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Oxford vs. Cambridge: Which one Should you Apply to?

15 JUL 2021

Getting into Oxford or Cambridge is highly competitive. The Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) also prohibits you from applying to both. Therefore you want to choose the right university before you begin the application process. While Oxbridge might have a lot in common, there are many key differences which we’ll break down to help you decide which one is right for you!

Dating back over 800 years, Oxford and Cambridge were at one point the only two universities in England, sparking a rivalry that would last for centuries. Today, they are regarded as two of the most prestigious universities globally. Students worldwide dream of experiencing a world-class education at one of these institutions.

Check out our university profiles to learn more about Oxford and Cambridge.

Can you apply to both Cambridge and Oxford?

Unfortunately, no. You cannot apply to both Cambridge and Oxford in the same admission year. The sheer volume of applicants who want to attend one of these universities would make it logistically impossible to evaluate all the applications. Limiting candidates to chose between one or the other reduces the number of applications they have to assess for their limited intake each year.

Further, given that Oxford and Cambridge are fully aware that they have world reputations for being two of the best universities in the UK and the world, they know that when an applicant applies to their university, that student has made a conscious decision of preference. In doing so, you as the applicant signal to that university that you believe they can provide you with the best launching pad to future success and a lifetime in that collegiate community.

Therefore, if you have set your targets on attending Oxbridge, it is essential you know which of these two universities is most suitable for your future aspirations. Today we'll be comparing Oxford and Cambridge over six categories to help you decide which one you should apply to!

Welcome to Battle of the English Universities: Oxford vs. Cambridge Edition

Here are the categories we’ll be comparing:

  1. Location
  2. Tuition
  3. Academics
  4. Application/competitiveness
  5. Traditions
  6. Social Life
Oxford vs Cambridge Overview
OxfordCambridge
Year Founded1096 (unofficially)1209
QS World University Ranking 202157
International Students8,4427,925
Total Students22,15519,660
Student Teacher Ratio3:14:1
Number of Colleges3931
Tuition£9,250 per year for UK & Ireland £26,770 - £37,510 per year for International£9,250 per year for UK & Ireland £22,227 - £33,825 per year for International

Ready to get started on your path to a leading UK university? From Oxford to Cambridge, UCL to LSE, Crimson students have the highest global admissions success rate to the UK Top 10 and more. Learn more about how we can help you with your university applications!

1. Location

Cambridge: a university with a city around it Oxford: a city with a university in it

Oxford vs Cambridge Location
OxfordCambridge
CityOxford feels like a big city with the university sprinkled throughout (think NYU). It is a lot more urban, but London's mighty Thames runs through the city and is colloquially called the Isis.Cambridge is relatively small and mostly dominated by students (similar to US campus Stanford). The city has its own river named Cam.
Time to LondonLondon is also only an hour away from Oxford by train. #citytripsCambridge is less than an hour to London by train so going into the city for the day is totally doable.
WeatherThe weather at Oxford is not as windy or foggy but it is still in the UK so bring an umbrella. Or three.Cambridge is foggier and windier than Oxford. Bring a windbreaker.

Bottom line

Cambridge is a university with a city around it and Oxford is a city with a university in it.

Both Oxford and Cambridge are great college towns, but it depends on what you are looking for. If you want to live in a quaint, student-run city, Cambridge is for you. If you are more interested in living in a busy, big city where your university doesn’t feel like the entire city, Oxford is for you.

2. Tuition & Scholarship Opportunities

Cambridge College

Oxford vs Cambridge Tuition & Scholarships Overview
OxfordCambridge
Tuition£9,250 per year for UK & Ireland £26,770 - £37,510 per year for International (except medicine)£9,250 per year for UK & Ireland £22,227 - £33,825 per year for International (except medicine)
ScholarshipsIf you are a UK/EU student from a low-income household, Oxford support offers annual bursaries to help you pay for the cost of living. Aside from that, Oxford also offers nine different scholarships determined mainly by your hometown.Cambridge offers around four different international undergraduate scholarships a year based on various factors, including your hometown, whether or not you have a disability and which college accepts you. There is also financial support with four scholarship opportunities if you are from the UK/EU.

