Yale or any schools in this country.

Why I chose Yale over Harvard (by a current student) 

This is a post from the Yale admit board, written by a current yale student, to convince us to choose Yale, I am hoping it will convince some of you as well!!

This post is not meant to start an argument or discussion, so PLEASE respect the writers opinions and don't turn it into one,he/she cannot respond because I copied it and it would be unfair to write things when he/she cannot defend his/her position! 

thanks and I hope you enjoy reading it 

Part 1

Just a preface: read the whole thing – I’m not organized enough to manage to fit in all the ‘bigger’ reasons at the top of the essay,and the insignificant ones at the end Also, I’ll try to make this sound like a bashing thread, but I might focus on why not to choose Harvard over why to choose Yale, just ‘cause the “why Yale” topic has been covered pretty extensively on these boards. Finally, most of the reasons Yale rocks Harvard are just totally not quantifiable… you’ve really just got to be here (and talk to students at Harvard who have visited friends at Yale) to see it. 

So, Harvard has the bigger name. Sort of. Well, at least among people who don’t matter. Any grad school/professional school admissions committee, or potential employer is knows that the academic caliber of Harvard and Yale (and several other schools) as institutions and as student bodies are identical. 

The better point to make in the reputation section is “so what?” I already avoid telling people where I go to school (the answer is always “back East” or “Ezra Stiles College”). I always feel like I’m boasting when I say I go to Yale, especially when talking to people who didn’t go to college, or know nothing about Yale other than the fact that it’s an Ivy. I’m not trying to impress anyone, and I hate the “Wow, Yale! You must be smart!” reaction. With Harvard, it would just be worse, if we’re sticking with the Harvard-has-the-bigger-name point of view. Plus, I feel like many people choose Harvard over other schools because it’s Harvard.How could you resist, right? (Oh, the naïve masses). I didn’t want to be with those whom I not-so-affectionately term ‘prestige-whores,’ or with people whose parents/family pressured them into going to Harvard. We’re big kids now; we can make our own decision.

Yale’s academic calendar rocks. I think this fall classes are starting September 6, and this year I’m done with finals on May 2.That’s over four months of summer break (Harvard gets something very similar, just pushed back one month). Plus, we got 9 days for Thanksgiving (Harvard gets a Thursday/Friday long weekend), 23 days minimum for Winter Break (Harvard got 13 days this year), and two weeks off for Spring Break (Harvard got one). I say 23 days minimum for Winter Break because most people’s finals end before the last day of finals week. Many people have up to a week more of break.Plus, when you come back, it’s shopping period, so it’s not the biggest deal if you miss the first couple of days.

This brings me to the more important point – academic scheduling. Finals here are before break. ?. That means break is break is stress-free break. I can’t imagine Winter “Break” with finals over my head. That’s reason in itself to come to Yale. It matters so much more than you think it does.

For me, the distributional requirement system here is a lot better for me than Harvard’s core curriculum. I like structure and all, but with only 32 courses (at Harvard) and 36 courses (here) to take, I didn’t want to have to waste time taking classes I didn’t like. On the other hand, having no requirements (Brown) tends to allow already single minded students to stick to their comfort zone, and not achieve a liberal arts education (think science nerds?). Yale’s distributional requirement system allows you ridiculous amounts of freedom in designing your curriculum – in general, people fulfill their distributional requirements unintentionally.The requirement system + major does a good job of fulfilling the whole broad based education with an area of focus philosophy. Plus,if gives you lots of room to explore. After fulfilling distributional and major requirements, I’ll have half of my courses at Yale left over just for fun!

Speaking of majors, people seem to interpret the inability to minor at Yale as a negative. The mentality is that electives should be devoted to exploration, not to a ‘minor’ (which really doesn’t mean much in terms of academic accomplishment). If you are interested in minoring in music, why not just take the music courses you’re interested in? You’ll avoid red tape and perhaps classes you don’t want to take, and will thus have the freedom to take other courses if you so desire. If you are so committed to a second discipline that you want to commit to studying it, you can double major. But really, most advisors here will tell you just to take classes in the department that interest you. Who cares what it says on your diploma?


