How does a star engineering high school senior choose among Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Caltech, Stanford and Harvard?

Answer by Christopher Lin:

Think about it like this:

  • Going to Stanford is like being sorted into Gryffindor.
  • Going to Caltech is like being sorted into Hufflepuff.
  • Going to MIT is like being sorted into Ravenclaw.
  • Going to Harvard is like being sorted into Slytherin.

"Their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindor apart."
Stanford Engineering places heavy emphasis on entreneurship and is deeply mired in Silicon Valley culture wherein taking a risk and hacking on a startup is considered nobler and more interesting than being a smart engineer but languishing in academia or a large corporate environment.  Stanford is also the most socially normal of the four schools.

"Power-hungry Slytherin loved those of great ambition."
Harvard is known for social climbing and an atmosphere where interactions are perpetually shaded with professional networking.  Many people who attend come from privileged backgrounds and expect success in traditional settings like finance, consulting, and large technology companies.

"For Hufflepuff, hard workers were most worthy of admission."
"For Ravenclaw, the cleverest would always be the best."
This was a tricky one since both Caltech and MIT are reputed for having students who are wicked-smart and hard-working but perhaps at the expense of being socially well-adjusted.  Yishan Wong's answer claims that Caltech students are more likely to be weird and quirky, which is reminiscent of prime Ravenclaw Luna Lovegood, but I think the most salient distinction between the two is that Caltech students are more known for being very hard-working — see Adam D'Angelo's answer to What is Caltech's image in the CS industry? — while MIT is primarily known for valuing raw, academic intelligence above all else.

I just spent twenty minutes comparing top-tier engineering programs to Hogwarts houses.  You're welcome.

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