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Top Ivy League Schools: Princeton vs Harvard

By Laura T

Updated May 21, 2021 Updated May 21, 2021

Princeton University joins Harvard University as one of the top  Ivy League schools in the QS World University Rankings: USA 2021. Both are ranked within the overall top 15 universities globally, and both excel across the board of academic subjects, making choosing between the two a tricky, but enviable, task to face.  

Here’s our guide to Princeton vs Harvard, taking in the latest data from the rankings, as well as information about location, student community, fees and financial aid. 

In the 2021 edition of the QS World University Rankings: USA, Harvard University remains the Ivy League’s frontrunner, ranked first in the USA, while Princeton follows behind in eighth.  

 
 

Princeton University 

Harvard University 

QS World University Rankings: USA 2021 

  • Ranked eighth in the USA in 2021 

  • Seventh in the USA for research 

  • First for learning experience 

  • Joint 44th for diversity and internationalisation 

  • Seventh for employability 

  • Ranked first in the USA in 2021 

  • First in the USA for research and employability 

  • Joint 21st for diversity and internationalisation 

  • Joint seventh for learning experience 

 

 
 

Subject strengths* 

  • Ranked eighth in the world for arts & humanities 

  • 30th for engineering & technology 

  • Joint 138th for life sciences & medicine 

  • 10th for natural sciences 

  • 15th for social sciences & management 

  • Ranked first in the world for arts & humanities 

  • 11th for engineering & technology 

  • First for life sciences & medicine 

  • Third for natural sciences 

  • First for social sciences & management 

 
 

Location 

Princeton, New Jersey 

Also in the northeast, just southwest of the state of New York. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts 

On the northeast coast of the US, north of Boston. 

 
 

Student community 

About 8,213 students of which 5,267 of which 2,946 are postgraduates 

There are currently 2,053 international students (25 percent of all students) 

About 23,731 students, of which 15,250 are postgraduates 

 
24 percent of all students are international

 

 
 

Tuition fees & financial aid 

Undergraduate student fees for 2019-20 are $51,870 (~ £36,700). 

61 percent of undergraduates receive need-based aid

Need-blind admission for all 

For 2020/21, annual tuition fees for undergraduates are $51,143 (approx. £36,000) plus $4,444 fees (~ £3,100). 

55% of undergraduates receive need-based aid, and  

 

Harvard provides need-blind admission for all students. 

 

 *Based on the broad subject areas in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021. 

QS World University Rankings: USA 2021 

Both Harvard and Princeton are in the top 10 of the QS World University Rankings: USA 2021. At this elite level, there’s very little difference between institutions, but a closer look at the rankings data might throw some light on the fields in which each of these top Ivy League schools particularly excel. 

Harvard, ranked first in the country, scores extremely well across each of the indicators used to compile the rankings. It claims first place in the research and employability indicators this year.  

Princeton on the other hand ranks eighth in the USA. It receives a rank of seventh both in the research indicator and for employer reputation.  

Princeton does have the advantage over Harvard in the diversity of its students and faculty, ranking joint 21st in the diversity and internationalisation indicator, compared to Harvard’s joint 44th.  

Princeton also beats Harvard in learning experience, ranking first in the USA with Harvard falling slightly behind in joint seventh. 

Subject strengths 

Looking at the QS World University Rankings by Subject provides some more detailed insights into the individual subjects for which Harvard and Princeton each school is best known. 

In 2021, Harvard University is ranked as the world leader in 14 out of 51 subjects. Although Princeton isn’t considered the best in the world for any subject, it’s featured in the top 10 for 13 different subjects. 

The table below lets you see how the two schools directly compare for each subject. If no rank is given, it’s highly likely the subject isn’t available at that university. 

Harvard and Princeton in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 

 
 

Princeton University 

Harvard University 

Accounting & finance 

15th 

1st 

Anthropology 

15th 

3rd 

Architecture 

51-100 

5th 

Art & design 

37th 

-- 

Biological sciences 

8th 

1st 

Business & management 

18th 

1st 

Chemistry 

18th 

3rd 

Classics & ancient history 

10th 

=6th 

Communication & media studies 

33rd 

-- 

Computer science & information systems 

=35th 

7th 

Dentistry 

-- 

8th 

Development studies 

-- 

=3rd 

Earth & marine sciences 

=15th 

3rd 

Economics 

8th 

2nd 

Education & training 

-- 

2nd 

Engineering (chemical) 

21st 

-- 

Engineering (electrical) 

=90th 

11th 

Engineering (mechanical) 

