Guide to UK Applications • Undergraduate

How to Choose Between Oxford and Cambridge for Undergraduate Admissions

POSTED ON 12/09/2022 BY The Red Pen

How to Choose Between Oxford and Cambridge for Undergraduate Admissions | The Red Pen

Undoubtedly, two of the UK’s most prestigious and famous universities are the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, commonly called Oxbridge. Known for their historic “rivalry”, accomplished alumni, traditions that go back decades, academic rigour and quaint university towns, they both have a lot to offer their students.

When considering applying to the UK, you probably have added both of these universities to your college list. However, at the undergraduate level, you can apply to either the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge, not both. Additionally, both these universities are extremely competitive and have low admission rates. In 2020, approximately 23,414 students applied to Oxford and only 3,932 offers were made. In the same year, 20,426 students applied for approximately 4,000 places at Cambridge. So, if you have your heart set on attending one of these prestigious universities, but don’t know which one to pick, this article can help you decide.

Here are seven factors to consider when deciding between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge:

1) Evaluate the different majors offered at Oxbridge:

At both universities, the teaching style is similar. They both offer lectures, classes, tutorials or supervisions and labs for science majors. However, they differ in the majors offered. At Oxford, for example, you can apply for the coveted Philosophy, Politics and Economics major, which is not available at Cambridge. Conversely, if you are keen to pursue Land Economy specifically, this is only offered at Cambridge.

Before you make your college list, ensure to thoroughly review the list of undergraduate offerings. For each of the majors in which you are interested, ensure to go through the brief synopsis of the major and the list of classes you are required to take during your time at the institution. Unlike other countries, in the UK, you have to apply directly to the major you want to study and you cannot change your major once you are admitted. So, you need to be sure about what you want to study. For students looking at combination degree programmes, review the major listing at both universities.

Note: In the UK, majors and courses are used interchangeably.

2) Check the departments and major progression:

In addition to evaluating your majors, you also need to research the department to which you will be admitted and how and when you can choose your specialisation.

For example, at Oxford, you can directly apply for the specific engineering programme in which you are interested. However, you will be admitted to the Department of Engineering Science. During the first two years, you will study a core curriculum which all engineering students study. In the third and fourth years, you will choose your specialisation. This could be Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Information or Mechanical. Decisions about which specialisation can be deferred until the third year.

On the other hand, at Cambridge, you can apply for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology through the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. For other majors, you need to apply to the Department of Engineering. In your first year, you study the core curriculum, which includes classes in Mechanical and Electrical & Information Engineering. In your second year, you can choose two topics from seven engineering disciplines and from the third year, you start your professional specialisation in Engineering. Here you can choose from: Aerospace and Aerothermal Engineering, Bioengineering, Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Electrical and Information Sciences, Energy, Sustainability and the Environment, Information and Computer Engineering, Instrumentation and Control and Mechanical Engineering.

3) Entry requirements:

On each university’s website, you will find details about the minimum entry requirements for all majors. You must ensure that your predicted grade is equal to or higher than the minimum entry requirement.

For example, to read mathematics at Oxford, students pursuing the IBDP require a total of 39 with a 7, 6, 6 in your Higher Level subjects. The 7 must be in HL Mathematics. Conversely, at Cambridge, you require 40-42 points, with 7, 7, 6 in your HL subjects, which need to include mathematics at HL. In addition, entry requirements at Cambridge are college-specific and some colleges might require IB Physics at HL along with Mathematics. If both the programmes at Oxford and Cambridge interest you, but your predicted grades aren’t high enough for Cambridge, then you can strategically choose Oxford.

4) Testing:

Testing is one of the components of the Oxbridge application process. These entrance tests are major-specific and differ depending on the major to which you are applying. These tests are academic in nature and are used to assess your academic calibre. These tests are evaluated by tutors and depending on your performance, you will be invited for an academic interview or denied admission.

In order to prepare for your entrance test, you can review some of the major’s past papers. For example, if you want to study mathematics, you will need to sit the MAT (Mathematics Aptitude Test) at Oxford or the STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) at Cambridge. Before you make up your mind about your university, take a practice test and identify which test in which you think you will be successful. This improves your chances of being invited for an interview.

About 70 percent of students are invited for an interview at Cambridge, while at Oxford, this number falls between 18 to 50 percent, depending on the major.

5) Admit rate:

As you know, Oxbridge is extremely competitive. As such, the admit rates, which vary per major, are extremely low.

Here are the admit rates for some popular majors at Oxbridge:

Major University of Oxford University of Cambridge
Economics or Economics and Management 6.0% 10%
Engineering 16% 12.5%
Computer Science 6% 7.8%
History 23% 31.3%
Medicine 9% 13.4%

6) Length of the degree:

Both Oxford and Cambridge offer a few majors with an integrated Master’s option. For example, at Cambridge, you can enrol for a three-year BA (Hons) degree in Computer Science or graduate in four years with an MEng. At Oxford, you can enrol for a three-year BA degree or graduate in four years with a 4 MCompSci degree in Computer Science.

However, at Oxford, some majors, such as Biochemistry and Chemistry, are offered only as a four-year programme, whereas at Cambridge, you can choose between a three-year Bachelor’s degree and a four-year Master’s degree for all Natural Sciences.

7) Location and colleges:

Both Oxford and Cambridge are located in a university town. However, Oxford is larger than Cambridge. Both are located far from London, 95 km for Oxford and 98 km for Cambridge. Both have a river running through the towns, which sets the stage for the age-old rowing competition between Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford has 30 colleges that offer undergraduate programmes, while Cambridge has 29 colleges that offer undergraduate programmes. All these factors may play a factor when choosing your university. It is prudent to research the town, colleges and student life when deciding which university suits you better.

A note on studying medicine at Oxbridge:

As an international student, you will be competing for an extremely limited number of spots, not only at Oxbridge but all over the UK. As of 2021, there are only 21 spots for international students in Cambridge and 14 in Oxford. It is important to know more about the major’s outline as well. While there are many similarities in the major outline, the main difference is that Cambridge offers a full-body dissection to supplement learning, whereas Oxford does not.

‍The cost for international students also differs at Oxford and Cambridge. Clinical years at Oxford cost approximately 52,490 GBP annually, while Cambridge costs approximately 63,990 GBP.

While both institutions are similar in many aspects, it is the nuances that you need to examine. These will help you decide which one is the best fit for you. If you are looking for advice on how to make your college list, sign up for our exclusive one-on-one general counselling session with an Oxbridge expert here. Read more about Oxbridge and what makes them unique here. For more information, get in touch with us.