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MAR 10, 2020 • 16 min read
So you want to study in the UK?
Maybe you already live in England, maybe you want to study abroad or maybe you just really love Harry Potter.
Now all you have to do is pick between Cambridge and Oxford.
How can you possibly pick between two of the oldest and most respected universities in the world?
Both Oxford and Cambridge acceptance rates are notoriously low - so you want to make sure you pick the right UK university before you throw yourself into the application process.
For example, look at Cambridge's data for undergraduate study. They pull no punches about being competitive!
But here's where we come in.
Welcome to Battle of the English Universities!
We are going to break down the similarities and differences of these two world-renowned universities to help you decide which one is right for you.
Here are the categories:
We will break down and explain most of these statistics later.
Oxford: 1096 (unofficially)
Oxford Admission Statistics: 17.5%
While these acceptance rates may seem high, both universities have strict screening process based on grade requirements. No chance for wiggle room.
Oxford is a little easier to get into, but as we all know acceptance rates fluctuate every year. Let’s keep reading to find out more.
City: Cambridge is relatively small and mostly dominated by students (similar to US campus Stanford). The city has its own river named Cam.
Time to London: The university is less than an hour to London by train so going into the city for the day is totally doable.
Weather: The city is foggier and windier than Oxford. Bring a windbreaker.
City: Oxford 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.
Time to London: London is also only an hour away by train. #citytrips
Weather: The weather at Oxford is not as windy or foggy but it is still in the UK so bring an umbrella. Or three.
Both cities 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 uni doesn’t feel like the entire city, Oxford is for you.
If 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 these bursaries, Oxford also offers 9 different scholarships mostly determined by your hometown.
Cambridge offers around 4 different international, undergraduate scholarships a year based on a variety of 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.
Both universities cost around the same amount, although Cambridge is a bit more expensive if you are a non-EU students. Either way, both unis' 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.
Tutorials: If 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.
Courses: Oxford 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:
Assessments: Throughout 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.
Supervisions: Just like Oxford’s “tutorials”.
Courses: Cambridge 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:
Assessments: 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.
Academics are the best differentiator between the two universities. 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 uni to attend.
A quick note before we begin:
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 38 colleges and Cambridge has 32. 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.
Overall Acceptance Rate: 17.5%
International Acceptance Rate: 12.4%
Application: Like 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.
International Application Requirements: In order to apply for Oxford you need to either have 1,470 on the new SAT or a 32 on your ACT as well as a 5 on three or more Advanced Placement exams or a 700 in three or more SAT subject tests.
New SAT: 1,470 +
Advanced Placement Courses: 5 on at least three different exams.
AS/A Levels: Between AAA and AAA depending on the subject.
IB: A total score of 38, 39 or 40 points (depending on the course) including core points.
ATAR: between 98.5 and 99.5 (depending on the course) of a maximum 99.95.
HKDSE: 5s 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 subject.
SIPCAL: three A grades at H2.
Overall Acceptance Rate: 21%
International Acceptance Rate: 12.5%
Application: 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.
International Application Requirements:
New SAT: 1,460 +
Advanced Placement Courses: 5 on at least five different exams.
AS/A Levels: Most Cambridge applicants are studying three or four A Level subjects in Years 12 and 13
IB: 40 and 42 points out of 45, with 776 in Higher Level subjects.
ATAR: 98.5 overall together with documentation of similar performance in relevant individual subjects.
HKDSE: 5*, 5* and 5 in three specified elective subjects, which related to your chosen course.
Singapore/Cambridge GCE Advanced Level: AAAA at H2 Level or equivalent
Both universities are extremely competitive and unfortunately, you can only apply to one per year. If you are a UK/EU applicant you 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.
Sub Fusc: Both schools 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.
Formal Hall: Ever 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.
Pennying: Forget 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.
May Morning: Every 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!
Oxford Time: A 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.
Sub Fusc: 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 Hall: Think gongs, candles and latin grace. Oh, and food. Lots and lots of food.
Cardboard Boats: At the end of every exam period, you can make a cardboard boat and race down the river Cam. Expect to get wet.
May Week: 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.
Both universities 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.
Night Life: If you are looking for a lively nightlife scene with more bars and clubs, Oxford is for you.
Societies: Oxford 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.
Sports: Oxford has 85 sports clubs to fit all of your athletic desires. Some standouts include: Floorball, Gliding and Motor Drivers.
Night Life: If you’re into a refreshing pint at a pub, then Cambridge is your answer.
Societies: Cambridge has more than 700 student societies including The Breakfast Club, Hackers at Cambridge and the Science Fiction Society.
Sports: Cambridge also 55 sports clubs including Powerlifting, Cruising and Trampoline.
While neither school is nearly as invested in sports as schools in the USA, they both 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.
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 unis on open days and get a feel for each one or have a thorough look at the course descriptions.
Best of luck!