The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have a great deal in common, including their collegiate structure, personalised teaching methods and wealth of resources available to students.
There are some differences between the two institutions which we will explain below. For more detailed information about each University, please see their Undergraduate Prospectus or get in touch:
Both institutions are involved in a range of outreach activities including the regional Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences, which provide a great deal of information about both universities.
Choosing a course
Oxford and Cambridge universities agree that the most important decision a prospective applicant has to make is the degree they wish to study, not which university they want to apply to. So it is important to read the course details carefully for any subject you are interested in. You will be studying for several years, so it's important to choose something that you are really passionate about.
Oxford and Cambridge courses tend to be traditional academic courses, with a strong emphasis on personalised teaching. Formal assessment is often 100% based on examinations.
Both universities are committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds.
Choosing between Oxford and Cambridge
It is not possible to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same admissions round, so students will have to choose one or the other. Both universities are world-renowned in teaching and research in both arts and science subjects, so the decision is largely an individual one.
Some courses are offered at one of the universities but not the other. Check each institution’s Undergraduate Prospectus/website for details of courses on offer. However, it is important to be aware that courses with a similar title at the two universities may be different in content. It is therefore important for students to check the course details to see which one will suit them best.
Both Oxford and Cambridge universities are made up of individual colleges, as well as different subject departments. A college will be a student's home and their central focus of teaching for much of their time at university. Each college will have a diverse range of students - usually including both undergraduate and graduate students - studying across a range of subject areas.
The college system offers the benefits of belonging to a large internationally renowned university, and also to a smaller, interdisciplinary academic college community. You will have access to your college's facilities, such as extensive library and IT provision, as well as the resources of the wider university.
Each college offers an excellent standard of teaching and very high academic standards. Both universities work hard to ensure that the best students are successful in gaining a place, whichever college they've applied to. This means that you may be interviewed by more than one college and you may receive an offer from any of them. If you would prefer not to choose a college, you can make an open application.
Teaching methods are very similar at both universities, as students will attend lectures, classes and laboratory work as appropriate for their course. Unlike at many other universities, students at Oxford and Cambridge also benefit from highly personalised teaching time with experts in their field. The only difference is in the name: Oxford refers to these sessions as ‘tutorials’ while Cambridge calls them ‘supervisions’.
Students are required to prepare an essay or other piece of work in advance for these sessions and then meet with their tutor to discuss the work, perhaps with one or two other students. All tutors are specialists or suitably qualified or experienced so this time is extremely valuable to students in developing their understanding of the subject.
Students at both Oxford and Cambridge are assessed informally throughout their course by producing work for their tutors/supervisors for tutorials/supervisions which usually take place weekly. Formal assessment is almost entirely based on examinations although in the final year of many courses one examination paper can be replaced with a dissertation.
At Oxford the final degree classification result is usually based on the examinations taken at the end of the final year. Cambridge students, in contrast, are assessed through examinations in more than one year of their course.
How to apply
All students must apply through UCAS by 15 October.
Cambridge also asks all applicants to complete an online Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) or Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA) after submission of their UCAS application to ensure consistent information about all applicants. There may be different deadlines for students wishing to be interviewed overseas.
Oxford does not require students to complete any extra forms.
You may also need to take a written test as part of your application, or perhaps submit some written work. If your application is shortlisted, you will be invited to the relevant university for interview.
The Extenuating Circumstances Form, which has replaced the Cambridge Special Access Scheme, gives teachers the opportunity to provide contextual information about applicants so they can be fairly assessed. In addition, Cambridge admissions tutors are provided with publicly available school performance data to help them contextualise educational achievement when considering applications.
Oxford encourages teachers to include details of any special circumstances or other relevant information in the main UCAS application. Oxford also uses publicly available information to indicate those applicants who may have experienced educational or socio-economic disadvantages. Where applicants demonstrate the necessary academic aptitude for Oxford, they are likely to be considered for interview and seen in addition to students identified through the normal shortlisting process.
Many A-level applicants are predicted to achieve top grades and many also have excellent references. It’s therefore not possible for Oxford or Cambridge to select the best students based on their UCAS applications alone. Each university has a slightly different approach to differentiating between applicants.
Oxford asks applicants for most of its courses to take a test as part of their application. Tutors then shortlist applicants based on students’ applications and performance in the test. Where applications are around three per place, most applicants are shortlisted. For the most competitive degrees, far fewer will be shortlisted, to allow those who most closely meet the selection criteria to have multiple interviews. AS-level grades and Uniform Mark Scheme (UMS) scores are not a key element in shortlisting.
Cambridge makes less use of pre-interview tests and interview around 80% of their undergraduate applicants. AS-level grades and UMS scores are considered, alongside all the other information available to selectors, both in deciding which applicants will be invited to interview and which will be offered a place. Only applicants for medicine and veterinary medicine are required to take a test before interview.
Tests before interview
All students applying for the standard medicine course (A100) at either university, must register to take the BMAT as part of their application, as must candidates for the graduate entry medicine course (A101) at Oxford.
All students applying for the veterinary medicine course (D100) at Cambridge or Biomedical Sciences at Oxford (BC98) must also register to take the BMAT as part of their application.
Oxford requires applicants to take written tests before interview in most other subjects. Please note that separate registration is required. These tests are usually taken in your school or college.
Tests at interview
Cambridge requires some applicants to take tests during the interview period.
Both universities require some applicants to submit samples of written work as part of their application. At Oxford the deadline for the submission of this work is 10 November. Applicants to Cambridge will be advised by their college when it needs to be submitted.
The purpose and structure of these interviews is very similar at both universities. Essentially they are rather like a mini tutorial or supervision, where the tutors will give students a small passage to read or perhaps set a small problem and then ask the student to discuss it.
Contrary to many popular myths about such interviews, there are no tricks or mind games involved. The interview is for tutors to get a sense of how the student reacts to new situations and how they process the information available. It is not a matter of how quickly - or even whether - the student arrives at the right answer. There may not even be a right answer. The tutors just want to get an insight into how the student thinks.
Make sure you expect to achieve the required A-levels, International Baccalaureate (IB) grades or other equivalent qualifications. There may also be specific subject requirements for particular courses, especially in the sciences.
Conditional offers for Oxford range between A*A*A and AAA (depending on the subject) at A-level or 38-40 in the IB, including core points. Certain grades may be required at Higher Level.
The standard A-level offer for Cambridge is A*A*A for sciences courses (excluding Psychological and Behavioural Sciences) and A*AA for arts courses or 40-41 in the IB, including core points, with 776 at Higher Level.
Other equivalent qualifications are also welcome.