Armed with this information, you will be able to guide your students choices, ensuring they have the data they need to be able to make an informed choice.
The next Cambridge open days will be held in early July.
Many of the colleges and departments will be open for drop-in visitors but some may require additional booking. Booking for the open day as a whole is mandatory, so don’t miss the deadline!
Once you have booked you will receive an Eventbrite ticket via email. You can book either for a college-only ticket or a university and college ticket, which will give you access to more events.
Students with a disability can indicate this on the booking form, and will be contacted by the university in case special arrangements need to be made.
The Oxford open days are held in June and September.
Oxford suggests that you start with a visit to your subject department in the morning and then visit a shortlist of colleges in the afternoon.
Unlike Cambridge, it is not mandatory to book so you can just turn up to a college or department; however, some specific events may require advance booking, so make sure to check the details for the individual departments and colleges you want to visit.
Some Oxford colleges can provide travel funding for UK applicants who need financial support.
First and foremost, check to see if you need to book any events, especially if you want to attend the Cambridge open day.
Make sure you check which colleges offer your course. For Oxford, simply visit their page and click on your subject. For Cambridge, search the page for your chosen course where there should be information about which colleges don’t offer your subject, if any.
Once you’ve done these two crucial things make sure to do plenty of research before the open day, as you don’t want to waste time asking questions you could easily have found the answers to online. Most of the relevant information will be listed somewhere on the college website, and you can always contact the admissions offices with any further questions. Both Oxford and Cambridge also have an Alternative Prospectus, which offers advice and insights by students to prospective applicants.
If there’s any information you haven’t been able to find, prepare some questions to ask. Open days are an opportunity to talk to current students and tutors, so make sure you take full advantage of this.
Last but not least, plan how you will get there. Both Oxford and Cambridge advise against bringing a car, as parking will be very difficult with so many people in the city. If you’re visiting Oxford, read their helpful travel advice.
Once you’ve eliminated colleges that don’t offer your course, you’re free to choose which one you’d like to visit and ultimately apply to. Don’t try to visit every single college and don’t leave your favourites until the end of the day, as you may end up missing out.
When evaluating colleges, focus on what’s important to you; you may want to consider factors such as size, age, appearance, accommodation, location, food options, facilities, and tutors. You can use resources such as the Norrington Table (Oxford) and the Tompkins Table (Cambridge) to compare the academic achievements of different colleges.
Most of the more factual information will be available on the college website, allowing you to shortlist colleges before you get there, whereas things such as atmosphere, quality of food, and college pets may be good questions to ask current students about on the open day.
For some applicants, deciding between applying to Oxford or Cambridge might be a very simple one – if you want to study Architecture, you know you have to apply to Cambridge. Similarly, if you have a passion for Philosophy and Theology you know Oxford offers you the greatest scope to combine these interests.
For many, however, the decision may not be as easy. There is significant overlap between the courses available at Oxford and Cambridge, and the differences between them might not be immediately apparent. For this reason, we have compiled the definitive course guide for subjects available at both Oxford and Cambridge. Use this guide to look at the differences between the courses available at Oxford and Cambridge to help you determine which might best suit you.
Biological Sciences at Oxford
The Biological Sciences course at Oxford begins with students taking four compulsory modules in cells and genes, organisms, ecology and evolution and quantitative methods. Second year offers eight courses, two of which are compulsory, and six of which are thematic, although students are encouraged to attend lectures on all themes. Third year allows much more choice, with students able to choose freely from 24 options, according to their preferred specialism. Practical work is an integral part of the course throughout.
Natural Sciences (Biology) at Cambridge
If you want to study Biology at Cambridge, you will take the biological route of Natural Sciences. This allows you to combine Biological modules with options from Physical and Chemical Sciences. In first year, the options cover three biological and one mathematics subject and in second year there are ten available, and can continue to be taken in combination with other non-biological modules. Usually in third year students will focus on a single subject and specific areas of the discipline, including a research project or dissertation. Students may continue onto a fourth year and complete an MSci degree.
