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Oxford vs Cambridge

By Grace Walters

When considering top university applications, it can sometimes come as a surprise that you can’t apply to both Oxford and Cambridge, and in fact have to limit your choice to one. Of course, it does make sense on reflection – otherwise, many applicants would apply to both institutions for the best odds possible, and the logistics of the application process would be overloaded. However, if differentiating between Oxford and Cambridge seems difficult, hopefully this advice can help.

Firstly, making sure that the university actually offers the degree you’re interested in is the first factor to consider. Oxford and Cambridge don’t have the exact same range of subjects available … so if you’re dreaming of Veterinary Medicine or Architecture, you can only study this at Cambridge; or if you’re attracted to the combination of Politics, Philosophy, and Linguistics together, only Oxford offers this degree. If your desired subject is offered by both, though, it’s really helpful to look at how exactly this degree is structured at Oxford vs Cambridge. Are there any mandatory topics which you’d want to avoid; would you prefer the option which places more assessment weight on exams than pre-submitted work; would you rather the course span a broader section of topics? When choosing any university to apply to, this is a great factor to help make your decision. And this is especially the case if you are considering the sciences, as the structure is quite dissimilar at Oxford vs Cambridge. The Natural Sciences degree at Cambridge, for example, is very different to Oxford’s science course divisions.

One key difference, also, is the fact that Cambridge still has colleges which aren’t co-ed, but entirely consist of female-identifying students. This also means that pooling at Cambridge comes with the chance of ending up at this type of college. As well, location is a consideration; which one might be closer to your home, and whether the transport links are frequent or easy, is a factor which some students consider. Cambridge is also a smaller city than Oxford, and every city has its own ‘vibe’ – so visiting on the Open Days and just getting a feel for the place can be really helpful. If the cost of visiting is too high, some colleges offer a travel cost grant for Open Days, if you email and apply.

Overall, both are competitive, academic, world-leading institutions which are hundreds of years old, and have been connected throughout history – whether in the term ‘Oxbridge’, or in the infamous boat race or sporting rivalry. Their tutorial-led teaching (called ‘supervisions’ at Cambridge … there are some terminology differences!) is also a key similarity; and both have eight-week, short terms. The choice between them is up to you – but an exciting one, and a chance to refine a bit further what exactly you’d like out of your degree experience. From then, you’ll find yourself loving wherever you end up!


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