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Oxford vs. Cambridge: Similarities and differences


Although they look very similar, Oxford and Cambridge are two universities that achieve academic excellence uniquely. Both are governed by collegiate systems with similar teaching styles and rich histories. Both universities have produced notable alumni, making the universities among the most famous in the world. Despite their similarities, the long-rivaled universities have some significant differences.

In this article, we at Cybernews Academy will compare and contrast both institutions to help you make an informed decision regarding your prospective university.

University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is one of if not the oldest operating English-speaking universities worldwide. The first teaching records at the University of Oxford occurred in 1096, but historians are still determining whether the university was established prior. It's a collegiate institution, meaning that the university is made up of independent colleges that function under the name University of Oxford. The first colleges, University Balliol and Merton Colleges were founded between 1249 and 1264. From there, 44 colleges formed as a part of the University of Oxford.

Location

The University of Oxford is located in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. Oxford has a population of roughly 162,222– the city is small but has a big personality. Oxford offers a variety of beautiful English architecture, exciting museums, and electric nightlife. Alongside having one of the oldest universities in the world, Oxford is also one of the oldest cities in England. Initially founded by the Saxons, which could date back to the 9th century. Oxford is located 60 miles (97 kilometers) from London. It takes approximately 1,5 - 2 hours to get to London by car and can take about 1 hour by train.

Notable alumni

While producing some fascinating history, art, and culture, Cybernews Academy came across some notable characters produced by The University of Oxford. Some of the world's most beloved authors started at the University of Oxford; J.R.R Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Dr Seuss, Lewes Caroll, and many more. The city of Oxford had an extreme impact on the English language– Oxford created the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), a complete record of the English language, compiled and edited in Oxford. The University appears to have produced many writers and politicians. However, the university did produce one of the most famous scientists responsible for our understanding of black holes and their emittance of radiation, Dr. Stephen Hawking. Dr. Hawking attended Oxford from 1959 to 1962, receiving a first-class degree in Physics. Another notable figure in the scientific community is Albert Einstein, who was invited to the university to provide a lecture. The Blackboard Dr. Einstein wrote on during his visit to Oxford can still be observed in the Museum of History and Science in Oxford. Many notable alumni produced from both universities overlap. For example, Dr. Hawking went on to the University of Cambridge as the director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

The University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge, established in 1209, is the third-oldest university in continual operation. The University of Cambridge was founded originally for The University of Oxford students who wished to escape riots. Much like Oxford, the University of Cambridge also follows a collegiate system. Similar to its rival, the university has a wide range of independent colleges. The first college, Peterhouse, was founded in 1284– now, 31 colleges make up the University of Cambridge. The city of Cambridge is small but contains many hidden gems, architectural treasures that date back to the Bronze Age, and modern elements that help bring this student city to life.

Location

The University of Cambridge resides in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Cambridge is a quaint city with a population estimated at 145,700. Cambridge is often referred to as a county town and a student city. A county town is the most crucial town in the county. Usually, judicial functions and other official business take place in this city. Additionally, being a university city, students tend to dominate most of the area. Despite its size, Cambridge is brimming with culture. From museums to theatres and its eclectic music scene, there is something for everyone in Cambridge. If you want to explore the surrounding area, London is approximately 63.5 miles (102km) from Cambridge and could take about 1.5 hours by car or around 1 hour and 18 minutes by train.

Notable alumni

The University of Cambridge has produced many notable alumni, ranging from scientists to philosophers to actors.

Cybernews Academy identified some prominent scientists, including Issac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, J.J Thomson, and many more. As previously mentioned above, Dr. Stephen Hawking left Oxford once graduating and went on to lead research at the Centre of Theoretical Cosmology. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer studied at Cambridge in Christ’s College, finding that laboratory work was not his forte. He then became known as ‘the father of the atomic bomb,’ Oppenheimer had a profound impact on history and had an incredible effect on quantum physics. Sir Issac Newton is a world-renowned physicist famous for his three laws of motion that make up the basic fundamental laws of physics. Niels Bohr, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, greatly contributed to understanding atomic structures and quantum theory. J.J Thomson also won a Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the electron. To learn that the University of Cambridge has produced such notable alumni among the best scientists the world has ever seen is pretty remarkable.

Similarities

Despite their rivalry, the University of Oxford and Cambridge have similar attributes. Not only are these universities drenched in a rich history they have many similarities that help maintain their prestigious reputation.

