So, you’ve decided you want to apply to Oxbridge, and you now have to choose between two of the most prestigious universities in the whole world to study one of the most demanding and intellectually gruelling courses in existence (not to scare you), but how are you going to choose between them? After all, you can only apply to one.
The first question to ask yourself is whether Oxbridge is even for you. Many students just apply because of the reputation Oxbridge has without looking into the course, location, university, and so on. But this is a terrible way to decide on a university. Let's have a look at some important considerations.
The course at both universities is traditional. That means very limited patient contact for the first three years - you'll mostly be consuming academic material at this time. Are you comfortable with that? The course is six years, not the standard five because intercalation is mandatory in your third year. Do you want to intercalate? At Cambridge and Oxford, there are strict guidelines when it comes to having a part-time job during term time. Is that important for you? Do you have enough funds to support yourself through university? Both universities are incredibly old and traditional. Would you prefer a more modern university? Both have a collegiate system, which means students are organised into colleges instead of having one large central campus for the university. Is that appealing to you? You sacrifice a lot to come and thrive at Oxbridge - the institutions are notoriously demanding and intense. Are you willing to do the extra work you otherwise may not have to at a different university? These are key questions to ask yourself before you decide between the two.
Once you've decided Oxbridge is for you, read on.
There are many factors that can help you decide between the two – it just depends on which factors are the most important to you. And no, one is not “better” than the other (though Cambridge has far more Nobel prize winners, just saying). But seriously, both are amazing institutions, and you can have an amazing six years at either if you throw yourself into university life. Therefore, the decision comes down to personal preference. Hopefully, this guide will help you decide between the two.
Make a table
Have a look at the following example:
You then add up the final scores, and in this case, Cambridge edges it by 2 points. And just like that, it becomes a little bit easier to make the decision.
With both Cambridge and Oxford Both being relatively small cities, this may not seem like a huge difference. But Oxford is bigger and livelier than Cambridge is. If having a city where the university makes up a large proportion of the city, Cambridge is for you. If you prefer to have a larger city surrounding the university, Oxford might be better. Oxford definitely has more in terms of nightlife as a result of this. Cambridge, being smaller and quieter, has a greater proportion of student-orientated events, as much of the population of Cambridge is composed of students. With more of a small-town feel to it, Cambridge is probably for you if you like your peace and quiet, not that you can’t get that at Oxford – it’s just harder to come by. The weather is slightly different as well with Cambridge being foggier and windier overall than Oxford is. Again, not a huge difference, but worth knowing.
One of the best ways to get a feel for the atmosphere of each university is by visiting in person, whether that be for open days, subject masterclasses or summer schools. All of these are fantastic opportunities for you to not only decide which universities you would like to apply to, but it will also allow you to gauge what medicine is like at that university.
The entry requirement for medicine at Cambridge is AAA, whereas it is A*AA at Oxford. Both Cambridge and Oxford require A levels in Chemistry and one of Biology, Physics and Mathematics. When you receive your predicted grades at the end of year 12, be sure to make sure you have at least the entry requirements for the universities you apply to.
Selection varies between the two universities quite significantly. What each university places the greatest amount of emphasis on when selecting applicants is very subjective, with there being differences between colleges as well. It is worth noting that Oxford accepts approximately 160 students on its Medicine course each year, whilst Cambridge accepts 295 students.
The main difference between the two is the selection for interviews. Cambridge interviews around 75% of its applicants and are very selective post-interview to give their final offers. Around 16% of students are successful in receiving an offer. At Oxford, a smaller proportion of applicants are invited to interview (approx. 26%) and 9% receive an offer. Thinking strategically, to be successful at Oxford, you absolutely need a strong personal statement, reference and BMAT score. On the other hand, if interviews (and academic discussions in particular) appeal to you more, Cambridge might be more suitable for you.
So, if you are not too fussed about which university you prefer, or if they are relatively equal in your eyes, it might be worth playing to your strengths by assessing the strongest aspects of your application and thinking about which university has a more favourable application process and selection criteria to suit you.
