Oxford vs Cambridge University? Both universities are well-known for their established academic excellence and rich history, yet the intricacies of student life and their similarities and differences, are lesser-known to all.
Each applicant can only apply to either Oxford or Cambridge, not both. Hence, one has to make a choice. When it comes to Oxbridge, both of the universities will benefit you in their own ways. There is no “which university is better“, instead, you should see which university would be a better fit for you, and is a question which only you can answer.
Oxford Vs Cambridge Courses
Oxford and Cambridge don’t have identical courses. Although there are overlaps, there are some courses that are only offered at one of the universities. For example, if you are interested in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, or PPE, this course is only offered at Oxford. Additionally, joint courses are offered at Oxford, not Cambridge. Another example is that only Oxford offers Art and Design, and only Cambridge offers Architecture and Veterinary Medicine. Hence, check each universities’s website for details of the courses offered. Moreover, courses with a similar title at the two universities may be different in content, so check the course details carefully to see which one will suit you best.
If you are interested in science, Cambridge allows students to choose from a wide variety of scientific courses and students can explore other areas of science instead of committing to a single course. This is known as the Natural Science Tripos, or NatSci. There are Chemistry, Biology, Physics, etc. The flexibility of the course makes it possible for students to take purely biological sciences, purely physical sciences or a combination of both, according to your interests. They are for students who wish to explore different subjects before committing.
Many students discover a passion for the new subjects that they start in the first year, such as Earth Sciences or Materials Science, and continue with these in subsequent years. Most students pursue a single advanced subject in Year 3, and undertake a research project or dissertation in that field. Alternatively, you can take a broader option in either the Biological Sciences or the Physical Sciences. Students in this system are given complete control of their subject choices from day one, and are ideal for students who wish to take charge of their learning. It offers a wide spectrum of sciences, and one can choose to specialize later during the third year.
Comparatively, if you have a clear idea of which area of science you are interested in, Oxford is a great choice as they offer single-subject science courses for students. Students can choose to specialize in purely Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Biochemistry, etc. For example, if you are interested in Biology, not Physics or Chemistry, then Oxford is a more suitable choice. You will get to learn courses under the big umbrella term of Biology, including Ecology and Evolution, Cell and Developmental Biology, Diseases Prediction and Dynamics, and many more. In other words, you do not have to learn courses such as Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, etc. They are for students who are certain which science they wish to study at university, as students will begin studying their chosen subject from day one. This is advantageous over the Cambridge Natural Sciences system as it allows students to immerse themselves fully into a single subject, and explore all its complexities.
There are also course overlaps between both universities, however, they are not exactly the same as well. For instance, if you are interested in studying the English undergraduate course at Oxford, studying Early Medieval Literature is compulsory. Comparatively, at Cambridge, their curriculum focus more on the late medieval or early modern literature. Hence, do visit both of the universities’ website and look up on the course, or courses that you are interested in. Both of their websites provide details on what the course will entail, and what students will be expecting in that particular course. Look at the different modules offered by the course. Do the subject areas offered in one university interest you more than the other? If you prefer to have more flexibility and freedom in choosing the modules, which university offers more module choices? Visit the different departments, go to their open days, or attend the virtual tours online.
For both Oxford and Cambridge universities, every student is also a member of a college, and they provide accommodation for students for at least 3 years of university. Colleges are academic communities, where students usually have their tutorials. Each one has its own dining hall, bar, common room and library, and lots of college groups and societies. A College is much more than a place where students live, it is also where they eat and socialize, and receive academic and pastoral support. How much time you spend in your College is up to you.
For some students, their College is simply the place where they sleep and usually attend tutorials or supervisions. For most, it provides experiences and friendships that can last a lifetime. It is a student’s home at the university. At Oxford, there are 33 different colleges, and Cambridge has 29. Every student belongs to a college. Each student is also a member of a course department and the University. This means students have the benefits of belonging to both a large, world-class university and to a small and friendly academic community. Different Colleges have their own, unique atmosphere, and students at different Colleges will have different university experiences. There are Virtual Tours of the different Colleges available on both of the Universities’ website, as well as descriptions and details of each Colleges, including the facilities offered, and their own unique characteristics.
