MIT and Harvard are two renowned institutions that consistently top national college ranking lists and are known for their premier academics, distinguished faculty, and vibrant communities. But which university is better: MIT or Harvard? More importantly, which is a better fit for you?
We give you a complete MIT vs Harvard comparison and introduce four essential factors you must consider to help you figure out which school is an ideal match for you. Before all that, though, let's take a look at what types of schools MIT and Harvard actually are.
What Is MIT?
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, is a prestigious, private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861, MIT focuses mainly on science, engineering, and technology, with the mission of encouraging research, discovery, and innovation.
The university is on the smaller side, with an undergrad enrollment of just 4,638 and a total enrollment of 11,934 students (which, as you can see, means that there are more graduate students than there are undergrads). MIT currently employs nearly 13,000 staff and faculty.
Six schools and colleges make up MIT:
- School of Architecture and Planning
- School of Engineering
- School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
- Sloan School of Management
- School of Science
- MIT Schwarzman College of Computing
The most popular school is (not surprisingly) the School of Engineering, which currently has around 3,500 students. In total, MIT offers 56 undergraduate majors and 50+ minors.
MIT is highly selective, admitting around only 4% of first-year applicants every year. It's also top-ranked in both the US and world, coming in at #2 on US News' list of the best national universities.
Outside of academics, MIT offers more than 450 student organizations and 33 varsity sports.
What Is Harvard?
Harvard University is a world-renowned, private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts—the same city where MIT is based—with nearby campuses in Allston (a neighborhood in Boston) and Longwood.
It's the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, having been established back in 1636. Harvard also has the biggest endowment of any university in the world. Its mission is to educate citizens and future leaders through a premier education in the liberal arts and sciences.
At present, the university has around 2,400 faculty members and a total enrollment of 21,648 students, including 7,153 undergrads. Like MIT, there are more graduate students than there are undergrads here.
In terms of size, Harvard University consists of 13 schools as well as one specialized institute:
- Harvard Business School
- Harvard College
- Harvard Divinity School
- Harvard Division of Continuing Education
- Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
- Harvard Graduate School of Design
- Harvard Graduate School of Education
- Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
- Harvard Kennedy School
- Harvard Law School
- Harvard Medical School
- Harvard School of Dental Medicine
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Just to clarify, Harvard College is the undergraduate college of Harvard University, so when people talk about applying to Harvard as a first-year student, what they're really talking about is applying for admission to the College, which is located on the main Cambridge campus.
At Harvard College, students can choose from among 50 majors that span topics in the social sciences, the arts and humanities, science, and engineering.
Harvard is one of the most selective universities in the US, with an acceptance rate of just 4%. Due to its prestige and quality academics, it's also extremely highly ranked and currently listed at #3 by US News for best national universities.
Finally, Harvard offers more than 450 student clubs and is part of the NCAA Division I in sports.
MIT Kresge Auditorium (Madcoverboy/Wikimedia Commons)
MIT vs Harvard: Complete Comparison
Below is a side-by-side comparison of Harvard University vs MIT so you can get a better sense as to how these two very prestigious universities differ.
|Location||Cambridge, MA||Cambridge, MA|
|Public or Private?||Private||Private|
|Part of Ivy League?||No||Yes|
|US News Ranking||2||3|
|Avg SAT/ACT Score||SAT: 1520
|Tuition & Fees||$57,590||$52,659|
|# of Schools/Colleges||6||13 + 1 institute|
|# of Majors||56||50|
|Most Popular Majors||Engineering, comp sci, math||Economics, history, biology|
|# of Student Clubs||450+||450+|
|Sports||NCAA Division III||NCAA Division I|
|Med Starting Salary||$114,000||$95,000|
|Overall Reputation||One of the most highly regarded science and technology universities in the world; known for its academics, scientific discoveries, and research||World-renowned research university famed for its academics, professors, and award-winning alumni, and for also having one of the biggest academic libraries in the world|
Both Harvard and MIT are located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is northwest of Boston and considered part of the Boston metropolitan area. Cambridge has a total population of about 100,000 people, including several thousand students at MIT and Harvard.
The MIT campus lies southeast of Harvard's main campus (Harvard's two other campuses can be found south of the Charles River in Allston and Longwood).