Classics at Oxford
Classics at Oxford is a four year course and follows two courses dependent on whether or not the student has studied Latin or Greek at A-level, and can be combined with Modern Languages, English or Oriental Studies. The Iliad and/or the Aeneid are compulsory in first year, and options for the final years include Roman/Greek history, literature, archaeology and philosophy.
Classics at Cambridge
Classics at Cambridge is either three or four years, depending on whether you have taken A Levels in Latin or Greek, with the first year of the four-year course focused on language acquisition through literature. From the start Roman and Greek literature is studied alongside papers in translation, ancient history, archaeology, art, philosophy, philology and linguistics. Third/fourth year offers a chance to specialise in particular areas of these disciplines, such as tragedy.
Computer Science at Oxford
The Oxford Computer Science course aims to create links between theory and practice. The first year concentrates on the basics of Computer Science, including basic programming and continuous maths study. The second year continues with core subjects alongside optional papers, and third year allows students to pick more advanced and specialised options, including a project. Students have the option to stay for a fourth year and gain a Master’s degree, which involves written papers and project work.
Computer Science at Cambridge
The Cambridge Computer Science course begins with the foundations of Computer Science, studied alongside a Maths paper, and another science related paper, including options from Psychology and Chemistry. The second year introduces the core technologies and theories of computer science, and then the third year allows students to specialise into systems, theory or applications. Students have the option to continue onto an integrated Masters which is research based.
Economics and Management at Oxford
Throughout the Oxford Economics and Management course the two disciplines are studied alongside one another. Three compulsory courses are taken in first year, covering introductory economics, general management, and financial management. In second and third year, students take three compulsory economics papers alongside 20 options, of which at least two must be in management. There is the option for students to write a thesis in either Economics or Management in place of one paper.
Economics at Cambridge
The Economics course at Cambridge begins with a broad introduction to the subject, developing a common core of knowledge to be extended after first year. The second year continues the core study of macroeconomics, microeconomics and the theory and practice of economics, with students able to take an option paper alongside their other modules. The study of macroeconomics and microeconomics are also continued into third year, but students are additionally able to choose two further modules and write a dissertation on a topic of their choice.
Engineering Science at Oxford
The Oxford Engineering Science course begins with two years studying four key areas of Engineering. This broader academic introduction is designed to help students gain a broad understanding of engineering before specialising in the latter half of the degree. In third and fourth year, students are given scope to specialise into one of six branches of Engineering, including biochemical, chemical, civil, electrical, information and mechanical engineering. Practical engineering work forms a large part of the course in all four years.
Engineering at Cambridge
The first two years of the Cambridge Engineering course provides a broad foundation of the basic principles of a wide range of subjects. The third and fourth year provides the opportunity to specialise into one of ten engineering disciplines, including the more unusual manufacturing engineering option. Students do practical work alongside lectures and seminars throughout their degree.
English Literature and Language at Oxford
The Oxford English course prides itself on giving students a broad understanding of English literature, and begins with three period papers in first year, spanning from the Medieval Era to the present day. In the second two years, students can chose one of two routes: Course one which progresses chronologically from the 1300s to the 1830s, or course two which focuses more on earlier literature and also language. Course one includes a Shakespeare paper and Course two gives an option between Shakespeare or the material text. Both courses then choose a special option and a dissertation of your choice.
English at Cambridge
Although the Cambridge course also takes a chronological approach to English Literature in the first two years, the backbone of the course is practical criticism, which is designed to develop students’ skills in approaching literature, and gives an opportunity to study many primary and secondary works which may not be included in other papers. In third year, there are only two compulsory papers – practical criticism and tragedy, both of which span the ages from Ancient Greece and the present day, and offer great flexibility. Students can either write one dissertation and take an optional paper, or write a second dissertation.
Geography at Oxford
The Oxford Geography course focuses on the interrelationship between society and the physical and human environment. The course begins by covering a range of fundamental areas, alongside options in second and third year. Students are required to go on a day field trip for human and physical geography in first year, an overseas field trip in second year and write a dissertation in their final year.
Geography at Cambridge
Students begin the Geography course at Cambridge, studying both human and physical geography modules, but may begin to specialise from second year, alongside a geographical ideas and themes module. Second year includes a residential field trip (UK or overseas) which forms the basis of a third year dissertation . All papers are optional in third year.
