Harvard Vs. Oxford – Which School Is Better?

Two of the world’s most elite universities stand over 3,200 miles apart. Separated by the vast Atlantic Ocean, Harvard and Oxford University maintain several similarities. 

Most notable is their shared prestigious reputation – those who obtain a degree from either institution will have a wealth of opportunity, simply due to name recognition. 

Both schools are the first established institutions for higher learning in their respective countries – Harvard was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636, and Oxford (the oldest university in the world) was built before 1167. 

Both schools have matriculated countless world-renowned leaders, inventors, and figures. 

From Oxford, the list of kings, emperors, prime ministers, presidents, senators, and Nobel Prize laureates is seemingly endless. 

Other figures like author T. S. Eliot, Fulbright scholar innovator William Fulbright, physicist and professor Stephen Hawking, and U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice all hail from Oxford. 

Harvard boasts an equally impressive roster of alumni, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, writer Margaret Atwood, astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois, eight U.S. presidents, and many Nobel Laureates, Olympic medal winners, Rhodes scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, and 188 surviving billionaires. 

Speaking of billionaires, both universities maintain colossal endowments. 

Harvard’s endowment distribution increased by 2% in 2021 to the tune of $2 billion, while Oxford University’s assets total approximately 1.3 billion pounds (roughly $1.77 billion), and Oxford’s individual colleges’ endowments add up to nearly $6.86 billion.

With such immense funding, scholars at both Harvard and Oxford can expect state-of-the-art facilities and experiential learning opportunities, pristine residential quarters and amenities, and access to the world’s most excellent experts in a diverse range of fields.

Based on similarities between the two universities, the choice of which to attend may seem difficult. 

However, even more differences may make the decision clearer for those seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience at one of the world’s top universities.

Harvard Vs. Oxford – Academic Requirements for Admission

Harvard Hall - Harvard University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

While both schools have competitive admission prerequisites, each university places more emphasis on different student records. 

International applicants applying to Oxford, for example, are not required to send any high school or college transcripts; in fact, Oxford does not accept any transfer students as a policy. 

On the other hand, Harvard University stipulates a high school transcript, a mid-year report (submitted after first semester grades are finalized), and a final year report (which admitted students must send after completion of the second semester of their senior year). 

Both universities also prioritize standardized test scores at different levels.

 Following a recent trend among American admissions teams, Harvard has deemed submission of SAT or ACT scores optional for the upcoming classes of 2027 through 2030, though they do wish to receive scores from Advanced Placement (AP) examinations.

Only Oxford applicants who receive acceptance letters are required to report all ACT, SAT, and AP examination scores, and placement into specific courses within the college is based on these official scores.

The most significant difference between the two schools is that Oxford prompts students to choose a course of study as part of the application process – applicants must then ensure that they are on target to meet the specific program’s admission requirements

Of course, Oxford applicants can make an open application as well.

Oxford encourages applicants to keep an open mind regarding college placement – in 2020, 34% of admitted students received an offer from an Oxford constituent college that they did not reference on their application. Most colleges offer all the general education courses required prior to pursuing a major, while other colleges are dedicated to specific programs of study. 

Harvard Vs. Oxford – Rankings, Acceptance Rates, and More

Oriel College, Oxford University
Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, Oxford Oriel College, CC BY-SA 4.0

It is apparent that Harvard has the edge over Oxford when it comes to acceptance rates. 

For Harvard’s incoming class of 2025, the school received almost 58,000 applications and only admitted about 2,300 – this amounts to an acceptance rate of barely 4%, and no students on the waitlist were admitted.

Oxford receives just over 20,000 applications annually for roughly 3,250 spaces – a higher acceptance rate of 16.25%

Both schools are made up of a highly diverse group of students. 84.4% of Harvard’s most recent cohort are United States citizens.

Oxford enrolls a considerably higher number of international students (45%), with most internationals coming from the United States, China, Germany, Canada, Hong Kong, and India. 

The major commonality that schools share in this category is their rankings. Harvard is ranked #2 in National Universities and #1 in Global Universities by U.S. News, and #1 by the Round University Ranking

Oxford is ranked #1 in Best Global Universities in Europe and #5 in Best Global Universities by U.S. News, and #2 by the QS World University Rankings

While their specific rankings may fluctuate yearly, both schools consistently remain in the top five national spots within their respective countries and the top five institutions in the world.

