Oxford vs. Cambridge. Two universities renowned for being world-leading institutions of learning. Which is better?
Although both universities are known for their well-established academic excellence, the intricacies of student life and the similarities and differences between the two giants of academia, are lesser-known. Lizzy Cole, former student, teacher, and resident of Cambridge, explains.
At face value, Oxford and Cambridge are similar institutions: both are world famous, both are super old, and both are competitive to get into. They are also both structured around a collegiate system and have tutorial-style teaching.
The cities are characterised by attractive historic architecture and rivers running through their centres. However, as any Oxbridge graduate will tell you, they are wildly different places in other respects, including the courses they offer, on the subjects they have the strongest reputation for, and where they are located. Since it is not possible to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year, you will have to choose one or the other.
The most famous Oxford and Cambridge sights.
Oxford and Cambridge rankings
In terms of world rankings, Oxford and Cambridge are neck and neck; The Times recently crowned Oxford as first in the world, and Cambridge as second, overall and for research. Meanwhile, Cambridge was placed as third best in the world for its teaching, and Oxford as fifth. Similarly, the QS World University Rankings put Oxford in fifth and Cambridge in sixth overall.
It is important to remember that, on this global level, the differences between Oxford and Cambridge are marginal; they both have seemingly permanent spots in global top 10s and are firmly established among the world’s academic elite as well as in the minds of employers. Indeed, the Oxbridge brand name is powerful; for example, Cambridge was considered second in the world by employers and Oxford third in the QS World University Rankings. If you want to study somewhere with a solid international reputation, an Oxbridge degree is difficult to beat.
Taken from: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2019
Oxford and Cambridge are world-leading in a range of fields. Oxford was placed first in the world for Anthropology, English Language and Literature by the QS World University Rankings. Cambridge was placed first for Anatomy and Physiology. The Times, meanwhile, placed Cambridge above Oxford for Life and Physical Sciences, and Oxford above Cambridge for Social Sciences, Business and Economics.
‘Oxford is for learning, Cambridge is for wit…’, my grandad used to say. Whilst slightly biased as an Oxford man, there is some truth in his statement.
Oxford has a spirit of establishment – for example, it has produced countless Prime Ministers and MPs (10 out of the last 13 went there, including David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher), whilst some of the finest comedians and satirists have graduated from Cambridge (think Eric Idle, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Clive Anderson, Hugh Dennis).
Cambridge is also renowned for its scientists – Newton, Darwin and, most recently David Attenborough, are just few of the illustrious alumni. There have been 90 Science Nobel laureates from Cambridge, compared to Oxford’s 55.
What are the different courses offered at Oxford and Cambridge?
This difference is reflected in the courses on offer at Oxford and Cambridge.
Perhaps one of the most prestigious degrees in the country, Oxford’s PPE course (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) attracts those with political ambitions – and many leading politicians studied this.
In contrast, Cambridge has a unique Natural Sciences degree, a three-year course in which students begin by taking a handful of science subjects (almost like an extension of A-level where you take different subjects) before narrowing down and specialising in their later years.
This contrasts to Oxford’s way of teaching science; students select from the outset which science they wish to specialise in (Biology, Chemistry, Physics…) and do a three (or four) year degree in that field.
Oxford and Cambridge both offer a variety of traditional subjects, including Biological and Physical Sciences, Geography, History, Mathematics, Medicine, English, Classics, Linguistics, Law and Engineering. However, there are some degrees that Oxford offer and Cambridge do not, and vice versa. For example, Cambridge is the only one of the two with Architecture and Veterinary Medicine courses, whilst Oxford uniquely offers Art and Design. Check each institution’s undergraduate prospectus and website for details of courses on offer. Moreover, courses with a similar title at the two universities may be different in content, so check the course details carefully to see which one will suit you best.
Indeed, the most important decision you make when applying to university is the degree you are going to study, moreso than the university you are going to study it at. You will be studying for several years, so make sure you choose something you are passionate about! Again, ensure your read the course details carefully and feel sufficiently interested and invested in the subject you are choosing to study.
