Oxford or Cambridge? | Top Universities
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Oxford or Cambridge?

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Laura Bridgestock

Updated Oct 05, 2023
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As the UK’s oldest and most famous universities, Oxford and Cambridge share a historic rivalry which dates back more than 800 years. The two halves of Oxbridge may have many elements in common – residential colleges, tutorial-based teaching, centuries of tradition – but as any graduate from Oxford or Cambridge will tell you, that’s where the similarities end. 

When it comes to choosing which universities to apply to, applicants through the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) can only pick either Oxford or Cambridge, so getting that decision right is crucial. 

Which one will you choose? 

 
 

University of Oxford 

University of Cambridge 

QS World University Rankings® 2023 

  • Ranked fourth in the world 

  • Ranked third in the world by academics and employers 

  • Eighth in the world for faculty/student ratio 

  • 64th for research impact (citations per faculty member) 

  • 101st for ratio of international faculty members, and 54th for international students 

  • Ranked second in the world 

  • Ranked second in the world by academics and employers 

  • 11th in the world for faculty/student ratio 

  • 55th for research impact (citations per faculty member) 

  • 60th for ratio of international faculty members and 70th for international students 

Subject strengths, based on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020 

  • Ranked among the world’s best for 40 subjects; in the top 10 for all but four of these 

  • Ranked first in the world for arts and humanities 

  • Third in the world for engineering and technology 

  • Second for life sciences and medicine  

  • Fourth for natural sciences  

  • Second for social sciences and management 
     

  • Ranked among the world’s best for 42 subjects; in the top 10 for all but three of these 

  • Ranked second in the world for arts and humanities  

  • Second for engineering and technology 

  • Fourth for life sciences and medicine  

  • Third for natural sciences 

  • Fourth for social sciences and management 

Location 

  • About 60 miles north-west of London (about an hour by train) 

  • Generally considered to be a bit livelier  

 
 

  • About 60 miles north of London (less than an hour by train) 

  • Generally considered to be a bit prettier 

Tuition fees  

  • £9,250 per year for UK undergraduates and between £28,950 and £44,240 for international students (clinical medicine fees will be higher) 

  • Varying fees for postgraduate degrees (see below) 

  • £9,250 per year for UK undergraduates and between £24,507 and £37,293 for international students (excluding medicine)  

  • Varying fees for postgraduate degrees (see below) 

Financial support 

 
 

  • Tuition fee loans for UK/EU undergraduates 

  • Wide range of scholarships and grants for both domestic & overseas students  

  • Tuition fee loans for UK/EU undergraduates 

  • Wide range of scholarships and grants for both domestic & overseas students  

QS World University Rankings® 2023 

The University of Cambridge marginally outranks Oxford in the QS World University Rankings® 2023, with Cambridge placing in second and Oxford fourth. The differences between the institutions are generally very minor – as longstanding members of the global top 10, both Oxford and Cambridge are firmly established among the world’s higher education elite. 

The Oxbridge brand is extremely strong, with both halves getting high ratings in QS’s international surveys of academics and employers. In the latest results, Cambridge comes out second in the world for both academics and employers. Oxford, meanwhile, claims the world’s third-highest ratings from graduate employers and academics. 

Cambridge has a slightly stronger score for citations per faculty member – an indicator which aims to reflect the influence attained by research produced at each institution, although both schools rank in the global top 50.  

Oxford, however, takes the lead when it comes to faculty-student ratio (number of students per academic staff member), but both are renowned for their commitment to small group teaching and individual supervision. 

In terms of international diversity, both Oxford and Cambridge get high scores. Unsurprisingly, both are popular destinations for academics and students from around the world. Oxford narrowly takes the lead for its percentage of international students, although Cambridge earns a stronger score for its percentage of international faculty members. 

Subject strengths 

A look at the QS World University Rankings by Subject confirms both Oxford and Cambridge are among the world’s leaders across a comprehensive range of fields.  

In the most recent edition, Oxford features in the subject rankings in a total of 40 subjects, while Cambridge makes 41 appearances. As you can see by the table below, both universities boast top 10 positions for most of their subjects. 

