Oxford vs Cambridge for Undergrad - Help!!

Hi all, writing this post as an international student entering final year of high school, about to begin the university admissions process soon, with an interest in eventually getting into buy-side finance (although keeping my options open in uni). I haven't had too much of a problem finalising my list except for one application for UCAS: Oxbridge. I've researched Cambridge Economics and Oxford Economics & Management (in addition to other Economic courses) to death, and am still unable to make a decision based off what I've read. I feel as though I would be equally happy to study economics either as a more theoretical, quantitative pursuit or in a more applied sense, and I should be able to meet the requirements for either. The admit rate for Oxford E&M is significantly lower than that of Cambridge Economics (6% vs 11%), but I'm not too sure whether this would translate into either being less difficult for me to get into, especially given that requirements are higher for Cambridge. Looked up both campuses online and I find them equally jaw-dropping. 

At this stage I'm so clueless that I'm actually taking into consideration the fact that a fictional character I like in a series of novels was supposed to have studied at Magdalen College in Oxford. A fictional character. Lord someone deliver me from my idiocy with any insights at all: how Oxford E&M and Cambridge Economics comparatively place into finance roles, where I'll have more downtime, where I'm likely to emerge with a stronger network, etc. Anything. Even a marginal advantage either way can help me make an informed decision. 

Thanks in advance!

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Comments (49)

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Aug 5, 2021 - 12:57pm

The city of Cambridge was built around the university, whereas Oxford existed before the university was founded. From what I've seen, the Cambridge student community is much more close-knit which creates a sense of belonging. As an example, compare the Facebook pages Camfess and Oxfess. Oxfess is pure shit

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Aug 5, 2021 - 1:02pm

Fair enough - I'm not counting on getting into either, but still want to apply to one of the two because I'm applying to a pretty large range of unis. Although I can't rationally explain why, studying in European countries other than England is kinda intimidating for me, so I'm looking at schools like LSE, UCL, Warwick, Durham, etc. Thanks! 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Sep 10, 2021 - 11:30am

You want to go to Oxbridge and then work in IBD but living abroad is intimidating ? This may be exactly what you need. Learn to cope with discomfort, it may be tout main strength later on

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  • Intern in PropTrad
Aug 5, 2021 - 1:20pm

Oxbridge won't really let you get into buyside out of undergrad (its very rare) and uni choice doesn't matter for buyside opps once you already break into a BB/EB anyway. A lot of buyside recruiting works on who you know and networking, a very select few of individuals will break into it out of undergrad and normally, purely anecdotally, they tend to be LSE kids. (Not because LSE>oxbridge, more to do with location/alumni links and heavy, heavy self-selection. A few LSE kids will already have the connections needed to get a buyside interview; an LSE student this year got an interview at a top hedge fund which is nuts). Prop trading is technically buyside and recruit primarily undergrads but your degree choice is sorta ill-suited for it

Economics is fine but at Cambridge the course is very  mathematical. You absolutely need A-level further maths to be competitive for it, econ & management at Oxford is much less maths-heavy. The course is irrelevant in the UK for IB recruiting, especially at top targets - the LSE guy studies something far removed from economics.  Neither will be harder than the other, just depends on how strong your maths is since cambridge economics interviews are basically applied maths interviews iirc. Finally, econ is very competitive in the UK (even tho course doesn't matter many students still wanna do econ) so as people can only apply to 1 of Ox/cam, alot of people who apply both will apply to UCL/LSE. As a result, even having 3xA* achieved doesn't guarantee an offer, its acc not too far fetched to assume you could get into Cambridge and rejected from LSE/UCL because of differences in admissions procedures. (Cambridge might not read your personal statement or look at your GCSEs but UCL/LSE will dissect them). This is somewhat rare i imagine, the only time stuff like this is common is for things like Medicine. Just worth noting that competition ratios at UCL/LSE tend to be higher than Oxbridge for econ specifically so just be aware (not saying they're harder to get into though, Oxbridge have interviews and entrance exams)

Aug 5, 2021 - 1:36pm

Thank you so much for your insights!! I don't think I'd be the best fit for prop trading or quant (either in interest or quantitative prowess), although I did initially consider operations research (MORSE) at Warwick. Buy-side is more of an eventual line of work that I think I'd be interested in; naturally, I'm looking at industries such as banking out of UG. Given what you say about the nature of Cambridge Economics, I might have to look into the course in greater detail, and understand precisely what mathematical depth it involves. 

the LSE guy studies something far removed from economics

Do you mean something like BSC Finance? Most of the other courses seem to involve economics in some capacity or the other. LSE is a school where although I know I want to apply, there are just sooo many courses to choose from. 

