Should I choose Oxford or Cambridge?

Oxford and Cambridge are regarded as two of the best universities in the world! They have outstanding, prestigious reputations, offer world-class education, and have produced numerous notable alumni. Hence, it’s no wonder why every year students struggle to choose between the two. If you’re looking to study at the best of the best, there is no clear answer on whether that’s Oxford or Cambridge. 

Luckily, The Profs are here to help you make an informed decision that’s right for you. We are experts on Oxbridge, so we will run through all the factors you need to compare, contrast and consider. 

Plenty of our team have studied at Oxbridge or previously worked in Oxbridge admissions. So, if anyone has the know-how to make your application as perfect as possible, it’s us. This blog will hopefully offer you some insight but it’s just a fraction of our knowledge. If you think you’d like a helping hand with your application, we can put you in touch with experienced admissions tutors who will guide you through it from start to finish. 

Also, make sure you check out our related articles which are packed full of insider information: 

Content

  1. Can I apply to both Oxford and Cambridge
  2. Oxford and Cambridge’s reputation 
  3. Course options at Oxbridge
  4. Subject specialisations at Oxbridge
  5. Grade requirements & acceptance rates
  6. Admissions tests
  7. Interviews
  8. Careers and networking opportunities
  9. Alumni networks
  10. Financial considerations, funding, and scholarships
  11. Location, campus culture and student life
  12. So, Should I choose Cambridge or Oxford?
  13. Get 1-to-1 guidance from an expert admissions tutor
  14. FAQs

Can I apply to both Oxford and Cambridge? 

If you’re an undergraduate applicant, you cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge within the same year. So, you need to choose wisely based on what the best fit is for you!

If you’re a postgraduate applicant, you can submit applications to Oxford and Cambridge at the same time. So, one of the articles listed in the introduction may be more useful. 

Bear in mind that you can apply to as many of Oxford’s postgraduate courses as you like, however, you may only ask two of Cambridge’s colleges to consider your application. Moreover, submitting multiple applications might insinuate that you are not committed to any one course. 

Oxford and Cambridge’s reputation 

The University of Oxford and Cambridge University are both renowned for their academic rigour and consistently rank among the top universities worldwide. They have both won awards for research and education; hence, they are known for their rigorous academic standards and innovative research. 

You can see how neck and neck Oxford and Cambridge are in their rankings table below: 

Source Oxford Cambridge 
Times Higher Education (global, 2023) 1st  3rd 

 

QS World Rankings (global, 2024) 3rd  2nd  
Complete University Guide (UK, 2024) 2nd  1st  

Course options at Oxbridge 

 Your decision on Oxford or Cambridge should be heavily influenced by your discipline. You will be studying this area for a minimum of 3 years so it’s imperative that you choose a course that will fulfil and motivate you.  

Look at the breadth of courses available at both universities for your subject. If you’re already set on a specific course, compare the contents of this course, the reading list, grading methods, entry requirements, admissions test, modules, and resources available at each university. 

It’s worth noting that PPE (Philosophy, Politics, Economics) and PPL (Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics) are courses that are unique to Oxford, whilst HSPS (Human, Social, and Political Sciences) is unique to Cambridge. Similarly, Cambridge offers Veterinary Medicine, whilst Oxford does not.

One of our Cambridge students mentioned that she was choosing between Classics at Cambridge or Classics and English at Oxford. She preferred the breadth of the course at Cambridge which is what solidified her decision. 

If you are unsure what specific course you would like to study, then you can check out Oxford and Cambridge’s available courses and get a feel for what you would enjoy and excel at.  

We have made undergraduate and postgraduate tables for both Oxford and Cambridge – clearly laying out their courses and entry requirements for easy comparison. Check them out! 

Also note, that if you’re seeking range and flexibility, or if you’re still unsure about what subject you want to hone in on most then Cambridge could be a good fit for you. The university’s unique ‘Tripos’ system allows students to study various subjects before specialising. 

