The historic Oxbridge rivalry stems from the basic similarities between the universities: they're both really old, they have weird traditions, some famous people went there, and they take rowing *very* seriously. However, whilst the pretty architecture and pomp may convince you of their similarity, the uni experience at both are dependent on a number of factors.
OXFORD VS. CAMBRIDGE: IS THERE A WINNER?
Students are allowed to only apply to one of Oxford and Cambridge, and many find it difficult to discern how their differences may affect their university experience. Whilst it would be easy to use a centuries-old boat race as a quick determinant of the next 3-4 years of your life, we advise taking into account factors that really matter: the nature of your course, the admissions process and general life at each uni.
The biggest difference between the two places is the vibe of the cities themselves. Both Oxford and Cambridge are compact places with everything being a short walk or bike ride away. Oxford’s superior bus system to Cambridge can be useful but not often enough to make a difference. Oxford is undoubtedly livelier and bigger whilst Cambridge is thought of as smaller and more picturesque. The architecture of both universities is stunning, and both offer memorable views. After London, Oxford and Cambridge are two of the most expensive places to live as a student, even with the college subsidisation of living and food costs. Here, Oxford ranks higher with a living cost of around £12,000 per year and Cambridge being around £9,600.
In terms of proximity and access to London, both Oxford and Cambridge are similar. However, many students applying from elsewhere in the UK may want to factor in the accessibility of the two universities. This may especially be important due to colleges often requiring students to move out of their rooms during the holidays. For example, whilst there is a direct train from Manchester to Oxford, reaching Cambridge requires a change and can take more than 4 hours.
Neither university has much to boast about when it comes to nightlife. Oxbridge students have to regularly convince themselves that higher job prospects are more important than a fun night out. Whilst Oxford and Cambridge club scenes leave a lot to be desired, once your expectations are lowered, nights out can lead to countless drunken memories and can be loads of fun. Oxford’s nightlife, although below average in general offers clubs of greater variety and scale than Cambridge. Whether you’re looking for cheese at Park End or the underground scene at Bullingdon, Oxford nightlife has something for everyone. (Summary: Park End>Cindies)
The biggest factor that ought to decide this question for a prospective student is your course choice. Your course must be right for you and both Oxford and Cambridge structure their courses differently.
Both universities have strong research heritage and are two highly academic institutions and this plays a part in the nature of courses at both universities. There are some courses that are not offered by the other, such as Veterinary Medicine and Architecture at Cambridge and Art and Design at Oxford. Additionally, whilst Oxford offers the sciences in their purest form (e.g. 4-year courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics) Cambridge’s flagship 3-year science degree, Natural Sciences, allows students to study a variety of subjects before specialising in later years. If you are an aspiring politician, then Oxford’s prestigious PPE course may appeal to you to help get you on the path to No. 10.
Both Oxford and Cambridge have a tutorial-style of teaching and consistently rank highly in annual world rankings; however, rankings are not a reliable way to inform your university choice. There is also little difference in employability post-graduation between the two, the Oxbridge name carries a lot of weight in any job application. Instead look at subject-specific information such as student-staff ratio, student satisfaction, number of places per year, course flexibility etc. These give you a clearer picture of which university offers your course in the way that suits you.
The admissions process for Oxford and Cambridge, although different to the rest of the country’s universities widely, follow an almost identical system to each other. In general, applicants for both universities must apply by an earlier deadline (15th October), sit an admissions test for their subject, and if shortlisted must interview in early December.
Each application however is assessed differently between the two universities. For Oxford, most subjects, apart from the sciences, require an admissions test (HAT, PAT, TSA, MAT, BMAT, ELAT etc.) Cambridge on the other hand require pre-interview assessments for a handful of subjects with other subjects requiring at-interview tests instead. Cambridge take into account UMS scores and A-Level grades during their shortlisting process to decide which applicants should be interviewed. Oxford, on the other hand, focus more on admissions test scores and GCSEs. Cambridge also tend to interview 75% of their applicants, a higher proportion than Oxford. This proportion is even smaller for Oxford’s most competitive courses such as PPE and Medicine. Although Cambridge interview more people, those who get offers could need to get grades of A*A*A to A*AA, whereas Oxford are unlikely to give offers for 2A*s. If your subject is likely to offer higher grades then you may want to take this into consideration, especially if you study 3 subjects.
Although the admissions process should not be the principle factor upon which you decide, it may be a deciding factor if you are torn and want to maximise your chances of getting an offer.