History at Oxford
The Oxford History course offers a broad range of options spanning British and European history from the decline of the Roman Empire to the present day. Options to study the history of other geographical areas are also available throughout the course alongside the study of historical methods and disciplines. Students take options from British history and general history across all three years, and must write a thesis in their third year.
History at Cambridge
The first two years of the Cambridge History course focus on giving students a broad historical understanding, with students taking one paper on a period of British political history, and one on a period of British economic and social history. Three other option papers are taken alongside themes and sources which looks at handling primary sources. The final year of the course allows students to specialise in their areas of interest, including an optional dissertation and a compulsory paper on historical argument and practice.
Law (Jurisprudence) at Oxford
There are two options to study Law at Oxford: a three year course, or a four year course with a year spent studying law at a European university. Both courses focus on topics chosen for their intellectual rather than practical interest, although the degree does qualify students to proceed straight to the LPC (Legal Practice Course). Although many of the papers are compulsory in Law, there is the opportunity to pick two options in third year.
Law at Cambridge
The Cambridge Law course also focuses on the academic over the practical. Although all students begin with the same course, there is the option to apply for the Erasmus programme and study abroad in third year. All papers in first year are compulsory but in second and third year students pick papers from a wide range of options, including an optional dissertation in third year. Some papers are compulsory should students want to proceed directly onto the LPC.
At Oxford, Maths can be combined with Philosophy, Computer Science or Statistics. The single honours course begins with compulsory modules covering a range of Mathematics, before allowing students more options in their second year, alongside a compulsory core of algebra, complex analysis, metric spaces and differential equations. The third and fourth year allows students complete choice to specialise into their particular interests in various areas of Mathematics. Students have the option to apply for a transfer to a fourth year studying entirely mathematical and theoretical Physics.
Mathematics at Cambridge
The Mathematics course at Cambridge offers two options – Pure and Applied Mathematics, or Mathematics with Physics. The first year introduces students to the fundamentals of higher Mathematics with eight papers taken. The second year allows students choice from a wide range of options, deepening the knowledge attained in the first year, whilst also introducing new topics. The third year gives students an opportunity to explore their particular mathematical interests in more detail. Furthermore, there is an optional fourth year for students who wish to complete an integrated Masters.
Medicine at Oxford
Oxford splits the Medicine degree into pre-clinical studies (3 years) and clinical studies (3 years). For the pre-clinical section of their degree, students study the fundamental aspects of the structure and function of the human body, and the mechanisms behind disease, followed by more advanced options studied alongside a research project and extended essay. The final three years are practise based, and involve rotations in Oxford and District general hospitals.
Medicine at Cambridge
The Medicine course at Cambridge is also split into pre-clinical and clinical studies. Years One and Two aim to provide a scientific basis to allow students to develop medical career to the full. In third year, students can specialise in a wide range of subjects, including less obviously related subjects such as Anthropology or Philosophy. From years Four to Six, students are based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and begin to specialise in medical practice.
Modern Languages at Oxford
Students of Modern Languages at Oxford may study either a language on its own, or combine it with another language (Modern or Middle Eastern), Linguistics, English, Classics, Philosophy or History. From first year there is a heavy focus on literature alongside the practical language work and also on linguistics for those studying sole languages. The year abroad takes place in the third year, unless Russian is taken ab initio, and there is no dissertation or project as part of this year.
Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
All students who read Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge study two languages (choices include languages from the Asian and Middle Eastern studies faculty, and Classical Latin or Greek), with an option to add a third language at an ab initio in second year. The course involves intensive language study but also has a heavy focus on culture, with options available in literature, history, art and film. A project is completed during the year abroad, which counts for a sixth of the final mark, and an oral examination takes place on return, separate from the other final year exams.
Two Thirds Column
Music at Oxford
In the first year of the Oxford Music course, students study standard modules, such as musical analysis and techniques of composition, alongside special options and a performance, composition or extended essay. The second and third years allow students to choose options and specialise, whilst also studying topics in music history both before and after 1700. The options include opportunities to submit a dissertation or composition portfolio.
