Harvard ED vs UChicago ED

What would be a smarter decision if a student can afford both and plans on applying to both in some round of decisions?

Harvard has EA, not ED. Harvard’s EA is restrictive, so you agree not to apply ED anywhere else or early (including EA, early rolling, or early for scholarship consideration) to private colleges in the US before Harvard’s EA decision notification.

Since that makes applying early to Harvard and Chicago mutually exclusive, you can choose one to apply early to. But others here will not be able to tell you anything more since you have not said anything about why you may prefer one or the other.

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Since UChicago has two rounds of ED, one can apply SCEA elsewhere first.

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You should try to understand which university would be a better fit for you.

Ignore rankings. Harvard and Chicago are both very good schools. Neither is a good fit for all strong students (or for any average students).

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First of all, it depends on whether or not you may change your mind and regret your choice later after you have a chance to do more indepth analysis. UChicago wants you to make a full commitment. It wants you to demonstrate that committment in myriad of ways, including in the multiple essays that it requires. Harvard, on the other hand, only needs you to show your love by applying to it as your “single choice” in the early round. It doesn’t even want you to write a “why us” essay. It’s much more confident than UChicago that you’ll ultimately choose it after you’ve done the indepth analysis. With Harvard SCEA, you can still apply to other schools in the reguar round and compare your acceptances to see which school offers the best overall education (it may not even be Harvard). With UChicago ED, you don’t have these opportunities.

Secondly, if you need financial aid, Havard is generally more generous. As an ED applicant to UChicago, you don’t get a chance to compare financial aid packages from other schools. With Harvard SCEA, you do.

Last but not least, UChicago ED does give you a bigger admission boost than Harvard SCEA, as there’re many more ALDC (athletes, legacies, donors, children of faculty and staff) applicants among Harvard SCEA pool.

Since I don’t know what your interests are, I’m assuming the program you want to pursue at either Harvard or UChicago are comparable, which may or may not be the case.


Given that you plan on applying to both, you shouldn’t apply to Chicago ED 1. ED is binding. If you are accepted ED to Chicago, you are expected to commit and not apply to Harvard in RD. This leaves the following options:

Harvard SCEA, Chicago ED 2
Harvard SCEA, Chicago RD
Chicago EA, Harvard RD
Harvard, RD, Chicago RD

You probably have the best chance of admission with the first option (Harvard SCEA + Chicago ED 2). However, again ED is binding, so if you want to apply to other schools besides just Harvard and Chicago, then you might instead choose the 2nd option (Harvard SCEA + Chicago RD). If Chicago is first choice, but you also want to apply to Harvard, then 3rd option might be a good fit (Chicago EA + Harvard RD). If for some reason you expect your application to be much stronger in the RD round than the early round, then the 4th option might be best (Harvard RD + Chicago RD).


As happens so often, we don’t even know if OP is a suitable candidate for either.

I say, you have at least 9 months to figure out whether you match what they want, which is more than name recognition or “can afford.”

On another thread, your basic questions hint you have not researched either college enough.

Miles to go.


A de-emphasis on the Harvard essays is probably not the most intelligent pitch for SCEA. Most who apply craft their essays with thought and care. I certainly have never met a Harvard admit who didn’t have a clear understanding of “why us.”

This is actually a “distinction” without a practical difference. Most accepted SCEA don’t worry about applying to other schools. The yield is indistinguishable from ED1. Small nit, by the way: @1NJParent is being a little vague. UChicago doesn’t have “ED;” they have ED1 and ED2. 1NJ is correct about the binding aspect of Early Decision, but ED2 has a different deadline from SCEA so of course you can apply to the latter as well, if you wish. @Data10 lays out all those combinations which include the two non-binding admission options at UChicago.

This is just plain inaccurate. Net price for both schools totally depends on your family income. For instance, my kids received more need-based financial aid at UChicago than they would have at Harvard. One can - and should! - run the net price calculator to see what each school will offer. Both schools meet full demonstrated need, btw, regardless of admission plan, but define that slightly differently. Net Price numbers are really within a few thou of each other across all the brackets, based on latest available numbers. Sometimes the differences are miniscule. Harvard historically did better in that middle-income range: $50-75k. However, since then UChicago has guaranteed full tuition and fees for anyone with family incomes under $100k (typical assets) and adds R&B for family incomes under $60k. So it has improved and Harvard’s numbers have no doubt improved too. Again - check the NPC to compare. At this level of elite one should be able to choose their school based on other considerations than finances.

