Ivy League v Oxbridge: Best University Experience?

12/07/201713 minute read
Ivy League v Oxbridge: Best University Experience?

For a long time, the US and the UK have been considered the top dogs in the world of higher education. They're known as the places that produce the world’s most influential; Both education conferences are undeniably good, however, we all want know which is better, right?

Is it Ivy League schools offering the best education and future job prospects, or the Oxbridge universities that connect you to the brightest minds and open up a world of opportunity post graduation?

Yet, in many ways, they're polar opposites. The differences are innumerable, from opposing teaching styles to the history and atmosphere of each institution. The preference for which - Ivy League or Oxbridge - is personal. You get to decide which is better.

Liberal Arts Vs Intensive Focus

Let’s begin with course structure and delivery methods.

Both systems vary dramatically.

The US offers flexible and broad knowledge while the UK offers in-depth understanding.

Understanding how you best learn is essential to knowing which system you’d prefer, Ivy League or Oxbridge.


As previously mentioned, in the US, you are often provided with more variety and flexibility (not to mention, you can apply to more universities) than in the UK.

This is because the best US colleges offer liberal arts degrees, which emphasise general knowledge and developing broad intellectual capacities.

The aim of the liberal arts degree is to liberate or free the mind “to its fullest potential”, according to Ivy League school Yale.

The essence of a flexible education is not to place emphasis on what you study but the result – nurturing a student’s “ability to think critically and independently and to write, reason, and communicate clearly.”

Liberal arts courses are interdisciplinary and cover a range of topics, including the humanities and social, natural and formal sciences. What’s more, students benefit from exploring different academic avenues, which broadens their knowledge and uncovers hidden passions before deciding on a major.

Students in the US are allowed to experience a range of intellectual stimulation as they decide what it is they wish to pursue in life beyond college. With liberal arts students often not required to choose a major until their third year at college.


In comparison, the UK doesn’t offer a liberal learning program, rather it places more emphasis on in-depth knowledge of your major. You’ll prefer this system if you’re passionate about a specific subject and want to pursue that area beyond university.

Oxford and Cambridge have on big advantage over their US counterparts which is the tutorial system.

This system allows you have one-on-one tutorials at least once a week with a tutor (an academic employed by your college and often a leading expert in your given subject).

Having more contact time means you get more educational benefits, such as focusing on problem areas and having someone hold you accountable to improvement.

While you won’t have the freedom of choice that a US liberal arts degree provides, you will have more time to explore life beyond university. As an international student, this means you can get your hands dirty with a whole new culture.

Most US colleges endorse a standard-class delivery method, like group tutorials and lectures. While this is not revolutionary, a lot of the best colleges in the US provide value in extracurricular opportunities.


Extracurricular offerings complement a liberal arts degree, allowing students to explore new-found passions and interests in more depth.

For example, students and staff at Stanford University in California can opt in to the institution’s design school, called ‘d.school’, to improve their problem-solving skills and exploring their creativity outside their traditional responsibilities.

This type of elective shows the essence of Ivy League schools and US colleges, in general. These institutions allow students to explore their passions beyond the classroom.

On the other hand, the assessment structure at an Oxbridge institutions favour the heavily-weighted exams at the end of the year. So Oxbridge students can often make or break their entire semester on these exams.

US students are evenly assessed on their ability to deliver assignments on time throughout the year, as well as their exam performance.

So, if you require strict deadlines and on-going performance assessment to get things done then the US might just be for you, but the UK system works best for self-motivated students who learn in more academic sense.


If you like flexibility and exploring your interests, the US.

If you want to become an academic guru in your specific field, the UK.

To find out what universities in the UK or US you could be accepted to try our US and UK Admissions Calculators.

Sports vs Academia



The Ivy Leagues originated from a rich tradition of sporting rivalries that dates back to 19th century. These colleges competed in a variety of sports, from rowing to basketball, all of which became formalised when NCAA division 1 athletics formed in 1954.

As you can imagine, a century of rivalries leaves little place for love.

With Division 1 college football consistently attracting over 100,000 fans, and even more watching on TV, these intense tribal conflicts can be the defining factor of campus life. Athletics programs hold a place of pride and esteem on many US college campuses.

As such, game day celebrations can consume the entire campus. Loud chants and marching bands bring plenty of cheer to campus and raise spirits in anticipation for the "big game". However, if you're trying to get some study done, it can cause quite the racket.

However, while during the year big sporting events can become quite a distraction, there is also plenty of time to unwind during the off-season.

The regular football season, the main attraction, is played from August until December (with post-season games continuing until January). This leaves you 6 months of the year to study in peace.

Harvard and Yale have arguably the most vehement rivalry in sports and academics as they have long been considered the two best schools in the US. Neither are looking to give up their crown, especially to the other. They also have Calvinist roots, adding a theological spice to their continuing conflict.

In fact, the Ivys have a rich history of weird, fun and wonderful traditions dating back hundreds of years.


