How to decide between Oxford and Cambridge University - Advice from our Oxbridge Admissions Consultancy

Deciding between Oxford and Cambridge

Zoe Tyndall
June 7th 2018

So, you have decided that you are going to apply to Oxbridge. How do you pick whether to apply to Oxford or Cambridge?

Many people do not know that you cannot apply to both for an undergraduate degree; you have to decide between them. It can be difficult to know where to start when comparing, so our University Admissions Consultants have compiled a few similarities and differences in order to help make this decision a little easier.

Similarities between Oxford and Cambridge University

The two cities and universities within them do have a lot in common. Here are some important similarities:

  1. Teaching style: both Oxford and Cambridge have a similar teaching style in that they teach in very small group sessions of usually between 1 and 4 students to one tutor. Though they have different names (Oxford calling them ‘tutorials’, Cambridge calling them, ‘supervisions’) they are one in the same, and provide a very individualised style of learning. This is the teaching style that sets Oxbridge apart from the lecture and larger seminar structure of many other universities.
  2. Collegiate structure: both Oxford and Cambridge have a collegiate structure, meaning they are made up of a large number of constituent colleges. Each college has its own admissions process, and seminars will be organised by the college, whilst all lectures will be held centrally. When applying you will have to pick a college to apply to, or you can do an open application if you just can’t choose! A good way to choose a college is to narrow it down to a few favourites from researching them online, and then going to visit and seeing if you feel at home there!
  3. Traditions: it will not come as a surprise from the first and second oldest Universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge respectively, that both universities are steeped in tradition. Starting your time at either will see you donning an undergraduate gown for your matriculation (the formal ceremony that admits you to the college), attending Formal Hall, and (if you are at Oxford), even wearing your gown for exams. This can be a little strange to get used to at first, but you soon get used to it.

As you can see, Oxford and Cambridge are not worlds apart. However, there are some important differences worth taking into account in your considerations, particularly when it comes to academics.


Differences between Oxford and Cambridge University

  1. Size and atmosphere of the city: the cities themselves have very different feels about them. Cambridge, particularly central Cambridge where most of the University facilities can be found, is quite small and has a slower feel than Oxford. Oxford feels more like a city with a university in it, as opposed to Cambridge where it can sometimes feel like a university with the rest of the city filling in the gaps! Spending a bit of time in both cities will help you figure out which suits you best.
  2. Subject options: there are some differences in subject choice across Oxford and Cambridge. For example, Cambridge offers Natural Sciences in which students can specialise in either physical or biological sciences, whilst Oxford has separate science courses such as Chemistry, Physics and Biological Sciences. Similarly, Cambridge offers Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) whilst the closest equivalent in Oxford is Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). It is important to look at the course content and see what suits your interests most.
  3. League table rankings: Oxford and Cambridge are consistently in competition for the top spot nationally in university league tables, however it is worth looking at league tables for your specific subject, and also check which metrics the league table is using. For example, if you are particularly interested in pursuing further research in your subject, check to see if the league table you are using takes into account international research.

The most important consideration is that you feel comfortable in the city that you will call home for three or more years! It is definitely worth visiting both, either on an official open day, through a summer course, or just individually when you have the time to spend the day exploring and really getting the sense of the cities and universities.


About the Education Consultant

Zoe Tyndall runs Oxbridge International Summer School, a company which specialises in providing a full live in experience for a portion of the summer holidays for students around the world.

William Clarence Education offers unbiased advice on UK School and University PlacementOxbridge AdmissionsUS College ApplicationsUCAS application and extensive support for parents and students in all aspects of preparing for entry to the UK.

Please contact us on 02074128988 to discuss your particular needs, or email