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Chemistry at Uni?

Hi, does anyone know which Oxbridge university is better for Chemistry/ can anyone point me towards information that could be useful?
Original post by subbhy
Hi, does anyone know which Oxbridge university is better for Chemistry/ can anyone point me towards information that could be useful?

In what way do you mean better?

Cambridge doesn’t offer pure chemistry, but you can take Natural Sciences and study aspects of chemistry as part of the course (and eventually specialise into chemistry much later on in the course).

Oxford offers pure chemistry and you begin to specialise into your preferred area of chemistry in the third year.

If you want to study chemistry specifically and don’t feel you want to study much else alongside it, Oxford is the better option. If you would like to consider studying other subjects alongside chemistry whilst having some level of flexibility around what you study in case you lose interest in chemistry, Cambridge is probably better.

I’m currently studying chemistry at Oxford, so if you have any specific questions about the chemistry course there, I am happy to answer them.
(edited 4 months ago)
Reply 2
Original post by TypicalNerd
In what way do you mean better?

Cambridge doesn’t offer pure chemistry, but you can take Natural Sciences and study aspects of chemistry as part of the course (and eventually specialise into chemistry much later on in the course).

Oxford offers pure chemistry and you begin to specialise into your preferred area of chemistry in the third year.

If you want to study chemistry specifically and don’t feel you want to study much else alongside it, Oxford is the better option. If you would like to consider studying other subjects alongside chemistry whilst having some level of flexibility around what you study in case you lose interest in chemistry, Cambridge is probably better.

I’m currently studying chemistry at Oxford, so if you have any specific questions about the chemistry course there, I am happy to answer them.


I wasn’t sure about what word to use so settled for ‘better’.

Definitely more interested in Chemistry only. Thanks: what is the course like/ is there a breadth to the chemistry studied
Original post by subbhy
I wasn’t sure about what word to use so settled for ‘better’.

Definitely more interested in Chemistry only. Thanks: what is the course like/ is there a breadth to the chemistry studied

There certainly is a breadth to the chemistry you study at Oxford. The chemistry course is split into four main areas: maths for chemists (my understanding is that this is only really a thing in the first year), inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry and physical chemistry. You will also usually have two afternoons in the lab each week (though you should have two weeks each term where you don’t have any labs) that each last about 6 hours (from 11 am - 5 pm)

Most of what you will be doing in the first term of the first year is all the fundamentals and getting up to speed with things like atomic structure (in waaaay more detail than A level), vectors, calculus, thermodynamics, electrostatics and some of the basics of stereochemistry. This is so that once you move onto the more complex (and arguably more interesting areas), you can explore the theory behind them in considerably more depth. For example, understanding a lot of the organic reactions you will have studied from a mechanistic standpoint requires you to be aware of how orbitals interact within the molecules, so covering orbitals and atomic structure early on makes sense.

I would say I am really enjoying the course. It’s challenging and intense, but equally rewarding and fascinating. If you love chemistry then by all means, apply for it. If not, then this course certainly isn’t for you.
Reply 4
Original post by TypicalNerd
There certainly is a breadth to the chemistry you study at Oxford. The chemistry course is split into four main areas: maths for chemists (my understanding is that this is only really a thing in the first year), inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry and physical chemistry. You will also usually have two afternoons in the lab each week (though you should have two weeks each term where you don’t have any labs) that each last about 6 hours (from 11 am - 5 pm)

Most of what you will be doing in the first term of the first year is all the fundamentals and getting up to speed with things like atomic structure (in waaaay more detail than A level), vectors, calculus, thermodynamics, electrostatics and some of the basics of stereochemistry. This is so that once you move onto the more complex (and arguably more interesting areas), you can explore the theory behind them in considerably more depth. For example, understanding a lot of the organic reactions you will have studied from a mechanistic standpoint requires you to be aware of how orbitals interact within the molecules, so covering orbitals and atomic structure early on makes sense.

I would say I am really enjoying the course. It’s challenging and intense, but equally rewarding and fascinating. If you love chemistry then by all means, apply for it. If not, then this course certainly isn’t for you.


Hi, thanks very much for this information!

If you don’t mind my asking, what sort of stuff does lab work entail?

Do you think that chemistry at university involves quite a bit of physics/ would doing physics A-level be advantageous?

I do love Chemistry! What sort of extra/super-curricular activities would you recommend I have a look at?
Original post by subbhy
Hi, thanks very much for this information!

If you don’t mind my asking, what sort of stuff does lab work entail?

Do you think that chemistry at university involves quite a bit of physics/ would doing physics A-level be advantageous?

I do love Chemistry! What sort of extra/super-curricular activities would you recommend I have a look at?

It definitely varies - most labs I’ve done so far have involved either synthesising and purifying organic compounds or identifying organic compounds using IR spectroscopy and 1H NMR. I believe there are practicals later on in the course that involve other areas of chemistry such as transition metals, electrochemistry etc but I think the general approach is to start you off by seeing how good you are with the various techniques that are used ubiquitously in chemistry.

To a point, it may be advantageous to have A level physics (and further maths), but you will be taught everything you need on the course. So far, most of the stuff I learnt in both further maths and physics has been irrelevant, but that could change. I guess the amount of physics you will need will depend on which areas of chemistry you study (bear in mind you will eventually specialise into just one area of chemistry later on in the course). Physical chemistry seems to use the most (unsurprisingly) and organic chemistry seems to use the least.

