Student Advice

Oxford vs Cambridge

By Uni Compare  · Jun 14th 2021

Oxbridge is the term used for both the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.


Both universities have their weaknesses and their strong points and both will appeal for students. The University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge are in the same conversation because of how well they teach their subjects and how well they coach their students to get to where they need to be.

Preparation for going to Oxford or Cambridge

Which is better, Oxford or Cambridge?

This depends on what you want to study and where you want to study. While for many people, it’s a simple case of Cambridge vs Oxford, it’s generally far easier to break down which university does what better than the other one.

When it comes to Cambridge vs Oxford, both Cambridge or Oxford will benefit you in their own ways, but as for which is better, it’s a question that you would be able to answer yourself and you can visit Oxford or Cambridge if you go to a university open day and see which university offers the better course for the degree you are looking to study. Who knows, you might even get to see the Oxford vs Cambridge boat race or even the hugely entertaining Oxford vs Cambridge rugby match.

The two cities are another huge aspect that often goes unmentioned when speaking about Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge). Cambridge has a small town feel, as almost a fifth of the population is taken up by students alone, whilst Oxford has more of a nightlife atmosphere and is technically a city, rather than a town. Oxford has incredible resources such as the Bodleian Library, but Cambridge is famous for its Varsity student newspaper and Footlights comedy group. Oxford is the older of the two, if that kind of thing matters to you. Both love rowing boats (in fact, the Oxford vs Cambridge rowing match is a sight to behold!), and both are around 60 miles from London.

If you are thinking about taking a joint degree, then Oxford is the better choice for you as Cambridge doesn’t offer this option. Cambridge is particularly revered for its science and engineering programmes, whilst Oxford has a slight edge in the humanities.

One is not inherently better than the other, so it comes down to what suits you, personally. The best way to find out which one is right for you is to look at the courses they offer, and to visit the campus for a tour. You can only target Oxbridge once in your UCAS application, meaning you need to decide between the two fairly early on.

They both offer the same qualifications as well, so when searching for an Oxford vs Cambridge MBA for university, you will be able to see what is best for you. You can also see how competitive they are in their annual Cambridge vs Oxford rugby match, their Oxford vs Cambridge cricket match or their Cambridge vs Oxford football match.

Which university is older, Oxford or Cambridge?

So, which is older, Oxford or Cambridge?

It’s a close-run thing, but ultimately, Oxford is the older of the two universities. In fact, Oxford is the oldest university in the UK, with Cambridge being the second oldest.

With both universities, it is unknown what the exact date of their founding is, but it is believed that Oxford was founded in 1096, whilst Cambridge was thought to have been founded in 1209. If you ever take a day trip to Oxford or Cambridge, then you may be able to learn more about the local areas and the universities and then come to a good conclusion of Cambridge University vs Oxford University.

Preparation for going to Oxford or Cambridge

Oxbridge is the term people use to refer to both the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

Oxford or Cambridge university are two separate institutions and are two of the most recognised and respected universities in the world. As they are consistently the front-runners in UK academia, they are often considered in a league of their own, hence having a special name to identify them separately to other Russell Group universities.

Should I go to Oxbridge?

The idea of studying at Cambridge or Oxford appeals to prospective students who want to learn from some of the world’s greatest thinkers. Earning an Oxbridge degree is also an extremely well-respected, prestigious accolade, and can boost a graduate’s career prospects. Additionally, the quality of education and resources at Oxbridge is outstanding.

However, some students may be put off by an aura of mystery or elitism (both universities are working to improve their intake from state schools and minority groups, but still with some way to go and neither is pulling ahead of the other one in the Oxford University vs Cambridge University rivalry). Other students may be intimidated by the special ‘tutorial’ teaching method offered at Oxford and Cambridge, in which one, two, or three students regularly spend structured time in deep conversation with one of the academics leading the course. Neither town is cheap to live in, and this can also factor into a student’s decision (though do be sure to check which loans, grants and bursaries you may be entitled to, as this needn’t always be a barrier).

You should not make a decision to go to a particular university just because someone else pressures you to. The best chance you have to enjoy your time in higher education is to attend a university that you’re excited about joining.

It’s wise to try to visit each institution so you can get a feel of what they have to offer. Plus, read the prospectus online, and scout out opinions and experiences of former and current students.

oxbridge campus

How do I apply for Oxbridge?

When applying for Oxbridge, you go through the UCAS system just as with other university applications. However, the deadline is much sooner, so it’s good to apply as early as possible. So, when do Oxbridge applications have to be in by? Well, instead of mid-January like other universities, Oxbridge applications have to be submitted by mid-October, so don’t rest on your laurels.