Another top tip is to keep an open mind and consider areas you have not directly studied before – for example, Cambridge’s Asian and Middle Eastern Studies course and Oxford’s Classics and Oriental Studies course. If you are intrigued by a certain field or course of study, do not be afraid that you are narrowing down your options. Studying these topics will help you to develop analytical abilities and skills attractive to future employers, as evidenced in the chart below. But more on employability later!
Law firms in London’s preferred universities to hire from.
Sciences: Oxford vs Cambridge
Sciences at Oxford and Cambridge are very different. This is a very important point that you must be familiar with.
At Oxford, science courses are taught similarly to other universities such that individual subjects are taught as separate degrees. Whilst it is possible to study for a joint or multidisciplinary degree such as Biomedical Sciences, Biochemistry, Mathematics and Computer Science, it is important to understand that these are all separate entities.
At Cambridge, you take Natural Sciences which is similar to A-Level “Triple Science” where you would be taught a wide variety of subjects without any major specialism for the first year, although you would choose three Science subjects and one Mathematics subject.
Single courses vs. multiple courses
For students who are certain which science they wish to study at university, Oxford would make a far more obvious choice as students will begin studying their chosen subject from day one. This is advantageous over the Cambridge Natural Sciences system as it allows students to immerse themselves fully into a single subject, and explore all its complexities.
However, for students who would like flexibility and the option to try subjects before committing, the Natural Sciences system is by far the best choice. Students in this system are given complete control of their subject choices from the first day, ideal for students who wish to charge of their learning from the beginning. This can be quite intimidating for some, however, for students who have interests covering a wide spectrum of sciences, it is possible to fulfil these under the Natural Sciences system at Cambridge, and to specialise later during the third year.
Science subjects offered within Natural Sciences at Cambridge.
3 or 4-year degrees… and degree classifications?
For the majority of science degrees at Oxford, it is the norm for students to complete 4-year undergraduate degrees and to leave with a Master’s qualification.
Some courses, for example, Chemistry, are only offered as 4-year degrees whereby students may only leave after 3 years in exceptional circumstances after withdrawing from the university. Many other sciences have options to graduate after 3 years, however, the overwhelming majority of students choose to continue to the fourth year. The general requirement to progress to the fourth year is the achievement of a grade 2.2 at the end of the third year.
This is not the case at Cambridge, where the majority of Natural Sciences students graduate after three years, and where progression to the fourth year is different per academic department.
At Oxford, the final degree classification awarded is dependent on the course studied, for example, 4-year undergraduate programs in Physics lead to an MPhys, Earth Sciences to MEarthSci, etc. This is not the case at Cambridge, where students may leave with a Bachelors degree after three years or continue for an MSc Master’s degree.
Which is the right choice?
The right choice between Oxford’s system of single sciences, versus the Cambridge system of Natural Sciences, depends on your personality. Use the summer to fully explore courses at both universities in detail, and make a judgement based on your interests and what is available to you at each university.
Medicine: Oxford vs Cambridge
Oxford and Cambridge are often compared to one another, however, there are more similarities than differences between the two universities. Many students wonder about what the specific differences between the Medicine A100 course at Oxford and Cambridge are like, so this section covers this.
Rather than bore you with pages and pages of information, here’s a quick table that goes through some key factors most students will want to know about.