The collegiate system

The collegiate system is the leading parallel between The University of Oxford and Cambridge. This is the way that universities organize themselves. When applying, students are assigned a college where they will stay for the rest of their university career. Both Oxford and Cambridge Colleges are independent and self-governing. They are a unique aspect of university life at Oxford and Cambridge. The University of Oxford has 44 colleges that have been established over decades. Similarly, The University of Cambridge is comprised of 31 colleges.

High entry requirements

Due to their reputation for academic excellence, both universities have stringent entry requirements. If you want to attend Oxford or Cambridge University, you must attain high academic achievements.

Course University of Cambridge University of Oxford
Computer ScienceA*A*A Or the international equivalent- Dependent on the college you are placed in, the grade boundaries may differ slightly A*AA Or international equivalent with an A* in Maths, Further Maths, or Computer Science
TMUA entrance test MAT entrance test

Teaching methods

Both universities are known for their rigorous teaching methods. They have a similar approach to teaching. Both institutions have adopted the tutorial system, where intimate conversations are valued above large lectures and seminars. Although students will attend lectures and labs, the main form of teaching will be tutorials. This is where you will receive one-on-one or small group sessions with experts in your chosen field. Here you will have a personalized session with your professor where you will receive individualized feedback and be able to have conversations with your tutor. Oxford and Cambridge hold these sessions twice weekly, usually for one hour. The only difference between Oxford and Cambridge is at Oxford, these sessions are called tutorials, and at Cambridge, they are called supervisions. This is the primary method of teaching at both universities.

Highly-renowned institutions

We at Cybernews Academy found that Cambridge and Oxford are highly renowned worldwide. Both institutions have stellar academic reputations; many colleges contain blossoming start-up companies and many academic achievements. Both universities have produced students that have profoundly impacted their field of study. Cambridge and Oxford have been prominent institutions for decades and have held high status in university world rankings.

Beautiful antique locations

Despite the differences in location, both universities are known for their beautiful antique settings and English architecture. Oxford and Cambridge are hot filming locations—a few films shot at the University of Oxford range from 'Harry Potter' to 'The History Boys.' Similarly, ‘The Theory of Everything’ and ‘Sylvia’ were shot at the University of Cambridge. Both Cambridge and Oxford are beautiful small cities bustling with student life.

Differences

Contrary to popular belief, Cambridge and Oxford have some differences when it comes to courses, student population, and scholarships.

Courses

Both universities may look similar, yet the courses can vary from one university to the other. The universities offer traditional courses; however, there are some differences. For example, if you are looking for a Computer Science degree Oxford has three degrees to choose from. Oxford offers Computer Science, Computer Science and Philosophy, and Mathematics and Computer Science degrees. Whereas Cambridge only offers one Computer Science course.

Offering courses that deal with multiple disciplines is valuable as they broaden your horizons and allow for a different perspective on your topic. For example, Computer Science and Philosophy focus on the ethical and social questions that AI raises and how this impacts modern society. Although maths and computer science are interlinked, you can decide to take a combined Mathematics and Computer Science course. Here you will learn how maths and computer science relate to each other and emphasize the connection between theory and practice. Oxford offers more choices if you don’t want to limit yourself to one discipline.

Entrance exams for Computer Science

One interesting difference between Oxford and Cambridge is the mathematics entrance exams.

At Cambridge, you will take a TMUA or a Test of Mathematics for Univeristy Admission test. This test is designed to demonstrate your essential skills. These include reasoning skills and mathematical thinking as your course will demand a high level of Maths knowledge. The first paper is your Application of Maths Knowledge, and the second paper will be on Mathematical reasoning. These papers are comprised of 20 multiple-choice questions. This exam will last 2.5 hours as both papers will take 75 minutes to complete.

At Oxford, you will take a MAT or a Mathematics Admissions Test. Unlike Cambridge, these tests are subject-specific, so that the questions will vary depending on your course. This test will also last 2.5 hours. However, MAT is a hybrid test comprising computer-based and paper-based questions. This will test the depth of your mathematical understanding rather than the amount of knowledge you have surrounding the subject. You will use mathematical knowledge and techniques that correspond to AS-level Maths.

Students

The student experience may differ from Cambridge to Oxford– both student cities are vibrant. However, the number of international students, female-to-male student ratio, and number of students within the university differ. Oxford has a slightly higher international contingent at 23%, whereas Cambridge has an international student ratio of 21%. More women study at Oxford 51% of students are women, whereas 51% are men at Cambridge. More Full-time students go to Cambridge (90%) whereas Oxford full-time students are at 76%. The number of students at Oxford is 26,000+, whereas Cambridge has 21,000 students. This might impact your student experience as you may want to know how much time students spend studying their subject, how many international students attend the university, and how many people attend that university. Oxford might appeal if you’re looking for an active and bustling student environment. Cambridge might be the best option if you’re looking to locate a potentially quieter or smaller university.

