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Picking a course from all the choices available at Oxford and Cambridge can feel like one of two things – it can be freeing and exciting to have a new lease on learning in your favourite subject area, or daunting and panic-inducing for those of us who enjoy a bit of everything and cower at the thought of having to pay attention to just one subject for three whole years.

The good news is that with an Oxbride degree course, the latter is never true. Every course has so much scope in terms of your paper choices or module options that you study completely different degrees (in some cases) from people with the same course choice. The most important thing, therefore, is to pick a course where that scope excites you – where picking up an extra module in 13th century poetry or 5th century Grecian art is what really makes your degree seem worth it. With all of these choices available, three recurring questions emerge:

Check list with two pensKnow the courses available

Having studied at Cambridge for three years not knowing quite exactly what Land Economy was (and listening to close friends talk about it, and absorb nothing of its content), I can vehemently reccommend looking into every course available. Your time at Oxbridge should be spent studying the things that make you the most passionate, the works that inspire you the most – do not fall into the trap of studying Classics when the history you’re actually keen to learn about fits better into Oriental Studies, or taking Theology when you really want to be getting stuck into Durkheim’s philosophies of religion. Making sure you have a full appreciation for all the courses on offer is the best first step to making sure you pick the best subject for you.

So, read the course descriptions – it doesn’t take long, and it is a quick and easy way to assess the Oxbridge landscape and be sure that your course is the best fit. Here’s an overview of the courses on offer at Oxbridge covered by Arts blog, to get you thinking about which course you might like to take on.

Literature & languages

If you were interested in literature at school, then there are so many avenues to explore in an Oxford or Cambridge course. While English Literature is the obvious choice if you want to carry on a love for reading and analysis, there are lots of permutations of this course which can more closely fit your interests. 

If you were more taken by ancient literature or Middle Ages translation, there’s Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge, and Classics and English at Oxford. Both of these courses allow you to study literature more tailored towards a certain time period, rather than the range afforded by the English Literature course which may be too broad for some.

While Oxford gives you a lot of scope to pick and choose joint honours (so good for someone torn between wanting to study Philosophy and Languages, for example), Cambridge’s Modern and Medieval Languages course allows you to study history and literature in great depth. Languages courses at Oxbridge tend to take the holistic approach, giving you not only an aptitude for the language but a knowledge and appreciation for the history and culture of where that language is spoken. Don’t expect to take French without leaving your degree with a healthy knowledge of Flaubert and Sartre.


History students fear not – at Oxford, you can pair up History with pretty much everything. Economics, English, Modern Languages, and Politics are all options for hopeful applicants. Oxford also has the distinction of naming their course History (Ancient and Modern) but don’t worry – History at Cambridge still covers both of these.

Outside of joint honours, if you’re historically inclined you should also look into Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, which covers the history, archaeology, and classical art of the ancient world. This is a good choice if you’re interested in Classics but want to learn more about the process of discovery and the on-the-ground excavations which Classics sometimes doesn’t cover.

If you’re interested in Theology, you’re in luck at both Cambridge and Oxford. It’s worth looking into the Philosophy and Theology course at Oxford if you’re more interested in the 



If you’re interested in Fine Art, then there’s not much scope to studying other courses which offer the same practical applications of producing art as well as studying it. Architecture can offer you some of the creative side, but be aware that this is a narrower focus in terms of media and choice of art than Fine Art, and also requires a rigorous understanding of the mathematics and physics behind studying construction and designing. History of Art is a happy counterpart to Fine Art for those wanting to combine historical analysis with the study element of Fine Art.

Rounding out the arts is Music – there’s no comparable course for those wanting to immerse themselves in this subject, but do be aware of the scope of options available. While the grand old reputation of Oxbridge is well-deserved, keep in mind that there are some fresh edges to their courses. In the Music course, you can take modules in psychology and history, and you’re not bound to traditionalism – look into taking modules in Global Hip Hop, Dance Music, or Music in Scandinavia to set you apart from your peers. 

Hands and grainy woodKnow why you want to study

Knowing not only what you want to study but why you want to study will have a huge impact upon how much you get out of your course. Knowing that you want to study literature is a great start; knowing that you want to study literature because nothing excites you more than translation and discerning meaning across time and different cultures might make you want to take English and Modern Languages, or take English and weighting your course towards ancient literature through paper choices further into your degree. Being aware of why you’re studying a subject, and really analysing what it is that appeals to you as a learner, will be a tremendous strength in making an application to Oxford and Cambridge.

Take a look at first year reading lists for your subject and give some of the readings a quick look over. Don’t expect to understand everything, but having an early sample of what studying that subject will be like will help you in making decisions about your course choice.

Making the right choice

Arts, humanities, and literature courses are to be treasured – the scope possible and the depth achievable in all Oxbridge courses is not more apparent than in these degrees which span centuries and explore all of humanity’s weakness and strength, be it in literature or art or historical narratives. Finding a degree course may not be the issue here, but narrowing the list down might well be – so pick a course that you want to be thinking about for the next three years, because that’s the reality of your degree – and make sure that prospect sounds like an opportunity, not a death knell.

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