Oxbridge is the term used to refer to the two oldest Universities in the UK – Oxford and Cambridge. Any student wishing to apply to Oxford or Cambridge needs to get their UCAS form in early (by 15th October) and has to choose which one of these prestigious institutions to apply to (students are not allowed to apply to both). Both universities are very selective and require applicants to not only have excellent academic records, but to sit additional entry tests, submit written work and (if selected) attend an academic based interview before being made an offer of a place.
Both Universities offer traditional academic courses where formal assessment is often 100% based on exams. Both stress the importance of their highly personalised teaching time led by subject experts, with Oxford calling these sessions tutorials and Cambridge referring to them as supervisions. Both universities offer a broad range of courses, excellent resources, a wide range of extra-curricular options and excellent graduate opportunities irrespective of degree discipline. In addition, both universities boast historic architecture and are situated in attractive places to live, where students enjoy cycling and punting on the rivers.
Whilst Oxford and Cambridge share a reputation for world-renowned teaching and research in both arts and science subjects there are differences between them, particularly in choice of courses and course structures. Whilst some courses have a lot in common there are particular subjects or combinations of subject that are only offered at one of the Universities. For example, PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) is offered at Oxford and HSP (Human, Social and Political Science) at Cambridge. If you want to study Veterinary Science at Oxbridge then you must apply to Cambridge; those interested in Fine Art must head for Oxford. Cambridge courses (or Triposes) cover subject areas very broadly in the initial years and then offer a wide range of options in which to specialize in the later years. Most science subjects at Cambridge are taught within the Natural Sciences framework, which gives students a broad first year before allowing specialization in the following years; at Oxford science specialisms are studied from day one.
In contrast to most UK universities Oxford and Cambridge are made up of colleges and applications are made to individual colleges (unless a student makes an open application). Once a student is accepted at a college then that remains their home and central focus of teaching for much of their time at university. Each college decides which applicants will be offered places, organises the small group teaching sessions, provides accommodation and other facilities and takes overall responsibility for the students’ academic and pastoral care. The university and its departments and faculties set and mark examinations, decide on course content and organise lectures, seminars and practicals.
There are many characteristics that differentiate colleges and that students should consider when making an application but the most important question to ask yourself is “would I be happy living and studying here for three or more years.”
- Application is made via UCAS, with all courses having an early deadline of 15 October. Cambridge also asks applicants to complete an online Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ), which contains some extra questions and the opportunity to include an additional ‘personal statement’.
- As well as looking at a students’ academic record, personal statement and teacher’s reference, the majority of courses at Oxford require applicants to sit admissions tests or written assessments either before interview or at interview and the same is true of Cambridge from 2016. Applicants may be asked to submit written work as part of the application process for some courses.
- Selected applicants are interviewed in December for all courses at Oxford and Cambridge.
- Interviewed candidates are then advised of the outcome of their application in January.
Making a competitive application?
Oxbridge admissions tutors are primarily interested in an applicant’s academic engagement. They are looking for evidence that the student has a genuine interest in studying the subject at university level, that they are a good ‘fit’ for the Oxbridge course in terms of the style of teaching and assessment, have a good core knowledge of their subject along with technical fluency, focus and determination, the ability to learn independently and to think critically.
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