Scholarships

Both universities offer a range of scholarships depending on your specific requirements. The University of Oxford provides eight scholarships, whereas the University of Cambridge offers 70+ scholarships.

These scholarships can be offered based on merit, need-based, or specific to particular subjects or regions.

Scholarships provided by Oxford:

  • Bright Oceans Corporation Scholarship is for students who ordinarily reside in Mainland China (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.) This scholarship awards course fees and an annual grant towards living costs.
  • Palgrave Brown Scholarship is for students who ordinarily reside and/or are educated across Europe and parts of Asia. Find out the applicable countries here. This scholarship covers annual living costs.
  • Palgrave Brown UK Scholarship is for students who have been residents or educated in Norfolk or Suffolk. Like the previous Palgrave Brown Scholarship, this covers annual living costs.
  • Reach Oxford Scholarship is for students from low-income countries. This scholarship covers course fees, a yearly grant towards living costs, and one annual airfare. Find out more here.
  • Simon and June Li Undergraduate Scholarship is for students who reside in Asia and Oceania. Look at the following countries here.
  • Dr. Ateh Jewel Foundation Awards is for UK residents of Black African or Black Caribbean heritage from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will cover a living costs grant of 3,300 GBP in the 1st year of a student's study.
  • Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS) Undergraduate Scholarship is for those who reside in the UK and are from a Muslim community, applying for any subject in the course listing, except medicine and PGCE. This does not apply to those applying for a second undergraduate degree. This scholarship offers course fees (at a home rate) and a grant for living expenses.

Here are some undergraduate scholarships provided by the University of Cambridge:

  • Cambridge Thai Foundation Scholarship is open to Thailand applicants who plan to do a degree at any level (undergraduate or postgraduate) in any subject. The value of this scholarship is variable.
  • Cambridge Trust Scholarship (undergraduate) is available to applicants with international fee status in any subject. This scholarship contributes toward the applicant’s University tuition fee.
  • Carlos and Gabriela Rodriguez-Pastor Scholarship at Cambridge is a scholarship that is available to prospective undergraduates from Latin America who want to study any subject. This scholarship covers University tuition fees, college fees, and an annual ‘stipend’ or salary provided proportional to the course.
  • Prince Philip Scholarship is a scholarship open to undergraduate applicants from Hong Kong. The scholarship covers University tuition fees, College fees, an Annual stipend, a 4,500 GBP per year cash award, and return economy airfare.
  • Rowan Williams Cambridge Studentship is open to students from areas of instability or zone of conflict who have been at risk of discrimination, persecution, suffering, violence, or other abuse of their human rights. This scholarship covers University tuition, an annual stipend for a single person, and other allowances (travel, visa, immigration, health surcharge costs) considered on a needs basis.
  • The Beacon Scholarship at Cambridge is open to students from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda applying for an undergraduate degree (BA). This scholarship includes University tuition fees, college fees, an annual stipend, and annual airfare.

Most of these scholarships are open to students wishing to continue their studies– most scholarships are available to postgraduate and Ph.D. students. If you want to learn more, look at the Cambridge Trust website.

Where to go next?

There are many similarities that the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford share. You can only choose to apply to either Oxford or Cambridge each year. So, it would be best if you chose wisely. Both universities are soaked in a long, rich history and offer many opportunities. Where you go next depends on your needs and what you want to get out of university. Both universities require a lot from you before you apply to either Oxford or Cambridge. However, the University of Oxford has slightly lower entry requirements. If you are looking for a range of computer science courses, the University of Oxford may be the best choice if you want to explore other disciplines. If you are looking for an undergraduate scholarship, both universities offer full scholarships– however, Cambridge has a variety of scholarships for postgraduate and Ph.D. students. Even though the size difference is insignificant, you may want to consider a smaller university like Cambridge, holding 21,000 students. However, Oxford might be the way to go if you want a bustling student environment and wish to attend a university with 26,000+ students. If you can apply to either of these universities, you can ensure your place among the academic elite. We at Cybernews Academy have some advice for prospective students: always apply for the course that’s right for you, weigh up your options, and do your research. To learn more about Oxford or Cambridge, check out our Academy Review.