Music at Cambridge
The core of the Music course at Cambridge centres on historical and critical studies, tonal skills and music analysis, all three of which are studied throughout first and second year. In first year students also have the option of performance, composition or an extended essay, and in second year there are several optional papers available. There are no compulsory papers and third year, so students can chose papers to reflect their interest and abilities, including an optional dissertation or composition.
Physics at Oxford
The three years of the Oxford Physics course pair compulsory courses covering a wide range of physics disciplines, with options that allow students to advance their knowledge in particular areas of physics. The fourth and final year allows deeper specialism, with students conducting a research project
Natural Sciences (Physical)
Students wishing to study Physics at Cambridge take the physical route of Natural Sciences, which allows students to combine their physics modules with topics from Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Material Sciences and Computer Science. Second year offers eight physical science modules, which may allow specialisation into either Physics or Chemistry or remain broad. Most students specialise into one subject during their third year. Students can continue onto a fourth year if they wish, and gain an MSci degree.
Theology and Religion at Oxford
Students of Theology at Oxford begin by studying four compulsory papers which give a broad understanding of theology and religion, including a choice of scriptural language. The second and third years of the degree enable students to choose subjects across four subject areas, including biblical studies, systematic theology and ethics and world religions, encompassing Judaism, Islam and Hinduism amongst others. A thesis on a topic of the student’s choice is compulsory.
Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge
The first year of the Theology course at Cambridge is designed to give you a broad introduction to the concepts and skills required in the study of philosophy. A scriptural language must be taken, alongside biblical studies, but students can then pick three other options which include modules focused on Christianity, world religion and the philosophy of religion. The second year builds on these skills, with complete freedom in the options you choose, allowing you develop the course suited to your interests. The final year furthers this specialisation with more special subjects and includes an optional dissertation.
We always advise candidates who are passionate about a specific subject to apply for it. However, it is also important that you are aware of what you are applying for with regard to the acceptance rate of applicants.
The tables below show acceptance rates for the courses it is most difficult to gain admission onto. Note that Oxford offers some courses with very small intakes and the data here only concern ‘Large Courses’, which Oxford defines as those with more than 20 places available. If you are considering applying for a course with fewer than 20 places and would like further information regarding acceptance rates, feel free to contact us.
|Economics & Management||7%|
|History & Politics||13%|
|Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics||16%|
|Psychological & Behavioural Science||15%|
|Maths (inc. with Physics)||20%|
At both Oxford and Cambridge, three courses consistently attract very high numbers of applications: Medicine, Economics and Law. If you are interested in applying for these three then you may benefit from looking into alternative courses for which, statistically speaking, your application is more likely to be successful. These are relatively vocational areas of study, so research to ensure that the alternatives suggested here are compatibile with your post-university plans is of great importance.
The rigorous standards that Medicine applicants are measured against, as well as the sheer volume of applicants, makes Medicine a difficult course to apply successfully to. Students interested in the science of Medicine, rather than the practical treatment of patients, could look into Biomedical Sciences at Oxford and Biological Natural Sciences at Cambridge.
No matter which variation of Economics a candidate applies for, be it straight Economics, PPE or Economics and Management, it is a difficult subject in which to win a place. For students interested in PPE, but perhaps not so interested in the Politics aspect, Mathematics and Philosophy at Oxford allows students to explore the mathematical basis of Economics while retaining the Philosophy of PPE.
Much like Medicine and Economics, Law is oversubscribed, not only because it is a well-known course, but because of its deserved reputation as a pragmatic next step to a career. Students interested in both Law and Economics might consider Land Economy at Cambridge, which combines both of these subjects through analysis of business, finance, and the environment.
Want to find out what your chances are of getting into Oxford or Cambridge? Every year we survey hundreds of people who applied the previous year, giving you crucial statistical insight into the probability of gaining a place.
We have gathered information on all elements of the Oxford and Cambridge application processes, from which schools students came from, to whether they were asked about their personal statements at interview, and what further help they would like if they were to apply again.
The most interesting information is found in this report…
Historians may expect to have to take History, and English student may expect to have taken English – but Maths?