We won’t talk about all the other differences such as the city and courses as we’ve talked about this throughout the entire article, this is solely for medics;
|Course Teaching||Research and academic knowledge focus.||Research and academic knowledge focus.|
|Number Of Students||~150 students per year||~280 students per year|
|Course Length||6 year course with required intercalated degree/year||6 year course with required intercalated degree/year|
|Entry Requirements||A*AA (generally three science/maths A-levels) and the BMAT||A*A*A (generally three science/maths A-levels) and the BMAT|
|Clinical Years||You can go into clinical training at the start of your 4rd year. Very limited patient contact before your clinical years.||You go into your clinic training at the start of your 4th year. Limited patient contract prior to clinical years.|
|Intercalated Degree Options||You must choose an option from two areas of biomedical science.||You have many options such as Biomedical sciences, any of the Natural Science tripos or a non-core science subject like Philosophy or Anthropology.|
|Interviews||Oxford only interview around 26% of candidates.||Cambridge tend to interview a much higher proportion of candidates, up to 70%.|
|Offer Success Rate||Only 9% of applicants to successful.||Around 16% of applicants to Cambridge medicine are successful.|
|Shared Modules||Yes, you will share some modules with Biomed or biological natural scientists.||Yes, you will share some modules with related degrees such as natural sciences and medical sciences. Some modules are also shared with vets.|
|Dissection||No, Oxford university no longer teaches human anatomy through cadaver dissection students do, however, explore prosections.||Yes, Cambridge do still teach students with a full-body dissection.|
What is the teaching like at Oxford and Cambridge?
Despite their differences, Oxford and Cambridge are very similar in terms of student numbers and the type of education students receive. Oxford has over 20,000 students, and Cambridge around 20,000. This translates into a staff:student ratio of about 1:11 at both Oxford and Cambridge (10.5 at Oxford and 11 at Cambridge). Such a high number of staff is testament, not only to Oxbridge’s research prowess, but their commitment to quality teaching.
Whilst terms are relatively short (8 weeks) compared to other universities (which tend to have 10-14 week terms), they are busy! Expect a packed Monday to Saturday with a combination of lectures, practical/laboratory classes, and small personalised teaching sessions called ‘supervisions’ (Cambridge) or ‘tutorials’ (Oxford).
“Supervisions and tutorials underpin learning at Oxbridge.”
These hour-long sessions, delivered up to four times per week in groups of 2-3 students, are designed to extend students’ understanding above and beyond what is possible from lectures alone. You will be challenged to think critically and produce thoughtful, analytical, evidence-based arguments with the help of experts in their field. A balance between intimidating and exhilarating, this style of teaching makes Oxbridge unique and its graduates so sought-after by employers.
In a typical session, you will be asked questions related to lecture content and reading from the previous week and to produce material ahead of time for discussion. This could be an essay or answers to a set of problems or even just to have completed a certain amount of reading. Either way, deadlines are tight so it is important to be organised.
Whilst these sessions are not formally assessed and do not count towards a student’s final degree classification, at the end of every term you will receive feedback on your work and progress from each supervision. This is a fantastic way for you (and the person in charge of your studies at your college, your Director of Studies) to know how well you are doing. This is essential, as exams are a big deal at Oxbridge.
At the end of each University year, you will sit a series of formal exams (how many depends on whether you are at Oxford or Cambridge, on your course, and on your year of study) which are used as the ultimate markers of your progress. At both Oxford and Cambridge, your degree result is heavily reliant on your final year exams (although in some courses you will also do coursework, and a component of your second year may count).
A supervision taking place in Jesus College, Cambridge.
What is the collegiate structure at Oxford and Cambridge?
Every Oxford and Cambridge student belongs to the university, their department and one of the 30+ colleges. Subject-specific departments are responsible for course content, core teaching, exams and awarding degrees, which means students get the same degree whichever college they go to. However, their college is a student’s home. Essentially, it is the place where they eat, sleep and do the majority of their socialising. Colleges provide a range of academic and pastoral support (for example, they are the ones who will organise supervisions/tutorials), as well as a range of facilities for laundry, cooking and studying.
The collegiate system is amazing! It offers the benefits of being part of a large and internationally renowned university but also the benefits from being part of a smaller, more familiar college community. Colleges usually include both undergraduate and postgraduate students and a diverse array of students studying a range of subject areas.
Colleges are responsible for admitting undergraduates, and students can indicate if they have a college of preference in their UCAS application. If you do not have a college preference, you can instead select an ‘open’ application and it will be allocated to a college which has relatively fewer applications for their course in that year. Once you have submitted your UCAS application, however, you will be committed to your choice of college.
