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Applying to university

Oxford vs Cambridge

If you’re thinking of applying to Oxford or Cambridge (Oxbridge), explore our guide to see the similarities and differences between each university.

ll Souls College unviersity of Oxford

CONTENTS 

  1. Which university is better?

  2. Similarities and differences between Oxford and Cambridge

  3. Oxford and Cambridge teaching methods 

  4. Applying to Oxbridge

  5. Oxbridge league table performances 

  6. Law: Oxford or Cambridge?

  7. Medicine: Oxford or Cambridge?

  8. Economics: Oxford or Cambridge?

  9. Engineering: Oxford or Cambridge?

Which university is better?

Known all around the world, these prestigious institutions have many similarities – but many things set them apart.

For an undergraduate course, you can only apply to either Oxford or Cambridge in the same year, so it’s important you make the right decision for you. 

If you’re wondering how to choose between Oxford and Cambridge, remember that figures and stats don’t tell the whole story. Do your research and find the course and college that suits you best.

Similarities and differences between Oxford and Cambridge

The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, often known collectively as Oxbridge, are the UK’s oldest universities. They both date back over 800 years and are steeped in tradition. The universities tend to have a similar number of enrolled students, at around 24,000.

Accommodation

At Oxford, students are guaranteed accommodation with their college in the first year. Some colleges offer accommodation for the entirety of their degree, but many students choose to arrange their own elsewhere in the city.

At Cambridge, students live within their college’s designated accommodation throughout their studies. Most student housing is on site or close by.

Facilities and services

Both universities have similar offerings. This includes hundreds of clubs and societies, competitive and recreational sports, active students’ unions, financial assistance, and strong academic and pastoral support networks.

Some colleges at both universities would prefer full-time students not to undertake part-time work during term time. You can find more information on this on each college website. 

Location

The city of Oxford lies around 60 miles north-west of London, which takes about an hour to reach by train. Cambridge town is around 60 miles north of London, and takes under an hour to get to.

Both are fairly small and pretty locations that are easy to walk or cycle around. Oxford tends to be known as a bit larger and livelier than Cambridge. Cambridge is thought of as quieter and more picturesque.

Graduate prospects

On the 2021 league table, Oxford has a graduate prospects score of 83.4%. Cambridge has a graduate prospects score of 86.7%. You can use the full league table to compare the universities in other areas.

Oxford and Cambridge teaching methods 

Both universities are collegiate, where individual colleges and academic departments comprise the university. 

Every student belongs to a college, an academic department and the university itself, meaning you have the benefits of belonging to a large university and a small and friendly community.

Teaching methods at both institutions are similar. Learning takes place through lectures, classes and laboratories and are led by expert professors. Students attend regular tutorials in small groups.

Assessment

Students undertake formal and informal assessments via written exams, practical assessments, supervised work, coursework and final-year dissertations.

Oxford usually assesses students at the end of the first and final years, and the final degree classification is based on the final-year exams.

At Cambridge, students are often assessed at the end of each year, where their final degree classifications are based on these collective results. 

Applying to Oxbridge

Both universities welcome interested students to one of their many open days and events. It’s a good idea to visit and see which one you prefer.

To apply to Oxford or Cambridge, students must apply online via UCAS before 6pm (GMT) on 15 October. Both universities often ask applicants to complete a written assessment as part of the application. Shortlisted applicants are usually invited to an interview.

Those applying to Cambridge may have to complete a Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA) and a Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) to support their UCAS application. Those applying to Oxford don’t usually need to submit any extra forms.

Entry requirements

Typical entry standards at Oxford are AAA – A*A*A at A Level, 38 – 40 points at IB, or equivalent.

Typical entry standards at Cambridge are A*AA –  A*A*A at A Level, 40 – 42 points at IB, or equivalent.

Oxbridge league table performances 

The University of Cambridge has topped the UK university league table for ten years. It places first overall in 2021, and features within the top ten for 44 subject areas. 

It ranks first for 31 subjects, including:

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Architecture
  • Computer Science
  • Geography & Environmental Science
  • Iberian Languages
  • Pharmacology & Pharmacy
  • Sociology
  • Theology & Religious Studies.

The University of Oxford features in the top ten for 37 subjects in the 2021 university subject tables. 

It places first for 11 areas, including:

  • Art & Design
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Middle Eastern & African Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Politics.
  1. READ MORE
  2. League tables

oxford and cambridge entry requirements

Law: Oxford or Cambridge?

Oxford: 2nd in 2021

The BA in Jurisprudence at Oxford has an emphasis on studying legal sources firsthand. This could mean reading long statuses and cases in their original forms.

Entry requirements are typically AAA at A Level, AAB at Advanced Highers with an additional Higher grade A, 38 points at IB with 666 at HL, or equivalent.

85% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017).

Cambridge: 1st in 2021

The BA in Law, often referred to as LLB, covers English law, but also touches on other legal systems from history and around the world. 

Entry requirements are typically A*AA at A Level, 40–42 points at IB with 776 at Higher Level, or equivalent.

88% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017).

  1. READ MORE
  2. Law guide

Medicine: Oxford or Cambridge?

Oxford: 3rd in 2021

Oxford’s pre-clinical Medicine course starts with the five-term ‘First BM’, where students study medical science and clinical problems. Lectures and practicals take up around half of the study week.

This is followed by a four-term BA course in Medical Sciences, which has a stronger focus on research, tutorials and seminars. Students then have the opportunity to apply to the Oxford Clinical School and complete their clinical training through placements (BM BCh).

100% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017). Almost every medical school has a similar level of employment due to a high demand for medically qualified students. 

Cambridge: 7th in 2021

There are two Medicine courses available to study at Cambridge: the standard and the graduate options. After completing the first three years, students are awarded a BA degree. They then complete clinical studies and are awarded the Bachelor of Medicine and the Bachelor of Surgery (MB, BChir).

In the first three years, course content initially focuses on the medical sciences, with around 25–30 hours of teaching time each week. During the next three years, students learn how to apply this knowledge to medical practice through clinical placements.

97% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017).

  1. READ MORE 
  2. Medicine guide

Economics: Oxford or Cambridge?

Oxford: 2nd in 2021

Oxford offers a BA course in Economics & Management. It’s an academic subject delivered by the Social Sciences Division, but taught by both Saïd Business School and the Department of Economics. A typical week could include six lectures and two tutorials or classes.

70% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017).

Cambridge: 1st in 2021

The BA Economics course at Cambridge covers the core, pure and applied areas of the subject. It’s a specialised degree that uses ideas from other disciplines such as sociology, politics, history and mathematics. Students can expect around 10–15 hours of teaching per week in their first year.

85% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017).

  1. READ MORE 
  2. Economics guide

Engineering: Oxford or Cambridge?

Oxford: 3rd in 2021

Oxford’s Engineering Science course leads to an MEng degree. During the first two years students study the fundamentals of engineering. They then choose to specialise in one of six branches: Biomedical, Civil, Chemical, Information, Electrical or Mechanical.

89% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017).

Cambridge: 1st in 2021

The Cambridge Engineering course allows students to graduate with a BA after three years and, if they wish, continue to study for a MEng degree. Students gain a broad understanding of engineering, and specialise in a professional discipline from the third year.

92% of students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2017).

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