Bottom Line

Both Oxford and Cambridge cost around the same amount, although Oxford is a bit more expensive if you are an international students. Either way, both universities study costs are cheaper than US colleges. Depending on where you are from, there are definitely more scholarship opportunities at Oxford; however, if you have a disability, Cambridge has more financial support for you.

3. Academics

academics are the biggest differentiator between oxford and Cambridge

Oxford vs Cambridge Academics
OxfordCambridge
Tutorials/SupervisionsIf you’ve ever dreamed of being in a class with only one other student and the professor once a week, you’re in luck! Tutorials allow you to discuss your work in a small setting in order to get really personalised critiques and advice.Just like Oxford’s “tutorials”
CoursesOxford is slightly stronger at the humanities and social sciences. However, if you do choose to study science, you have to pick one subject. There are no flexible science degrees available. However, you can get a joint degree. The university is currently ranked first in the world for: English Language, Literature, Geography, History, and Modern languagesCambridge is well known for its natural sciences courses. Cambridge also offers a flexible natural science degree so you can combine any biological and physical science to create your degree. Additionally, unlike Oxford, you can study education as an undergraduate at Cambridge. The university is currently ranked first in the world for: History, Mathematics, and Archaeology.
AssessmentsThroughout your time at Oxford you will be assessed informally through the work you produce for your tutors. In your final year, you will take about 30 hours of exams that will determine your degree classification.Like at Oxford, you will be informally assessed weekly during your supervisions. However, you will have exams throughout your time at Cambridge, not only in your final year.

Bottom Line

Academics are the best differentiator between Oxford and Cambridge. You should really think about what you want to study before you decide where to apply. Luckily, both universities offer "Open Days” where you can visit the departments you are interested in and figure out which ones you like best. Check out the full course listing for Oxford and courses for Cambridge if you cannot attend an "Open Day". The subject you choose to study will help you determine which university to attend.

Additionally, you can download our free eBook on the Top 5 US/UK Universities for Med, Law & More and see where Oxford and Cambridge rank!

Top 5 Us Uk Uni Subjects

4. Application

Cambridge College 2

Oxford vs Cambridge Application Overview
OxfordCambridge
Overall Acceptance Rate16.7%19.6%
International Acceptance Rate9.3%12.1%
ApplicationLike most universities, Oxford’s application is online. You will not need to fill out any extra forms but you may need to take multiple tests or submit some written work. Your teachers are also given the opportunity to talk about any extenuating circumstances you may have. Tutors use your application, references and test scores to determine your place. If you are shortlisted you will be invited to interview a few different times.Cambridge’s application is also online. You are required to complete an additional form as well after you submit your main application. Supervisors are provided with your school performance data to help them understand your educational achievement. Your teachers are also given the opportunity to talk about any extenuating circumstances you may have. Supervisors consider your AS level grades, UMS scores, and additional forms and teacher letters when deciding whether or not you will be offered to interview and ultimately be accepted.
ACT Score32+32+
SAT Score1,470+1,460+
AP Courses5 on at least three different exams 5 on at least five different exams
AS/A LevelsA*A*A - AAAA*A*A - AAA
IB38 - 4040-42
ATAR98.5 - 99.5 98.5 overall
HKDSE5s in three elective subjects. (If you are applying to study Mathematics, you would need 5* in the compulsory Mathematics course, 5 in the Mathematics extended paper, and another 5 in another subject5*, 5* and 5 in three specified elective subjects, which related to your chosen course
SIPCALThree A grades at H2AAAA at H2 Level or equivalent

Bottom Line:

Oxford and Cambridge are extremely competitive and unfortunately, you can only apply to one per year. According to these acceptance numbers, Cambridge appears to be the easier one to get into. However you still need to be at the top of your class and prove that you have mastered the subject you wish to get a degree in. If you are coming from the USA, your test scores need to be incredible.

