Economics: Oxford or Cambridge?


Rowan Wright

Students can only apply to either Oxford or Cambridge in a single admissions round, and choosing between the two prestigious universities may be a difficult decision. It's important to make this decision early on in the UCAS process because it will inform many aspects of your preparation process, including whether you need to take a pre-interview admissions test. Many of the factors in the decision will be unrelated to the course of study: location, preference for one of the cities, 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.

Oxford only offers Economics as part of joint honours degrees.

Although there is broad scope for specialisation, the Oxford courses place less of an emphasis on mathematical topics. The Oxford Economics courses may be better for students who are more interested in the qualitative aspects of economics.

Applicants do not have to take a mathematics admissions test for Economics degrees at Oxford, but the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is compulsory. The TSA assesses problem-solving skills, numerical reasoning, and critical thinking. Section 1 (90 minutes) comprises 50 multiple choice questions, and Section 2 (30 minutes) requires an essay-style response to one of four questions. Applicants for PPE take both Section 1 and Section 2 of the TSA, while applicants for Economics and Management and History and Economics only have to take Section 1. The TSA is a pre-interview test, taken in mid-late October.

Cambridge offers only single honours Economics, which includes course options in a broad range of subfields. The course places a higher emphasis on more mathematical disciplines. Early in the degree programme, technical mathematics modules are compulsory. For applicants interested in a career in quantitative finance, the Cambridge course equips students with the necessary skills.

Economics applicants at Cambridge are required to take the TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admission): scores are used to shortlist candidates for interview. It is a challenging and time-pressured exam which requires a good period of dedicated preparation time to master. Unlike the TSA required for Oxford, the TMUA is consists solely of mathematics questions. This reflects the more mathematical emphasis of the Cambridge Economics degrees, and may be an important consideration for less mathematically-inclined Economics students.


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.