Subject specialisations at Oxbridge  

It’s also worth considering which subjects Oxford and Cambridge are known for and whether this marries up with your interests.  

Oxford is particularly acclaimed for its Humanities, Social Sciences, and Life Sciences programmes. This especially includes Oxford’s Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), English Literature, History, and Law courses. 

Cambridge excels particularly in Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Cambridge particularly stands out for Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering courses.  

Check the libraries and databases available at Oxford and Cambridge; which has better resources for your subject and research interests? 

Grade requirements & acceptance rates 

When it comes to Oxbridge admissions, grades are expected and considered before anything else. In short, Oxford and Cambridge expect you to have their required grades, and even then, having them might not be enough. Most applicants have outstanding grades so matching or exceeding your competitors’ academic standing is recommended.  

However, it’s important to note that Oxford has one grade requirement lower than Cambridge e.g. Oxford typically asks for AAA-A*AA whereas Cambridge typically asks for A*AA-A*A*A. Hence, you might want to apply to Oxford if you only just meet Cambridge’s grade requirements, or fall a little below them. Although, it’s worth noting that, for this reason, more people can apply to Oxford than Cambridge so the best way to stand out academically is by exceeding the average. 

It goes without saying that both Oxford and Cambridge are competitive universities and don’t differ much in their competitiveness for most courses. Still, it’s worth checking your course’s acceptance rates at Oxford and Cambridge for an idea of which university receives the most applications for this course and might be slightly more competitive.

To compare grade requirements and acceptance rates for each course at Oxford and Cambridge, look at our tables.

Extra steps

You should note that Cambridge has an additional form to Oxford called the MyCapp. This form asks further questions, requires further academic details (such as transcripts) and even offers the opportunity for you to attach a personal statement that is specific to your course at Cambridge. Consequently, Cambridge could be a good option for you if you want the chance to speak to your university directly about why you’d be a good fit and discuss the specifics of your course at Cambridge. 

Yes, this additional step requires further work and effort, but it’s also a great opportunity to stand out that’s not offered by Oxford. However, you don’t have to write a new personal statement for the MyCapp so don’t let this put you off – and writing to repeat yourself or for the sake of it could weaken your application.  

Check out our MyCapp guide here

Admissions tests 

Both Oxford and Cambridge require admissions tests for many of their courses. Obviously, achieving a high score on these tests is important and will boost your application.   

However, once you know your course, it’s worth comparing the required admissions test for both Oxford and Cambridge. It could be the same test, however, if it’s different, try out practice tests to decide which you could excel at most. 

Generally, Cambridge’s admissions tests are more essay-focused whereas Oxford is more revolved around critical thinking and multiple choice questions.

We have an article which clearly specifies all the Oxbridge admissions tests. You can read it here

Also, note that both Oxford and Cambridge usually conduct their admission tests before the interview or during the interview. If this is the case with your course, Oxbridge will not see your admission test score (or assess you themselves) until after they have offered you an interview. So, if you score highly, your interview should go more positively. If you don’t, it’ll be an uphill battle that you’ll need to compensate for in the interview. 

Note for Maths applicants: Cambridge asks its Maths applicants to complete the STEP, whilst Oxford asks them to complete the MAT. The STEP is significantly more difficult than the MAT because it assumes that you have completed your whole A Levels Maths and Further Maths courses by that point, rather than regular AS Maths like the MAT.

We have a top-tier team of tutors with plenty of experience in helping students smash their admissions tests. Reach out for coaching from an expert admissions test tutor.  

Interviews  

Typically, Oxford and Cambridge conduct interviews as part of their admissions process. So, if you’re set on studying at Oxbridge, interviews will probably be unavoidable. You’ll need to polish your interviewing skills to be sure that this element does not become your stumbling block.  

It’s important to note that Cambridge interviews most of their applicants (75%) who meet the academic requirements, thus their final decision is often based on the interview itself.  