Whilst they all have a common purpose and you will receive the same very high academic standards whichever one you choose, Oxbridge colleges are very different in terms of their size, age and ‘personality’. Those looking to study at either Oxford or Cambridge are therefore strongly encouraged to consider which type of college they’d like to live in before applying. It is important to note that, whilst all Oxford Colleges are now co-ed, Cambridge still has three colleges exclusively for women. Similarly, Oxford and Cambridge both have a handful of ‘mature student’ colleges – those which only accept students over the age of 21.
What are the Oxford and Cambridge application requirements?
Once you have decided which university, which college, and which course, it is time to get going on that application as soon as possible! UCAS has an early deadline for those applying to Oxford and Cambridge: mid-October (usually the 15th October) as opposed to mid-January for non-Oxbridge and non-medical courses. Overseas students may have different deadlines to those from the UK or EU so make sure that, if you are an international student, you should check this.
Oxbridge Personal Statement
Because of the early deadline, it is wise to start writing your personal statement in July, and no later than August. Getting together content for your personal statement, such as work experience and independent reading, should be started much sooner if possible.
The personal statement is important for standing out from the crowd of other applicants and showing your potential. Therefore, make sure you dedicate time to it. The qualities Oxbridge admissions tutors look for are passion for your subject, as well as evidence you’ve gone above and beyond to pursue this passion; think work experience, extra reading and independent projects. This demonstrates commitment and your ability to work independently. Self-discipline is key, as university-level study requires you to manage your time well.
Student planning their personal statement.
Grades for Oxbridge
The personal statement should be accompanied by excellent grades from your school and college. 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 typical A Level offer for Cambridge is A*A*A for most Science courses and A*AA for Arts courses, or 40–42 in the IB, including core points, with 776 at Higher Level. There may also be specific subject requirements for certain courses, especially in the sciences and, at Cambridge, subject requirements may vary from one college to another.
Admissions Tests required for Oxford and Cambridge
Admissions tests are required for most Oxbridge courses nowadays. They help widen the gap between the extremely high achieving candidates that apply to their institutions. Admissions tutors shortlist applicants based on students’ application and performance in the test.
Most admissions tests are held at schools or colleges before you attend interview. All students applying for the standard medicine course at either university must register to take the BMAT as part of their application. At Oxford, candidates for the graduate entry medicine course and biomedical sciences also require this test.
Cambridge requires applicants to take pre-interview tests for around half of its courses; for example, students wishing to study mathematics (or computer science and mathematics) should take the Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP). For other subjects, Cambridge requires a written test to be taken while at the university for interview (if interviewed).
When you submit your application, you may be required to complete one or more additional forms. For example, Cambridge requires every undergraduate student to complete an SAQ (Supplementary Application Questionnaire) shortly after submitting their UCAS application. If you are applying from outside the EU, for Graduate Medicine, or for an Organ Scholarship, you will also need to complete the Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA).
Oxford does not require you to complete any extra forms, however, for most courses, students are asked to take an admissions test as part of their application as mentioned above.
Cambridge interviews around 80% of their undergraduate applicants. Oxford interview considerably less, ranging from 20% to 40%. This is one of the key differences between applying to Oxford and Cambridge.
These interviews are conducted in December and are the final stage of applying to Oxbridge. They can be intimidating: essentially, you sit with a couple of experts in their field and are asked searching, tricky questions that A Level knowledge alone will only get you so far in answering. These interviews are designed to challenge you to think and apply your knowledge and skills to unfamiliar problems, to see how you cope with this situation and how teachable you would be should you be offered a place.
Student interview practice.
They are there to assess how well you would fit the Oxbridge style of teaching. It is not a matter of how quickly (or even whether) a student arrives at an answer, and often there are not right or wrong answers; it is the process of reaching their answer that is generally of most significance (rather than the answer itself). The interviewers just want to get an insight into how the student thinks. The best thing you can do is to practice with an experienced professional ahead of these interviews and, on the day itself, to try to relax and think your ideas out loud.
The way in which interviews are conducted differs between Oxford and Cambridge.