Oxford and Cambridge in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022

 
 

University of Oxford 

University of Cambridge 

Accounting & finance 

4th

6th

Anatomy & physiology 

1st 

2nd 

Anthropology 

=1st

=1st

Archaeology 

2nd

1st

Architecture 

-- 

11th

Art & design 

35th

-- 

Biological sciences 

5th 

3rd 

Business & management 

9th

8th 

Chemistry 

6th 

4th 

Classics & ancient history 

2nd  

3rd 

Computer science & information systems 

5th

8th 

Development studies 

3rd

5th

Earth & marine sciences 

7th

4th 

Economics 

8th

10th 

Education & training 

3rd

6th 

Engineering (chemical) 

8th 

5th 

Engineering (civil) 

14th

5th 

Engineering (electrical) 

9th

5th

Engineering (mechanical) 

12th

3rd 

English language & literature 

1st 

2nd 

Environmental sciences 

=6th

=6th

Geography 

1st 

3rd 

Geology 

7th

4th

Geophysics 

8th 

5th

History 

=2nd

=2nd

Law 

2nd 

3rd 

Linguistics 

4th

3rd

Mathematics 

6th

3rd

Materials science 

8th

4th 

Medicine 

2nd  

4th 

Modern languages 

1st 

2nd

Performing arts 

=22nd

21st

Pharmacy 

3rd

6th

Philosophy 

6th

7th 

Physics & astronomy 

5th 

4th 

Politics 

2nd

7th

Psychology 

3rd 

4th 

Social policy & administration 

2nd 

5th 

Sociology 

2nd 

6th

Statistics 

=6th

5th

Theology, divinity & religious studies 

1st

5th

Veterinary science 

-- 

14th

See the full QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022 

Location 

Both cities are relatively small and compact places to live and are easily navigable on foot, although many students choose to cycle. 

Highly picturesque, they’re both characterised by attractive historic architecture and rivers running through the city centres. In both schools, you’ll often students in training for inter-college rowing contests or the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race – the one day each year when Oxbridge rivalry becomes the most heated. 

Oxford and Cambridge are also both close to the UK capital. London is about an hour on the train from Oxford, and slightly under an hour from Cambridge. In terms of differences between the two locations, Cambridge is generally considered a little prettier, while Oxford has a bit more going on – but of course this will depend on who you ask. 

Fees & living costs 

If you come from outside the UK, the amount you’ll pay in tuition fees varies massively depending on the programme you decide to study.  

The following table gives a rough overview of how much you can expect to pay for full time courses per year, depending on your study level and nationality.  

Check the university websites for exact rates, and bear in mind there is significant variation in the amount charged for postgraduate courses, and for non-EU students on undergraduate courses, depending on the subject. 

Annual tuition fees at Oxford and Cambridge

 
 

Oxford 

 
 

Cambridge 

 
 

Undergraduate (UK) 

£9,250  

 
 

£9,250 

 
 

Undergraduate (international students) 

£28,950 to £44,240 (excluding clinical medicine) 

 

£24,507 and £37,293 for international students (excluding medicine) 

Graduate (UK) 

Cost of fees starts at £4,480 and vary depending on the subject

Cost of fees starts at £9,387 and vary depending on the subject

Graduate (international students) 

Cost of fees starts at £4,495 and vary depending on the subject

Cost of fees starts at £23,607 and vary depending on the subject

As well as tuition fees, Oxford advises students to allow between £1,290 and £1,840 for living costs, including accommodation, food, study resources, socializing and other items. Cambridge recommends a minimum of £11,020 per year for living expenses. You can find out more about the costs of studying in the UK here

Financial support 

Overall, the cost of studying at Oxford or Cambridge adds up, although it’s still less than the up-front price of a degree at most top universities in the US. For many students, some kind of financial support is needed. 

Undergraduate students from within the UK and from other EU countries can apply for financial support from the UK government in the form of student loans. These cover tuition fees and are paid back gradually once the student begins work and starts earning a certain amount. Full-time undergraduate-level UK students can also apply for additional loans and grants to help cover living expenses. 

Both Oxford and Cambridge also offer a range of scholarships and financial support schemes. At Cambridge, UK and EU undergraduates can apply for bursaries, in addition to a range of funding opportunities which are open to students of various backgrounds. Oxford’s website allows students to search for any scholarships they may be eligible for, based on their course and nationality. 

The individual colleges of which the two universities are comprised also offer scholarships and bursaries. Of course, scholarships to study at Oxford or Cambridge are among the most competitive in the world – as is gaining admission to begin with. But if you are successful in your application, you’re likely to be rewarded with an experience which is both academically challenging and aesthetically inspiring. 

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