Surprisingly, this may be the case. Over half of successful Arts, Humanities, and Social Science applicants studied Maths at A-Level. While this doesn’t mean that maths is a course requirement, studying it at A-Level does demonstrate to admissions tutors a student’s ability to study an academically rigorous subject at a high level.
To study Medicine at Cambridge, students have to have studied Chemistry and at least two subjects from the following choices: Maths, Physics, and Biology.
Our data shows, however, that 100% of successful applicants studied Biology – so while it appears to be an option to not take Biology according to the admissions criteria, the reality is that Biology is as good as a required course for Medicine applicants.
Of interest is also the benefit of taking Maths over Physics out of these two remaining options – 92% of successful applicants studied Maths, while only 51% studied Physics.
Law is an essay-based subject and as such, essay based courses at A-Level are a good choice for making a successful application. 72% of successful applicants had studied English Literature, while 60% had studied History.
With yet another case of unstated course requirements, all three of these subjects show massively skewed success depending on which courses were chosen at A-Level.
All successful Cambridge Economists who worked with us last year took Further Maths at A-Level, and while the Oxford website does not state Maths as a required subject, all PPE applicants we surveyed had studied Maths at A-Level.
With PPE in particular, we can see that studying the subject you’re taking at degree level should not be an indication to take this subject at A-Level. Prior knowledge of Philosophy or Politics is not always necessary, with only 10% of successful applicants studying Politics and 24% studying Philosophy or Religious Studies.
Oxford and Cambridge already have literature on which courses to take at A-Level. This is a vital starting point for any student who is wondering which A levels to choose, or which course to choose based on the A levels he or she has.
However, for the highly competitive subjects like the ones above, it is valuable to undergo more advanced research to ensure that a bad course or subject choice doesn’t harm a good application.
A chess board is 8 squares by 8 squares. How many squares are there on a chessboard?
(We’ll give you a clue… it’s not 64!)
Your favourite performer is play a concert but it is sold out. On the night of the concert, you go anyway to try and find a ticket tout. You find one who has her last ticket to sell but lots of people want to buy it.
She says she will sell it to the highest bidder, for the price of the second highest bid (and all buyers must bid secretly in a sealed envelope). You think the ticket is worth £60. Should you bid less than £60, £60 or more than £60?
Mice are used in many important experiments for human medical health, but one of the main challenges is working out if they experience non-visible side effects.
How would you design an experiment to see if mice experience tinnitus in response to aspirin?
This resource points out many alternative options to the ‘orthodox’ Oxford and Cambridge courses, and explains how the disciplines in them overlap with the ‘Big Six’ most popular degree choices.
I have wanted to study this subject since before I was born….
These words (or ones like them) have cropped up on the first drafts of thousands of personal statements up and down the country, year after year, written with complete honesty by students that may have been determined to study their subject long before UCAS appeared on the horizon.
I should know – when I made my application to study English Literature at Oxford, I was at the last hurdle of a dream ten years in the making. Why English? Because I had always been good at it, from whizzing through reading schemes in primary school to essay prizes and writing novels throughout my teens. Maths was not for me, the sciences were not for me; I wavered briefly towards History at the urging of one particularly inspiring AS-Level teacher, but by the time prospectuses came around I was flipping straight to the ‘English Literature’ page with only a cursory glance at the index. My interviews and acceptance to Oxford went without a hitch, everything seemed predestined.
I was re-interviewing at the faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology (and having many conversations with confused tutors!), determined to change courses and leave my old dream behind. I was not the only student within my time at Oxford who wanted to change subjects, though I was among a minority that were successful- at an institution that expects you to love the subject that you are studying, it is a worrying sign to be flighty with your choices. Changing subjects internally is not easy, yet I have never once regretted doing so. I simply wish that I had done it sooner, that I had taken the time as a Sixth Former to really reflect on what I wanted from my university experience.
…that gives the impression that its own courses are similarly orthodox. This belief is reflected year after year in the application statistics; whilst Medicine, Economics, PPE, Engineering, Law and Maths have the most daunting ratios of applications to places, many other fantastic courses, often with surprising amounts of topic overlap, go unnoticed.