Oxford, however, interviews 45% of their applicants. That’s a whole 25% less than Cambridge! This is because Oxford takes a slightly more holistic approach to admissions. Oxford considers your prior academic attainment, your predicted grades, your admissions test score and/or written work (if applicable), and finally your interview. Oxford’s focus is more spread out. 

This doesn’t mean that either application process is “easier”. It only means that you might want to consider whether you are an all-around strong candidate or whether you have particular areas in which you excel.   

For Oxford, each step of the admissions process holds equal value and should be polished so that your profile is well-rounded.  

For Cambridge, you will probably get an interview if you meet the entry requirements. Hence, you could win them over with your interview if you perform well here.  

Tip for Maths applicants: Most Cambridge Maths applicants are interviewed because the entrance exams aren’t until Summer, whereas the Oxford entrance exams happen before interviews. Meaning, that fewer Oxford Maths applicants actually get to interviews. So, if you’re not so confident about smashing the admissions test but you know you’ll ace the interview, Cambridge could be a better option for you. Whereas, if you know your admissions test score would win you an interview, then Oxford could be a better choice. 

Worried about your interview? Here, at The Profs, we have expert interview coaches. We even have Oxbridge interview specialists who are Oxbridge alumni or have worked in Oxbridge admissions before and know exactly what your Oxbridge interviewer will be looking for. Don’t take a gamble with your interview – maximise your chances with our guidance.  

Careers and networking opportunities 

Studying at either Oxford or Cambridge will open many doors with employers. Both also offer fantastic networking opportunities.  

Oxford’s Careers Service provides extensive support to students, including career fairs, skills workshops, and a comprehensive job database. Cambridge also offers robust career support, with numerous industry engagement opportunities. 

Research your department at both Oxford and Cambridge and have a look at what professors you could be working with. Are some professors more relevant to your goals than others; do some appear better connected than others?   

Try reaching out to these professors and building a rapport to see whether you’re a good fit but also to network and have names you can mention in your application. Having a good rapport with existing professors can be very helpful in the admissions process.  

You might decide to apply to the university with a professor who has your back in the admissions process or would offer you more opportunities in your field.  

When you research your discipline and department at each university, also keep note of what events allowing for networking would be on offer. If one university offers more industry, careers and social events for your discipline, this could be a better fit for you and your goals. 

Alumni networks 

Oxford’s alumni network is vast and influential, with many former students holding prominent positions in academia, politics, business, and the arts. Cambridge’s alumni network is equally prestigious, with many alumni achieving success in fields like science, technology, and public service. So, you might want to consider which university has the best hotbed for alumni in your field. 

Cambridge and Oxford host alumni events: as Cambridge alumni, you can attend their alumni festival and as Oxford alumni, you might attend their Meeting Minds event. Oxford and Cambridge also offer an array of support services. Long after you graduate, you can remain an active participant in your college and the general university community! Check out the different events and resources available to decide what alumni network appeals more to you. 

There is even an exclusive Oxford and Cambridge club located in the heart of London with access to all alumni.  

Financial considerations, funding, and scholarships 

University is expensive and Oxbridge in particular has expensive halls and catering services. Not to mention, many of their events and societies can be costly. It is also worth noting that both Oxford and Cambridge place limitations on the number of hours that students are allowed to work. So, if you have limited funds, this is certainly worth taking into consideration. 

Historically, Oxbridge has traditionally accepted students from high-income backgrounds who have received privileged education (often private) and might have well-connected families. However, this is something that is undeniably changing, and Oxbridge is making visible efforts to diversify its student body and become accessible to students from any background no matter how disadvantaged – so long as they have true academic potential. 

Oxbridge offers a range of scholarships and bursaries for both domestic and international students. The universities also provide financial support for students from lower-income backgrounds, as well as advice to help students manage their finances. They also offer application fee waivers (Cambridge waiver & Oxford waiver), and they are even willing to bend their employability rules depending on your circumstances. So, don’t let lack of finances put you off Oxbridge as there is no reason why this should still be an obstruction.  

