My intent was NOT to hijack this thread, but as so many of you have asked, here goes. (Princeton students and parents, please feel free to compare the Princeton experience to my daughter and son's experience at Harvard and Yale.)
Harvard and Yale are both great schools. My daughter, who is a sophomore at Harvard, was rejected from Yale; my son, who is a freshman at Yale, was rejected from Harvard -- so each is playing the hand they were dealt. (Both were accepted to Princeton, but turned it down for their respective schools.)
First off, a couple of clear differences: Harvard's schedule is a lot more intense than Yale's. During the fall semester, Harvard students do not get a break from school -- except for Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week. Yale students, on the other hand, are off for 9 days, which includes the entire week of Thanksgiving. As a parent, that just seems a bit more humane. To a lesser extent, the same thing occurs in the spring semester: Harvard students have a week off for spring break; Yale students get two weeks off.
Harvard freshman live with, eat with, and socialize with other freshman. Harvard's freshman really don't socialize with upperclassmen, unless they make friends with older students through an extracurricular activity or a class.
At Yale, freshman eat with, and socialize with upperclassman in their colleges, so there is much more of a "big-sib, little-sib" atmosphere to the entire campus starting from your first day.
For our family, the "social tone" of Harvard and Yale was actually set on move-in day:
At Harvard, freshman move-in on the first day and there are virtually no other upperclass students to greet them or help them move-in. (Upperclass students move in several days later, but essentially sophomore, junior and senior students do not have contact with freshman.) At the end of move-in day at Harvard, parents say their goodbyes, and freshman go off to a series of orientation meetings.
At Yale, upperclass students move in on the first day and are required to help the freshmen move in on the third day. At Yale, our car was literally swarmed by 30 upperclass students on move-in day who unpacked our son's belongings and carried them up to his room. In the afternoon there was a student-parent reception at the master's house, followed by a dinner for freshman with the upperclass students in their colleges, and in the evening, there was a one huge party for the entire campus.
My daughter has a love/hate relationship with Harvard. She loves her classes, professors, extracurriculars (theater), and Cambridge . . . but she finds her fellow students a bit socially awkward, self-absorbed and competitive. (There's a reason Harvard's Administration instituted the freshman pledge -- for whatever reason, Harvard students just do not seem naturally kind to each other. See: Harvard College Introduces Pledge for Freshmen To Affirm Values | News | The Harvard Crimson
.) My daughter also dislikes the party scene at Harvard, which is dominated by final clubs (see: Final Clubs: Safe Spaces to Party? | News | The Harvard Crimson
When my daughter complains about Harvard, we say "Why don't you transfer somewhere else -- like Yale (or Princeton)?" Her response "What . . . and leave Harvard. I couldn't do that." She, like everyone else there, is caught up in the mystique of the place -- even if it means not having the greatest college experience.
Recently, I met a woman who graduated from Harvard about fifteen years ago. Given our daughter's feelings, I asked her how she enjoyed Harvard. Her response: "I hated it. And everyone I know hated it." "Why did you stay?" I asked. "Because, I will never again have to prove to anyone else that I'm smart." That seems to be my daughter's thinking, as well.
My son is having a much better time at Yale. He also loves his classes, professors and extracurriculars -- he played on Yale's Club Baseball team this fall and is planning to do the same this spring. He really loves his college (Yale University | Saybrook College
) and has made many wonderful friends -- both inside and outside of the classroom. Although my son very much wanted to follow his sister off to Harvard, I don't think he would now trade places with her.
I hope all that helps.