Now, a personal anecdote because I suspect @1NJParent is posting without the benefit of genuine experience in the FA area. Our daughter wanted to switch to ED2 when she was deferred from EA a few years ago. I spent a good amount of time on the phone with one of UChicago’s FA directors reviewing affordability before we signed that agreement. My D’s aid package turned out even better than what I had anticipated. I - and others who have posted on this issue - have found UChicago to be genuinely helpful in matters of FA. Harvard no doubt would be as well. Anyone should be able to call up and discuss financial matters with their university of interest. You should be able to apply to either school with confidence that you will attend if accepted.

This might be the case for some types of engineering; however, for most other majors there will be significant overlap. Both are liberal arts programs. One might want to check out other aspects of the undergraduate program where you will see more pronounced differences. Each school has a distinct mission, so it’s best to understand what that is. Focus on the big picture differences - or whether there are any. That might help with that question: Why Us. Because the reality is that both schools want to know this, regardless of how they ask.


I agree that this is generally the case, though obviously the situation for any given student could be quite different. Not only is the percentage of students graduating with debt from Chicago more than double that of Harvard, the average debt at Chicago is noticeably higher – $26,600 compared to around $6000 at Harvard according to CollegeBoard, which draws its data from the CDS. (Chicago does not make its CDS publicly available, which makes this difficult to verify, however.)

Chicago began improving its hit-or-miss financial aid and correspondingly low yield in the late 2000s with the Odyssey scholarship program, but it did so several years after colleges like Princeton and Davidson had already eliminated loans entirely, and it arguably still has not quite caught up with a couple of the wealthiest schools.

As has already been pointed out, any student deciding between colleges should always run an EFC calculator.

One case where Chicago is more generous than Harvard in financial aid is the case where the student’s parents are divorced and the non-custodial parent is uncooperative.


Not sure about Harvard but UChicago is a moving target when it comes to FA data. Their no loans program started in, I think 2014 or 2015 (forget which) so the latest available data will include loans outstanding from matriculations before that time. Warbler is correct that this was years after others had gone that route. (NB - loans are still an option at any of these schools for families who wish them).

I tend to look at the incoming class for “most current” trends; even then, the data doesn’t include UChicago’s updates via Empower. But anyway, for the 2018-19 year, per NCES, approximately 10% of UChicago’s incoming class took out an average of $9.7k in federal and other loans. In contrast, about 7% of Harvard’s incoming class took out an average of $5.8k in federal and other loans. It bears mentioning that not all who take out loans are ignorant of the benefits of some debt financing or are financially at the end of their rope. A quick perusal of loan default stats for both schools doesn’t really provide any noticeable evidence that students in one school are more heavily burdened with debt than the other.

For 2018-19, again per NCES, UChicago and Harvard cost approximately the same for the $0-$30k income range. For the $30k-48k range, Harvard is $2k less than UChicago. For the $48-$75k range, H is $4.5k less expensive than UChicago. For the $75-$110k range, H is $2.5k less than UChicago. For the $110k+ range, H is $3k more expensive than UChicago. Again, these are yearly averages. Best to check the NPC which will be more tailored to your specific situation and will have the current FA programs loaded up. As just one example (and mentioned before), UChicago now grants full tuition for families with income under $125k (my earlier post incorrectly said $100k).

This is, at best, a disingenuous claim. Similar yields don’t make their distinction go away. The truth is that they can’t even be compared.

You own anecdote illustrates my point. Your daughter doesn’t have a chance to compare FA packages from different schools when she applied to UChicago in a binding decision. As an example, an applicant who is admitted SCEA to Harvard can later apply RD to Princeton. If she’s also admitted to Princeton, she can compare the two FA packages, and Princeton may turn out to be more generous.

Speaking of finances, if OP is full pay but not insensitive to the total cost, UChicago is THE most expensive school in the country in terms of total cost of attendence. Harvard isn’t even in the top 50.

The critical number you did not share from IPEDS is that for 2018-19 U Chicago’s average net price was $34,719 vs Harvard’s $18,030. College Navigator - Harvard University

Both SCEA and ED place restrictions on the application and the overwhelming number of admitted applicants and their families not only understand these restrictions but have researched their institution thoroughly and made that application purposefully with pretty good understanding of things like “single choice” and “binding admission.” You posted about the possibility of regret later in the application season but the yield on ED at any of these schools (UChicago, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, NU, Duke, etc) simply doesn’t support the existence of “regret” - nor do retention rates. Students by and large - even those requiring significant financial aid - have done their research BEFORE applying. That’s kind of how it works these days.

