The Great Debate: Ivey vs. Queen’s Commerce

Joel Nicholson

Admissions Consultant

Joel Nicholson

The Background

The Queen’s Commerce program and Western’s “Ivey” HBA are among the top undergraduate business schools in Canada – if not the world. Both programs are incredibly selective and attract a very high calibre of students from across the globe. If you’re lucky enough to receive an acceptance letter from both institutions, let me tell you – you have quite the decision on your hands. The purpose of this article is to provide a completely unbiased, objective view on the strengths and weaknesses of each program. This simply would not be possible if I had written this article, as I am a recent Queen’s Commerce graduate.

So, the UniversityHub team set out to find one of the few people in the world who have attended both schools. This was the only way to ensure a completely impartial assessment of the two institutions. We found a perfect candidate, but this person requested to remain anonymous – which isn’t a huge surprise seeing as though the Queen’s vs Ivey debate has been known to get pretty heated in past years.

The Basics

The structure of each school’s curriculum is vastly different, yet their reputations are not dissimilar. The Ivey HBA program, for example, takes place in 3rd and 4th year – so obtaining an acceptance in high school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the program. Queen’s is different in the sense that you start your business degree from day one of 1st year.

The method of teaching is drastically different as well. Ivey has a case-based teaching method, whereas Queen’s is a combination of both lecture-based teaching and case-based teaching (depending on the course). The case-based approach engages students in discussion of specific business situations, typically real-world examples (Harvard uses this method). Lecture-based learning, on the other hand, is the presentation of materials created and facilitated by the professor.


Strengths and Weaknesses

The first thing we asked our ‘contact’ was to simply provide a list of strengths and weaknesses of each school. Here is the response:

Queen’s Commerce – Strengths

  • The best campus experience, hands down
  • Four years of business education as opposed to two
  • A wide-range of dual degree options (which can be completed in 4 years)
  • Very strong technical instruction
  • The best extra-curricular opportunities (student government, committees, conferences, etc.)
  • Much better exchange opportunities (in 3rd year rather than 4th year)

Richard Ivey – Strengths

  • Students from many different backgrounds and opportunity to ‘do what you want’ in your first two years
  • Strong global alumni connections
  • Unique case-based teaching method that covers ‘real world’ business issues
  • Highly interactive and discussion-driven seminars


Queen’s Commerce – Weaknesses

  • Sometimes the curriculum can lose its relevance and get overly theoretical
  • Pressure to ‘get involved’ outside of the classroom
  • Short-staffed career centre

Richard Ivey – Weaknesses

  • Risk you don’t get into the program if you slack off in first/second year (happens a lot!)
  • Lots of material ‘packed in’ to 2 years

The Rankings

We asked our ‘contact’ to rate Queen’s and Ivey on a scale out of ten for a variety of categories:

Calibre of students: 8 (Queen’s) ; 9 (Ivey)

Extra-curricular opportunities / student government: 10 (Queen’s) ; 6 (Ivey)

Quality of professors: 8 (Queen’s) ; 8 (Ivey)

Facilities and student services: 9 (Queen’s) ; 8 (Ivey)

Effectiveness of teaching style / curriculum: 7 (Queen’s) ; 8 (Ivey)

Career centre: 7 (Queen’s) ; 9 (Ivey)

Reputation: 8 (Queen’s) ; 8 (Ivey)

The Conclusion

When our ‘contact’ said “Overall, Queen’s is better than Western”, we knew this case was closed. If you want a job at a top company in your field, you simply cannot go wrong with either school. Ivey’s case-intensive curriculum could very well be a more effective teaching method than the lecture-driven Queen’s approach; however, Ivey only has two years to teach it! Ivey might have a better career centre, but both schools essentially bring in the same companies for on-campus recruiting.

Queen’s is steadily incorporating more case-based teaching into their courses – and with four years of extensive coverage on different business topics and fields, you’ll develop a much more cultivated business mindset. In addition, Queen’s has more opportunities beyond the classroom. The exchange program might not seem very enticing to a high school student, but it’s a highly valuable addition to your overall university experience (and your CV).  Queen’s also has the largest undergraduate student government of any business school in Canada and provides a plethora of opportunities to get involved.

With that said, each school has particular competencies in their different departments within the business school. Our contact says: “Queen’s has a slight edge in very technical fields like accounting because of the depth of instruction done over four years. However, both schools have very strong placement into accounting, so it’s not a big issue. Queen’s also gets preferential treatment in marketing recruiting.” I personally agree with this last statement. Queen’s likely has the strongest undergraduate marketing department in Canada. Just about any marketing-driven company that has a medium-large size office in Canada is guaranteed to recruit at both Ivey and Queen’s (Proctor & Gamble, HBC, American Express, Pepsi Co., etc.); however, I’ve even heard of a few, very selective companies who exclusively recruit from Queen’s Commerce.

Our contact went on to discuss the management consulting and finance strengths of each university: “Ivey has had historical success in management consulting due to the popularity of the case method in that field, and it also has a large, relatively global alumni base in investment banking that contributes to its momentum and success in placement in that field.” This is true – Ivey has a particular advantage in management consulting from the skills that are fostered from the hundreds of case studies the students read per year. However, all the top consulting firms (Bain, BCG, McKinsey, Monitor, Oliver Wyman, A.T. Kearney, Secor, etc.) invest equal time, money, and effort into both schools. Same thing for investment banking at Queen’s – very strong.

Do more than just read (this article)

All we can do is present the facts and opinions – it’s up to you to do your due diligence. Talk to the actual students from both programs, chat with alumni, visit the campus, read the website, sneak into a lecture, etc. This is a critical decision for you, so make sure you cover all the bases before you take the leap. An easy solution: go to Queen’s for the first two years and if you don’t like it, switch to Ivey. It’s as simple as that.


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