Harvard College Vs. Harvard University

Mary John

Harvard College Vs. Harvard University


I must admit that before now, I never knew there was a difference between Harvard College and Harvard University. I thought they were one and the same, and I used them interchangeably. Did you think so too? Or have you even heard of Harvard College before now? Well, if yes, there’s nothing to be ashamed of because we all learn every day.

Harvard is a dream place to have an education. Everyone is always talking about it and they rank it as the pinnacle of education in the country. Whether you agree or not, you know it’s true. Harvard is one of the eight Ivy League schools in the United States. Ivy League schools refer to a group of eight colleges and universities in the northeast United States famous for their high academic standards, social prestige and selective admissions. These Ivy League schools are Harvard, Yale, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth and Cornell.

Students who want a high standard of education or who come from a prestigious family aim for one of these Ivy League schools, the chief of which is Harvard. The name Harvard is linked to two famous schools: Harvard College and Harvard University. They are both Harvard schools but they are not the same so if you’ve been using them interchangeably, it’s time to stop. In fact, there are about 14 Harvard institutions, not just those two.

In this article, we’ll be examining Harvard College vs. Harvard University. We’d first look at Harvard College, then Harvard University, and then make a comparison between them. I believe by the end of this article, the difference will be so clear to you that you will know which one to apply to.

Harvard College

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Harvard College is the Harvard institution for undergraduate programs. What this means is that students just leaving high school to study at Harvard would go to Harvard College. Harvard College was founded in 1636. It is the first Harvard school and oldest institution (almost 400 years old) of higher learning in the United States, and it is located in Cambridge, MA.

Though Harvard College is known for its liberal arts education, offering a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, it also offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. Harvard College  has about 50 undergraduate fields of study, offering over 3000 courses. These are broken down into four main areas of interest: Arts and Humanities, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Sciences and Social Sciences.

Harvard College has a third of its undergraduate coursework in liberal arts because they believe liberal arts teaches students critical and analytical thinking, reasoning and the ability to communicate clearly. This means that even though a student is in a science program, he or she must do a third of their coursework in areas like General Education, Quantitative Reasoning with Data, Expository Writing, and Language. Mastery in these areas, according to Harvard College, is the foundation for success in any field.

Harvard College believes in a wholesome experience for students and achieves this through community living among students. After the first year, undergraduates are typically assigned to live in one of the twelve (12) houses on the campus, famously known as Harvard Yard. Here, they find themselves among fellow undergraduates, graduates, professors and mentors, during which time they can forge relationships, interact and bond with their colleagues and seniors. This helps them to develop intellectually and socially.

Harvard College is such an intentional and great place to be; however, data show that Harvard College is the most difficult college to get into. The acceptance rate at Harvard College is very low, about 3.2% but it has the highest graduation rate of 98%. This means that once you’re admitted to Harvard College, you are sure to graduate. Despite the low rate of admission, Harvard still has a large population of students. That’s a really good consolation or point to take note of.

Now that we know about Harvard College, let’s find out about Harvard University.

Harvard University

Harvard University is the school for graduate programs, Masters (MA, MS) degrees and Doctorate (Ph.D) degrees This means a student who has completed an undergraduate program and wishes to do a graduate program would go to Harvard University. Harvard University consists of twelve (12) graduate schools, in addition to the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. These are:

  • Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • Harvard Business School
  • Harvard Divinity School
  • Harvard Law School
  • Harvard Kennedy School
  • Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Harvard School of Dental Medicine
  • Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Harvard Radcliffe Institute

The Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Science is the largest of all the schools at Harvard University. Harvard University has three main campuses in Cambridge, Longwood and Allston in Boston. The university also boasts of over 13,000 students on its campuses.

The acceptance rate at Harvard University is also low, like that of the College, about 3.4%.  According to statistics, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Science received 18,723 applications in 2020, of which 4,599 were admitted to its Ph.D. program and 225 to its Master’s program. It also has a high graduation rate, about 98%, maintaining its prestige as the best university in the United States.

Harvard College vs Harvard University

Now that we’ve taken a look at Harvard College and Harvard University individually, let’s make a comparison between them. First, let’s consider the general differences between a college and a university.

A college is an institution that offers only undergraduate programs for a two-year (associate degrees) or four-year (Bachelor degrees) duration, while a university is an institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate (Masters and Doctorate degrees) programs.

Many colleges have a sister university that offers the graduate form of the undergraduate courses, for example, Harvard University for Harvard College. Universities offer a wide variety of courses, unlike colleges and may have different schools under them for different areas of study, e.g., the 12 schools under Harvard University.

  • Program offered

Harvard College offers undergraduate liberal arts and science programs, while Harvard University offers graduate programmes. Harvard College undergraduate programs earn the Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree only, while Harvard University graduate programs earn the Master of  Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), or other professional degrees.

  • Students who are eligible to apply

Harvard College takes students who have completed their high school and have their diploma (students going for a first degree), while Harvard University takes students from Harvard College or students who have their first degree and are going for a second or third, that is, students who have completed their bachelor’s program (for a master’s degree) or master’s program (for a doctorate degree).

  • Based on specifications

Harvard College specifically refers to Harvard’s undergraduate program, while Harvard University is used to refer to the entire school, including the college.

  • Based on duration of the program

Harvard College offers a duration of four years for its undergraduate program, while the duration at Harvard University is dependent on the program of study.

  • Based on mode of operation

Harvard College is run independently of Harvard University. Each of them has their own deans and administration heads, admission offices and teaching faculties. The 12 schools under Harvard University are also run independently of each other.

  • Based on area of study offered

Harvard College is divided into four main areas of study: Arts and Humanities, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Sciences and Social Sciences while Harvard University has 12 in Engineering and Applied Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Business, Divinity, Law, Design, Education, Medicine, Dental Medicine, Public Health, Leadership and Public Policy, and Interdisciplinary Research.

  • Based on focus

Harvard College focus is on the liberal arts, ensuring undergraduates explore diverse subjects before choosing an area of concentration, while the focus of Harvard University is on expertise in various fields and advancing knowledge through groundbreaking research.

  • Based on housing system

Harvard College operates its housing system in such a way that undergraduates live, engage in activities and socialize with each other and within the Harvard Yard. Its focus is on community building among undergraduates. Harvard University, on the other hand, offers accommodation to graduate students within its campus and permits them to take accommodation outside the campus as well.

  • Based on acceptance rate

Entry into Harvard College is more competitive than entry into Harvard University. This means prospective students into Harvard University have more chances at admission than applicants to Harvard College.

In conclusion, Harvard College and Harvard University are the Harvard institutions offering higher education in the United States. They are both prestigious schools located on the same campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They may share the same name but have different offerings, with Harvard College catering to undergraduate courses and Harvard University catering to graduate courses.

Entries into both schools are very competitive but possible with a high graduation rate. Harvard College complements Harvard University and together they produce individuals who are well-educated and accomplished and go on to impact the world.

So whether Harvard College or Harvard University, you have an opportunity to be a game changer. Seize it, run with it and make it.




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