As the UK’s oldest and most famous universities, Oxford and Cambridge share a historic rivalry that 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® 2022|
|Subject strengths, based on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020|
QS World University Rankings® 2022
The University of Oxford marginally outranks Cambridge in the QS World University Rankings® 2022, with Oxford placing in second and Cambridge placing in joint third. 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.
Oxford has a slightly stronger score for citations per faculty member – an indicator that aims to reflect the influence attained by research produced at each institution, although both schools rank in the global top 50.
Oxford also takes the lead when it comes to the faculty-student ratio (number of students per academic staff member), but both places in the global top 10 for this indicator and 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.
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 44 out of a possible 51 subjects, while Cambridge makes 45 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 2021|
|University of Oxford||University of Cambridge|
|Accounting & finance||5th||7th|
|Anatomy & physiology||1st||2nd|
|Art & design||36th||—|
|Business & management||10th||8th|
|Classics & ancient history||2nd||3rd|
|Computer science & information systems||6th||8th|
|Earth & marine sciences||9th||4th|
|Education & training||4th||6th|
|English language & literature||1st||2nd|
|Physics & astronomy||5th||4th|
|Social policy & administration||2nd||5th|
|Theology, divinity & religious studies||3rd||9th|
|See the full QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021|
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 characterized by attractive historic architecture and rivers running through the city centers. In both schools, you’ll often be 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 program 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 (2021/22, full-time)|
|Undergraduate (international students)||£26,770 to £37,510 (excluding medicine for 2021 entry)|
|£22,227 to £33,827 for international students (excluding medicine)|
|Graduate (UK)||£3,114 to £17,760 for most master’s and doctoral programs this varies depending on the subject, there are a few exceptions with higher fees||£8,844 to £15,276 for most master’s and doctoral programs this varies depending on the subject; there are a few exceptions with higher fees|
|Graduate (international students)||£12,223 to £29,160 for most master’s and doctoral programs; varies depending on the subject and there are a few exceptions with higher fees||£22,482 to 36,012 for most master’s and doctoral programs; varies depending on the subject and there are a few exceptions with higher fees|
As well as tuition fees, Oxford advises students to allow between £13,620 and £19,800 per year for living costs, including accommodation, food, study resources, socializing, and other items. Cambridge recommends a minimum of £9,890 per year for living expenses. You can find out more about the costs of studying in the UK here.
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 (the repayment threshold is currently £27,295 for Plan 2 graduates). 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 of up to £3,500 per year, in addition to a range of funding opportunities that 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 that is both academically challenging and aesthetically inspiring.
This article was originally published in October 2013. It was last updated in June 2021.