The Oxford and Cambridge university application process is more complicated than some other unis too, as they typically include an entrance exam and an interview.

Why is applying to Oxbridge different from other universities?

Firstly, you need to decide on a particular college to apply to. If you think of Oxford or Cambridge as a village, each college is a bit like a house in the village. Each college has their own campus, learning spaces and accommodation. Some colleges take the majority of their students from science subjects, whilst others might have more language students.

Some colleges are larger than others. The colleges also have different intakes, so check out their admissions percentages online for state school / BAME / female / disabled students. Some Oxbridge colleges are newly introducing foundation years to improve access to their universities, so representation will continue to improve over time. It’s important to feel ‘at home’ in your college, so research this information carefully in order to choose an appropriate setting (and increase your chances of admission).

When applying for Oxbridge, or any other highly respected university, you need to be prepared for the demanding pace of study. The first thing you will need for your application is your grades or predicted grades; Oxbridge applicants from the previous two years have achieved an average of 400 UCAS points or A*A*A. You therefore need to be very confident about your academic attainment.

80% of Oxford subject areas require you to take a test before attending; this is to assess your prior knowledge and interest in the subject.

Writing an Oxbridge personal statement

We advise broadening your knowledge on your subject area, so you are better informed when writing your personal statement. Oxbridge are interested in your academic ambitions and want to be sure their courses will provide the right path for you. Talk about your ambitions and show your passion by reading as much as you can on the subject. All universities, including Oxbridge look for the same thing: passion and interest. An Oxbridge personal statement can be a daunting prospect, but if you work through our handy guide (including Oxbridge personal statement examples), you won’t go wrong.

An Oxford or Cambridge visit prior to writing your personal statement can help too!

How do I prepare for an Oxford interview?

The interview is a chance for Oxbridge professors to explore your potential and to gain a better insight into your personality. This is your chance to show them who you are and how enthusiastic you are about studying. Read up on your subject area and what modules you will be taking on your chosen course to show the research you have done. Oxbridge make their decisions on an individual basis and dedicate their time to interviewing the majority of applicants. Use this time to shine and show how amazing you are!

Oxbridge exams and tests

The majority of Oxford subject areas require entry admissions tests. We advise taking a mock exam at least two months beforehand to see where your weaknesses lie (ask your tutor or teachers for previous test examples). The prospectus will have all the information you need on the pre-tests for different courses.

Preparation for going to Oxbridge

Interview tips

The best interview tip we can give you is to show how passionate you are about your subject area. What Oxbridge are looking for is someone enthusiastic who will dedicate three to four years of their academic life to these subjects. Talk about anything and everything that relates you to this area, and do not spend too much time talking about other subjects. Sure, it might be impressive that you were the captain of your college basketball team, but will that help you perform titrations in a Biology degree? Instead, use the weeks leading up to your interview to prepare with some Oxbridge home learning techniques: read a lot about your subject, and practise discussing ideas with confidence and thoughtfulness (bonus: your family will be delighted with all the extra dinner table chat).

Oxbridge preparation: what to expect from study at Oxford and Cambridge

Attending an open day (or even the annually hyped Cambridge vs Oxford boat race, the rowing Oxford vs Cambridge can be very competitive, especially when the University Challenge Oxford vs Cambridge race properly starts) can give you a good sense of the workload and learning style at Oxford and Cambridge. Ask previous or current students about their Oxbridge essays, Oxbridge editing, and what is generally expected of them.

Life for students at Oxbridge tends to involve a high number of contact hours, and many of those will be spent in tutorials, either one-to-one or in tiny groups, having academic dialogues with professors. This can be a really exciting and enriching way to learn, but it can also be a little daunting if you’ve never learnt this way before.

Other Oxbridge notes to consider include the way that some colleges are steeped in tradition. You might love the Harry Potter-esque ceremonies, donning your academic gown every evening to dine in a grand hall, or you might shudder at the thought and you might even love the aforementioned Cambridge vs Oxford rowing race. Oxbridge assessment systems are often different to other universities. Some subjects are 100% exam assessed, which could be a benefit or a downside, depending on the kind of learner you are.

The things you learn at Oxbridge can change your life, regardless of which one you go to, so you won’t need to worry too much about Oxford MBA vs Cambridge MBA, for example.

Applying for Oxbridge is not for everyone, but if you’re keen, then go for it. Read lots, work hard, and believe in yourself.

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