I guess this is the place to talk about strength of academic deparments. I’ve reveived tons of questions about the quality of departments here vs. those at Harvard, and basically the point is that on an undergraduate level, departments at all schools of this caliber are  equal. Perhaps the grad school pumps out more history research here, and more mechanical engineering research at MIT, etc., but as an undergrad, you’re not going to outsmart any of the profs. It really shouldn’t be a consideration at all – all the departments here are incredibly strong. I really don’t know how to emphasize the point any more, but if you’re comparing the qualities of, say,the economics departments at Harvard and Yale, just stop that… stop that right now. You’re wasting your time, and giving weight to things that don’t matter at all, since you can’t distinguish between grad and undergrad departments (p.s. Yale undergrads have access to all of the grad schools).



Coming from an inner city public school in the West, I already had reservations about Ivy Leagues and a stuffy, snotty environment where everyone has grown up playing field hockey, polo, or rowing crew. I was actually dead-set against Yale because of it. Then my visit showed me a laid back,we’re-smart-but-we-like-to-have-fun-too student body. Here, nobody ever talks about grades, test scores, etc., and as cliché as it sounds, people work together, not against each other (even us pre-meds!). We’re are here to enjoy Yale and each other, not to endure these next four years just for an Ivy league diploma. Nobody here has to convince themselves of their happiness; it’s genuine.Giving credit where credit is due, I didn’t find Harvard as bad as Princeton with the whole pretentious atmosphere thing, but at least kids I know at Princeton accept and embrace their conceit,and live in a sort of bliss of arrogance. Harvard students just seems to be miserable and lonely because the environment is so competitive, and because self-image is so intimately tied with‘being the best,’ i.e. getting better grades than the guy next to you. It’s weird because many of these same kids wouldn’t be that way at other schools, but it’s just hard to come in as a freshman and single-handedly change the established attitude of the place. 

Speaking of misery and loneliness, my residential college dean used to be an advisor in one of the houses at Harvard. She has a lot tosay about the differences between the two schools, but in an effortnot to sounds redundant, she usually tells an illustrativeanecdote; she was in charge of a block of 20 students, and only 6students were not seeing mental health professionals. And that wasnormal. When I brought this up to a friend of mine at Harvard, she got really defensive and proudly asserted that the vast majority ofstudents were happy – out of her block of 24, 20 were thrilled tobe there. First of all, the criteria for ‘thrilled to be there’ was‘not in therapy’ (that she knew about, at least), and secondly,20/24? Those are stats to brag about? We at Yale hear that and arejust like, what? Mental health help is available and all, but ifyou’re feeling down or stressed, usually your friends and/or family help you snap out of it, or you go out to lunch with your advisoror something. My dean’s response? How is your family supposed tohelp you if they are the ones pressuring you? How are your friendssupposed to help you out when you’re stressed/depressed when the reason you’re feeling that way is because you’re trying to be at them? Surely many students at Harvard are doing just fine there, but many are ‘happy’ because being unhappy is a failure – it wouldmean their institution isn’t the best. That’s kind of a hard admission to make. Alright – next topic… I hate talking about this sort of stuff. 


In addition to the whole Yale/Harvard decision, I was debating whether to go to a liberal arts college or to a university. In the end, I couldn’t get past how small a liberal arts college actually is, and knew I’d end up feeling claustrophobic, especially after studying abroad. But I stillwasn’t ready to give up small classes, close interaction withprofessors, and a solid web of advisors. Yale was the perfectbalance for me. 5200 kids is a great number – enough to not feelanonymous on campus, bit also to walk around and not recognizeevery face. You’ll be meeting people up through senior year. Yet,the residential college system gives you the whole family/ tightcommunity thing, with great advising. The deans, masters, andfellows eat with you in the dining hall. More than that though,masters treat us like family here. Just an example - a friend ofmine wasn’t feeling too hot after a night of partying, and he raninto his master (Master G, for anyone familiar with Pierson).Master G was just like ‘Hey, you’re one of my kids here – comeinside and drink some Gatorade.”

More on the undergraduate focus – Harvard is a bigger school,with bigger classes (that was a big negative for me), a bigger campus, and a bigger focus on graduate school. Here, TA’s won’t be teaching your classes (all professors, in fact, are required to teach two undergraduate courses… that includes all the Nobel laureates and such). Professor accessibility is ridiculous – I have lunch with my advisor all the time, and have been asked to house-sit and/or babysit for other professors. Access to research is equally ridiculous. I don’t know anyone who has wants to work in a lab, and isn’t, and research grants flow like water when it comes to summer plans (especially abroad). Yale actually has more endowment $$ allocated per undergrad student than Harvard, despite its smaller overall fund. 