You can use our UK University Admissions calculator to find out your chances of attending Oxbridge based on your current grades!

5. Traditions

oxford sub fusc

Oxford vs Cambridge School Traditions
OxfordCambridge
Sub FuscBoth universities have their own version of this attire and it is required at a handful of events throughout the year. Your sub fusc lets people know what degree you are studying and whether or not you have a scholarship. At Oxford you are also required to wear these gowns during your exams.Like Oxford, Cambridge also has a variety of events throughout the year that require this formal attire. Thankfully, you no longer need to wear your gown during exams. However, I still don’t think you can wear sweatpants…
Formal HallEver wanted to be served a 3 course meal in a fancy dining hall? Formal Hall is for you. Depending on your college, you may have these halls almost every night or only a few times per term.Think gongs, candles and Latin grace. Oh, and food. Lots and lots of food.
PennyingForget about beer pong, pennying might be your new favorite drinking game. Basic rules are as follows: Slip a penny into your friend’s drink. If they don’t notice, your friend has to chug their drink. This game has a ton of other rules as well but I don’t want to confuse you. Live and learn.At the end of every exam period, you can make a cardboard boat and race down the river Cam. Expect to get wet.
May MorningEvery year on April 30th, all of the pubs, bars, clubs and cafes are open all night long. The next morning (May 1) at 6 AM everyone gathers by the Magdalen Bridge to hear choristers sing. After which everyone goes back to the bars and cages to drink some more. If you really want to have fun, feel free to jump off the bridge!In June, after your exams, there are a ton of garden parties, all-night balls and more to help you get out of your post-exam funk.
Oxford TimeA long, long time ago, Oxford ran on its own time - 5 minutes later than Greenwich time. Thankfully, all lectures at Oxford still start 5 minutes past the hour. #5moreminutesofsleep.

Bottom Line:

Oxford and Cambridge have a long history and therefore many traditions. One of their most famous, shared traditions is the annual rowing race on the river Thames. The two universities compete against each other and it always gets very heated. In terms of traditions, you really can’t go wrong with either university, unless you are highly against wearing formal wear to your exams, in which case Cambridge is for you.

6. Social Life

oxbridge sports

Oxford vs Cambridge Social Activities
OxfordCambridge
Night LifeIf you are looking for a lively nightlife scene with more bars and clubs, Oxford is for you.If you’re into a refreshing pint at a pub, then Cambridge is your answer.
SocietiesOxford has more than 150 clubs and societies. The Tea Appreciation Society, The Doctor Who Society and The Harry Potter Society are just a few examples.Cambridge has more than 700 student societies including The Breakfast Club, Hackers at Cambridge and the Science Fiction Society.
SportsOxford has 85 sports clubs to fit all of your athletic desires. Some standouts include: Floorball, Gliding and Motor Drivers.Cambridge also 55 sports clubs including Powerlifting, Cruising and Trampoline.

Bottom Line

Both universities use the 'College system', which is an elective living situation that allows students to live, eat and socialise together in a place with its own culture and traditions. Oxford has 39 colleges and Cambridge has 31. Most people live in their college at least for their freshman year.

Aside from your residence, your college will have a dining hall, social facilities and will set up your tutorials for you. Each college is made up of both graduate and undergraduate students studying a variety of different courses. The best way to figure out which college you like is to look at how many people are in each college, how many people are studying the same subject as you and how you feel about the college overall.

While neither school is nearly as invested in sports as schools in the USA, both Oxford and Cambridge offer a wide variety of opportunities to play on a team. In terms of non-sports clubs, both universities allow you to create your own club if you want to. The real decision comes down to whether you’re more into clubs or pubs.

Final Decision

You will receive an excellent education regardless of which of these two universities you choose to attend. Keep in mind that academics should be the biggest factor you consider when making your decision. I highly encourage you to visit both universities on open days and get a feel for each one or have a thorough look at the course descriptions.

If you’re still unsure about which universities you should apply to, feel free to reach out to us! We can put you in touch with one of our expert academic advisors who can guide you through the entire admissions process!

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