Where Should I Study Abroad: England or Ireland?

Greg Lewry
Greg is a recent Literature graduate and freelance travel writer. Hailing from the UK, Greg used all of his university study breaks to escape the...
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Unsurprisingly, both Ireland and England are popular study abroad destinations for American students. However, if you're trying to choose a place to study abroad, deciding between Ireland and England can be quite a tough decision. Both are English-speaking, have top universities that rank amongst the world's best, and several international cities to choose from studying in.

England and Ireland may appear similar at first but there are actually many differences between these two nations. There are different types of football, different forms of currency, different tipples to try and, perhaps most noticeably, different accents. Whatever their differences, though, England and Ireland are both superb options for studying abroad.

Here's our pick of the best places to work those brain cells and some good old fashioned advice for choosing between studying abroad in England or Ireland.

Ireland vs. England: People, Climate, and Location

  • Ireland: Known for being one of the friendliest nations in the world.
  • England: Known for having a fairly reserved and sarcastic nature.
  • Both: Cool and rainy climate, a love of football, tea, and curry.

The Irish were rated as the friendliest nation of people in the world by Lonely Planet. Need we say more? Oh, and their accents have been known to ensnare many an international student into staying well beyond the end of their course. It's fair to say that the Irish are well known for their hospitality. The English though? Well, that's a matter of who you meet.

There are plenty of stereotypes of English people and, like all stereotypes, they have an essence of truth but can't be attributed to everyone. You will generally find that English people are incredibly polite to the point of actually being terrified of offending anyone, however they often use sarcasm, even with people they have just met. Typically, they're very reserved and unemotional in their nature -- unless you mix alcohol and a soccer match (excuse us, football) at them.

Students studying abroad, photo in a London phone booth

There are plenty of things you might not expect though. Coffee is generally preferred to tea, Indian curry is the nation's favorite food and not everyone is a fan of the royal family. One piece of advice though; never, ever skip the line, or the queue as the English call it. The English won't be quite as polite as they usually are if they see you doing this. You've been warned!

The one aspect of studying in England or Ireland that's hard to sell is that it'll rain and be cloudy most days. However, when the sun does shine, even just a little, the locals will be out in their droves with their deck chairs, barbecues and strawberries with cream. On the other hand, the climate doesn't vary too much, which makes it easier to pack for.

Ireland vs. England: The Cost of Living

  • Ireland: Expect to $6,000 - 7,500 for a semester (after tuition).
  • England: Expect to spend $6,200 - 7,000 for a semester (after tuition).
  • Both: Aren't exactly budget destinations.

If we're really going to generalize things here, Ireland tends to be more affordable than England -- both in terms of tuition, cost of living, and exchange rates. However, both are pretty expensive study abroad destinations, especially compared to the rest of Europe.

That said, both countries have some great student discounts (like the youth railcard) that you can take advantage of and there are some ways to make a study abroad semester in either location work for your budget. For example, consider studying in cities outside of London or Dublin, sign up for direct enrollment at a local university, and get your ISIC card.

Another discount opportunity: Aer Lingus is currently running a Study in Ireland Program with special discounted airfares for students studying abroad in 2017 and 2018!

England is relatively expensive compared to the rest of Europe with the U.S. dollar hovering around 1.5 to the British Pound. London will drain your bank balance in a flash if you don't hunt around for the bargains, although most museums are free to enter. Outside of London you will see noticeably lower prices for everything. If you are studying in the north of England, then expect to become well versed in the cheap places to party.

Ireland is part of the Euro and you can expect to get around $1.30 to €1. Costs in Dublin will be slightly higher than those in other cities. You'll pay about €4 for a pint of Guinness in a Dublin bar (please drink responsibly, though).

Aside from London, costs of living are more or less the same between Ireland and England and are comparable to costs in America. You won't really save much money by choosing Ireland over England or vice versa, but rather by choosing a program outside of a major city like London or Dublin.