Just in general, Yale is Yale College before it is Yale University– more than a research institution, Yale draws its pride from a vibrant and happy undergraduate student body. The university realizes that its students (not its professors, facilities, history, endowment, etc.)are its biggest asset. Even the layout of the campus clues you into Yale’s focus – Old Campus is the center of campus, surrounded more or less by the residential colleges, with the grad schools surrounding the college on the periphery.


Mmmmmm… Yale housing. Call me shallow, but it’s one of the main reasons I decided to come here. Then again, you’ve got to consider you’re spending 4 years of your life here, so where you live is important. The housing here is awesome – we basically live in apartments. Common rooms are generally big, as are the bedrooms.Check out Sweet Suites – that’s actually a pretty accurate cross section of freshman/sophomore housing (typically the worst two years). Stiles is supposed to be the worst by a long shot, and that suite is a sophomore double (again, the worst possible situation),so that’s basically as bad as housing gets here. My point is, housing here is palatial for undergrads – it only gets better than what you see on Sweet Suites, though not all suites are decorated as well as Eric’s (Berkeley). At Harvard, for admissions weekend, I stayed in Gray’s, which was apparently the “Harvard Hilton.” Admittedly, the suite was pretty big, but the bedrooms were tiny – so tiny, in fact, that beds had to be bunked, and the desks had to be put in the common room –ugh. 

Plus, if you end up wanting to move off campus for whatever reason, apartments and houses near/on campus are abundant and affordable. It’s great to have some friends off campus as far as social life goes, or just for a change of pace. Housing inCambridge is so expensive,so none but the upper echelons can move off. 

More than suite layouts, the housing system at Harvard doesn’t lend itself to forming tight communities. The residential houses are sort of split into two groups, both far from classes, and really far from friends in colleges on the opposite side of campus. Neither are close to Harvard Yard (which I found ugly, and not nearly as cohesive as Old Campus). Plus, the housing draw lends itself to drama – you’re not assigned a college when you first get to school. At the end of the year, you have to block off with your friends, and enter the housing draw… Well, in college you’re more than likely not going to have a single group of friends, you’ll have many, as will everyone else. This makes blocking a nearly impossible conquest, with someone always ending up hurt. People’s feelings aside, not having a college your first year sort of makes the colleges not as tight as they are here, and people don’t have much college (house) pride… I guess that’s a theme, though, at Harvard. Pride comes from showing people your diploma, right?  Ugh.

Harvard hired a ‘fun czar’ to look out for the social lives of its students. He called a friend of mine on the Yale College Council to find out where the parties were on Harvard-Yale weekend, so he could tell Harvard students where the ‘happening parties’ were. Ummm… ok. Whatever.


A lot of social life stuff has been covered on the boards here. I haven’t read through all of it, but hopefully it’s pretty accurate.Basically, you can find whatever scene you’re looking for. Pulling pranks, movie nights, comedy/theater/a cappella/cultural shows,Toad’s (‘all roads lead to Toad’s),Viva’s/Rudy’s/Richter’s/Bar/Sullivan’s/other bars with excellent pizza, suite parties or parties in old ‘secret’ (ha!) stone buildings, parties outside, goat roasts, naked parties, pickup soccer in a courtyard, just chilling out, capture the flag on old campus, wine and cheese, dancing of all sorts, spontaneous mud-slip-and-sliding during a rainstorm, marshmallow roasting with hookah and guitar, whatever floats your boat. Hopefully you’ll get a taste at Bulldog Days, although keep in mind that it’s at the beginning of the week right before finals, and this year everyone’s spread throughout the residential colleges, so it’s not gonna be as active as Wednesday-Saturday. 

At Harvard, on the other hand, Yalies couldn’t find anything to do, so we threw our own parties. Either they were staying in (my admits weekend host and friend of hers drank alone in their rooms on a Saturday night), or they were out in the city, but either way, social life isn’t really campus oriented, and I was looking for a tight campus community. But nothing to do on Harvard-Yale weekend? Are you serious?



