Getting into Oxbridge might seem like a daunting challenge. If you’re worried about how to get into Oxbridge, there’s a good chance a myriad of questions have been running through your head.
Will you choose Oxford or Cambridge? Which college should you apply for? How can you perform well in the interview?
As scary as these questions sound, there are a lot of things you can do to make sure you have the best possible chance of getting an Oxbridge place. These include:
- Doing your research
- Making your application stand out from the crowd
- Going beyond the curriculum
- Preparing for the Oxbridge interview
- Getting your grades
Many people feel nervous about applying to Oxford or Cambridge, but this blog breaks down the application process so you can understand what these universities want, and how you can let them know that you’ve got what it takes to succeed in a fast-paced and dynamic educational environment. If you follow this advice, you’ll be well on the way to getting your Oxbridge place and starting on an amazing journey.
1) Do your research
Before you make your application, it is important to understand a little about how Oxford and Cambridge work. These world-class educational institutions do things a little differently to the norm, and so a bit of background research is a great way to start.
For example, did you know that both of these ancient universities are made up of lots of different colleges? This means that when you apply to the university, you also apply to a college. A college is where you:
- Live – Colleges provide accommodation for students while they are studying, and you live alongside students studying a wide range of different subjects.
- Learn – While lectures take place in your department, small group tutorials are organised by colleges. This is one of the things that makes Oxbridge unique.
- Socialise – Each college has a buzzing and unique social scene. You can eat and drink in the college bar and dining hall, while college clubs and societies offer something for everyone.
Colleges are also where you go for your interview, and while they all have the same high standard of teaching, each one has a unique look and feel. Some are big, some are small. Some are old, some are modern. The websites for Oxford and Cambridge provide more information about the college system and what makes each one special.
It is also a very good idea to get in touch with potential colleges and academic departments before your application. They will be able to give you a lot of helpful information about what you need to do and when you need to do it in the application process, as well as advice on choosing the right subject and the right college. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions – they are always happy to hear from talented young people.
2) Make your application stand out from the crowd
With thousands of students applying to Oxbridge every year, it might seem difficult to make your application stand out from all the others. The most important thing to remember is that you are unique, and, if you take the right steps, your application can be unique too.
For example, a personal statement is an important part of making your application stand out. When you write your statement, don’t just make a boring list of facts and achievements. Instead, think about the following:
- What made you love your subject? People apply to courses for different reasons, and it is important to describe your personal path to the subject. Don’t write generic or clichéd phrases, but tell your unique story. This lets admissions tutors know that you are serious about your subject and that you are applying for the right reasons.
- Think outside of the box. It is always a good idea to show your original thinking about a particular topic. What interesting or unusual opinions do you have about your subject? Make the admissions tutors curious about what you have to say.
- Go off the beaten track. We’ll talk more about this below, but remember that Oxbridge colleges are looking for students who have explored their subject on a deeper level. What surprising books have you enjoyed? What interesting research have you read about?
What’s more, if you have to send some of your schoolwork as part of the application, choose something which demonstrates your unique interests, experiences and opinions while also still being a strong piece of academic work.
If you need some more help, check out of Personal Statement Writing course. In it, we break down the research and writing process and help your application stand out.
3) Go beyond the curriculum
It is always helpful to mention sports, extracurricular activities, community service and hobbies in your application. These help to show that you are a well-rounded person who can cope with a variety of challenges. However, always remember that above all else, Oxbridge wants to see that you are passionate about your chosen subject.
This makes a lot of sense. You’ll be studying this subject in depth for at least three years, and so while it’s a great idea to mention being captain of the football team or president of the debating club, your passion for the subject has to come first in your application.
Obviously, you can talk about your love of the subject in your personal statement and at your interview, but it’s even better to be able to show it. You can do this by following these two connected steps:
- Don’t just stick to the curriculum. Remember, thousands of other students will be studying the same courses as you at school. If you want to study literature and only mention books which you have read at school, it might look like you haven’t read anything else.
- Demonstrate your own personal learning and exploration. How have you gone beyond the school curriculum to discover new things about your subject? Do you read science journals in your spare time? What independent learning have you done?
Students who follow these steps can show Oxbridge that they’re not just good at their subject in school, but they’re also committed to it outside of the classroom.
4) Preparing for the Oxbridge interview
You’ve chosen a college, you’ve sent off your application, you’ve been invited to interview. What next?
The interview is often seen as one of the scariest parts of the Oxbridge application process, but you have nothing to worry about if you are passionate about your subject.
That being said, there are of course a few steps you can take to maximise your chances of performing well in your interview and making a good impression, such as:
- Read and re-read your application. It is likely that interviewers will ask you questions about what you have said in your application. These questions might be about your personal statement, submitted work or educational experience, so be prepared to answer anything that might come up from your application.
- Don’t think about it like an exam. Demonstrating knowledge is an important part of an interview, but professors are more interested in seeing how you think. If they ask difficult questions, it is not necessarily because they expect you to know the answer, but because they want to see how you tackle the question and whether it excites you. If you do have to do admissions tests, they will be separate from the interview.
- Smile and relax. It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many interviewees forget to do this. Remember, you’re there to talk about your favourite subject with someone who is an expert. Exciting, right? Also, remember that the interviewer wants you to do well, not to trip you up.
So, in summary: be prepared, don’t treat it like a test, and relax.
In our University Interview Skills course we evaluate common questions, help you come up with well-rounded answers and give you some tips to manage nerves.
5) Get your grades
One of the great things about Oxbridge applications is that grades aren’t everything. Oxford and Cambridge want to see your passion for the subject, what makes you unique, and how you can get the most of the education they offer. That’s why they interview candidates instead of just looking through application forms and statistics.
However, if you get an Oxbridge offer, there will still be conditions attached, which usually means getting good exam results. After all, good results show that you are able to work hard under pressure when it really counts. So, celebrate and relax a little if you are offered a place, but not for long – the hard work starts now.
Without good grades, you won’t be able to take your place, so make sure you know the best ways to get top marks. BBC Bitesize has tons of tips on how to revise for exams, including which revision methods will work best for you, how to break your work down, and how to make revising more fun. Working hard and achieving exam success don’t have to make you miserable – there are lots of entertaining ways to learn, and you should always factor in rest time.
If you want to develop your academic skills such as writing and research, check out our courses here.
Getting an Oxbridge place will always be a challenge, but by following the above steps you can make your application and interview focused, dynamic and unique. Even if you feel intimidated, always aim high and remember that if you’re really passionate about your subject then you can’t go wrong.