While many Canadians and Americans alike are quick to associate these two monoliths of scholarly success, they are actually far more different than alike. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Drinking Age
This is no small matter. At Harvard, alcohol is deemed legal at the ripe old age of 21 (as is also the case in the rest of the U.S. of A. They’re consistent like that). Canada, however, takes a different approach; each province chooses it’s own official age. Which means QUEBEC (being French) has a drinking age of EIGHTEEN. That’s a full three-year difference. Consequently, McGill is party central – everyone is legal from the get-go and so prospective students flock to McGill for academics, education and – you guessed it – alcohol.
Harvard, being Harvard, has a donor pool composed of the most affluent and influential people in the world and charges approximately 60, 000 annually (US dollars, so don’t even try Canada). McGill, on the other hand, is unfailingly French (i.e. socialist) and refuses to raise its tuition on the grounds that it’s unholy to do so (they did try once, but, being French, the students rioted).
Basically, Harvard has money to spend on its students – scholarships, financial aid, better cafeteria food, you name it – and McGill is broke.
McGill demands that you apply to a specific program or department with its own specific application demands. However, for your standard General Arts application, this means you simply send in your TOP FIVE GRADES. Nothing else. That’s it. They must be twelfth grade courses, and academic, grant you, but no one knows what that means so you can get away with anything – creative writing for example – just punch them in and you’re good to go.
Harvard, being Harvard, demands that SATs be taken (and please score higher than 2300 or don’t bother applying) before submitting multiple essays, supplements, and reference letters professing your own excellence. Oh yeah, and then you only have a 5.3% chance of getting in. McGill anyone?
4. Student Services
As previously mentioned, Harvard has money. McGill doesn’t. Unsurprisingly, this tends to affect student services a bit. Harvard showers its students in the best
facilities (Harry Potter dining halls and dorm rooms in eighteenth century mansions) while shuffling their vast amounts of cash through an omniscient administration board known simply as “The Corporation.” McGill, on the other hand…let’s not get into it. It’s a diabolical administrational nightmare, as any first-year student can tell you (tears flowing freely). It remains to be seen whether McGill’s administration board isn’t just some third-year stuck behind a desk playing God.
This is where there ARE some surprising similarities – for instance, both universities are located in historically and culturally rich cities (Montreal for McGill and Cambridge for Harvard). It really must be understood that McGill is in CANADA. Not somewhere North of Maine. CANADA. This is actually a huge boon including universal health care, poutine, two national languages, and -30 degree weather (CELSIUS. Please America, modernize.)
More specifically, McGill is in Montreal, land of poutine, bagels and beer.
Need I say more?
So, all you students out there – when it comes down to the perennial McGill vs. Harvard, take solace in the fact that while you probably won’t get into Harvard anyway, you can hop the border for a pretty decent beer to drown your sorrows.