Though both MIT and Harvard are private universities, meaning that neither is funded by the state, Harvard is one of eight members of the Ivy League, whereas MIT is not.
This doesn't necessarily mean anything in terms of prestige: there are many non-Ivies that are just as prestigious as, if not more than, the Ivies. MIT, for example, is no doubt a very renowned school—even without that Ivy label!
Here's the full list of Ivy League schools for reference:
- Brown University
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- Harvard University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Princeton University
- Yale University
In terms of undergraduate enrollment and number of schools and colleges, Harvard's got MIT beat. Whereas MIT has 4,638 undergrads, Harvard has slightly more at 7,153. As for total enrollment (undergrads and graduate students), MIT has less than 12,000 students compared to Harvard's slightly under 22,000 students.
When it comes to schools, MIT has six schools in total, whereas Harvard's got 13. Notably, MIT does not have a medical school or law school—but Harvard does.
Rankings and Grades
Even though Harvard is a member of the Ivy League and MIT isn't, the two schools are neck and neck when it comes to college rankings.
At present, Harvard beats out MIT just barely on most lists. Obviously, rankings fluctuate slightly from year to year, so expect Harvard to beat MIT some years and MIT to come out on top other years.
Here are the current rankings of MIT vs Harvard by leading publications and websites:
As you can see here, outside of the Forbes ranking, the rankings for Harvard University vs MIT really are incredibly close. As a result, you can't argue one school is "better" based on rankings alone.
In addition to national rankings, we looked at Niche grades, which are grades (A+ to F) given by real students who attended the universities. As expected, Harvard and MIT both earned A+ ratings thanks to their high-quality academics, excellent faculty, and active social scenes.
Harvard University campus
The acceptance rates for MIT and Harvard are incredibly low—just 4% for each. Both Harvard and MIT are two of the most difficult universities to get into, so you'll need to have a killer application to raise your chances of getting accepted.
Incoming Harvard students have a 4.0 high school GPA on average. While MIT doesn't report incoming freshmen's high school averages, the fact that MIT's admissions rate is 4% suggests that accepted students have very competitive GPAs as well. This indicates that you'll need to have super-high grades (mostly or all As) to be able to get into either MIT or Harvard.
In terms of standardized test scores, MIT students have slightly higher averages, with an SAT score of 1520 and an ACT score of 35, compared with Harvard's averages of 1480 and 35.
Overall, these slight differences are nominal, meaning that both schools are extremely hard to get into.
Tuition and Fees
Tuition and fees are similar at Harvard and MIT. Harvard tuition and fees are $52,659 per year, whereas MIT's are slightly more expensive at $57,590 per year.
However, both universities offer incredible financial aid, so you likely won't have to pay much, if anything, in order to attend. At Harvard, students don't need to pay for any tuition or fees if their family makes less than $65,000 a year. Meanwhile, at MIT, you don't have to pay anything if your family makes less than $90,000.
The student-faculty ratio shows how many students there are per professor. Lower ratios are ideal, as this means you'll get more personalized attention from your professors.
Both MIT and Harvard have excellent student-faculty ratios, but the ratio at MIT is even better at 3:1 (Harvard's is 7:1). This indicates that there is one faculty member for every three students at MIT.
Although MIT is more focused on science and technology, and Harvard concentrates more on the liberal arts, both schools offer 50+ majors in a variety of fields.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular majors at MIT are science, engineering, and technology ones, including computer science, biology, and mathematics. At Harvard, the most popular majors cover a slightly broader array of fields, such as history, economics, and the social sciences.
Both MIT and Harvard offer a giant array of 450+ student clubs you can join. On Niche, the two schools each received an A+ for student life. MIT earns an A for its party scene, whereas Harvard's ranking is an A-. Both schools will definitely allow you to have an active social life, regardless of which of these universities you end up attending.
As for sports, MIT is part of the NCAA Division III, whereas Harvard is part of the NCAA Division I.
Median Starting Salary of Alumni
The median starting salary of MIT alumni is far higher than it is for Harvard alumni. According to Payscale, MIT alumni can expect to make $114,000 right after graduating—a particularly high starting salary—Harvard alumni can expect to make around $95,000, or $19,000 less (which is still a solid salary but not nearly as strong as MIT's).