Ireland vs. England: Universities and Cities

  • Ireland: Expect to $6,000 - 7,500 for a semester (after tuition).
  • England: Expect to spend $6,200 - 7,000 for a semester (after tuition).
  • Both: Have world-renowned universities and cities.

In some respect, opting for England over Ireland or vise versa will come down to finding the right university or city for you. In this section, we give you a highlight of each country's most popular cities, list of the top universities there, and some other lifestyle highlights to help you decide.

London, England

  • Top universities: University College London, Kings College, Royal Holloway and Imperial College.

I may be ever so slightly biased as a native Londoner, but England's capital is the greatest city on the planet. Seriously though, if you choose London you will find everything you know and anything you can imagine on London's main thoroughfares or down its dingy side streets. This city has it all.

Studying in London is an experience that will be very different from studying elsewhere in England and, as one of the most expensive cities in the world, it will set you back quite a bit, but with some great universities and unrivaled culture, nightlife and shopping, it's definitely worth the extra expense.

Oxbridge, England

  • Top universities: Oxford and Cambridge.

England's two oldest and most prestigious universities are known together as Oxbridge, a combination of Oxford (west of London) and Cambridge (north-east of London). Both cities are great for students and are also perfect for day trips from anywhere in the south of England.

If you don't make it into the highly competitive Oxford University and still want to study in the city then consider Oxford Brookes; if Cambridge tickles your fancy then consider Anglia Ruskin. These two cities are the best known for their universities in England but there are many other, and arguably even better, student cities out there.

Manchester, England

  • Top universities: University of Manchester

There are too many brilliant student cities in the north of England to count, but the major ones are Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds. However, the shining star amongst them has to be Manchester, one of the coolest cities in the world and, with three big uni's, simply an awesome place to study.

If music or sport is your thing then Manchester will be your heaven. Home to Oasis, the Smiths, the Stone Roses and many other bands, Manchester truly rocks. Soccer is more than an obsession in England and Manchester is home to the nation's most successful team, Manchester United. Don't forget your studies though: University of Manchester isn't just for any college kid.

Dublin, Ireland

  • Top universities: Trinity College and University College

Ireland's buzzing capital city is home to Trinity College and University College, both great institutions in which to study whilst living in party-mad Dublin. Studying abroad in Dublin means sipping Guinness in actual Irish pubs (not the pretend ones that you can find across the world), exploring the 800 year old Dublin Castle, and, if you're in the city for your spring semester, boy are you are going to be in for one hell of a St Paddy's Day party -- it's March 17th... mark your calendar.

Cork, Ireland

  • Top universities: University College Cork

Pop the cork on a study abroad adventure in Cork, Ireland's southern wonder and its second largest city after Dublin. Cork fizzes with youthful energy perfect for study abroad. The local University College Cork, with its 2,400 international students, is a great place to hit the books whilst you explore all that the south of Ireland has to offer.

Cork was Europe's "Capital of Culture" in 2005 and its reputation as one of the continent's hippest cities is well deserved. Its streets are filled with numerous markets and its theaters are amongst the best on the continent. Built on water, Ireland's answer to Venice will welcome you with open arms.

Galway, Ireland

  • Top universities: National University of Ireland in Galway

Located in the far west of Ireland, Galway is as close to the US as you can get whilst studying abroad in Europe. Not that you'll feel homesick here though. With its small city population full of friendly locals and college students you'll never feel lonely.

In fact, a quarter of the city is students at the National University of Ireland in Galway, known as NUI Galway, which is one of the Ireland's oldest (founded 1845) and most prestigious universities. Galway is a city of cobbled streets and cozy pubs, but also offers good nightlife and day trips to sights such as the cliffs of Moher and Connemara.

England vs. Ireland: Culture and Areas of Study

  • Ireland: Traditional music, and politics.
  • England: Music festivals, business, and cinema
  • Both: Literature, sports, history, and global cuisine.

English and Irish culture has been spread around the world and will be very familiar to any American coming to these countries to study abroad. Literature is perhaps the area where England and Ireland have contributed most. Shakespeare, Austen, Wilde, Dickens, Joyce, Tolkien and JK Rowling need no introduction. Similarly, England asserts a huge influence on popular music.

