Computer Science: Oxford or Cambridge?


Rowan Wright

Choosing between Oxford and Cambridge may be a tricky decision. Many of the factors in your decision will be unrelated to the course of study: location, preference for city, transport and distance from home, cost of living, societies of particular interest to you, college choice, sibling or family connections, etc. Though these factors are all important, it is crucial to consider the degree content and specialisms of the university department. In the undergraduate Computer Science courses, there are significant differences in the focus.

Areas of Specialism

Oxford generally has more of a bias for theoretical topics, emphasising topics such as:

  • Theory of computation
  • Discrete mathematics
  • Logic

In the first year, students take only compulsory core courses. Students have greater choice from second year, choosing 50% of their courses, and 67% in third year. Applicants should read the full information about course choices, available on the university website.

Courses Offered

In addition to the single honours Computer Science course, Oxford offers joint honours degrees, which may be particularly attractive to some students:

  • Computer Science and Philosophy
  • Mathematics and Computer Science

Applicants should be aware that joint honours courses are particularly competitive.


The Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT) is used to shortlist applicants for Computer Science interviews. It is taken in October of Y13, consists of multiple choice and long form questions, and emphasises problem solving ability as opposed to memorisation of A level content. Students who are serious about their application should dedicate time to prepare for this exam over the summer holiday between Y12 and Y13, and during the first part of the Y13 Autumn term.

Areas of Specialism

The Cambridge course covers emphasises more applied topics, including:

  • Programming languages
  • Computer architecture
  • Network infrastructure

In the first year, the course consists of 75% core computer science, with 25% mathematics. Students also take practical classes on a broad range of topics, including programming and hardware practicals. In second year, students take four papers spanning core topics, and a group project reflecting current industrial practice. Students choose from a selection of topics in third year, concentrating on an area they wish to specialise in. More information about specific course choice sis available on the university website. It's worth noting that the more applied focus of the Cambridge

Courses Offered

Cambridge does not offer joint honours with Computer Science, but students do take some mathematics paper and have the choice to specialise in very mathematical topics later on in their degree.


The TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions) is required for Computer Science applicants at Cambridge. It is taken in order to shortlist candidates for interview. Students who have a strong preference for multiple choice questions may have a preference for the TMUA over the MAT required for Oxford admission. Achieving an adequate score for shortlisting is generally considered to be more accessible on the TMUA than the MAT. Though the admissions test shouldn't be the deciding factor in your decision, it's worth having a go at a MAT and TMUA paper to see which you prefer because you are going to spend quite a lot of time preparing for the exam!


We hope this article has been helpful in making your university course choices! If you would like personalised advice, we are happy to discuss this matter in a free consultation meeting.