Has Oxbridge Become More Competitive? 10 Year Review

Over the last 10 years, Oxbridge has become more competitive. Since 2011, there has been a 46% rise in applicants, and the offer rate has decreased from 21% to 16%. Here's our analysis.

Author: Rob Needleman

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Over the last 10 years applying to Oxbridge has become more competitive.

In 2011, nearly 33,000 applicants crossed their fingers and sent their applications to Oxford or Cambridge.

10 years later, there were just under 48,000 applicants, a 46% increase.

Although the number of Oxbridge offers has increased by 1,000 from 2011 to 2021, the number of applicants increased by 15,000, meaning that the offer rate is much lower than 10 years ago (5% lower). As an Oxbridge applicant, this is likely to be the last thing you want to hear.

This article is not here to make you panic, but to highlight just how competitive Oxbridge is and the importance of submitting the strongest application you can. Your application must make you stand out from the growing pool of applicants.

We will start by looking at how competitive Oxbridge is and their individual degrees.

How Competitive is Oxbridge?

With 47,785 applications submitted to Oxbridge in 2021 and 7,820 offers made, this equals an overall offer rate of 16%. In 2011, the offer rate was 21%. Oxbridge is getting more competitive.

Of course, 16% does not mean anything without context, so let’s look at other prestigious UK universities.

Durham offer success rate

Durham is widely known as a prestigious university, but the offer rate is considerably higher than Oxbridge. In 2021, 20,075 home students applied and 12,920 students were offered a place on the programme they applied to. This is an offer rate of 64% compared to the Oxbridge 16%.

KCL offer success rate

King’s College London had 68,337 applicants in 2021 and made offers to 37,422 students. Therefore, their offer rate was around 55%. This is, again, much higher than the Oxbridge offer rate.

Edinburgh offer success rate

Edinburgh was ranked in 12th place on the Complete University Guide 2022 League Table. In 2021, 68,954 students applied and 32,432 offers were made, which was a 47% offer rate.

It is clear, from comparisons with top UK universities, that Oxbridge is incredibly competitive. However, success rates vary between the two Universities, so how competitive are they individually?

What does this mean for me?

If you are an Oxbridge applicant or aiming to apply in a few years’ time, it is crucial that you appreciate how competitive applying to Oxford and Cambridge really is.

By this, we don’t mean understanding that, in general, only 14% of applicants receive an Oxford offer. We mean appreciating that in order to enter this small pool of offer holders, the application you send to Oxbridge has to be watertight, i.e. a high score on the Admissions Test, a strong performance at the Interview, good predicted grades and a perfect Personal Statement.   

The best thing you can do to maximise your chances of offer success is to start preparing early and ensure you understand what the Admissions Tutors look for. If you are serious about Oxbridge, then it might be worth seeking expert support from those with intimate Oxbridge admissions knowledge who can provide a unique and tailored approach that suits your strengths and weaknesses of you individually.

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How Competitive is Oxford?

In 2021, the offer rate was 14%, which is very low when you consider that 86% of applicants did not receive an offer.

2011-2021 oxford offer success rate
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Applications to Oxford have grown steadily over the past decade, with only a very small levelling off in the early part of the decade. This is despite the number of UK school leavers staying roughly the same, so there is no demographic reason for this growth.

How Competitive is Cambridge?

In 2021, the offer rate for Cambridge was just over 18%, which is very competitive when you consider that 82% of applicants did not receive an offer (nearly 19,000 applicants out of 23,140).

2011-2021 cambridge offer success rate
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Is Oxford or Cambridge more competitive?

In 2021, the Oxford offer rate was 14% and just over 18% for Cambridge, so Oxford is currently more competitive, but that gap is closing. This can mostly be attributed to Cambridge’s faster growth in places, as Cambridge has grown by around 1,000 places a year in the past decade, while Oxford has added barely 100.

In 2011, Oxford made 3,481 offers compared to Cambridge’s 3,274. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, Oxford made 3,895 compared to Cambridge’s 4,694. It is important to take into account the high number of reapplicants deferring entry due to COVID. The increased number of applicants from 2021 onwards will likely be attributed to this. 

