The University of Oxford and University of Cambridge are both universally known as institutions of excellence. However, what are the differences between them and which one would suit you best?
Both are known for their highly personalised approach to education. They each have their particular brand of competition, they attract professors who are leaders in their respective fields, and their college structure is central to generating discussion and collaborative thought.
However, there are reasons why one is better suited to some students than others.
Their approach to teaching
Both universities have a similarly personalised approach to teaching. This includes a combination of lectures and seminars, but it’s the dedicated teaching time in very small groups or one on one, that they’re famous for. At the University of Oxford they call these sessions ‘tutorials’, while Cambridge calls them ’supervisions’. They take place weekly and generally include up to three students. You are usually asked to prepare a piece of work in advance, which you will go through, discuss and dissect in the session, teaching you presentation skills, how to be specific and nuanced with your use of language, and to think through your argument.
The way they assess your work
Assessment and examination at both universities is also similar. It’s a combination of informal assessment throughout the year – in supervisions/tutorials and regular assignments. More formal assessment is based on written exams which are generally at the end of each academic year and at the end of the degree course as a whole.
They are famous for their interviews
Interviews at these prestigious universities are famous for their particular style. Designed to get into the inner workings of a student’s mind and see if they will fit in with the academic environment, applicants put a lot of time into preparing for these experiences, and you will inevitably get something out of them regardless of whether you get in. The specifics do vary from subject to subject and college to college.
The size of the universities
One thing that you might not initially think about is the size of the city in which they are located. While it may not seem important, this does change the atmosphere of each. Both are extremely beautiful cities, with abundant heritage and a certain number of similarities (not least, punting in the summer). However, Oxford is a slightly larger city with an arguably livelier atmosphere than the more tranquil Cambridge environment. Naturally, both have their own merits – something to think about.
Each university offers different subjects
Probably the biggest reason to choose one of these institutions over the other is the choice of subjects. This is important on a number of levels, and is possibly something that’s worth raising in your interviews if you’re asked why you want to attend your uni of choice. For example, Cambridge offers a course in Architecture, which Oxford doesn’t. Oxford offers Fine Art, which Cambridge doesn’t. There are certain science degrees that Cambridge offers that Oxford does not, and so on and so forth.
Each professor has their own specialist subject
Another reason to choose one university over another might be that you want to learn from a particular expert in your field of interest. University of Oxford and University of Cambridge professors are not just esteemed teachers, most would consider themselves to be experts in their field first and foremost. These institutions generally think of themselves as centres of research above all things. So, when you are considering where to go, it’s a good idea to see who teaches your chosen subject and consider what you respect and admire (or don’t) about their body of work.
Location, location, location
It might seem like an obvious or prosaic thing to point out, but the other thing about these two universities, is that they are of course in different locations. While they’re not worlds apart, Oxford has a different atmosphere to Cambridge, the former being surrounded by the rolling hills of Cotswold countryside while the latter is by East Anglian fenland. They are largely equidistant from London, but their locations place them in proximity to entirely different parts of the UK. Oxford gives you easy access to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon and National Trust treasures like Blenheim Palace, while Cambridge is much nearer the beach and the likes of Ely, Peterborough, Norwich and Bury St Edmunds.
When you’re choosing which university to apply to, it’s worth considering the variety of similarities and distances so that you know you’re making the right choice for you. If you would like support with your Oxbridge applications and interview preparation, speak to the CamVision team about university application mentoring.