  • Intern in PropTrad
Aug 5, 2021 - 2:19pm

no it wasn't finance related at all - think it was like social policy or anthropology iirc. tbh its probably slightly easier to break in with less relevant degrees since they want diversity of thought and you stand out more from the slew of econ people applying. I was always asked from a STEM background about my degree and it was a really good spring board to build rapport and establish comfort in interviews.  Point is if you can get into a UK target, feel free to study what you want, even if its economics. Any advantage a non-standard degree affords is marginal at best and tbh it balances out because you could argue that someone with a relevant degree is going to be grilled less on whether or not they're properly motivated/informed about a career in finance. It really doesn't matter. If you love economics - study that and don't look back. As for Oxford vs Cambridge, the only thing worth noting is this: https://www.ppe.ox.ac.uk/files/ppeadmissions2020-21furtherstatisticsfin…

https://www.ppe.ox.ac.uk/files/ppeadmissions2020-21informationforapplic… and this. its for PPE but the criteria is identical as economics and management, only difference is the actual grade distribution might have a slightly more negative skew for E&M applicants. Oxford care alot about GCSEs, Cambridge don't care at all, don't rank them and interview a lot more. That being said, the cambridge process seems a lot more opaque and "gut feeling" than oxford's + the Cambridge course is a lot more mathematical.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Sep 10, 2021 - 11:29am

Is UCL good in econ? Seems weird to peer UCL with Oxbridge/LSE ...

  • Intern in PropTrad
Sep 10, 2021 - 1:06pm

Oxbridge>LSE>UCL.

I paired them because people who apply to Oxbridge will usually apply LSE/UCL for econ and both LSE and UCL have similar reqs and are both very competitive; you can get dinged from one and into the other. Undoubtedly LSE is a notch above UCL though.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Aug 6, 2021 - 7:29am

Currently studying econ at Cambridge and have a friend studying E&M at Oxford. There is basically no difference in recruiting or network between the two. The Cambridge course is more mathematical and you'll probably have more down time with the oxford course because with that course there's more choice in what you study and so more scope to choose easier papers/modules to lessen the workload. Personally I'd recommend choosing based on which course you think you have a better chance of getting into and which course you'll enjoy more. As someone mentioned here Oxford care more about GCSEs than Cambridge. My friend that got into E&M had stronger GCSEs than me but I had strong AS levels, which Cambridge looks at favourably. Also I'm more mathematically inclined so the Cambridge course suited me better in that regard too. 
 

One more thing. Not sure if you're doing a levels but if you are I'd recommend applying to E&M over Cambridge econ if you don't have further maths a level, or at the very least further maths as level. I think like 90% of people who get into Cambridge econ that did a levels did further maths to at least AS. Would also recommend not putting your eggs all in one basket re uni choice. LSE, Warwick, UCL are also great places to do econ with good recruiting opps for finance 

Aug 6, 2021 - 7:57am

Thank you soo much for your advice!  I didn't take actual GCSEs since my year had no exams; I opted for school transcripts instead, in which I have an A in Additional Maths (A* in Extended Maths). You mentioned that Oxford cares more about these results than Cambridge does, but do you think Cambridge is likely take into consideration this shortcoming in Maths? 

Sry I just realised that this is a super nebulous question whose answer I can't reasonably expect you to know, but any insights on how Cambridge views 10th grade maths results would be super useful! 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Aug 6, 2021 - 9:06pm

The fact that you have time to lose on mindless google drives attest to the mental void behind any answer you may provide. Thx for participating though

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Aug 6, 2021 - 9:03pm

Thanks intern. This is based on Oxford having the better E&M course and being generally more business focused, as well as seeing more Oxford people in banking in my firm and where my friends work. He asked for which one is marginally best, I replied. 
 

Obviously these are the top 2-3 schools in the country and any difference is marginal as you would get interviews if your CV is half decent / you have social skills. 
 

You seem to be quite versed in writing "stupid" comments though, thanks for providing teenage insight

  • Intern in PropTrad
Aug 7, 2021 - 11:13am

Don't really see how E&M is objectively better than Cambridge econ but fair enough. Criticise my points more please…it's not like your entire first point was, "Oxford seems better for IB" with absolutely no context behind it. There are currently ~20-30 more Cambridge undergrads in IB total so I don't really see where the argument comes from aside from anecdotal observations - this is fine but you didn't say that in your first point. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Aug 8, 2021 - 3:07pm

There needs to be a true comparison on a headcount basis within the business/econ courses. It's pretty stupid to ask which is best for IB if you're studying science or litterature tbh. 

In any case, either of these will give interviews and are equally above most global competitors and have the wow factor. I think this whole thread is a bit mindless because you shouldn't chose Cambridge vs. Oxford only based on IB recruitment at the undergrad level but also on other aspects (specific areas of expertise, student life, city, etc)

Aug 16, 2021 - 10:28am

In prestige they're equal.  6% vs 11% is a pretty big difference.  Do you have a cultural preference?  

The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.
  • Intern in PropTrad
Sep 10, 2021 - 10:27am

You can only apply to one of Oxford and Cambridge and 5 places in total. As a result of this competition ratios are higher at other schools, especially for economics but Oxbridge have a more rigorous admissions process: admissions test + interview.

  • Intern in PropTrad
Sep 10, 2021 - 10:30am

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