The Cambridge college to which you originally applied will call you to interview on a certain day, and you may have 2-4 interviews and perhaps a test, then go home.
Oxford, on the other hand, will ask you to stay in the city for longer; another college may call you to be interviewed after your original college sees you.
This is not uncommon and is how the Oxford ‘pool’ system works. If one college does not feel they can offer you a place, but like you and think you would be a good student, they can put you in the ‘pool’, allowing another college to pick you up and potentially accept you. Cambridge also has a ‘pool’ system. However, this happens over a longer period and may mean that you get called back up to Cambridge later to be interviewed by another college.
The ‘pool’ system is both universities’ way of working hard to ensure that the best students are successful in gaining a place, whichever college they have applied to. On average, Oxford and Cambridge typically receive 5-10 applications per place, but naturally there is some variation between courses and colleges.
Oxbridge Tuition fees and financial support
Oxford and Cambridge charge different tuition fees depending on students’ nationalities. Here’s a quick table to summarise the information below.
Data taken from the Oxford and Cambridge university websites.
Undergraduate for UK/EU:
Undergraduates at Oxbridge will be charged £9,250 per year for those commencing studies in 2019. If you are an EU national concerned about the impact of Brexit on this, rest assured; the UK government has confirmed that current students and those admitted in 2019 will continue to pay the above UK/EU rate for the duration of their program.
Undergraduate For Non-EU:
Undergraduates at Cambridge will this year be charged £19,197-30,678 (and £52,638 for veterinary medicine and medicine) and Oxford £24,750-34,678 (except for medicine). Overseas students are also charged an additional college fee of between £7,116-9,500 per year (check the individual college to which you are thinking of applying).
Postgraduate for UK/EU:
Postgraduate degrees vary in terms of tuition fees, so it is advisable to check the individual course pages for exact details. However, if you are a UK/EU graduate student, expect to pay between £8,337-16,320 for most master’s and doctoral programs at Cambridge, or £7,730-17,745 at Oxford.
Postgraduate for Non-EU:
Non-EU graduate students should expect to pay £20,424-29,343 at Cambridge and £22,600-26,960 at Oxford.
It’s important to note that many applicants are under the impression that Oxford or Cambridge cost more to go to than other universities.
For applicants who live in the UK, this is actually the opposite since the terms are 8 weeks long, compared to a normal 10-14 week term at another university. Oxbridge students only pay accommodation fees for term time. Almost all other universities in the UK require a 40+ week contract for accommodation, so a lot of money is saved. However, this does have the inconvenience of Oxbridge students having to “move in” and “move out” of your college more frequently throughout the year, hence being inconvenient for non-UK residents.
The cost of attending Oxbridge adds up and so, for many students, some form of financial support is needed. Tuition fee loans from the UK government are available for UK and EU undergraduates, taking massive amounts of pressure off from the get go. These cover the entire tuition, are interest-free and are paid back gradually after graduation,when the student begins working and earning over a certain amount. Full time undergraduates from the UK can also apply for additional loans and grants from the government to help cover living expenses.
On top of this, Oxbridge offers a wide range of scholarships and grants for both domestic and overseas students, details of which can be found on the Oxford and Cambridge’s main websites. Both websites have a handy tool that allows students to search for any scholarships they may be eligible for, based on criteria such as their nationality and course. For example, at Cambridge, UK and EU undergraduates can apply for bursaries worth up to £3,500 per year. Individual colleges also offer a range of scholarships and financial support; again, these can be found on the relevant college’s website. However, it is important to remember that Oxbridge scholarships are super competitive, so make sure your application is polished before submitting.
Oxford Fees, Funding and Scholarship search calculator. You can enter your details here.
Oxford and Cambridge, which is the better city?
The biggest difference between Oxford and Cambridge is that Oxford feels bigger – more like a city that has a university, whereas Cambridge is more like a large campus that happens to also be a city. This gives the two universities very different atmospheres. What unites both locations, however, is the air of excitement, learning and possibility – something which enchants any Oxbridge student.
