For some applicants, deciding whether to apply 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.
Biology at Oxford
The Biology course at Oxford is taught jointly by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology. It incorporates an optional fourth-year, giving students the option of graduating after three years with a BA or after four years with an MBiol. The course begins with students taking compulsory modules in the first year surrounding three overarching and interwoven themes: Diversity of Life, How to Build a Phenotype, and Ecology and Evolution. There is also a compulsory skills training course designed to enable students to develop the research skills relevant to modern biology. Second year offers students greater specialisation, allowing them to choose three of four themes. Third year allows even more choice, with students able to choose freely from eight options, in line with their preferred specialism. Additionally, practical work is an integral part of the course throughout. If you opt to stay for the fourth year, you will have the opportunity to pursue an in-depth research project.
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, students choose three experimental sciences out of a choice of seven, along with one mathematically-focused subject. Second year broadens subject choice further with students choosing three subjects from 19 options available, enabling them to continue taking biology-related subjects in combination with other non-biological modules if they wish to. Usually in third year students will focus on a single advanced subject and specific areas of the discipline, including a research project or dissertation. Upon successfully completing third year, students graduate with a BA or have the option of continuing onto a fourth year and completing the MSci degree.
Classics at Oxford
Classics (Literae Humaniores) at Oxford is a four-year course and follows two routes depending on whether the student took either Latin and/or Greek at A-level, and can be combined with an extensive choice of subjects from the Faculty of Philosophy. Studying the Iliad and/or the Aeneid is compulsory in first year, and options for the final years cover topics including Roman/Greek history, literature and archaeology, philology and linguistics, philosophy, and a second classical language.
Classics at Cambridge
Classics at Cambridge is either three or four years, depending on whether you have taken A-Levels in Latin, with the first year (preliminary year) of the four-year course focused on language acquisition through extensive language study and the reading of texts from the Roman world. From the start, both Roman and Greek literature are studied alongside papers in translation, ancient history, archaeology, art, philosophy, philology and linguistics. This is said to help students build the broadest possible understanding of the ancient world and our relationship to it. The final year (either third or fourth year) offers students a chance to specialise in particular areas of these disciplines (e.g. in archaeology), or instead opt to construct a wide-ranging course particular to one’s individual strengths and interests.
Computer Science at Oxford
The Computer Science course at Oxford aims to create links between theory and practice. During the first year, the course focuses on the basics of Computer Science, including modules covering basic programming and advanced mathematics. In the second year, half the course consists of compulsory, core subject modules while the other half includes a range of optional modules which are studied. In their third year, students can choose more advanced and specialised options and also undertake project work. Upon successful completion, students have the option of graduating with a BA or alternatively may stay on for a fourth year, gaining an MCompSci. This fourth year involves a mix of written papers and project work.
Computer Science at Cambridge
At Cambridge, the Computer Science course begins with the foundations of computer science, studied alongside one mathematics paper. During the second year, students are introduced to topics surrounding computer science including computation theory, systems such as computer networking, programming including advanced algorithms, and applications and professionalism such as artificial intelligence. Third year allows students to specialise on an area of interest such as computer architecture, applications or theory. Upon successful completion, students graduate with a BA or may stay on for a fourth year, studying the optional integrated master’s degree, MEng. This fourth year is designed to enable students to explore issues at the forefront of computer science and is predominantly research-based.
Economics and Management at Oxford
The Economics and Management course at Oxford consists of the two disciplines being studied alongside each other during the three years. In their first year, students take three compulsory courses, covering topics on introductory economics, general management, and financial management. In both second and third year, students take at least two modules in Economics (of which one is Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Quantitative Economics or Development of the World Economy since 1800) and at least two Management modules, and can select these modules from over 20 option papers. Further, students also have the opportunity of writing a thesis in either Economics or Management in place of one of the option papers.
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; compulsory modules include Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Quantitative Methods in Economics, Political and Social Aspects of Economics, and British Economic History. During their second year, students are required to study compulsory modules on topics covering macroeconomics, microeconomics and the theory and practice of economics, along with taking an optional paper which students may choose from a diverse range of economics papers. Studying topics related to macroeconomics and microeconomics continues into the third year of the course, with students choosing an additional two optional papers as well as writing a compulsory dissertation on a topic of their choice.