=95th 

4th 

English language & literature 

5th 

3rd 

Environmental sciences 

=15th 

=1st 

History 

4th 

1st 

Law 

4th 

1st 

Linguistics 

=63rd 

=6th 

Materials science 

=21st 

=5th 

Mathematics 

8th 

3rd 

Medicine 

8th 

1st 

Modern languages 

6th 

=1st 

Nursing 

7th 

-- 

Performing arts 

=20th 

=12th 

Pharmacy 

=17th 

3rd 

Philosophy 

16th 

8th 

Physics & astronomy 

=16th 

3rd 

Politics 

8th 

1st 

Psychology 

7th 

1st 

Social policy & administration 

-- 

1st 

Sociology 

=11th 

1st 

Statistics 

42nd 

2nd 

Theology, divinity & religious studies 

8th 

2nd 

See the full QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 

Location 

Harvard can be found in the university town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, just to the north of the city of Boston. Named after the University of Cambridge in the UK, Cambridge, MA, is also home to the world’s current number one university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Unsurprisingly for a town with two prominent universities in such close proximity, the city has a longstanding history of being an academic hub, with a student-centred community. 

With riverbanks lined with trees, historical architecture and a thriving arts and culture scene, Cambridge is, in many ways, the classic student location. For those who want a bit more of a cosmopolitan experience, it’s an easy trip to neighbouring Boston, one of the leading urban centres in the US. 

Traveling southwest from Massachusetts, through the states of Connecticut and New York, down through Manhattan and the Bronx, you come to the state of New Jersey, where Princeton University is located, in the town from which it takes its name. 

Much like Cambridge, MA, Princeton very much has a college town feel, with its student population playing a key part in local life and culture. The college campus itself, which features architecture from the 18th century onwards and the manmade Lake Carnegie, has been listed as one of the most attractive among US universities. 

Student community 

Harvard University, significantly larger than Princeton, has a total student enrolment of 23,731, of which 15,250 are postgraduate students. Princeton claims a total enrolment of 8,213, of which 2,946 are postgraduates.  

These large numbers of postgraduates, making up two thirds of enrolment at Harvard and over one quarter of enrolments at Princeton, reflect the strong focus on research at each school. 

Though international diversity is not the strongest indicator for either institution, both offer reasonably high proportions of overseas students. In both cases, around 24 percent of all students are international, with most of Princeton’s international students studying at graduate level. 

Tuition fees 

As is the case for US universities more widely, tuition fees at the top Ivy League schools are among the highest in the world. However, you certainly shouldn’t let this prevent you from considering either school, as both schools operate a need blind admission policy, meaning financial aid is always available for those who are offered a place. 

At Harvard, undergraduate tuition fees for 2020/21 are set at US$51,143 (~£36,100). When additional fees, accommodation, travel and personal expenses are considered, the annual cost of attendance is estimated at $78,028-$82,178 (around £55,000-£58,000).  

Princeton’s annual tuition fees are $56,010 (~£39,600) for 2021-22. However, the school estimates that students should budget around $77,690 (~£55,000) per year to cover cost of accommodation and other expenses. 

Graduate fees are typically more expensive wherever you study, and tend to fluctuate significantly depending on the field of study. At Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, full tuition fees for 2020/21 are $48,008 (~ £33,900). 

If you’re considering studying medicine or business, however, costs will be higher still. Harvard’s Medical School (graduate level only) charges tuition fees of $99,416 (~ £70,100) for 2020/21. And at Harvard Business School, an MBA program will currently cost $73,440 (~ £52,000) per year, with a total annual budget of $110,818 (~ £78,000) recommended. 

Financial aid 

You’ll be pleased to hear that, like most of the Ivy League schools, Harvard and Princeton both offer generous financial aid programs.  

At Princeton, students whose family earn up to $160,000 typically pay no tuition. For students whose family income is up to $65,000 per year (~£46,000), the aid package covers full tuition, residential college fee, room and board. Approximately 61 percent of undergraduate students receive financial aid and 83 percent of recent seniors graduated debt free. 

At Harvard, 55 percent of undergraduate students receive need-based aid through the university’s financial aid program. Financial aid officers work to determine your demonstrated need and your family’s expected contribution, with students from families with an annual income below $65,000 expected to pay nothing, and more than 20 percent of students’ families paying nothing. 

At Princeton, the average financial aid grant for a student admitted for the class of 2023 was $56,500 (~£40,000), which fully covers Princeton’s tuition fees. 

Both are among the five US universities to run a need-blind policy for all undergraduate students, both international and domestic. This means a pledge to admit all students based solely on merit and nothing else, even if you’re unable to pay any of the fees. If you then accept the offer, each school will contribute as much as is needed for you to attend their program. 

Both universities also offer funds to graduates, often in the form of grants, loans, fellowships and scholarships, as well as paid employment.  

The amount offered is dependent on several factors, including level of study, program and financial situation – for information on exactly how much you can expect to pay, visit Harvard or Princeton’s graduate school website. 

Find out more about studying in the US with our complete guide, which includes advice on applications, visas, costs, funding and more. 

This article was originally published in June 2017 . It was last updated in May 2021

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Written by

Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.

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