Congratulations to the 2,148 seniors offered acceptance to Princeton yesterday. You now have the difficult problem of choosing where to attend. If you've beaten the numbers and made were in the 8.18% of Princeton applicants accepted and the 6.91% of Harvard applicants accepted, read on as David Baumgarten '06, a Harvard graduate student, compares the two schools.
Perhaps the most telling thing I can say about how the Princeton and Harvard undergrad experiences differ is that, in truth, I have little to no idea what the Harvard undergrad experience is like. True, my 3 years at the Harvard Law School have been spent just a few minutes up Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Yard, and every time I walk into Harvard Square I see hordes of Crimson-clad youth who I can only assume are undergrads. But, then again, they could just as easily be Kennedy School students or chemistry grad students or Business School students or --- who knows --- MIT students.
My point is that Harvard is an enormous place. For many high school students, that’s a draw --- triggering visions of not only learning from Harvard’s undergrad faculty, but also researching with Medical School professors and discussing whatever it is Kennedy School students discuss with Kennedy School students. Best I can tell, though, those visions are figments of your imagination. The reality is that, inscrutable cross-registration policies aside, Harvard’s numerous schools are by and large isolated from one another — the Business School is across the river, in Boston, and the Medical School and the Public Health School are located somewhere called Longwood, which for all I know might actually be in Rhode Island. Which means that the biggest impact all the grad schools will have on your life is an off-campus social scene that is noticeably grad student-centric.
Speaking of the social scene: I’m sure Harvard undergrads have one; I just can’t figure out what exactly it is. The finals clubs appear to play a large role, but my understanding is that they are far less open to the general student body than Princeton’s eating clubs. It’s certainly not sports-centric — there were more displaced Princetonians than Harvard students tailgating outside of Harvard Stadium before the last football game here. Meanwhile, spending much time in Boston requires a thick wallet and, for most undergrads, a fake ID. And even once you get past those barriers, the city shuts down at around 11 p.m. (I’ve had nights when getting back to Cambridge was roughly as time-consuming as — and more expensive than — taking the last train back to Princeton from New York.) All that’s left, I suppose, is four years of room parties.
Given how much I complain about it, I’d be remiss not to mention the weather. It’s cold. Really cold. Miserably, bone-chillingly, I’m-not-leaving-my-house-unless-someone-holds-a-gun-to-my-head cold. To provide context, I grew up in Virginia and had no trouble adapting to winter in New Jersey. I’m not saying you should pick a college based on the weather — just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Look, at the end of the day, Harvard is obviously a fantastic, world-renowned school, and you can make far worse choices in life than becoming an undergrad here. But know what you’re getting: You’ll be attending a college that is but one moderately important component of a behemoth of an institution, taking classes with enrollments of more than 500, living in a town that revolves around grad students. So if you ask me, if you’re so lucky as to have the choice, it’s a no-brainer to spend your next four years at Old Nassau. After all, Harvard will still be here when it comes time for that next degree — and once you get here, you’ll make sure to keep proudly wearing plenty of bright orange.
Baumgarten is a former managing editor for sports for The Daily Princetonian.