Applying To Oxbridge

Applying to Oxbridge

The UK’s two oldest universities, based in Oxford and Cambridge, are collectively known as Oxbridge. During each application cycle it is only permissible to apply to one or the other. Each university is split into a number of colleges and each student will be a member of both the university as a whole and a specific college.

What is the application timeline?

Although the general application deadline through UCAS is 15th January, those applying to Oxbridge must submit their applications by the 15th of October. Interviews are held during early to mid-December and applicants are notified of the final outcome in January. All offers made are conditional, meaning that they are dependent on the recipient achieving specified grades in the following A-level or equivalent exams.

Explain the concept of colleges and does it matter which I apply to?

Both universities are split into a number of colleges and each student will be a member of both the university as a whole and a specific college. Colleges are not subject-specific and form the hub of social life as a student as well as tutorial teaching (see below). Although there are university-wide societies, each college will also have its own clubs and colleges will house students for at least a couple of years. There is some healthy inter-college rivalry, most notably during the annual boat race, and everyone is fiercely loyal to their college! When applying through UCAS, you will be able to either choose a college to apply to specifically or to submit an ‘open application’. If one opts for the latter and receives an offer, he or she will not be assigned a college until after results day. There is no disadvantage in choosing either option however since this will be your only chance to have a say in where you will spend the next 3+ years, it is well worth utilising the opportunity. Have a look at what the sizes of the colleges are, what their location relative to your department is, which societies are on offer and which topics the professors teaching your subject specialise in. If possible, visit the universities during the annual open days to facilitate your decision. A common myth is that applying to a more competitive college will have an effect on the outcome. To overcome this and enable a fair assessment, a pooling system is in place. Whilst candidates may not receive an offer from their initial college of choice, if they are still considered worthy of a place, an alternative college may accept them instead.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of applying to Oxbridge and how should I decide whether I’m suited to the system?

Although the specific subject you plan on reading will carry its own nuances in terms of the teaching methods, there are some generally distinctive features of the universities’ set-up: The majority of teaching is delivered in the central subject departments but these are supplemented by college-based tutorials in which experts in the field will deliver small-group teaching. These are preceded by an assigned essay or problem sheet which lead to a fairly high workload. Tutorials are particularly beneficial to those who enjoy actively participating and are vocal whilst thinking through problems. The college system also provides a community atmosphere which is valuable when moving away from home.

Which factors are used in the decision making?

Oxford and Cambridge are both undeniably academic. There are two aspects to the application process: initial shortlisting is dependent on GCSE (or equivalent) grades and results from the entrance test. The vast majority of subjects require either and aptitude test and/or submitted work. More information on these and the individual grades required for each subject can be found at:
Candidates shortlisted are then invited for interview which is handled differently by both institutions. Oxford shortlists fewer candidates and bases its ultimate decision on interview performance whilst Cambridge interviews the majority of applicants and views the application holistically. The personal statement is unlikely to be a deciding factor but it is recommended that candidates make it academic. This can be achieved by mentioning books or journal articles that are of particular interest followed by a brief discussion of what makes it

How can I increase my chances of securing admission to Oxbridge?

Whilst the answer to this question is dependant on the subject in question, there are a number of general attributes which may improve your application. Oxbridge tend to prefer applicants who are more academically oriented. One way to manifest this in your personal statement is to mention subject appropriate books you have read along with a relevant discussion of what particularly interested you about the text. Once at the interview stage, international students (except applicants to the medical school) are typically offered a Skype interview; however past record dictates that this frequently results in a lower acceptance rate. The interview is a test of how well you are able to think through unknown problems and the objective is to vocalise your thought process rather than reach a pre-determined final answer. Practicing how to reason through random phenomenon around you may be beneficial in this respect. Once in the interview room, if you do not know an answer to a question posed then please don’t panic: you are not expected to. Ask for a minute to think, try to find a relevant fact that you know and then work through the problem out loud. Best of luck!