As neither university has meaningfully increased the number of places available, offer rates at both universities have fallen by around 5 percentage points. Compared with a decade ago, it is now around 30% more difficult to get into Oxbridge.

You might be wondering how this affects you individually, more specifically, the degree you are applying to. We’ll review this now.

Oxford Courses Competitiveness

Philosophy, Politics and Economics

The trend is even more noticeable with the most popular and competitive subjects – the number of places for PPE has barely moved, but the number of students competing for them has risen by over 40%.

PPE Oxford offer rate
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Oxford Physics

The number of places for physics has barely moved even though applications have almost doubled, going from 893 in 2011 to 1,646 in 2020. That’s 753 extra applications for 23 extra places.

oxford Physics offer rate
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Oxford Mathematics

In the case of maths, we see the number of applicants almost double between 2013 and 2020.

maths oxford offer rates
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Oxford Engineering

The number of Engineering places has barely moved, but the number of students competing for them has risen by over 40%.

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Economics and Management

Regardless of how popular a course is, the number of places offered barely moves. E&M has always been very competitive, but that has gone from an 8.5% chance to 6.5%.

Economics Management Oxford offer rates
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 A small move in point terms, but a really big difference in relative terms.

Oxford Law

Even where levels of change have been smaller, we still see 25% growth in applications across the decade, while offers grow around 7%.

Oxford Law offer rates
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Cambridge Courses Competitiveness

Natural Sciences

We see a 20% growth here in offers in the most popular subject at either university. Although the offer number has increased, due to the increased applications, the offer rate has stayed at 24% in 2011 and 2020.  The good news is that it has not become much more competitive through the increasing number of applicants.

Cambridge natural sciences offer rates
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Cambridge Engineering

Including the engineering specialisations, there were close to 900 extra applications in 2020 compared with 2011. Although the applicants have increased by nearly 900, the number of offers has only increased by 113, so the offer rate has decreased from 19%, in 2011, to 17% in 2020, making Cambridge Engineering more competitive.

Cambridge engineering offer rate
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Computer Science

Computer science is the complete opposite compared to Law and Natural Sciences. The places have not increased, so the offer rate has halved from an already low 19.9%, in 2011, to an incredibly competitive 9.6% in 2020. This is now one of the most competitive science courses in the UK, alongside the Medicine Graduate Course.

Click the chart to enlarge.

We highlighted the importance of context earlier. The University of St Andrews comes in third for UK Computer Science degrees. Looking at their admissions statistics for Computer Science, 214 of the 967 applicants that applied gained an offer which is 22%. This is over 12% higher than Cambridge’s offer rate.

Cambridge Mathematics

Maths is one of the rare subjects where places actually grow! There was a 21% offer rate in 2011, then a big growth in places to give a 40% offer rate in 2015. But even that has fallen back to 33% in 2020 – you can double the size of an incoming class, but half that increase is eaten away by competition in just six years.

Click the chart to enlarge.

Cambridge Law

Similar to Natural Sciences, Law has managed to maintain a steady offer rate even though the number of applicants has grown (19.1% offer rate in 2011, 18.7% in 2020).

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Cambridge Economics

For Cambridge Economics, there are minimal changes in offer rates and a modest applicant growth. The course is still very competitive though with a 14% offer rate in 2020.

Click the chart to enlarge.

Conclusion

It is clear, from comparisons with top UK universities, that Oxbridge is incredibly competitive and individually, some of the degrees are much more competitive such as the 9.6% offer rate for Cambridge Computer Science and 6.5% offer rate for Oxford E&M.

As we said at the start, this article is not here to make you panic, but to highlight just how competitive Oxbridge is and the importance of submitting the strongest application you can.

Our final advice is to start your preparation early so you can start finding the stronger and weaker areas of your application, to give you ample time to focus on them and bring them up to ‘Oxbridge standard’.

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We only utilise tutors who were in the top 10% in their Admissions Test and have successfully negotiated the Oxbridge admissions marathon.

There’s a reason we are able to maintain an Oxbridge success rate of 61% compared to the 16% average.

From Architecture to Medicine, we have the right Programme for you to Perfect your Personal Statement, Maximise your Admissions Test score and help you Interview like a Pro

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