Alternatively, life on an Oxbridge campus is much quieter.

Often you’ll spend time reading for your degree or preparing for supervisions. Sporting events do take place between Oxford and Cambridge, yet not on the grandiose scale of American sports.

The first recorded competitive sporting match between Oxford and Cambridge dates back to 1827, over 100 years older than the first recorded Ivy college. A cricket match between Oxford and Cambridge was held on 4 June 1827, which resulted in a draw. Typical cricket.

These days, Oxford and Cambridge compete at a varsity level against each other, choosing their best to represent each college and duke it out in a variety of sports, including rugby, soccer, athletics rowing and more. The winning college usually receives bragging rights, particularly when the banter starts flying at the next box social.

Sports is something to consider when choosing where to study as it can have a big impact on your social life and study life.


If you want pageantry and fanfare, the US

Peace, serenity and light-hearted English banter, the UK

To find out what universities in the UK or US you could be accepted to try our US and UK Admissions Calculators.

Affordability. Hint: It's Not

In recent years, Oxbridge’s tuition fees have been consistently rising for local and international students. However, US colleges aren't much different for full-fee paying students.

Studying at the most elite tertiary institutions comes with a hefty price tag. Sometimes very hefty! For some students, the price tag can very much seem out of reach.

There is hope...

The good news is there are plenty of financial aid and scholarships offers available to local and international students at US and UK universities. However, often this kind of financial support has to be earned and is awarded for achieving high grades and acing your application.


Oxford Uni

At Oxbridge universities in the UK, international students can expect to pay between £15,000 ($AU24,401) and £25,000 ($AU40,670) per year at Oxbridge universities, not including college-specific fees ranging from £4,000 to £5,000 ($AU8,000) depending on the university.

Even for local students in the UK, attending an Oxbridge can seem out of reach. In fact, some schools in England have found that students are applying to foreign universities because they can offer better value for money (the independent, 2015).


In the US, elite private colleges, such as the Ivy Leagues, can be equally as expensive. Tuition fees alone can reach beyond $USD50,000 per year and when your consider housing and living costs that sum only grows.

The good news is you can navigate around these high fees with scholarships and financial aid. Financial aid is basically free money to help make tuition and living costs simpler for students.

Place like Harvard, for example, have billion dollar endowments that they use to give money to students to make their institution more affordable for everybody - not just those in specific circumstances.

However, you’re going to need to impress with hard work and high scores. Whether Ivy League or Oxbridge, you can receive a full-ride scholarship if you absolutely blitz your application. No small feat considering who you’re up against, meaning you might require specialised tutoring.

Let's talk about need-blind aid

Additionally, in the US you can also apply through need-blind financial institutions. This is an initiative in the US to provide every student a chance of admission into the world’s best universities, regardless of wealth and background.

Need-blind means a college does not consider an applicant's ability to pay when deciding whether to offer them a place on a program. Meaning you gain admission into your dream college, but you only pay what you can afford.

The amount you’re required to pay is based on an assessment of your family wealth, assets and background, once you’ve been admitted. Often applying to a need-blind college can also lead to you receiving a small support to help you afford living costs in the US, depending on your parent’s wealth, of course.

Currently, only five US universities offer need-blind admission and full-need financial aid to all students, including international applicants. These are:

UK International Students Be Warned, the US has more options

At an undergraduate level in the UK, financial support for overseas students is limited. However, the most common support for undergraduate students is a contribution to your overall costs, though, like a scholarship, it is still means tested.

In the US, while there are highly competitive scholarships available to international students, you are also able to apply for financial aid through your college. This requires submitting a few forms after you’ve completed your college application to prove you are in need of financial support.


The US, hands down.

To find out what universities in the UK or US you could be accepted to try our US and UK Admissions Calculators.

Graduate Employability

Finally, getting a job - our end goal. Which offers you the better prospect, Ivy or Oxbridge?

QS Top University recently released a ranking of all top universities in the world for graduate employability and both Oxford and Cambridge achieved a higher ranking than the top two Ivy League schools. Oxford and Cambridge ranked 5th and 8th, respectively, while the top two Ivy League schools, Columbia and Cornell, ranked 7th and 13th respectively. While this should not be pivotal to choosing where to study, it should be considered.

Will going to Oxford land you a job faster than attending Brown after graduation? Ultimately, your job prospects are ranked on factors, such as your success, your participation and your experience in the field. Be sure to apply for internships while you study!



Final Thoughts...

Both college institutions are considered the best in the world for a reason, despite their distinct differences. Yet, because the two systems are so different, it’s hard to say which system, if either, is definitively better.

Both US and UK have similar graduate employment rates, similar college rankings, as well as similar tuition and living costs (without being awarded a scholarship). Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference.

When choosing where you’d rather study, it’s important to consider the student lifestyle each system can provide. University demands a large portion of your time, ultimately, you want to make sure you’re enjoying yourself and that you’re happy.

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