Engineering Science at Oxford
The Engineering Science course at Oxford lasts four years, with students graduating with an MEng. It begins with two years of studying five key modules surrounding engineering: Mathematics, Electrical and information engineering, Structures and mechanics, Energy and the environment, and Engineering practical work. This broader academic introduction is designed to help students gain a diverse understanding of engineering before specialising during the latter half of their degree. The third year consists of five optional engineering courses to choose, along with practical work, group design projects, and modules in Engineering in society and Engineering computation. During their fourth year, students predominantly undertake research and are given scope to specialise in one of six branches concerned with engineering such as biochemical, chemical, civil, electrical, information or mechanical engineering. Additionally, practical engineering work and projects form a substantial part of the course throughout the course.
Engineering at Cambridge
At Cambridge, the Engineering course tends to last four years, with most students graduating with an MEng degree upon successful completion (although a handful of students do sometimes opt to graduate after three years with a BA). The first two years of the course provide a broad education in engineering fundamentals and principles covering a variety of topics such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, materials, mathematical methods and even business economics. The third and fourth years are designed to provide students with the opportunity to specialise into one of ten engineering disciplines including options such as Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Energy, Sustainability and the Environment. Students are also required to complete a major individual project in their fourth year, which necessitates conducting a significant amount of research. Throughout their degree, students undertake practical work and projects alongside lectures and seminars.
English Language and Literature at Oxford
The English Language and Literature course at Oxford prides itself on giving students a broad understanding of English literature, as well as the opportunity to study written works from other parts of the world, allowing you to reflect on English literature in multilingual and global contexts across time. The course begins with four compulsory papers taken in the first year, which cover topics spanning from the Medieval era to the present day. During the second year, students can choose between one of two routes: either ‘Course I’, which progresses chronologically from the 1300s to the 1830s, or opting for ‘Course II’, which focuses more on earlier literature (650s to 1800s) and the history of the English language. During the third year, Course I includes a Shakespeare paper and Course II allows for an option between Shakespeare or the material text. Regardless of which route students choose (Course I or Course II), students are required to undertake both a special options paper and a dissertation in their third year.
English at Cambridge
Although the Cambridge course also follows a chronological approach to English Literature during the first two years, the backbone of the course is ‘Practical Criticism and Critical Practice’, with an emphasis being placed on curating the ability to think critically and deliberate effectively. This is designed to develop students’ skills in approaching literature, giving them the opportunity to study many primary and secondary works which may not be included in other papers. In their third year, there are only two compulsory papers – Practical Criticism and Critical Practice, along with Tragedy. Both modules span the ages from Ancient Greece to the present day, offering great flexibility in areas of study. Additionally, students write a compulsory dissertation and may either submit a second dissertation and take one optional paper, or choose two optional papers, with these optional papers chosen from a diverse range of topics.
Geography at Oxford
The Geography course at Oxford focuses on the interrelationships between society and the physical and human environment. In the first year, students take four compulsory courses which cover a range of fundamental areas: Earth systems processes, Human geography, Geographical controversies, and Geographical techniques. Additionally, students are required to go on an induction physical geography field trip lasting four days, as well as participate in a one-day human geography field trip exercise. In the second and third years, students take foundational, core courses alongside choosing three modules from a diverse range of optional modules such as African societies, Geographies of finance and even Island life. Further, students attend an overseas field trip in their second year and are required to write a dissertation in their final year.
Geography at Cambridge
Students begin the Geography course at Cambridge, studying both human and physical geography. Additionally, they are also required to take the paper Geographical Skills and Methods. In their second year, students take a core Geographical Ideas and Themes paper, alongside which they may begin to specialise by selecting three papers from a choice of six covering topics on human geography and physical and environmental geography. Second year also includes a residential field trip which forms the basis of the third-year dissertation. Alongside this compulsory dissertation in third year, students can either specialise even further or maintain a balance across the subject as a whole. All papers are optional in third year, with students required to select four from 12.
History at Oxford
The History course at Oxford offers a broad range of modules covering various periods in time, spanning from the fifth century to modern-day history. Students have the option of studying the history of a range of different geographical areas, from the Middle East to Ireland. These papers are available throughout the course alongside the study of historical methods and disciplines. Specifically, in their first year, students take four papers on topics covering British history, European and world history, historical methods, and a fourth module from a choice of 20. In their second and third years, six papers are taken, including a compulsory thesis to be completed in the third year, which allows students the opportunity to engage in a piece of independent research.
History at Cambridge
At Cambridge, the History course offers a range of options in terms of papers, spanning three millennia and covering areas across the globe. During the first two years, the course focuses 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, as well as a compulsory Themes and Sources paper which provides an introduction for approaching and handling primary sources. In their third year, students have the opportunity to specialise in their areas of interest, and are required to take five papers, three of which are compulsory. The dissertation paper may be chosen as an optional paper or alternatively, students can opt for another optional paper from a list of Specified Subjects and Political Thought papers.
