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Oxford vs. Cambridge: what’s the right university for you?

Posted: 28th January 2019 09:36

Oxford and Cambridge are two of the most highly regarded universities both in the UK and around the world, placing 5th (Oxford) and 6th (Cambridge) in the QS’ Best World Universities League Tables. Both universities have fantastic resources for its students and industry-leading professors but, you cannot apply to both universities in the same year, you need to choose where to go. Contrary to what many people think, the two universities have quite a lot of things in common with each other however, they do have some differences which could ultimately help you decide which university is right one for you.

Courses Offered

The major difference between the two universities is the courses they offer. Although they provide many similar courses, there are some which are exclusively offered at Oxford and vice versa. Out of the 48 main academic subjects you can study at university, Oxford provides 38 of them and Cambridge 39, the most notable of these is Veterinary Science and Architecture. Oxford does not offer those two courses to its students meaning that if you decide you want to (or need to) study one of those courses at a degree level, then you should choose Cambridge.

Subject Strength

As with most universities and schools, ‘Oxbridge’ do have variations in their subject strengths. Oxford is considered to have a stronger humanities department than Cambridge, particularly as the PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) course they offer is one of the most prestigious in the country. Cambridge is better at the Sciences, Engineering and Technology, especially considering the students of the university won 95 Nobel Prizes – one of the most respected science awards in the world. However, according to QS’ World Subject Strength Rankings, the difference in their strengths is minute. Subject strength should be considered but your decision should be more based around what material is covered.


The most notable difference between the universities is location. They are both quaint cities that are rich in history but they offer different experiences for the students. This makes it one of the most important factors in choosing your university. Oxford is a much livelier city; there is a much more active nightlife and more cultural elements to the city (with a wealth of museums). Cambridge is much more picturesque. The university is surrounded by a beautiful countryside and a river that flows through the heart of the city, creating a more relaxed environment for its students. The choice is down to preference.


Both universities employ a collegiate system, a unique part of both the universities, which act as student accommodation for the undergraduates and graduates. Rather than being one big unit, the university consists of lots of individual colleges that students stay in, which create smaller communities. Like houses, the colleges are slightly different to each other and it is down to preference to which one you choose. The colleges do not affect the subject material of your chosen course as that is decided by the university itself but, it can affect some of the fees you have to pay.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees vary depending on where the student comes from. If you live in the UK or are part of the EU, then your tuition fees will be substantially lower than non-EU students, regardless of which university you go to. Students who have also travelled to the UK from overseas will also have to pay an added ‘college fee’ on top of their tuition fees – £7,570 for Oxford and £6,510-£12,700 for Cambridge – which is also be applied to UK/EU graduates. Oxford’s tuition fees are generally lower than Cambridge’s however their advised living costs are higher due to the location of the city.

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