What do a tree and a tiger have in common? Nothing. But orange and red are closely related colors. Which is the better metaphor? Yvon Wang '08, a history major at Princeton, compares Princeton and Stanford.
For me, deciding to attend Stanford for history graduate school was affected not merely by the department's outstanding faculty and good reputation, but also by the university's similarities, at least on paper, to Old Nassau. A suburban campus with architecture that drives tourists wild, close to a major city but remaining quietly suburban, I thought, would satisfy both my need to get actual work done and my occasional desire for liveliness.
Actually, the Cardinal bubble and its orange counterpart are more like cousins than twins. Yes, both student bodies have that private school attractiveness --- or bourgeois indolence, depending on how one looks at it --- and the prestigious names make some of their students worry about how to answer with aplomb the inevitable "So where do you go?" But, as I discovered when I arrived in Palo Alto last year and have come to appreciate increasingly since, Stanford offers a very different experience. Let me name the ways with conveniently bolded headings.
It became obvious that if, heaven forbid, a massive civil war between the undergrads and grads began on the Farm, the former wouldn't stand a chance. With well-known professional schools in law, business and medicine, the number of "shady" people (exempting present company, of course) on campus is pretty vast: about 2,000 more than baccalaureates. This is not to say that undergrads are totally disenfranchised; it's merely that they are outnumbered. By comparison, Princeton's focus on its undergrads is both numerical and substantive. Judging by the exuberance with which they cheer on the Cardinals, I'm sure that Stanfordites adore their alma mater, but I'm still convinced that Princeton delivers more opportunities for its undergraduates.
Speaking of statistics, in contrast to the decidedly liberal arts bent at Princeton, Stanford's strength, as is well-known, lies especially in its engineering. Some friends intimate that this perception may be a result of mostly hanging out with fellow grad students, but instead of a proudly masochistic minority making daily early-morning pilgrimages to the mythically distant E-Quad, Stanford engineers represent 25 percent of the total student population and are housed in relatively centrally located buildings.
Finally, the two campuses differ considerably in their, er, physiques. Stanford is unabashedly enormous, and a bicycle --- or a skateboard for those too cool to wear helmets, or a Segway for those who enjoy making others seethingly jealous --- is virtually mandatory. Additionally, Palo Alto is mild and almost disgustingly sunny year-round. Mind you, it's anything but searing-hot and sunny: It's perpetually between 60 and 75 degrees. The only relief from the horribly nice weather is provided by the so-called "rainy season," from December through March or so.
To be fair, I must note that Stanford doesn't do the "snow" thing. No hillsides to sled down on dining hall trays, no romantic evenings drinking cocoa and cozying up in a window seat, and definitely no chances to bring out the woolen scarves unless one had circulatory problems or were a humanities grad student. Precisely because of this lack of real seasons, Stanfordites display a shocking lack of gratitude for their luck. While Tigers rush outside in early spring to unfold their lawn chairs on the still-dormant lawns (and to catch nasty head colds), Stanford colleagues often shrug when I express horror at yet another day cooped up indoors, because "it'll be perfect again tomorrow."
In conclusion, choosing between these delightful places must be like all things: to each his own. Wherever I am in the future, though, my own soul will always have stripes.
If you're a former Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who attended undergrad outside the Orange Bubble and would like to contribute a comparison send an email to email@example.com.