Going to a music festival, such as Glastonbury, is one of the quintessential English experiences. Gigs are a huge part of English university life and many of the best current bands tour around the universities, especially during Fresher's Week (the first week of the academic year). Irish music ranges from the traditional to the modern day and bands such as U2 and The Script are the most popular exports. Not to be missed, of course, is Irish step dancing (River Dance, anyone?!).

Students in Ireland

Television is a big part of English life with popular programs including Eastenders and Doctor Who. The BBC was the world's first and largest public broadcasting organization. Many shows will be well known to American viewers as many English shows are aired in the States and vice versa.

British cinema has produced the two highest-grossing film series of all-time: Harry Potter and James Bond. Well known Irish actors include Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Pierce Brosnan and Peter O'Toole. A single viewing of the movie "Once" will all but convince you to pack up your bags and move to Ireland permanently (not just for study abroad!).

Live sport is the lifeblood of the English and Irish cultures. There is no better way to get under the skin of English culture than by going to a soccer (football) game. Saturday afternoon is when you will find most English men and women either at a game or glued to live updates on pub TV screens.

Every town and village has a team but the twenty best play in the Premier League. Tickets are extortionate and scarce, but its the perfect way to spend an English weekend. Ireland is also keen on soccer but it is Gaelic football and hurling that you should go to see for a real insight into how the Irish spend their free time. These are traditional Irish sports that are similar to other codes of football but have their own peculiarities.

The English and Irish don't have a great reputation for their cuisine; many visitors expect hearty, but tasteless meals. However, this is generally an unfair assumption. England is extraordinarily diverse as a nation and many people from across the world have emigrated to England over hundreds of years, bringing their food culture with them.

Thus English cuisine is really a collection of many world foods, but with an English twist. Fish and chips is the stereotypical meal, but Asian and Caribbean food are hugely popular as well. Nor can you visit without trying a Full English breakfast or a traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings.

Ireland has a few unique foods of its own, including soda bread, Irish stew and black pudding. Potatoes form the main part of many Irish dishes including Shepherds Pie, and a trip to Ireland is incomplete without sampling the local pub's corned beef and cabbage. Sorry, no Lucky Charms to be had there!

Study abroad students at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Guinness is of course the famous drink associated with Ireland and Irish coffee is also very well known and a must-try when the weather is a little chilly. Tea, as all Americans will know, is an English and Irish institution and is always taken with milk. You will be frequently asked if you want a 'cuppa', although you will always be offered coffee as well.

Beer in pints is the common drink in pubs and cider is also popular, especially in the southwest of England. The local pub is the social hub of every city and town in England and every university will have its own student bars on its campus. Going on a 'pub crawl' is a popular event at English and Irish universities and a great way to make friends.

Decision Time... Where will you go?!

I know, I know -- even after all this reading, it's still so hard to choose! Really, either one will be a fantastic destination to study abroad. But in case you're still struggling to decide (or were too busy applying to study abroad programs to read the whole thing), here's a quick summary of studying abroad in Ireland versus England:

Study in Ireland if...

  • You're attracted to their well established universities -- bonus points if they have an exchange program in place with your home university.
  • You want to study among some of the friendliest people in the world.
  • You want to experience a part of Europe that's well removed from continental Europe.
  • You still want easy access to the United Kingdom -- Liverpool, home of The Beatles, and the beautiful north coast of Wales are only a ferry ride away from Dublin.
  • You want a more immersive and Irish experience, rather than an international one.

Study in England if...

  • Your area of study isn't easy to find -- England has a ton of choices at top rated universities.
  • You want to complete an internship in tandem with your studies.
  • You're specifically interested in England's history and culture.
  • You want the support of other American and international students.
  • You're interested in living in one of the most global cities in the world -- London, alone, has been called "the world in one city."

So, where will you choose? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo Credits: API Study Abroad, CEA, Wikimedia, Leonard Bentley, and elminium.