There is more information on Cambridge scholarships here, and Oxford scholarships here

If you are interested in widening participation, there is information available here for Oxford and here for Cambridge

Location, campus culture and student life 

Both Oxford and Cambridge are beautiful cities with historic buildings and an easy one-hour commute to London. Each university offers a plethora of societies and activities to keep students entertained – you can peruse these on Oxford and Cambridge’s websites.  

Oxford’s collegiate system fosters a tight-knit community. The university city is known for its lively arts scene, with plenty of theatres, galleries, and music venues. It also offers more shops, bars and clubs than Cambridge. Oxford’s debating society, the Oxford Union, is world-renowned and regularly hosts high-profile speakers. 

Cambridge has a quieter, more rural feel compared to Oxford; it’s greener and has easy access to the countryside. River Cam is famous for its punting! Cambridge University has a vibrant student life, an active music scene, and a strong focus on traditions such as formal halls and May Balls. 

Also, Cambridge runs through a “family” system where students gain Cambridge fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and/or wives/husbands. This serves to connect students with a strong support system on the campus.  

Look carefully and consider everything. One of our Cambridge students told us that the choral trials are what swayed her. Whilst Oxford and Cambridge both offer choral awards, she didn’t like that Oxford conducts its choral trials before the admissions interview.

Check out the campus (via virtual events, in-person open days or programmes for secondary school students) and decide what fits you best. 

You might decide to attend Oxford’s (UNIQ) or Cambridge’s (Sutton Trust) summer school to gain a better insight into which university’s learning style and social scene suits you the most.

So, Should I choose Cambridge or Oxford University?  

Ultimately, the answer to this is personal and unique to you.  

Your preference often comes down to personal fit, such as differences in entry requirements, the application process, course options, resources, departments, professors, campus and networking/career/alumni opportunities. All of these factors are important but you may value some over others. Also, consider where you would feel most comfortable. 

Still unsure? Reach out to our expert Oxbridge admissions team who can assess your individual circumstances and advise you on which university to choose as well as which one you have the best shot at. We can improve your application and maximise your chances of success! 

Get 1-to-1 guidance from an expert admissions tutor 

At the Profs, we have many admissions consultants who can guide you through the process of applying to Oxbridge, as well as LSE, Imperial, and other top universities. Your future can be trusted in our hands. 95% of our applicants receive an offer from their first or second-choice universities. 

In fact, our Oxbridge applicants are over 3x more likely to receive an offer than the national average! Why not join our winning team? 

We can even support you in your wider degree-level education, helping you with everything from writing your dissertation to applying for postgraduate courses.  

Reach out to our friendly team today to access our dedicated support. 

FAQs

Is one university better than the other for certain subjects?

While both universities offer a wide range of subjects, they each have areas of particular strength. Oxford is often recognised for Humanities, Social Sciences, and Life Sciences, while Cambridge is particularly strong in Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

How competitive are the admissions processes at Oxford and Cambridge?

Both Oxford and Cambridge have highly competitive admissions processes, requiring top grades and additional application materials for many subjects (such as admission tests, written work/portfolios and interviews). However, each university offers extensive guidance and support to prospective students throughout the application process.

What are the differences in student life between Oxford and Cambridge?

Student life at both universities is vibrant but different. Cambridge is known for its quiet and rural scenery with River Cam, which is famous for its punting. Whilst Oxford is known for its lively arts scene and debating society. It also has more bars and clubs than Cambridge. Both cities are beautiful with historic buildings, and lots of traditions and opportunities.

Do Oxford and Cambridge provide similar career support and opportunities?

Both universities offer comprehensive career services and have strong alumni networks. They provide industry engagement opportunities, skills workshops, job databases, and other resources to help students explore and prepare for their future careers.