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Sciences at Cambridge & Oxford

We all know Oxford and Cambridge are a little special about things. I mean they still offer courses like Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic for Pete’s sake – you have got to be at least a little delusional to offer that!

So, it’s no surprise they are a little funny about which science subjects (or really which subjects in general) they offer. Oxford and Cambridge differ in their approaches to the sciences and offer vastly different ranges of subjects. This can get very confusing but don’t despair; our expert consultants have compiled a list of sciences available at Oxbridge and will talk you through the choices you have available! Hopefully minus the weird Oxbridge speak and odd 90’s formatting that you get on their websites!

Comparison of the Courses on Offer:

University of Oxford University of Cambridge
Biochemistry Biology Chemistry Earth Sciences Materials Science Natural Sciences
Computer Science Computer Science
Biomedical Sciences Medicine Medicine Veterinary Medicine
Engineering Chemical Engineering Engineering Manufacturing Engineering

As you can see there are major differences in the science courses the universities offer, the main being:


  1. While Cambridge offer a Natural Sciences course which encompasses a broad range of traditional and non-traditional subjects, Oxford offer individual science courses.
  2. Oxford and Cambridge offer different pathways through an engineering degree.
  3. The two universities offer different ranges of medical (or medically-related) degrees; while Oxford offers biomedical sciences, Cambridge offers Veterinary Medicine.

Natural Sciences vs. Individual Science courses

This is the major difference between Oxford and Cambridge – and chances are it’s one you will have heard about before! While both universities offer integrated masters in all their sciences they offer completely different paths to this. The Oxbridge rivalry is strong and each University claims its structure is the better one. Here we break down how the courses compare, and which one would suit you best!


Natural Sciences

Natural Sciences is a combined science course which offers students the chance to explore a range of physical and biological science subjects from 16 departments. The first year is broad and students specialise as they enter their second and third years, with the possibility of total specialisation in the third and fourth year. The flexibility of the course allows you to take purely biological sciences throughout your degree or purely physical sciences – or a combination of both.


Individual Sciences

At Oxford these include Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Materials Science, Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. These courses are all linked to specific departments at the University and allow specialisation into disciplines from year 1.

Here are some of our perceived positives and negatives of these opposing structures –

Natural Sciences Individual Sciences
Positives Flexibility in all 4 years; you can chop and change as much as you like!

Allows for exploration. You can specialise in a particular area of science but take one course which branches from this.  

You can make a mistake with your course choice – like choosing biology but then finding out you really don’t care about cells – and not have to take it for 3 more years!

These are smaller courses which is likely to allow for closer course mates and your own space in the department (courses tend to be ~150 students)

More specialised from the start (if you know which one you love this is a big bonus!)

Particularly good for subjects like Earth Sciences where there exists less relevance to the pure sciences.

Possible to take individual subjects alongside other courses e.g. Physics and Philosophy

Negatives Lack of specialisation initially can be mentally frustrating.  

Particularly heavy workload (even for Oxbridge!)

Large course leading to a potential lack of coherence between courses and inter-departmental communication (600+ students take Natural Sciences a year!)

Not guaranteed you will get to study what you want in 3rd year (Part II options have competitive entry, though 80% do study their first choice subject)

You can make a mistake! Though it is possible to change subjects once you have started your degree this is pretty tricky!

You may lack a broader picture of the sciences. These courses can often become very specialised into specific research (often ones that are happening in Oxford!)

Engineering vs. Engineering

This is truly the battle of the bridges! Oxford and Cambridge offer different routes through an engineering degree; while Cambridge offers both Chemical Engineering, Engineering and a route into Manufacturing Engineering, Oxford offer one combined Engineering course.

Key Similarities –

  • You can equally specialise in both degrees
  • Both courses are vaguely similar as they require industry accreditation and so will need to fulfil specific requirements and offer similar content as a result

Key Differences –

  • At Cambridge, all engineers undertake the same first year course and then transfer over to Chemical Engineering in their second years if they wish to. This allows for students to make a genuinely informed choice about the area in which to specialise. You can apply for and undertake Chemical Engineering from year 1 and in your first year opt to take either Engineering or Natural Sciences.
  • At Oxford, all engineers undertake similar courses until the end of their second year where they can choose to specialise from that point onwards into one of six branches of engineering: Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Information and Mechanical.
  • Cambridge provides an option for students to go into MET – Manufacturing Engineering in their third and fourth years

Alternative Medicine

No, I’m not just talking about chicken soup! Oxford and Cambridge both offer an alternative course to Medicine/Graduate Medicine and, as per the above, they (obviously) have to be different from each other – again! However, this one is pretty straight forward; while Oxford offers biomedical sciences, Cambridge offers veterinary sciences. These are very very different courses and are, in absolutely no way alike! See the below links for outlines of both courses:


Biomedical sciences: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses-listing/biomedical-sciences?wssl=1

Veterinary sciences: https://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses/veterinary-medicine

See the below pages for overviews of the subjects above:

Cambridge – https://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses

Oxford – https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate?wssl=1