If you are in year 13, I would honestly just recommend finding a few good chemistry books and try teaching some of your classmates concepts from A level chemistry (so as to get practice with articulating your thoughts prior to your interviews). If you are still in year 12, C3L6 may be worth a go in addition to the above. As for which books I recommend:

-If you are undecided on a favourite area of chemistry or consider inorganic chemistry your favourite area, consider “Chemistry^3: introducing inorganic, organic and physical chemistry” by Burrows et al.

-If you are especially interested in organic chemistry, I would say Clayden’s organic chemistry may be worth a look (but don’t go too far beyond page 500 as even that goes beyond the second round of the UK chemistry Olympiad).

-If you are especially interested in physical chemistry, my recommendation would probably be “Why Chemical reactions happen” by Keeler and Wothers.

You can find some more advanced texts than these by looking at the reading lists for Oxford, but these are likely going a bit too far. You’d be much better off focusing on getting strong A level grades than doing what I did and immersing yourself into something like “Advanced Inorganic Chemistry” by Cotton and Wilkinson (which is considered beyond the scope of undergrad level chemistry lol)
Reply 6
Original post by TypicalNerd
It definitely varies - most labs I’ve done so far have involved either synthesising and purifying organic compounds or identifying organic compounds using IR spectroscopy and 1H NMR. I believe there are practicals later on in the course that involve other areas of chemistry such as transition metals, electrochemistry etc but I think the general approach is to start you off by seeing how good you are with the various techniques that are used ubiquitously in chemistry.

To a point, it may be advantageous to have A level physics (and further maths), but you will be taught everything you need on the course. So far, most of the stuff I learnt in both further maths and physics has been irrelevant, but that could change. I guess the amount of physics you will need will depend on which areas of chemistry you study (bear in mind you will eventually specialise into just one area of chemistry later on in the course). Physical chemistry seems to use the most (unsurprisingly) and organic chemistry seems to use the least.

If you are in year 13, I would honestly just recommend finding a few good chemistry books and try teaching some of your classmates concepts from A level chemistry (so as to get practice with articulating your thoughts prior to your interviews). If you are still in year 12, C3L6 may be worth a go in addition to the above. As for which books I recommend:

-If you are undecided on a favourite area of chemistry or consider inorganic chemistry your favourite area, consider “Chemistry^3: introducing inorganic, organic and physical chemistry” by Burrows et al.

-If you are especially interested in organic chemistry, I would say Clayden’s organic chemistry may be worth a look (but don’t go too far beyond page 500 as even that goes beyond the second round of the UK chemistry Olympiad).

-If you are especially interested in physical chemistry, my recommendation would probably be “Why Chemical reactions happen” by Keeler and Wothers.

You can find some more advanced texts than these by looking at the reading lists for Oxford, but these are likely going a bit too far. You’d be much better off focusing on getting strong A level grades than doing what I did and immersing yourself into something like “Advanced Inorganic Chemistry” by Cotton and Wilkinson (which is considered beyond the scope of undergrad level chemistry lol)


Im not currently sure which element of Chemistry I like most. At GCSE, organic was most appealing but having started A-level with the Physical content, that is equally enticing so will definitely look into those books!

I was looking to do the C3L6 but not sure if the content learned at A-level is sufficient. Do you have any suggestions for how to do well at the C3L6 in addition to keeping up with the Chem content. Would the books you mentioned be helpful/are you aware of any specific prep for the competition?

Sounds like you do indeed love your chemistry: are you a first year student btw?
Original post by subbhy
Im not currently sure which element of Chemistry I like most. At GCSE, organic was most appealing but having started A-level with the Physical content, that is equally enticing so will definitely look into those books!

I was looking to do the C3L6 but not sure if the content learned at A-level is sufficient. Do you have any suggestions for how to do well at the C3L6 in addition to keeping up with the Chem content. Would the books you mentioned be helpful/are you aware of any specific prep for the competition?

Sounds like you do indeed love your chemistry: are you a first year student btw?

Fair. Chemistry^3 is by far your best bet then.

C3L6 is designed so that year 12’s can access it. You only need year 1 of the A level to do well. You can probably just use your A level textbooks and look at C3L6 past papers tbh.

Yep. You are correct on both counts, I am indeed a first year.
Reply 8
Original post by TypicalNerd
“Chemistry^3: introducing inorganic, organic and physical chemistry” by Burrows et al.


Andy Burrows is one of my lecturers!
Original post by bl0bf1sh
Andy Burrows is one of my lecturers!

Lucky you.

Please tell him that a number of Oxford chemistry students think he’s an amazing author.
(edited 4 months ago)
Reply 10
Original post by TypicalNerd
Lucky you.

Please tell him that a number of Oxford chemistry students think he’s an amazing author.

:smile:
Reply 11
Original post by TypicalNerd
Fair. Chemistry^3 is by far your best bet then.

C3L6 is designed so that year 12’s can access it. You only need year 1 of the A level to do well. You can probably just use your A level textbooks and look at C3L6 past papers tbh.

Yep. You are correct on both counts, I am indeed a first year.


Great thanks so much :smile: will deffo get that book

hope you’re enjoying uni thus far and settling in well!
Original post by subbhy
Great thanks so much :smile: will deffo get that book

hope you’re enjoying uni thus far and settling in well!

No problem. I hope it’s an enjoyable read.

I am enjoying uni very much and I’d say I’ve settled in nicely.
Reply 13
Original post by TypicalNerd
No problem. I hope it’s an enjoyable read.

I am enjoying uni very much and I’d say I’ve settled in nicely.


Glad to hear! Thanks for all the advice and hope everything goes swimmingly!

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