It is expensive to live in Oxford and Cambridge (rent and house prices are through the roof), yet the Colleges mean that actual living expenses are discounted for students. Having said this, it is still important to budget for the likes of living costs, food and books. Cambridge advises students to allow a minimum of £10,950 per year for living expenses, and Oxford recommends between £12,168-18,655.
“Oxford is followed by Cambridge in 3rd , where students pay on average £199 per week, £9 less than in Oxford. This is over double the average cost of student accommodation in places such as Derby (£89 per week) and Sunderland (£93 per week).” 2016-2017 student survey.
Also remember to factor in money for nights out and the occasional trip to London. Both Oxford and Cambridge are conveniently located about 60 miles (or an hour away by train) from London. Train travel is perhaps the most convenient and reliable form of transport in and out of the cities; cars are strongly discouraged due to inconvenient one way systems and non-existent parking.
Travelling around the cities themselves is best done via bike or foot. Cambridge is more compact than Oxford and the roads less congested; this means cycling is more enjoyable and walking everywhere that much easier. However, Oxford does have a fantastic bus system, making getting from A to B simple. This is essential, as teaching locations are spread across the city. For some courses, classes might be in one place, but this may be far from your College, and for other courses classes will be in opposite ends of the city. Be prepared for either scenario.
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Oxford, being that much bigger than Cambridge, is generally considered to be a bit livelier, and Cambridge prettier. Let’s be honest though: both are gorgeous places to be and both have a selection of great places to hang out. If you like pubs, The Eagle in Cambridge is famous for being where Watson and Crick came up with their theory for the structure of DNA, and the Lamb and Flag in Oxford was frequented by C.S Lewis, who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia.
The Eagle pub in Cambridge.
Both cities have nightclubs offering a selection of music styles and vibes, with student nights pretty much every day of the week; just do not go out on a Friday or Saturday when the pubs and clubs get particularly busy with locals. The ‘town vs gown’ issue is not huge, but sometimes places just get super busy and tensions can bubble after a few drinks. On these evenings, many Colleges hold ‘bops’ (AKA parties) within their own walls for students (both members of the college and members of other colleges). These are often themed (think St Patrick’s Day, Rubik Cube, Neon…) and are great ways to meet new people.
If you are feeling intellectual one evening, check out what is on at the Oxford or Cambridge Union; these host regular talks by political figures, TV personalities, famous scientists, and more. The Cambridge Union recently hosted Tom Odell and Reggie Yates, for example. Other past speakers include Pamela Anderson, Stephen Fry and Sir Ben Kingsley! The Oxford and Cambridge Unions also hold weekly debates, which are exciting to watch and/or participate in.
During the day, explore the beautiful Cambridge Backs on your lunch break, or go for a walk through Oxford’s Magdalen College and visit their deer park. Have more time? Try punting along the river with a small group of friends. Punting is a whimsical tradition in both cities, where you use a long pole to propel you down the river in a long narrow boat. Remember which city you are in though; in Oxford, you stand on the front of the boat to punt, and in Cambridge you stand at the back. Small, but culturally significant differences!
Magdalen College Oxford – go and visit the deer!
Extra-curricular options at Oxbridge
One of my personal favourite aspects of being a Cambridge student was the extra-curricular activities on offer. Oxbridge has a large, diverse student population. For this reason, there are an equal number of diverse, exciting extra-curricular options to choose from. Each college has a variety of sports teams, where students of all abilities can join in. This is great for everyone from total beginners wanting to try something new (rowing, anyone?!) to those who are already familiar with the sport. For those looking for higher level, competitive sport, there are also the university sports teams which compete nationally with other universities.
Have a hobby other than sport? Oxbridge will probably cater for it; there are literally 100s of societies and clubs from politics to painting, from wine to watching movies. These all come together at the annual ‘Fresher’s Fair.’ a great chance for new students to join societies. Each has a stall with lots of eager current members ready to give you more info and help you decide what new and current hobbies you want to pursue during your spare time.