Law (Jurisprudence) at Oxford
For the Law course at Oxford, there are two pathways which students can choose to follow: either ‘Course I’, a three-year course, or ‘Course II’, a four-year course which follows the same syllabus as the former, but includes a year spent abroad studying law at a European university. Both of these pathways focus on topics chosen for their intellectual rather than practical interest, although the degree does qualify students to proceed immediately to the LPC (Legal Practice Course). Throughout the entire course, most papers are compulsory in Law, although students do have the opportunity to select two options from a wide range of papers in their final year.
Law at Cambridge
The Cambridge Law course also places higher focus 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 during the third year. Whilst the course is primarily concerned with English law, students do have the opportunity to study other legal systems such as EU law, and may also study theoretical and sociological aspects of law including jurisprudence or parts of criminology. In the first year, all papers are compulsory. On the other hand, during the second and third years, students may choose papers from a varied range of options, including an optional dissertation in their third year. Some papers are deemed compulsory should students wish to proceed directly onto the LPC.
Mathematics at Oxford
At Oxford, there are two Mathematics degrees: the three-year BA and the four-year MMath. During the first year, the course consists of core papers in pure and applied mathematics (including statistics). From the second year onwards, students have the opportunity to choose papers from a large variety of options, including options from outside mathematics. The course begins with compulsory modules covering a range of mathematical papers, before allowing students more options in their second year, alongside several compulsory core papers: Algebra, Complex analysis, Metric spaces and Differential equations. The third and fourth year allows students even further options to specialise in, ranging from topics on mathematical biology to mathematical philosophy, thus ensuring they can tailor the course to their particular interests in various mathematical options. Additionally, students have the option to apply for a transfer to a fourth year studying entirely mathematical and theoretical physics, thus completing their degree with an MMathPhys.
Mathematics at Cambridge
In the first year of the Mathematics course at Cambridge, there are two options which students may choose between, depending on how they wish to gear their degree during the subsequent years of their degree: Pure and Applied Mathematics, or Mathematics with Physics. The first year introduces students to the fundamentals of higher mathematics with eight papers taken. During the second year, students can choose papers from around 16 different options which cover a broad range of topics. In the third year, you have the opportunity to explore your mathematical interests in detail. There is a range of options including papers concerned with cryptography, mathematical biology and even cosmology. Furthermore, there is an optional fourth year for students who wish to complete an integrated Masters, thus graduating with an MMath.
Medicine at Oxford
The Medicine course at Oxford retains a distinct three-year pre-clinical stage, which includes studying towards a BA in Medical Sciences, followed by a three-year clinical stage, thus graduating with both a Bachelor’s in Medicine and Bachelor’s in Surgery (BM BCh) at the end of the entire course. For the pre-clinical part of their degree, students study the fundamental aspects of the structure and function of the human body, and the mechanisms behind disease. This is followed by more advanced options in the latter half of the degree, which are studied alongside a research project and an extended essay. The final three years are also practice-based and involve rotations in Oxford and District general hospitals.
Medicine at Cambridge
The Medicine course at Cambridge is also split into a pre-clinical stage and a clinical stage. During the first two years, the course aims to provide students with a scientific basis, enabling them to fully develop their future medical career. During their third year, students can specialise in a range of varying subjects, including less obviously related subjects such as Anthropology or Philosophy. During the latter half of the degree, the emphasis is on learning in clinical settings; students are therefore based both at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie Hospitals), beginning to specialise in medical practice.
Modern Languages at Oxford
The Modern Languages course at Oxford is a four-year course including a year abroad. It provides both practical training in written and spoken language, along with an extensive introduction to literature and thought written in European languages. Additionally, students learn to write and speak their chosen language(s) fluently, along with studying a wide range of literature, or opting instead to focus their studies on a specific period of time spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day. In the first year, the course is closely structured – you learn about the grammatical structure of your language(s), translation, comprehension and literature. From their second year, students have more freedom to choose areas in which they’d like to specialise, including topics such as linguistics or medieval literature. The year abroad takes place in the third year, unless Russian is taken ab initio, and there is no compulsory dissertation or project required in the final year.
Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
For the Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) course at Cambridge, you are required to study two languages, one of which can be learnt from scratch (the exceptions being French and Latin). Languages offered vary immensely, from Portuguese to Persian. It is also possible to combine one of the modern European modern languages with History. Further, in their second and fourth years, students may opt to study an additional language ab initio. During the first year, the main emphasis is placed on developing students’ language skills. In their second year, students take five papers: alongside continuing intensive language study in both of your selected languages, you are required to choose papers covering a range of topics such as film, history, and literature. In the latter two years of the course, students are given more freedom to specialise and choose from various options. Additionally, a project or a dissertation is completed during the year abroad (third year), and an oral examination takes place on return, separate from the other final year exams. In their final year, students can replace one of the written papers with a further dissertation.
Music at Oxford
The Music course at Oxford is broadly based but allows increasing specialisation and choice for students over the year. In their first year, students take six subjects, two of which are chosen from a list of options. Compulsory modules include papers such as Psychology of everyday musical experience, or Global hip hop, along with Musical analysis and critical listening, and Techniques of composition and keyboard skills. Options to choose from include, amongst others, Foundations in ethnomusicology, Composition, and Performance. During their second and third years, students take eight modules, six of which are chosen from a list of options, thus ensuring more freedom of choice and specialisation. Compulsory papers focus on topics concerned with the history of music during different eras and in different geographical locations. Options include papers covering a range of topics as well as opportunities to submit a dissertation or a composition portfolio.
Music at Cambridge
The Music course at Cambridge has a strong academic component, focusing on history, analysis, composition and performance, whilst also offering a range of other topics of study related to music. The first and second years are made up of three major components centred on historical and critical studies, tonal skills and music analysis. Additionally, during the second year, students choose three option papers on topics ranging from jazz and popular music, to music and science. Students may also complete a dissertation in their second year. During the final year, in which students take six papers, there are no compulsory modules and therefore you are given even more choice to specialise and tailor the course to suit your interests. A variety of topics are covered by these papers – options available range from Parisian Polyphony to Exploring Music Psychology. Students may also opt to produce a dissertation or a composition instead of taking one of their written papers in their final year.
Physics at Oxford
The Physics course at Oxford places a strong emphasis on fundamental concepts such as optics and relativity. In the first year, your time is equally divided between mathematics and physics with papers including Classical mechanics and special relativity, Electromagnetism, Circuit theory and optics, Mathematical methods I, and Differential equations and waves. In their second and third years, students pair compulsory courses covering a wide range of physics-related disciplines, with options that allow them to advance their knowledge in particular areas of interest ranging from topics on climate physics to quantum mechanics. Further, students are expected to complete laboratory work, presentations and projects throughout their studies. After the third year, students can graduate with a BA or may opt instead to pursue a further year, graduating with an MPhys upon successful completion. This fourth year allows for deeper subject specialism, with students conducting a research project, alongside taking two papers from a broad variety of papers ranging from Astrophysics to Atmospheres and oceans.
Natural Sciences (Physical)
Students studying Physics at Cambridge take the physical route of the Natural Sciences Tripos, which allows students to combine their physics modules with topics from Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Material Sciences and Computer Science. In the first year, you study three experimental sciences from a choice of seven, along with one mathematics paper from a choice of two. During their second year, students choose three modules from a wide range of options, allowing for specialisation into either Physics or Chemistry, or they may opt instead to remain broad. In their third year, most students choose to specialise into one subject such as Physics or Astrophysics. After three years, students graduate with a BA or can opt to continue onto a fourth year if they wish, and gain an MSci degree. Students also undertake a substantial project within a research group.
Theology and Religion at Oxford
The Theology and Religion course at Oxford begins with four papers taken in the first year, including: Religion and religions, Introduction to the study of the Bible, The figure of Jesus through the centuries, along with studying a scriptural language such as New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Qur’anic Arabic, Church Latin, Pali or Sanskrit. In their second and third years, students have a choice of seven papers across four subject areas covering topics on biblical studies, systematic theology and ethics, history of religions (such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism), and religion and religions (including Contemporary Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Hinduism). Additionally, all students are required to prepare a dissertation on a topic of their choice in their final year.
Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge
Encompassing the history, practice and thought of the major world religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, Cambridge’s Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion is designed to develop students’ understanding of the significance of religion and its cultural contexts. During the first year, you are required to take five papers designed to give you a broad introduction to the concept, knowledge and skills required in the main areas of study. There are two compulsory subjects: one scriptural language and one paper in biblical studies, and students select three other papers from a choice of six. During their second year, students are given complete freedom, choosing four papers out of 17, including papers ranging from Ethics and Faith to Theology and Literature. In the final year, students choose four papers from a wide range of ‘Special Subjects’ and interdisciplinary papers and may choose to write an optional dissertation instead of taking one of these papers.
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.
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.