No Hooks, No Private School, No Connections Applicant Chose Yale Over Harvard: ASK ME ANYTHING

@bulldog7465 is currently a freshman at Yale University studying economics. Coming from a background of no private school, connections, or hooks his college admissions process led him to deciding between Harvard and Yale. He has done considerable research on admissions in terms of what colleges look for and how to ace parts of the application, and reviews essays in his free time. He would also love to share insight on how to choose between schools for the right fit, as well as application strategy.

@bulldog7465 will be our Guest Student of the Week so make sure to ask him your questions!

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What were your stats? How do you think you got into Yale?

Why did you choose Yale over Harvard?

I am interested in your ideas about fit. My daughter, like so many, has not seen many colleges due to the pandemic. She did tour Yale and really enjoyed the overall atmosphere but understands admission there is unlikely for most candidates. Can you give advice on figuring out fit at other schools?

@TomMW4, 4.0 UW 4.3 W, 35 ACT, 800 Math 2 800 World History

How I got in, I think, was my working on a passion (and talking about it in my common essay) that no other applicant has in their file. The rest of my app is remarkably typical and normal with club positions and stuff, and I’m confident this is what got me in. I’m actually viewing my admissions file in a few hours so I can update you more later

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What was/is your passion? How did you work on it?

@asldfsadjhajsd, let me preface this by saying everyone has their own priorities when picking a school and my priorities may not be yours.

ALSO TO ANYONE CHOOSING BETWEEN H and Y READING THIS IN THE FUTURE (I know I read a lot of College Confidential forums in April haha) PLEASE DON’T HESITATE TO MESSAGE ME, I’D LOVE TO HELP OUT WITH THE DECISION

I’ve come to think Harvard is objectively the better school, but Yale is subjectively the better school. If this choice was for grad school, it would be Harvard in a heart beat. Here are some points that I considered

Harvard:

  1. The location. Harvard’s location is probably the best out of any university in the country - Cambridge is a great sort of high hill town overlooking Boston that is hard to ignore. Boston is a huge sports city with some of my favorite teams, so this was a factor. boston’s also one of the biggest college towns (MIT, BU, Northeastern, Boston College) and there’s so much to do. if Yale and Harvard switched locations the choice wouldn’t have been close at all

1b. Harvard kids, in general, don’t seem to take advantage of Boston as much as they think they will when they are actually on campus. Yale still has New York City (I actually stayed in NYC a couple of nights before leaving for home this semester and can’t wait for more weekend trips in the future)

  1. The prestige. It’s important mentioning that the value everyone puts on this is different. Personally, yes, it mattered, but not to the point where it swayed me. Harvard’s prestige is objectively the best in the world and it’s known as the premier university, the symbol of higher education. This still screwed with me because the prestige was so alluring.

2b. On the flip side, I can still go there for grad school, Yale is a feeder for the top grad schools.

  1. The quality of the people
    Harvard is where you have the highest percentage out of any American university of the world champions, the billionaires’ children, the secret superpower kids when it comes to qualifications and connections. Once you get in it becomes more and more obvious that when you decide to enroll you are about to be surrounded by the absolute most qualified students out there, the future world changers.

3b. Yale people are still stacked, there are many prominent people in my class who I know

Yale

  1. The community. This was probably 70% of my decision, and now that I’m actually here and having spent a few weeks here i can’t imagine my life being better at Harvard. My suitemates are people i see as close friends for life and the level of closeness everyone has here is amazing, as since we’re in residential colleges we see the same 80 freshmen everyday and i can easily converse with most of them. Point is, you can’t get these close relationships as easily as a Harvard freshman, during these COVID times. The way Yale handled covid from a social standpoint has been amazing, they don’t care about alcohol and they kept us in our res colleges for 14 days, helping us get closer with the people we’ll be seeing for 4 years. We’re pretty much a big family at this point and it’s not something you can find at Harvard, where the freshmen are all without their assigned houses (Harvard’s version of residential colleges) and spread out across campus, I mostly hear of people hanging around the same people since the campus life is very spread out in general there. Another thing, Harvard’s COVID policy for its students was much stricter - people sent home for partying, you can’t be in other people’s rooms.

Not only that but the admissions office at Yale really made an effort to connect with its students. They created a class of 2024 Instagram and TikTok to highlight why Yale and every admit got personalized letters from their area admissions officer. Harvard didn’t lift a finger and sent me a generic email saying congrats.

1b. You could argue the community is equally as good as Harvard and that I could’ve had a better experience at Harvard I just don’t know it

  1. The undergrad focus. Harvard is obviously the choice for grad school but Yale College is what i think to be the most well-rounded, best experience you can get as an undergraduate. Yale is definitely the highest happiest ratio out of the top 5 schools and it shows.

2b. Harvard still has a fantastic undergrad focus and the resources are out there for anyone willing to go for them

  1. The residential colleges. To be fair this kinda goes with community but it’s awesome that we get butteries, gyms, and cafeterias steps away from our dorms. makes everything so convenient and not only that the community in these is amazing as everyone lives around each other and gets tight quick.

3b. Harvard has their own versions of res colleges but they don’t seem to pull this off as well, the community isn’t as close and not all of them have butteries. Yale assigns people into residential colleges freshmen year, so they already have a community in their first year - Harvard does this sophomore year

  1. The food. The dining hall food is pretty good and when I compare it with my Harvard friends we’re definitely winning. If I didn’t eat out on the weekends I couldn’t see myself getting bored of it.