The range of possible combinations available within Oxbridge goes very far beyond the six options above and can offer, crucially, a better fit for a prospective student- not only strengthening their application but, should that application be successful, guarantees a more productive, fascinating and altogether academically happier undergraduate experience. I ignored the archaeological digs that I had been on during my school holidays, the National Geographics and documentaries that I read and watched religiously, and my fascination with ancient history and the origins of today’s traditions and technologies, to my detriment – a few minutes with a student before that crucial UCAS deadline can avert all of that.
Economics (Cambridge)/E&M (Oxford):12.9% Cambridge/7% Oxford
Medicine: 16.9% Cambridge/10.1% Oxford,
Engineering: 15.3% Cambridge/21.8% Oxford
Law: 22.7% Cambridge/15.1% Oxford
HSPS (Cambridge)/PPE (Oxford): 22.6% Cambridge/14.1% Oxford
Maths: 17.2% Cambridge/17.6% Oxford
These subjects are not necessarily the most competitive. For example, at Cambridge, Architecture is one of the most competitive subjects at 10.4%. However, this is skewed due to there being a relatively small number of places available.
Are you caught between Law and Economics? Land Economy at Cambridge offers a fascinating mix of both. Maybe you’re set on applying to Medicine at Oxford- despite its 10% success rate – but the reason behind your interest has more to do with the intricacies of molecular biology and neuroscience than talking to patients: consider Biomedical Sciences (Oxford) or Biological Natural Sciences (Cambridge). Are you a linguist looking for a new challenge outside of Europe, or a Historian wanting to reach beyond a rather Euro-centric curriculum? Try Oriental Studies at Oxford which offers courses in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Ancient Near Eastern Studies (including Akkadian and Sumerian), Egyptology and Sanskrit. Many of these can be combined with a modern European language in the European and Middle Eastern Languages course, also offered by the faculty. Of course, I would be amiss not to add Archaeology and Anthropology (Oxford), which offers an incredible blend of History, Sociology, Theology, Oriental Studies, Pathology and more, and there is also HSPS for the more politically-minded at Cambridge, CAAH for those with a Classical leaning, or Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic for those with a passion for the origins of the English language.
All this choice may seem a daunting prospect, but as I learnt the hard way, it’s really worth thinking about this now. The potential impact on your academic future is as limitless as it is valuable.
Our Oxbridge consultants can give you detailed advice and talk you through the statistics and the individual courses to help you make a decision. Meet us for a Private Consultation over Skype, or in our Central London offices.
A census-taker knocks on a door, and asks the woman inside how many children she has and how old they are.
“I have three daughters, their ages are whole numbers, and the product of the ages is 36,” says the mother.
“That’s not enough information,” responds the census-taker.
“I’d tell you the sum of their ages, but you’d still be stumped.”
“I wish you’d tell me something more.”
“Okay, my oldest daughter Annie likes dogs.”
What are the ages of the three daughters?
The product of the ages is 36, and the ages are whole numbers. We can write down all the combinations of factors of 36 that could occur:
1 x 1 x 36
1 x 2 x 18
1 x 3 x 12
1 x 4 x 9
1 x 6 x 6
2 x 2 x 9
2 x 3 x 6
3 x 3 x 4
Whichever way you choose to do it, some thought leads us to the conclusion that these are the only unique combinations of ages. Now the second clue is ‘if you knew the sum of their ages, you’d still be stumped’. This means that there are at least two with the same sum:
1, 1, 36 sum = 38
1, 2, 18 sum = 21
1, 3, 12 sum = 16
1, 4, 9 sum = 14
1, 6, 6 sum = 13
2, 2, 9 sum = 13
2, 3, 6 sum = 11
3, 3, 4 sum = 10
We’ve narrowed it down to the two possibilities it could be.
Now, the final clue, which didn’t appear to be a clue at all, emerges: ‘my oldest daughter Annie…’ By the fact that the woman can say the phrase ‘my oldest daughter’ at all, she cannot have an oldest pair of twins, which would be the combination 6, 6, 1. She has to have the combination 9, 2, 2, which is the only combination with a unique oldest daughter.