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Oxford vs Cambridge: Where Should You Apply?

Oxford vs Cambridge: Where Should You Apply?

This topic has been known to spark heated debate. When emotions are running high, it can be difficult to get an unbiased answer. So, in order to guide you through your decision on this age-old question, we’ll break down the key points for you, as objectively as possible.

There are three questions you should consider when choosing between Oxford and Cambridge.

1. How are they similar?

The impassioned arguments that you’ve heard might have led you to believe otherwise, but Oxford and Cambridge are really very similar in a lot of ways. First things first: they are both incredible universities. They have high global rankings, long histories and prime locations, in approximately 1 hour from London.

The universities are each divided into a number of semi-autonomous residential colleges, where students sleep, eat and spend a lot of their time outside the class. Both universities are identified by historic architecture, picturesque rivers (where you can often see students rowing or punting) and centuries of traditions. If you’re imagining a Hogwarts-type atmosphere, you’re going to get it whether you go to Oxford or Cambridge.

Furthermore, both universities share the same basic teaching system (called “tutorial” in Oxford and “supervision” in Cambridge). They also each boast business schools and highly-regarded publishing houses.

The UCAS application deadline for both universities is 6:00pm UK time on 15th October annually.

Importantly, another similarity to note is that both Oxford and Cambridge universities clearly state on their websites that deciding on the course you want to study is more important than deciding whether you want to study at Oxford or Cambridge.

High global ranking and international reputation for excellenceXX
Historic architecture and traditionsXX
River-front location, approximately one-hour from LondonXX
Business schoolXX
Publishing houseXX
Collegiate StructureXX
Tutorial/supervision teaching methodXX
October 15th UCAS deadlineXX

2. How are they different?

There is a persistent myth that Oxford is better for the humanities and Cambridge is better for science. While this may have been true at one point in history, the reality now is that they both offer top-notch courses across a variety of fields.

However, this does not mean that the course lists for the two universities are identical. In fact, one may offer courses that the other doesn’t. Moreover, even if there is a course with the same title taught at both universities, that doesn’t mean that the courses will have the same structure and content. In other words, before you make your decision, you should first check and see if the course you want to follow is offered by both universities and, if so, what are the details of the course content.

A few other points of distinction:

  • Oxford offers joint degrees; Cambridge doesn’t.
  • For science courses, Cambridge is more flexible and broad-based, allowing you to combine different fields of science; Oxford is more specialised, offering only single-subject science courses.
  • Degree classifications are decided slightly differently between the two elite universities: Oxford tends to look at only your final year exams; Cambridge looks at your exams from multiple years.

3. Is Oxbridge right for me?

At the end of the day, remember, even if you’re a brilliant student, it doesn’t mean that Oxbridge is right for you. There are a few things you should consider before making your final decision to apply.

Firstly, the tutorial/supervision teaching system favours oral debate. This is not necessarily an ideal environment for shy or quiet students (unless, of course, you’re looking for an opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone). Whatever the case, it is the best to be prepared to actively participate in debates with confident and opinionated students and highly-regarded professors. There may not always be a right answer, but being bold and analytical enough to argue your points will be essential to your success at Oxbridge.

Secondly, if you’re obsessed with being No. 1, the harsh reality of being surrounded by and competing with hundreds of other No. 1s may be too much for you to handle. Remember that Oxbridge attracts top students from around the world and that, as intelligent as you are, studying at Oxbridge is a whole new challenge. It’s important to be honest with yourself about whether you think you’ll find this new environment motivating or discouraging.

Finally, remember that the coursework at Oxbridge is intensive. While terms may be short, they will be filled with Stuconstant stream of work, from lengthy reading lists to weekly (or even twice-weekly) essays. Focus and motivation will be vital to your success if you decide to go the Oxbridge route. If that doesn’t sound appealing (or feasible) to you, then another university may be a better choice for you.