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Aspiring academics around the world are well aware that Oxford University and Cambridge University are two of the most prestigious and desirable learning institutes in the world.

What you may not have been aware of is that if you are looking at applying, you’ll have to decide between the two of them, as you can’t apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same academic year. But why is that?

Some people have speculated in the past that the two universities are in such competition that they do not want to be second choice to anyone, let alone to their long-held rival, but it’s slightly less dramatic than that.

Basically, it comes down to supply and demand.

Both universities know that they are going to receive a huge volume of applications, so by allowing people to apply for both institutions, it would create an even larger number of applicants to assess for a limited intake at each. Additionally, it can lead to both universities conducting interviews with applicants who could ultimately only attend one, so it is done largely for efficiency’s sake.

A potential positive of this arrangement that both universities like to point out is that it leads to applicants having to think a little harder about exactly which of the two they’d like to attend, rather than simply determining that their only aim is to “study at Oxbridge”.

One point of note that you should be aware of, is that this restriction on applying for both universities in the same year only applies to British students, with overseas students allowed to apply at both if desired.

Which of the universities should you choose?

It really comes down to what you’re looking to study. While both universities offer strong teaching programmes across a range of arts and sciences, they will offer slightly different course options across their excellent teaching facilities, so make sure you dive into the course offerings and find the best one for you. 

With some degree courses offered at both universities, and others offered at one of the Universities but not the other – you should make sure to check each undergraduate prospectus and/or website for specific details of the courses they offer. One point of note is that while there may be two courses with the same, or very similar, titles at both of the universities, the two courses themselves may be different in terms of the modules and content involved. With this in mind, make sure you check the course details to see which suits you best.

What does the application process involve?

The two institutions differ somewhat on their application processes, with the main distinctions being:

Firstly, at Cambridge there will be some students who are required to complete the Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA) as well as their UCAS application. Cambridge will also ask all of their applicants to complete an online Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ), which they say they require in order to ensure that they have consistent information about all of their applicants.

In contrast, Oxford does not actually require potential students to complete any extra forms. They will typically need to take a written test or assessment as part of their application, but we will cover this in the next section about the interview process. This will only happen if a student’s application is shortlisted, for now all you need to know is that there are no additional forms.

What does the interview process involve?

While every student’s experience of the interview process will be personal, the overall purpose, structure and flow of these interviews is actually quite similar at both of the aforementioned Universities. They function quite a lot like a mini tutorial or supervision, which if you’re not familiar with at this point, you will find commonplace in the university experience. In general, students would be given a small passage to read, or maybe even set a small problem, which they’ll then be able to discuss with the interviewer/s.

The main purpose of these interviews is to give the interviewer/s a feel for how each individual student applies their current knowledge and personal skill-set to approach the question/s they are posed, as well as how they process the information available. 

If you do decide to study in Cambridge be sure to check out our Cambridge based student housing options.

You should know that it’s not a race; it’s not really a matter of how quickly you arrive at a particular answer, or even whether you reach an answer at all. The sort of questions posed in an interview often aren’t ones with clear right or wrong answers, it’s more about exploring each student’s process in terms of how they reach their answer. This is of most significance to the interviewer/s, who are looking at how each student thinks.

That may sound daunting, but actually, it’s really useful for each student to relax and try to be themselves as much as possible. Don’t worry about rushing to a conclusion, or giving the wrong answer, just work through what you think in a clear and audible manner. You should also keep in mind that a student’s interview performance isn’t the deciding factor in the success of their application, there are a variety of factors taken into account as both Cambridge and Oxford decide on their student intake for the next academic year.

We hope that this guide has been a helpful summary on why you cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year, as well as a little on how to go about deciding between the two and how to approach your interview should you have the privilege of making it onto the shortlist. We wish you all the best in your application and academic future wherever you end up studying.

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