Colleges are responsible for admitting undergraduates, and students can indicate their college of preference in their UCAS application. If one does not have a college preference, one can instead select an ‘open’ application and they will be allocated to a college which has relatively fewer applications for their course in that year. Once you have submitted your UCAS application, however, you will be committed to your choice of college.
Although Colleges serve a common purpose, and students will receive the same level of academic standard regardless of Colleges, they are very different in terms of their size, age and personality. Hence, it would be good if students can consider which type of college they like to live in before applying. Not all Colleges are applicable for all students. For example, Oxford and Cambridge both have a few ‘mature student’ colleges and are only applicable for students over the age of 21. Another example is that Cambridge has 3 Colleges exclusively for women
The student to staff ratio at Oxford is about 10.5:1, and approximately 11:1 at Cambridge, hence, they are pretty similar. The high number of staff indicates both universities’ commitment to quality teaching.
Oxford and Cambridge have relatively shorter terms of 8 weeks as compared to 10 to 14 weeks in most universities.
There is a quote:
“Supervisions and tutorials underpin learning at Oxbridge.”
Other than lectures and practical or laboratory classes, both Oxford and Cambridge offers small, personalized teaching sessions known as tutorials in Oxford, or supervisions in Cambridge. They are usually an hour long, with 1 session per week in the First Year, and this number will gradually increase in the Second, Third, and Forth Years. Usually, there are 2 to 4 students per session, and are designed to expand students’ understanding of concepts taught in and beyond lectures. Students will be challenged to think critically and are usually asked questions related to lecture contents and readings from the previous week. Students are also expected to prepare and produce materials ahead of time for the session: either an essay, or answers to a set of questions. Students will receive feedback on their work from each tutorials or supervisions, and it is a great way for both students and staff to evaluate how well the student is doing.
At the end of each year, students will sit for a series of formal exams, and the number of exams depend on one’s course and year of study. One’s degree results relies heavily on the Final Year Exam, together with courseworks and assignments.
Tests & Other Requirements
For most courses in Oxford and Cambridge, admissions tests are a required component, and are used to shortlist applicants based on their test performance and application. It is good to check for the course admission requirements in the respective universities’ website. For instance, medical students have to take the BMAT as part of their application, and students interested in Mathematics have to take the Sixth Term Examination Paper, or STEP. For shortlisted applicants, they are called for an interview, which is an academic interview. These interviews are designed to challenge applicants to think and apply one’s knowledge and skills to unfamiliar problems. They are designed to see how teachable the applicant is and how they cope with an unfamiliar situation. In other words, access how well an applicant will fit in the Oxbridge style of teaching. There are no right or wrong answers, and it is not a matter of how quickly a student arrives at an answer. Instead, it is the process of reaching to an answer, rather than the answer itself. The interviewers simply want to gain insights on the student’s thought process.
Cambridge requires additional forms after your application is submitted. Every undergraduate student has to complete a Supplementary Application Questionnaire, or SAQ, after submitting their UCAS application. A Cambridge Online Preliminary Application, or COPA, is also required if you are applying from outside the RU, for Graduate Medicine, or for an Organ Scholarship.
Oxford does not require additional forms.
Both Oxford and Cambridge are world-class academic institutions, and it ultimately boils down to which one you deem as a better fit for you instead of which university is better. There are lots of numbers swirling around, like the acceptance rate and the number of students who accept the offer, and all that gets reported widely in the media. The most important data point is something you can’t measure, and that is your own determination of fit. When you discover a school and say, with total confidence, ‘I see myself here’, then that is the right school for you. Additionally, your university experience is entirely up to you and what you make of it. A right university is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.