This would only be true if Princeton gave out merit, misrepresented the information on the NPC, or didn’t have helpful financial aid officers available to assist families with understanding their degree of financial commitment. :laughing:

In my daughter’s case, there was no need to compare FA packages after the fact because, like other families, we were able to do so beforehand via the NPC and already knew before any small happy surprises that UChicago was the most generous. Our experience was not unique. By the way, can’t speak to the veracity of FA advice from other schools but had we applied ED to any of them we would have sanity-checked our numbers in the same manner. FA officers can’t give out your official EFC over the phone but they can give you a ballpark. That was sufficient for us; other families may need something more exact and so will have to compare actual FA packages. Or they are eligible for significant merit over and above demonstrated need (in our daughter’s case we floated that balloon with UChicago already). Or they don’t qualify for any need-based but require some FA anyway. Those families should apply non-binding, and do. But to reiterate: our particular experience isn’t unique; other families have stated here and elsewhere that UChicago’s NPC is an excellent indicator of EFC. Btw, so is FAFSA.

For those who are full-pay: Harvard’s 2020-21 tuition, R&B, and fees is $72,391. UChicago’s is $76,302. Those full-pay families who prefer Harvard to UChicago, or who see the two schools as equivalent in all but price, should not consider ED. Those who believe that UChicago is worth the extra $4k per year should consider ED. It’s that simple.

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Everyone on this thread has seen my prior notes on my philosophy - when a student asks a question, focus on the question that the student asked; don’t make it a broader conversation. The student does not need FA, so that debate is irrelevant to this conversation.

Adhering to moderator’s advice, I’ll focus on matters other than FA.

ED yield isn’t a measure of how satisfied an admit is. S/he is derived of other choices. EA, even a single-choice EA, doesn’t derive applicants of other choices. Any comparison between the two is, frankly, bogus.

On the total cost of attendance at UChicago, I don’t know where you got your numbers from, for someone whose kid is attending the school. According to this page, the CoA for UChicago is $80,277:

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The objective measures are yield and retention rate. Both are similarly high for SCEA and top ED schools. As for being deprived of other choices, that cuts both ways. Someone applying SCEA is deprived of being able to send off other applications and expressing enthusiasm for other schools in that crucial early round. It’s definitely a disadvantage relative to unrestricted EA.

Yes - COA of course includes books and personal, travel, etc. I didn’t use COA. For both schools, you’ll notice that I focused on Tuition, fees, and R&B as that cost is what Harvard publishes on its Harvard At A Glance page:
“The total 2020-2021 cost of attending Harvard College without financial aid is $49,653 for tuition and $72,391 for tuition, room, board, and fees combined.”
Harvard at a Glance | Harvard University.

COA for Harvard is between $76k and $80k, as posted here (click on 2020-21):
How Aid Works | Harvard You will notice that when you consider total COA, Harvard is at most a $4,000 savings.

Following up on the subject of COA as a full-pay, Harvard and UChicago are actually very different schools when it comes to residential living. It’s very common - practically expected, according to my relatives with kids at the school - for a student to live all four years in on-campus residential housing. This is one reason why Harvard de-densified from the pandemic by not allowing certain classes to show up on campus in the fall. In contrast, UChicago typically sees third and fourth year students moving off campus and into the surrounding neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Kenwood and Woodlawn. Thus, it was possible to live off campus but attend school in-person during the pandemic. Off campus living will typically run you about $5k less than on-campus living - in some cases the savings will be greater. The Hyde Park area of Chicago is actually quite affordable for a big city.

“Expected” would not be my descriptor. There is a different real estate reality in Cambridge vs. Hyde Park. There are few affordable off-campus options for Harvard students.

That’s true. My relative was probably speaking from the perspective of the parent community and conversation (as well as what classmates were doing) as opposed to any specific mandate or strong encouragement from the school itself. Harvard has a significant residential culture, for whatever reason, that UChicago doesn’t have. The latter is due to an awkward history of messing up housing throughout the decades, the collapse of undergrad enrollments in mid-last century, and its founding and early years as primarily a “commuter school.” Their most recent dorm just came online this year so once things return to normal they will be able to house 50-60% of the undergraduate student body - but no more than that. Most 3rd and 4th years will still leave campus. UChicago does have a house system which is really great, but they’ve been shifting that around to re-boot house culture with the addition of the newer dorms. Like most everything else about UChicago, residential living is a moving target.