I’ve done a ton of research on the HYPSM schools because I wanted to research H vs Y as extensively as possible, and I think in general this is the advice I’d give

Harvard - go here if you want the prestige and feeling of going to the best university

Stanford - go here if you’re into tech or into interdisciplinary studies, and/or want west coast

Princeton - go here if you want to learn the material best and the strongest undergraduate focus academically, and an intellectual environment

MIT - same thing as Stanford but east coast and in Boston/near Harvard

Yale - go here if you value community

Hope this helps! Ask away if you got any more questions about my thought process.

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@massmom2018 Though it’s cheesy and many other people have said it, consider most: Can I see myself happy here? Everyone’s factors are different, mine mostly boiled down to student culture, campus beauty, location, and the food. Figure out what is important to YOU! Though coming to Yale this semester was my first time visiting, I do think campus visits are very valuable.

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@TomMW4 It was an interactive project, can’t go deeper than that or I’ll dox myself. I worked on it throughout middle school and high school, I’d spend hours a day on it. It was honestly the most passionate I’ve been about anything

@bulldog7465 Advice for international students to learn how US admissions works? What do you think was the cause or causes to get accepted to Harvard?

What do you recommend me to do in my free time? The advice of how should I find a hobby that’s unique like yours but not one to screw up your anonymity?

What are your grades? What extracurricular activities do you do? Activities that you like to do in your free time? You can be broad about it, to not dox yourself.

@bulldog7465, regarding fit — do you think Harvard looks for different things in its students than Yale? How did you show these schools that you understood what they were looking for and would be a good fit at the school?

Hi! I’m a junior in high school and I just feel so much anxiety around extracurriculars and building my resume. I go to a competitive high school and it seems as if everyone around me is starting non profits or going to national sports tournaments.

I have adhd and my main interests are medicine and I love art/writing, but throughout freshman and sophomore year I did so many random things (from political jsa conferences to being a tour guide to hundreds of hours volunteering at a science museum to working at a bakery to being in stem clubs).

Right now the main ECs I have are that I’m president of HOSA, Girls Who Code, and Creative Writing Club at my school. I also founded a literary magazine for my school and am xc varsity captain. I have some awards from Scholastics Art & Writing as well. I just feel like I don’t have a cohesive story and I’m out of time. Over the summer I had lots of plans (a girls who code internship for example—because I’m also interested in compsci) but they were cancelled because of corona. This past year has been really difficult for me (my mom battled cancer twice) but now my life is finally getting better and I’m filled with motivation—I just don’t know what I should do to build my resume and create a theme for when I apply. Do I have to have a theme? Any advice? (Btw I’m not hoping to get into Yale or Harvard or anything but I want to apply to some selective schools and scholarships)

@PaulTheLearner The key is to find a hobby that you truly love. When I did mine I wasn’t even thinking about college admissions or how cool it would look on a resume, it was something I was genuinely excited to wake up and do every day

My grades and ECs are not really relevant, they were of a typical applicant and were not what got me in.

@Southoftheriver Both schools look for people with potential, although Yale has recently been wanting to admit more engineering students since it’s rebuilding its program. The question they are asking which I utilized was, “Based on what the applicant’s done in high school, what potential do they have with the resources at our college?”

@ap68ple Sorry for how this year has been, I hope I can help relieve some of your college-related stress. Keep in mind that you have so, so much time. You’re already on a great path, seems like you’re a pretty involved person. I would take some time to figure out which of these areas you’re a part of excite you most, and focus on those, either taking on more leadership or making an independent project. Good luck!

Thanks, I hope to get in touch with you in the future.

: )

Thanks for posting. Because too many folks don’t believe you can get into these schools if you attend a public high school and don’t have lots of bonuses/tips/“hooks.” But you put your finger on one of the keys in your first post: you were “working on a passion” “no other applicant has in their file.” We called that a point of excellence at Stanford.

Curious why you said definitely Harvard for grad. school over Yale. Sounds like just the superiority of Cambridge to New Haven? (Couldn’t agree more. Location sounds soft, but kids don’t appreciate how much nicer it is to attend college near a legit city–especially one you could see yourself living in after college–for internships, interviews, staying connected to your school, living with classmates post-grad, airports for travel, etc.)
–MCS

@MichaelCShort Pretty much. New Haven’s location really isn’t bad for college students because campus life is strong, and we can still go on day trips to New York and Boston. In grad school, Cambridge and Boston really sounds like a great setup professionally and socially. I look forward to visiting when Harvard-Yale is back at Fenway!

I think your analysis is right on. I went to Yale undergrad and Harvard for professional school and it seemed clear to me when I was in Cambridge that Harvard undergrads didn’t have the same closeness of community we had at Yale. In addition to the factors you cite, I think it might also be due to slight differences in what the schools look for when considering applicants: a higher % of individual (but sometimes inward-focused) “standouts” at Harvard; a higher % of collaborative, outward-facing students at Yale. All this is just my impression, and just at the margins, of course. But you made the right choice imho, and I envy you for having 3.5 more years at Yale ahead of you!

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Lol, my daughter is in the process of applying to grad school and is currently working at a research institute in Boston. She is sticking with programs in Boston, NorCal and SoCal. She definitely did not want to spend the next 5-6 years in New Haven. Being in not such a great town such as New Haven does make for a better undergrad community since options outside of campus are limited. Similar to @GoodPoint, my friends who graduated from Harvard and I are pretty much in consensus that the “community” of the Houses is not as strong as that of the Residential Colleges. Why stick around Harvard’s campus when there is so much stuff to do in Cambridge and Boston, especially other college and university events.