Interviews at Oxford and Cambridge are both very similar to each other. There are slight variations, but this is mostly on a college level rather than a university level. If you are fortunate enough to receive an interview at either, expect a rigorous and academic experience. Most candidates have around 3-4 panel interviews over 1-2 days. Each interview lasts 20-45 minutes each. It is worth noting that Oxford applicants tend to sit more interviews compared to Cambridge applicants, which means that each interview has less bearing overall in their application. Therefore, if they don't perform well in one interview, they still have plenty more interviews to make up for it.
Similarities between the course structure for medicine at Oxford and Cambridge include:
The main difference between the courses is that Cambridge offers full-body dissection to supplement learning, whereas Oxford does not. Oxford does however allow students to learn from prosections.
In the third year, students at both universities have the option to choose a subject to study for the year and are awarded a degree from it. There are more subject options available at Cambridge than Oxford, with students having greater flexibility when it comes to their preference. If you would prefer to study a humanities subject in your third year, this is not an option at Oxford. Of course, if you would like to study a science subject, either university has a great selection to choose from.
In terms of contextualisation, Cambridge and Oxford both have access to six types of data (including prior attainment of school and geodemographic information) to allow them to contextualise applications fairly. This means they take into account different factors that may affect your application, such as your school area or your family income. Cambridge also has an Extenuating Circumstances form which gives teachers the opportunity to highlight any key details regarding an applicant’s personal circumstances to be considered during the selection process. Oxford places greater emphasis on teachers to highlight special circumstances for applicants in the references.
It is worth noting however, that compared to non-Oxbridge universities, both Oxford and Cambridge accept far fewer students from BAME and working class backgrounds. A significant proportion of accepted applicants are from private schools or grammar schools. This is something to consider, particularly if your application isn't very strong, as you may have more of a chance of getting into medicine through a different university.
Beyond the main differences mentioned above, there are some other factors which you may wish to consider when making your decision.
As a Cambridge student, I ended up deciding against Oxford. To make my decision, I took into account all the factors in this blog, but I actually initially preferred Oxford on paper until I attended a summer school at Cambridge and visited both. The atmosphere at Cambridge was much more of what I wanted, and I grew to love Cambridge as a city. I also preferred the medicine course at Cambridge as well after speaking to students and researching both courses in greater detail. I liked the fact that Cambridge offered full-body dissection as part of the degree and I liked the wider range of subjects available to choose from in the third year. As well as this, I knew my strengths in the application would lie in the interview and I thought I would be able to stand out more in the interview than I would be able to on paper as my GCSE results were lower than average for Oxford medicine students. So, for me, the choice was very clear – Cambridge was where I wanted to be.
However, this choice is not as easy for all students. A medical student at Oxford stated that they preferred the selection process at Oxford over Cambridge as they felt more confident with their results on paper and felt it would be less risky for them to apply to Oxford. As Oxford tends to make students sit more interviews, if one interview does not go as hoped, there was less chance of that having a significant effect on the application. As well as that, as a person from a BAME background, they felt that as Oxford is a larger city, there would be more places to find food which we eat at home or to do your hair, etc.
Ultimately, the final decision is a matter of personal preference and it really varies depending on your priorities and values when looking for a medical school.
Despite the differences highlighted here, both universities are equally incredible in terms of their reputation, teaching standard, and quality of the medicine course. The best way to determine which you should choose (if you believe Oxbridge is even for you) is extremely personal to you – you need to identify what is it is up to you to determine what factors are the most important to you and what you are looking for in a medical degree and in a university.
Some useful ways to help you decide which university you want to go to include:
I cannot stress the fact that Oxbridge is not for everyone enough. At the end of the day, you will graduate with a medical degree equal to any medical degree from other medical schools. 6 years is a long time – if you are not certain about Oxbridge, please take the time to really research and talk to people about it; it is not worth attending a university you will not be happy at for 6 years.
Author: Chandan Sekhon
Editor: Latifa Haque