So housing and classes are great and all, but ask any Yalie – this is why they came here. People here are happy. For me, it’s a sense of humor thing. A lot of people don’t really take themselves too seriously here. Thank God. I don’t really know what else to say about this, not that you – I guess it goes back to what I wrote in the academic environment section. 

Refer to academic environment section, advising section, or anyoneI know at Harvard. Send me a message fornames. 

Belated note to my Harvard hosts: I still don’t care about your SAT scores, or whom your father knows.

Yale’s big thing is that the administration trusts its students.One huge advantage of that trust? No RAs… woo hoo! We don’t have any authority figures living with us – freshman year or any other year – from whom we have to hide. If you want to drink in your room, not a problem. If you want to through a party, go ahead. What we have instead are freshman counselors – seniors in your college who live nearby and provide study breaks (food), advice, and an ear when you need someone to listen. Froco’s (FROsh C Ounselors) tend to be some of the coolest and most active kids in the college. They also have an unlimited supply of free condoms. Yale just wants you to be safe – if you get a little out of control at a party, health services is open 24/7, and you can get treated for alcohol poisoning or whatever anonymously. They also have free STD testing…basically the result of Yale trusting us is that we have a lot fewer problems than other schools. I can’t imagine living with RAs,or having to hide a party (at Harvard’s admit weekend, my hosts sat alone in their suite and took shots out of a Nalgene), or not being allowed to walk around campus with open cups. Life would be so much more complicated. There’s a lot more to say about how much life would suck without the freedoms afforded to us here, but I’m having a mental block and can’t spit it out right now (sorry).



Harvard’s finals clubs aren’t like societies are here. At Yale, society tap night is like a big, school-wide prank. People are dressed up in outrageous costumes, doing outrageous things that other people tell them to do… it’s a ton of fun – you’re just laughing so hard whenever you step outside your dorm, it’s miracle I didn’t **** my pants. It’s a lot of fun, and really not elitist at all. In fact, most societies strive to tap a wide diversity of kids, so you’re forced to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.From what I understand of finals clubs, they’re more like Princeton’s eating clubs; exclusive, whitewashed, wealthy, etc. Not my scene,to say the least.

More on elitism – professor elitism. This is really a person thing, but I know several professors at Harvard just ‘cause my dad’s Ph.D. advisor is up there, and he used to teach at anotherschool in Cambridge, so you know how it goes. Just hearing conversations between them issort of sickening, with the whole ‘I’m not going to waste my timeon undergrads’ attitude. I’m not gonna go too deep into the wholecondescending, snotty professor subject just ‘cause it’s personaland thus inappropriate, but suffice it to say I haven’t come acrossany problems like that here.

This is getting entirely to long.., I’m going to have tostart bullet-pointing:
- Intramurals and club sports aren’t as popular at Harvard asthey are here (probably due to the college pride thing), and thoughI wasn’t going to play varsity sports here, I didn’t want to giveup athletics entirely

- The administration at Harvard is hard to work within –they’re very much about maintaining the statusquo

- I found Harvard admissions weekend boring, and that I was surrounded by a bunch of smart individuals, not a community. 

- Because of the types of people who choose to attend Harvard, competition between students is unbearable – I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I’d just get annoyed – I find competitive peopleat least as obnoxious as self-centered people

- Yale likes food – we have barbecues and themed banquets allthe time
- Master’s teas… we’ve got ‘em, they don’t
- Friends of mine from Harvard (who think they’re happy there) have described it as not a real ‘rah rah’ type of place…well, I wanted a rah rah type of place, where the whole student body is proud to call themselvesYalies. 
- There are lots of things that I don’t even realize we have here, that Harvard students don’t have, that visiting friends pointout all the time. I don’t know anyone who has chosen Harvard overYale, visited friends at Yale, and not admitted to making the wrong decision. Read that last sentence again – I’m not kidding. 


I sort of ran out of steam midway through this thing, even before I started bullet pointing – sorry, but if you want to know more about anything, I’m better with personal messages than with board postings.

The basic point is that I found Harvard hard to turn down because of pressure from people who I don’t care about. Even if itwas from people who I did care about, this is about my school, myfit, my happiness… I don’t think I could be happier.