What Are the Easiest and Hardest Subjects to Get in for at Oxbridge?

Image shows the Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge.

We take a look at applicants’ chances of being invited for an interview and being offered a place across a variety of subjects at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The statistics might shock you!

As the Good University Guide’s John O’Leary has suggested, ‘many parents and school students stand in awe of Oxbridge and believe that winning a place is all but impossible, regardless of which university or course you choose.’ In fact, both of these decisions can make a real difference in your chances of success.

This is not to say that getting in will be easy. The level of competition is going to be high on any Oxbridge course. Six out of ten successful applications to Cambridge in 2011 had three A stars at A level. Only six out of 2580 got in with less than three As.

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But there are still important contrasts both between and within the two universities. Firstly, you are much more likely to get an interview at Cambridge than Oxford – more than 80 per cent of applicants are interviewed at Cambridge compared with 58 per cent at Oxford in 2011.

Crucially, Oxford has been gradually reducing the proportion of applicants that are interviewed: it was 67 per cent in 2009. And there are significant differences between the courses at Oxford. No less than 96 per cent of prospective chemists were interviewd in 2011, compared with just 25 per cent of applicants in fine art and just less than 30 per cent in economics and management. On the face of it – with roughly five applicants per place – Oxford and Cambridge appear much less competitive than other Russell Group universities. However, it is important to remember that the figures are artificially reduced because you can only apply to one Oxbridge university.

Image is a button that reads "Browse all University Admissions articles."Some subjects offer stiffer competition than others. Only 8.2 per cent of applicants to Oxford for Economics and Management or Law and Law Studies in Europe won a place in 2011, whereas the success rate in Classics was 40 per cent. Part of the reason for this is that classics has almost disappeared from comprehensive schools and there were only 292 applicants for 117 places. The same trend has been developing in modern languages, where the success rate at Oxford was almost 32 per cent. Cambridge displays many of the same patterns. Indeed, the chances of winning a place in Classics were even better at over 50 per cent.

Oxford

Best chance of getting an interview (%)

Image shows chemicals in bottle lit with different colours.
Although there were 638 applicants for Chemistry in 2013, Oxford still interviewed the overwhelming majority of them.

Chemistry 96.2
Classics 95.9
Human Sciences 92.8
Modern Languages & Linguistics 92.5
Classics & English 91.9
Classics & Modern Languages 91.9

Lowest chance of getting an interview (%)

Fine Art 25.5
Economics & Management 29.8
Medicine 30.1
Law 40.1
History of Art 41.3

Highest Success Rate (%)

Image shows the hands of God and Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Beware of putting too much faith into statistics on small courses like Theology, or even smaller ones like Theology and Oriental Studies, as the group size is too small to draw any sensible conclusion.

Classics 40.1
Chemistry 33.6
Theology & Oriental Studies 33.3
Modern Languages 31.8
Classics & Modern Languages 31.6

Lowest Success Rate (%)

Economics & Management 8.2
Law/Law Studies in Europe 8.2
Engineering, Economics & Management 8.4
Medicine 10.2
Fine Art 11.9

Cambridge

Highest Success Rate (%)

Image shows a replica of the helmet found in the hoard from Sutton Hoo.
Again, it’s the small courses that have the highest success rate, such as Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.

Classics 50.3
Music 48.3
Archaeology & Anthropology 45.1
Theology & Religious Studies 44.4
Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic 41.4

Lowest Success Rate (%)

Medicine Graduate Course 9.1
Economics 13
Politics, Psychology & Sociology 15.1
Medicine 15.3
Veterinary Medicine 16.5







 

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Image credits: banner; Chemistry; Theology; Anglo-Saxon.