In fact, my top tip for thriving at Oxbridge as a student is to take up an extra-curricular activity or two. While you should not go mad with how much you do (and it is unlikely your schedule will mean you can!), having that ‘down time’ from studying is very healthy, not to mention you will meet plenty of like-minded people and make life-long friends as a result.
Famous Cambridge vs Oxford rowing race winners.
Employability post-graduation from Oxford or Cambridge
Let’s be real: one of the biggest life-long perks of attending Oxbridge is that your CV is going towards the top of the pile for whatever internship or job you apply for.
While this may sound unfair or like an exaggeration, an Oxbridge education is second to none; the intense way you study means not only are you incredibly knowledgeable in your field by the time you graduate, but you also have a suite of transferable skills that employers are hungry for. You are organised, determined, driven, analytical, meticulous, and articulate. This really opens doors for your future career and studies.
Many graduates go onto study for their Masters or PhD, and pursue work in academia. Others, however, may change direction completely; for example, I know plenty of NatSci (Natural Science) graduates that now work in finance.
The world is your oyster!
While you may choose to stay in Oxford or Cambridge post-graduation (for example, many science and engineering firms choose to base themselves near Cambridge), the world is brimming with opportunities for Oxbridge graduates. Some go on to do humanitarian work at the UN, others may go to Hawaii to study volcanos. It doesn’t get more awesome than that!
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Oxbridge holds a unique place in many people’s imagination. Countless appearances in novels, films and TV programmes combined with hundreds of years of reputation as the best of the best in education, means there are some popular (albeit often false) stereotypes about its students.
To the wider world, Oxbridge students are generally perceived to be extremely posh and privileged. Although it is certainly a massive privilege to study here, Oxford and Cambridge seek to attract the best and brightest students regardless of background. Some may have come from private education, others may be state educated; it is a fairly even spilt. Cambridge and Oxford have large access programmes across the UK and overseas, as well as a highly rigorous and fair application procedure to ensure this. Oxbridge has a good gender balance; around 46% of students are female, and both have a high international intake; 37% of Cambridge and 40% of Oxford students are international.
Oxbridge students are also reputed to be massive nerds with no social skills. Again; this is partly true. Anyone who studies at Oxford and Cambridge by default will enjoy learning to some extent. However, the philosophy, ‘work hard, play hard’ comes to mind. It is essential to get that balance between studying hard and taking time out, and luckily most Oxbridge students recognise this. However, it is always amusing to see the reaction of friends from other universities when they realise just how fun it is to be an Oxbridge student!
An Oxford porter.
Those from outside Oxbridge also do not realise that stereotypes exist within the university, between members from different colleges.
Members of Merton College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge, are generally reputed to be the ‘nerds’ (yes that right, even at Oxbridge you get a group singled out as the smart ones).
Meanwhile, Kings College, Cambridge is famous for its communist flag in its college bar,
Wadham College, Oxford is known for being particularly LGBTQ+ friendly, and St John’s College is known as the one with loads of people from private schools.
These stereotypes are harmless, not universally the case, and used only for banter on nights out and during inter-collegiate sports matches.
A healthy rivalry exists between Oxford and Cambridge; they are, after all, considered the best, and are the two oldest universities in the UK. In fact, Cambridge was set up after a fight in Oxford forced scholars to flee in 1209. Oxford has always been viewed as a city of institution and order, and Cambridge the rebel. For example,
Oxford was a Royalist stronghold in the English Civil War, whereas Cambridge was distinctly Parliamentarian. Indeed, Parliamentary leader Oliver Cromwell was a former Cambridge student and MP for the nearby town of Huntingdon.
This rivalry still exists today. Oxford students call Cambridge students ‘Tabs’, a derogatory term derived from ‘Cantab’ (the abbreviated Latin word for Cambridge) and varsity sports matches (those between Oxford and Cambridge) are always filled with emotion and pride, the most famous meet being the annual Oxford/Cambridge boat race on the Thames in London. All that matters in the end is the question: ‘light blues’ (Cambridge) or ‘dark blues’ (Oxford)?
Which university do you choose?