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Oxford or Cambridge?

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Tough question. As the UK’s oldest and most famous universities, Oxford and Cambridge share a rivalry which dates back more than 800 years ago. They share a great deal in common - collegiate system, tutorial-system and centuries old traditions. But that is pretty much where the similarities end. 

King's College, University of Cambridge

Now if you think you have got the brains to apply to Oxford and Cambridge, you might be disappointed to find out that you can only apply to one (the rivalry continues). You can only put one of them down on your UCAS form. 

So how do you go about deciding this? What are the factors that you should be taking into account to make a choice? Here is some insight about Oxbridge and what sets them apart from each other. 


Here are some stats for you from  QS World University Rankings® 2020 for both Oxford and Cambridge:


  • Ranked fourth in the world
  • Ranked third in the world with academics and employers
  • Eighth in the world for faculty/student ratio
  • 45th for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 64th for the percentage of international faculty members, and 50th for international students

University of Oxford


  • Ranked seventh in the world
  • Ranked second in the world by academics and second by employers
  • 10th in the world for faculty/student ratio
  • 74th for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 58th for percentage of international faculty members and international students

In the QS World University Rankings 2020, the University of Oxford outranked Cambridge marginally. However, bear in mind that at this level, the differences between institutions are generally very minor. 

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge

You can often find Oxford or Cambridge alternating between first and second place in these annual university league tables. Needless to say that both of these institutions are regarded highly by employers and academics internationally. 

Oxford has a slightly higher score for citations per faculty member. This is used as an indicator to reflect the influence attained by research produced at each university. 

Oxford also has a stronger score when it comes to the faculty-student ratio (number of students per academic staff member). However, both Oxford and Cambridge are the top 10 in the world for this. They are famously known for their commitment to small group teaching (tutorials) and individual supervision.

The Course

Now let’s forget the rankings, the dreamy spires of Oxford and the green spaces of Cambridge for a minute. It’s time to really dig deep and dissect the degree courses that the two offer. Spoiler alert: they are not the same.

Unfortunately, both of the universities don’t offer all the courses. Although there is some overlap, there are some courses you can’t do at both. For example, you can only study PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) at Oxford. You can also read joint courses at Oxford. However, you can’t do them at Cambridge.

There are also significant differences when it comes to science degrees. At Cambridge, you can only apply to the Natural Science Tripos (NatSci). This allows you to choose a range of scientific courses, instead of specialising in a single science course. On the other hand, Oxford only offers single-subject science courses (like the rest of the country).

Furthermore, you can take a joint degree at Oxford. However, at Cambridge, you can’t study a combined degree although you might be able to do a module in another subject area.

The key is to thoroughly go through the course that interests you with a magnifying glass. Look at the modules that each degree has. Will you have an opportunity to study the modules that interest you? Visit the different departments at open days. Talk to professors and current students about the course to find out more.

Oxford vs Cambridge - Which City is Better?

Although both Oxford and Cambridge have stunning architecture and rivers running through the city centres, they are pretty different cities. They are relatively small and compact places to live, easily navigable on foot or (more popularly) by cycling. 

River Cam, Cambridge

Oxford is livelier, busier and more clogged by traffic. It is a city whereas Cambridge is a town. Oxford has a bit more going on whereas Cambridge has got more of a small town kind of feel. Cambridge is prettier and greener, but lacks much variety.

Both Oxford and Cambridge are about an hour away from London. It is probably a good idea to devote half a day to wandering around both the cities. You will either love the hustle and bustle of Oxford, or long for something a bit more laid back in Cambridge.


Both Oxford and Cambridge are made up of colleges. Oxford has more than forty whereas Cambridge has more than thirty. Prospective students either apply to a particular college or make an ‘open’ application.

The atmosphere within Oxford and Cambridge varies significantly from college to college. Therefore, it is not just Oxford and Cambridge you have to size up, but the different colleges too. 

Oriel College, University of Oxford

Both Universities offer general institution-wide open days where you can visit departments and different colleges. Also look out for open day activities organised by the individual colleges themselves.


Cambridge is considered the more 'sciencey' one. Oxford, on the other hand, is thought to be better for the humanities. However, both are equally renowned for their science and humanities subjects so don't base your decision solely on this!

To add to the list of stereotypes, Oxford is often considered more conservative and Cambridge more progressive. However, this might be more dictated by which college you attend. Certain colleges are known for being more conservative than others and vice versa. 

Bridge of Sighs, Oxford

Diversity in Oxford and Cambridge

Both Oxford and Cambridge are often grilled for lacking ethnic diversity. This might also vary between colleges. However, in recent years, both universities have launched access programmes for people belonging to ethnic minorities that are underrepresented at these institutions. 

Fees and Living Costs

Both Oxford and Cambridge charge different tuition fees depending on whether students are from within the European Union or not. Students from the UK are generally charged £9,250 annually. 

Living costs at Oxford and Cambridge differ. Oxford advises students to allow between £12,168 and £18,655 per year for living costs, including accommodation, food, study resources, socialising and other items. Cambridge recommends a minimum of £10,950 per year for living expenses. 

Financial Support

The cost of attending Oxford and Cambridge does build up. Undergraduate students from the UK/EU can apply for financial support from the UK government in the form of student loans. These cover tuition fees and which is paid directly to the universities. These loans only have to be repaid once the student starts earning above a certain amount per annum (currently £25,000). Full-time UK undergraduate students can also apply for maintenance loans which help cover living expenses. 

Homerton College, University of Cambridge

Both Oxford and Cambridge also have a range of scholarships and financial support schemes in place. For example, Cambridge offers bursaries of up to £3,500 per year to UK and EU undergraduates. 

Both universities also offer other funding opportunities and scholarships. They have different eligibility criteria and depend on the course and nationality of the student.

Traditions at Oxford and Cambridge

At last, we come to the famous traditions at Oxford and Cambridge. Both institutions stand out having held on to so many historic elements. 

One of these is the use of Latin at special ceremonies, such as matriculation (when you officially join the university), graduation, and formal dinners. 

University of Oxford

All of these occasions have another very distinct element of their own - the wearing of gowns! A long time ago only members of the university used to wear these. However, these are now reserved just for special occasions sometimes accompanied by ‘Sub fusc’ (meaning dark or dusky colour in Latin). This is a formal dress code for Oxford students. It requires students to wear black trousers or skirt, white shirt and a white bow tie or black ribbon. 

Oxford students dress in sub fusc during exams. They will also often be seen with a flower pinned to their gowns - a white carnation for the first exam, red for the last, and pink for those in between. 

Oxford or Cambridge - Which One Will it Be?

It all comes down to you at the end about which university you want to go to. Hopefully after reading this article, you have a somewhat clear idea about which institution out of the two you want to apply to. 

Once you have settled on which university to apply for, you also have to decide which college. Bear this in mind when you are deciding between the two.

University of Oxford

So - Oxford or Cambridge?

More Content

Make sure to have a look at our other articles on a range of other interesting topics and much more here:   https://examqa.com/articles/

We have a YouTube channel as well (the fun never ends!). Check out our amazing videos on science, maths and a lot more here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuGRdmg8NcUgn0ymT7-jKNg


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