Is MIT or Harvard a Better Fit for You? 4 Factors to Consider
When it comes to Harvard University vs MIT, it's important to consider the following factors so you can easily figure out which university will be a better match for you.
The size of the student body is a critical factor when thinking of where to apply for college, as you will want to pick a university that offers the type of environment and student community you can ultimately thrive in, whether that's a small, more intimate setting or a big, diverse social scene.
In terms of undergrad enrollment, Harvard and MIT are pretty similar: Harvard has 7,153 undergrads, while MIT has 4,638. When it comes to total enrollment, however, Harvard offers a much larger student body than MIT does, with its 22,000 students compared to MIT's 12,000.
If you want to be able to develop a wider network of friends and peers, Harvard might be a better fit for you. But if you prefer MIT's smaller, more manageable atmosphere, then you might want to prioritize MIT over Harvard.
#2: Academic Programs Available
Another factor to consider is your academic interests and what you want to major in.
Although both Harvard and MIT offer 50+ majors in different fields, MIT is more geared toward science, math, and technology, while Harvard embraces a broader range of fields, especially liberal arts and humanities majors.
Naturally, MIT and Harvard do not offer the same exact majors, so you'll need to do some digging to determine whether your desired major is available at MIT or Harvard (or neither, or both!). You can see a list of Harvard majors here and a list of MIT majors here.
For example, whereas Harvard offers a folklore and mythology major, MIT does not.
You should also think about whether your academic program has a better reputation at MIT or Harvard. For instance, while both MIT and Harvard offer reputable engineering degrees, MIT is currently ranked #1 for best undergraduate engineering program, while Harvard is ranked #27.
#3: Cost and Financial Aid
Cost of attendance is an extremely important factor to weigh before you apply to MIT or Harvard.
As mentioned, Harvard and MIT each cost around $56,000 a year in tuition and fees (and over $75,000 when you include room and board). However, you'll likely pay a lot less than this due to the schools' generous financial aid policies.
At MIT, you will not pay any tuition if your family makes less than $90,000. Meanwhile, at Harvard, you'll pay nothing if your family makes less than $65,000. You can read up on Harvard's financial aid policies and MIT's financial aid policies on their official websites.
Not sure whether you'll qualify for need-based aid at MIT or Harvard? Then consider looking into external merit-based scholarships.
The last factor to consider is each school's selectivity and how your academic profile compares to those of admitted students. Doing this should help you get an idea of your acceptance chances.
To see how you stack up against other MIT or Harvard applicants, look up the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores of admitted students.
For pretty much all applicants, Harvard and MIT will be reach schools, meaning you are not guaranteed to get in based on your GPA and test scores alone (though you still have a chance of getting accepted, even if it's very small).
As you know, both Harvard and MIT are extremely hard to get into, with Harvard having a slightly lower acceptance rate; however, MIT has slightly higher test score averages, which means you will need to do even better on the SAT or ACT, especially on the Math section, to get in.
Conclusion: Making Your MIT vs Harvard Decision
MIT and Harvard are equally prestigious universities based in Cambridge, a nearby city of Boston. While MIT focuses primarily on science, math, and technology, Harvard offers a broader variety of liberal arts and sciences programs.
Neither institution is "better" than the other, at least in an objective sense, as both are top-ranked schools that are highly selective and offer students an array of quality academic programs and exciting extracurricular activities.
Ultimately, to determine whether MIT or Harvard is better for you, you'll need to look at several factors, such as student body size, costs and financial aid, what academic programs are available, and what types of students typically get admitted.
As you begin applying to college—whether it's to Harvard, MIT, or both!—be sure to give yourself plenty of time to put together your best application possible.
Interested in attending a prestigious tech school? Then check out our guide to Caltech vs MIT—two of the best engineering, science, and technology schools in the world.
Got your sights set on Harvard? Then you'll definitely want to read our comprehensive guides on how to get into the Ivy League, what a successful Harvard application looks like, and how to write a great Harvard essay.
To get into an ultra-competitive university, you'll need to have a great SAT/ACT score. Learn our best tips in our guides to getting a perfect SAT score and perfect ACT score, both written by an actual full scorer.
Want to build the best possible college application?
We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League.
We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools.
Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in.
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.