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Which is better for me: Oxbridge or Ivy League?

More and more students in the UK and around the world are considering Ivy League Institutions as an alternative to Oxbridge for higher education. With the significant effort and dedication it takes to apply to any of the Universities in either group, it is understandable that many students are now facing the difficult decision as to whether they should go for the UK or apply to the states. There is no ‘better’ option here, and the correct decision to make will depend on the specific personality, learning style, and priorities of each individual applicant. This means that doing your research and thinking critically about what you really want from your education is necessary when deciding on which side of the Atlantic you’re going to study. 

With this in mind, we’ve produced this article, in which we outline the main areas in which Oxbridge and Ivy League unis differ, answering the most frequently asked questions to help you make an informed decision about your future direction.

Ivy League 101 

What is the Ivy League?

The Ivy league is the name for the USA’s eight highest-ranking and most prestigious universities (or ‘schools’). The Ivy League is made up of Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Pennsylvania, Cornell, Harvard, and Yale. The Ivy League schools can be thought of as the USA’s equivalent of Oxbridge in the UK; although they have a much shorter history compared to many of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, they certainly rival Oxbridge’s academic influence as well as having an equal impact on the job market. 

How much does it cost? 

International students attending university in the US can expect to pay somewhere between $52,000 and $63,000 per year in tuition fees, on top of which you need to factor a significant additional cost by way of accommodation, subsistence, and study materials ($18,000 - $24,000). This is compared to Oxbridge tuition fees of £13,000 to £18,000 per year on average for international students, but some courses can cost up to £31,000 per year, notably medicine or veterinary medicine. There may also be college-specific fees on top of this, which could stack up to £4,000 or £5,000 per month. UK home students at the moment can expect annual tuition fees of £9,250. 

Before you let these (quite significant) costs scare you, it’s worth noting that there are various options at both Oxbridge and Ivy league institutions by means of financial support. Ivy League Universities are known for offering generous financial aid for students on a needs-based assessment (rather than merit-based), whilst Oxbridge have increased their bursary schemes in the light of increasing tuition fees over the past decade or so. It is worthwhile remembering that, if you are a UK student, then you will be able to apply for a UK government tuition fee loan, meaning that you will not be immediately liable for any of your tuition costs either prior to or during your studies. After graduating, your tuition fee loan will be repaid little by little once you are earning over £25,000 per year (before tax), and if you’ve not paid it back fully after 40 years, the remaining sum is written off (note that these are the new figures for students beginning university from September 2023). 

What might my career prospects look like? 

Ivy League Universities, although jostling for specific positions, are consistently ranked in the THES (Times Higher Education Supplement), which means that the worldwide prestige attached to these institutions never changes. A degree from any one of the Ivy League unis, much like an Oxbridge degree, is a sure-fire way to bolster your chances at finding a dream job in the future and impress potential employers; Ivy League graduates sit at the top of businesses and governments all over the world. 

What is the application process like compared to Oxbridge?

The admissions process for each Ivy League university differs greatly. Most unis will require you to sit SATs (standardised admissions tests), which assess your reading, writing, and numerical skills, or an ACT-writing test. By comparison, most Oxbridge courses require some form of entrance exam or aptitude test, however the first step is your academic record and predicted grades, where various international systems are accepted, meaning that you will not have to sit extra tests if you are an international student. Some other academic work, such as sample essays, are required (typically for humanities courses), and if a college takes an interest in you, they will invite you to the December interviews to learn more about you before you are offered a place.

One of the main differences with a US-style education compared to Oxbridge is that students often apply to a ‘liberal’ programme, applying either to general arts or sciences, rather than to a specific subject as you would at most UK universities. This is why the admissions tests are so generalised, since few applicants will know what subject they are going to end up taking their degree in, let alone taking targeted admissions tests. By comparison, Oxbridge requires applicants to pick a specific course which will be offered at a select group of colleges (the number of colleges offering your course, and the number of places they offer, will depend course to course). This means that, if you’ve got your heart set on studying one specific subject, then Oxbridge might be more likely to offer you expert professors in your chosen area, but if you would like some more time to decide, then you might be better suited to the US system.

Do I have a better chance of being admitted to an Ivy League Institution or Oxbridge?

Naturally, acceptance rates differ between courses and universities, however, on average, Oxbridge has a much higher average success rate for applicants. The average acceptance rate across Oxbridge is roughly 20%, whereas the average across Ivy League Universities for the class of 2025 is 5.4%, some four times lower than Oxbridge. There is, however, the option for some Ivy League uni applicants to make an early application through the Early Admissions Scheme, allowing students to secure their place before their final year of school, and has an average success rate sometimes two or three times higher than standard admissions. However, it is worth noting that this may effectively bind you into your decision.

What is studying at an Ivy League like compared to Oxbridge?

The key difference between the two systems is, as previously mentioned, the more open options offered to students at Ivy League Universities, where students have plenty of time to explore different programmes, selecting one subject as their main focus (their ‘major’) whilst also studying various other subjects at the same time should they wish (their ‘minors’). This allows applicants with broad interests to explore lots of different topics and gives them a great deal of flexibility. This differs greatly from Oxbridge Universities, where the majority of students (other than those applying for a select approved combination of two subject as part of a joint-honours programme) select one subject to study and cannot move from this for the duration of their degree. Do note, however, that Cambridge offers a little more flexibility in that they offer a broader curriculum in the first part of the course, after which students can pick modules – sometimes from the papers offered by other degree programmes – and specialise.

Overall, whichever system you may decide is best for you, both Ivy League and Oxbridge Institutions offer some of the world’s best educational experiences, setting you up in the best possible way for whatever future you wish to pursue!


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If you are looking for specialist support for international students applying to top US universities, we recommend our sister company, A-List Education UK.

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