Comparing Harvard LLM Vs. Oxford BCL

Law Schools in Boston
Chensiyuan., Harvard Law School Library in Langdell Hall at night, CC BY-SA 4.0

Many students consider attending Harvard or Oxford for their law programs. 

The Harvard LLM (Master of Laws) is a 1-year degree program requiring students to complete 23-28 credits in topics like U.S. law, legal history, policy analysis, legal process, and other niche subtopics like human rights or environmental law. 

Many of the 180 students in the program have experience working as government officials, professors of law, foreign diplomats, human rights activists, lawyers, and judges.

At least half of the LLM participants will write a 50-page research paper – including research, reflective, and argumentative elements – focused on their chosen niche, with the help of a faculty advisor. 

The Law Teaching Colloquium is a forum where students can access helpful information sessions during their year of study.

Oxford’s BCL (Bachelor of Civil Law) is a 10-month program where students choose four courses from over 40 offerings. Like LLM students, BCL students will also write a dissertation and receive assistance from an academic advisor. 

The main difference between the Harvard LLM and Oxford BCL programs relates to applicants’ experiences in the legal arena prior to entering the program. 

While Harvard seeks applicants who have considerable experience in previously mentioned positions, Oxford explicitly states that positions held in the legal profession are not typically considered part of the application process. 

Deciding Whether to Attend Oxford or Harvard

St. John's College, Oxford University
Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, Oxford St John’s College, CC BY-SA 4.0

It is a rarity to gain admittance to either Harvard or Oxford University, and to be in the unique position of getting to choose between the two is a real privilege and honor. 

If an applicant’s records can speak to their excellent academic record, intellectual curiosity, and leadership experiences, it is a no-brainer to apply to both schools.

That being said, tuition is a prominent factor in attending either Oxford or Harvard. 

Without a financial aid reward, admitted students can expect to spend a large sum of money – more extensive than most institutions in their respective countries charge.

Harvard is the most expensive of the two schools, for both domestic and international students. Harvard’s 2021-2022 tuition is $55,587, which does not include other fees and residential costs. 

Domestic Oxford students have a much lower tuition fee of 9,250 pounds (approximately $12,538), while international students can expect to pay between 27,840 and 39,010 pounds ($37,737-$52,878).

Both schools do offer financial aid and scholarships for students. Oxford students who come from the UK can obtain a tuition fee loan from the UK government without paying any up-front fees. However, international students are not eligible for this assistance. 

The average financial aid award for first-year scholarship recipients in 2019-2020 was budgeted at $74,600, with $58,400 deriving from Harvard, federal sources, and outside scholarships. 

This budget included a part-time work expectation of $1,950, a summer work expectation of $1,550, and a parental contribution of $12,700.

For UK students, attending Oxford is the obvious choice if cost is a top factor. Harvard makes more financial sense for American or international students who obtain a typical monetary award.

Which School Is Better – Oxford or Harvard?

Harvard University Library
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Harvard or Oxford, Oxford or Harvard? Which school is better is subjective and depends on what applicants value most. 

When it comes to the student population, both schools have a similar number of students, ranging from 23,000 at Harvard to 26,000 at Oxford. 

Both schools offer a broad range of programs led by acclaimed, highly knowledgeable faculty members. While both have a low student-to-faculty ratio, Harvard’s classes are slightly more intimate at 9:1 compared to Oxford’s 11:1 ratio.

If athletics are a priority, then Oxford is the clear winner.

Oxford University varsity teams consistently rank among the UK’s top sporting universities. 

While Harvard’s sports teams generally perform well compared to their Ivy League counterparts, they are not nationally recognized for their athletic prowess. 

That being said, nearly 80% of the Harvard student body is involved in some athletic activity on campus.

The best way to choose between Harvard and Oxford is to start with essential priorities. 

While the two prestigious institutions share much in common when it comes to academic programs and post-graduate opportunities, there are tiny distinctions that can help the applicant make their determination. 

Regardless of which school the applicant selects to attend, they can be sure to gain access to priceless opportunities, experiences, and collegial relationships with experts and highly-accomplished leaders.