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Schools Harvard vs Stanford

  1. Apr 9, 2017 #1
    Hello everyone! I fortunately have been admitted to both Harvard and Stanford for undergrad, but I'm having an incredibly difficult time making a final decision. I will be visiting both schools very shortly, but in the meantime, I wanted to gauge your opinions on these two schools.

    Now I want to do physics, but for practical/financial reasons, I feel that engineering might be a better decision (and I'm really interested in Aerospace). But physics is still something I'm considering since I really do want to get a Ph.D in it. I seriously love it and have never wanted to study anything else, but the perks of engineering just seem really attractive right now. I've also heard horrible things about the miserable work environments in physics.

    I know it's obvious that Stanford is miles ahead of Harvard for engineering, but which would you guys recommend for physics? Gotta admit though, this is a fantastic dilemma to have :) Thanks guys!
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  3. Apr 10, 2017 #2


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    To start off, congratulations on being accepted to both Harvard and Stanford!

    To be honest, I think you really can't go wrong with either school whatever you choose to study. I do feel that Stanford's engineering department might be somewhat better than Harvard's (probably not "miles ahead" though), but I strongly suspect that in terms of undergraduate physics Harvard and Stanford are for all intents and purposes equivalent.

    I might lean slightly in favour of Stanford in large part due to its proximity to San Francisco (and access to its great Chinese and other Asian cuisines), but that's just me. If you enjoy a warmer climate, this would also bias it in favour of Stanford as well. That being said, Harvard is close to Boston, which I've been told is a fun city as well.
  4. Apr 10, 2017 #3


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    From a non-American point of view: the general rule of thumb is "Harvard = business" and "Stanford = natural sciences".
    Of course this could be terribly wrong, but it is how they are felt abroad (= by me). But as it is a luxury problem, it's also a luxury distinction as you certainly will get an excellent education from both in both fields. Maybe this impression is due to the unspoken question: If Harvard and physics, why not MIT?
  5. Apr 10, 2017 #4
    If you're an undergrad it's irrelevant, both schools are top notch and a degree from either will look good when you apply for a job or grad school. You're going to spend at least half or two thirds of your time taking classes outside of your major anyway. Where would you rather live? How much is it going to cost? Personally I would choose Harvard because I like Boston and Stanford is notoriously stingy with institutional aid. The next guy to answer will probably tell you different.
  6. Apr 10, 2017 #5
    Thank you! Yeah, I was probably exaggerating the difference in their engineering departments, but Stanford definitely has an edge. You're right about the climate aspect of this, but what's difficult for me is that I feel like I could easily enjoy either climates. I like the fact that Stanford is mostly sunny year round (but still has cooler times of the year), but I also like the fact that there is an intense variation in the seasons at Harvard (as in, it's clearly visible what season it is), and I don't mind the cold either. I'm from Dallas, TX, where it's mostly warm but we have our cold times like in January/February.

    Either way, for physics it seems that I should make the decision based on how much I end up liking each school during my visit. Thanks again :)
  7. Apr 10, 2017 #6
    That's an interesting perspective. Harvard and Stanford are well known for many fields in the states, and yes, business and the natural sciences included.

    As for why not MIT? Simple fact is that I was rejected by MIT lol. Admissions to top schools here are really, really tough, so I'm extremely fortunate to be accepted to both H & S.

    Thanks for the reply :)
  8. Apr 10, 2017 #7
    Finances are negligible for my decision because both are giving me an almost equivalent amount of aid. So fortunately, in my experience, Stanford was very generous with their financial aid. As for where I'd want to live? IDK man... Hopefully visiting the two locations will give me a better sense of what I prefer, but both places sound really fun at the moment. Like, I love the whole east cost city vibe, but the atmosphere at Silicon Valley and San Francisco is also really attractive. Thank you!
  9. Apr 10, 2017 #8


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    I knew this was likely the reason. I only mentioned it, because physics at Harvard will always have the connotation of physics next to MIT (and I probably won't be the last one to ask you this). With Stanford you will never have to explain anything alike. But maybe Harvard is therefore better on operational experiences, something I don't know. In any case, if your choice will be Harvard, then try to take courses on economy as well. This will definitely help you a lot in case you won't pursue an academic career.
  10. Apr 10, 2017 #9
    Undergraduates at Harvard/MIT can cross register for classes, so if you *truly* believe that MIT would be where you'd go if you could, then it seems like Harvard would be the place to go given that.
  11. Apr 10, 2017 #10


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    Regarding cross registration, people usually do it when there is a class taught by a certain professor or special topics classes. These are usually graduate classes. For example, MIT students sometimes go to Harvard for quantum field theory/string theory and Harvard students to MIT for the statistical physics sequence because of the reputation of the course/instructor. However people don't regularly do it because it can be very inconvenient schedule wise and there are plenty of great courses at both schools.
  12. Apr 11, 2017 #11
    Stanford was honestly my top choice, but now that I've also gotten into Harvard, I'm torn between the two. The cross registering thing is interesting, but as radium said, I'm afraid it would be inconvenient to have to go across the two campuses.

    Thank you guys so far for your input! I think I'm leaning Stanford now since if I do decide to go with engineering, they're a great school for it, but if I wanna do physics, they're also stellar at that as well. The same couldn't be said about Harvard with engineering.
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