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How to get into oxbridge

Thinking about applying to Oxford or Cambridge? You have to stand out against the fierce competition; but does that mean having a clean sweep of top marks in all your subjects?

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In short, not necessarily. You’ll come across Oxbridge students who don’t (but don’t be shocked to meet quite a few who do).

While every individual application should be treated on its own merits, there are a few boxes you should tick to keep your Oxbridge hopes alive.

1. Get good grades

  • Don’t have top GCSE grades? You might still have a chance – find out more with our helpful guide to the importance of your GCSE results.

You’ll receive your A-level grades at the end of Year 13, but you’ll apply with predicted grades based on your Year 12 performance. So expect for these to be scrutinised alongside your GCSE grades, plus any admissions tests the university requires you to take – more on this below.

2. Show wider reading

Simply following the syllabus in Years 12 and 13 and doing the minimum your teacher requires won’t cut it for Oxbridge candidates.

  • have more relevant information to talk about on your personal statement.
  • be able to talk widely around a subject during an interview.
  • and be more prepared for the pace of reading expected of you at university.

3. Prepare for your interview properly

Think of your Oxbridge interview as being a bit like an exam, but out loud. This will be an intellectual interrogation, although it should be a friendly one! The key is in your preparation.

Get a teacher, careers adviser or even a friend to do a mock interview with you. Re-read what you said in your personal statement – your interview may be based on what you wrote.

Like personal statements, interviews for Oxbridge are an opportunity for an admissions tutor to see how you think and respond to a question or discussion, rather than your interest in the subject or the experience you’ve accumulated (not that this isn’t important, as you’ll see below). In this way, interviews (and personal statements) are slightly more academic in nature, than if you were applying to a non-Oxbridge university.

Budding scientists and mathematicians should expect to work out questions on paper or using a whiteboard.

4. Show genuine enthusiasm for your subject

Do you find yourself talking and reading endlessly about your subject and other related fields? It really will help if you have – and can express – passion and interest for the course you’re applying for, backed up by examples that demonstrate this.

Don’t afraid to be critical about what you did or didn’t like about a book, talk or exhibition, provided you give valid examples or reasons.

5. Stay ahead in all tests

Oxford has a wide range of timed, written pre-entry tests to help them choose from the competition. The exams are designed to show how you think and solve questions that you might not have encountered before. Not all degrees require you to take one, but medical, law, maths, languages, English and engineering will do.

  • Admissions tests you’ll have to take

6. Can you get into Oxford or Cambridge with Btecs?

Btecs are becoming an increasingly popular option to take either instead of or alongside A-levels.

University of Oxford

The University of Oxford will accept Btecs alongside A-levels, depending on the course.

“Most of these [applied general] qualifications would not be suitable for making a competitive application by themselves, though they could be considered if taken alongside A-Levels, depending on the course applied for,” the University of Oxford’s website says.

“When considering applications, tutors would want to see evidence of learning and assessment that would provide the skills and knowledge the candidate would need for the course they are applying for. Candidates are therefore advised to include in their Ucas personal statement information on how their qualification has prepared them for the course they are applying to,” the website further explains.

Applicants should check the university’s specific requirements for the course they’re interested in.

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge would not generally accept a Btec in place of the required A-levels – the university advises potential applicants taking a mix of qualifications to speak to a college admissions tutor as early as possible to find out more.

Veterans of the bruising process who have sat the aptitude tests, stressed over the personal statements and sobbed afterwards shed light on the same interview rooms which will be open again in just a few months

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How to get into oxbridge

If you’re considering applying to Oxford or Cambridge, there are a few things you’ll already be aware of. The Boat Race, the Bullingdon Club, and the infamous May Balls to name but a few. What you may not be prepared for is the horror show of the admissions process. From drafting a personal statement that shows off your subject knowledge, to prepping for the famously tough interviews, the application experience can be gruelling.

Don’t sweat it, though. Veterans of the bruising process who have sat the aptitude tests, stressed over the personal statements and sobbed outside – and in, if it went really badly – have shed some light on the same interview rooms you’ll be sitting in in just a few short months. To learn of the dos and don’ts of securing that all-important place, and what to keep in mind if it doesn’t go your way, follow these essential pieces of advice:

1. Do your research

Lucy Stewardson applied to Clare College at Cambridge in 2013 and is now a third-year English literature student at the University of Exeter. She went into her interview with some misgivings, and said she expected it to be more like a job interview, anticipating a character assessment where you “put yourself across as intelligent and articulate.” She said: “In reality, though, the interviews were very academic. They expected us to come out with fully formed arguments about specific details of the books we’d read. I had an opinion about The Book Thief as a whole. About the use of colour, though, not so much.”

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She recommended preparing for the interviews thoroughly and treating them as though they were an exam, but also suggested prospective students don’t apply “just because of the prestige.” She continued: “If you get in, you are still going to have to spend three years of your life in this place, so don’t make the decision lightly. Do your research and explore the city between interviews to try and develop an appreciation of what it might be like to live there.”

2. Apply for the subject you love

Richard Thorne applied to St Hugh’s College, Oxford in 2013. After being pooled and receiving an offer from Lady Margaret Hall, he now studies history and politics at the University of Exeter and is currently on a year abroad in Paris. He wishes he’d known how uncertain and frustrating the interview process would be, and explained: “You could literally be hanging around for days with few scheduled things to do, waiting to find out whether you could go home, or whether you’d been pooled and had to stay for more interviews.”

He recommended being sure students apply for a subject they love, not one they think will be a means to an end, as this will come across in the interview process. However, he added: “I enjoyed the glimpse into Oxford life and the academic standards, and being offered a place really boosted the confidence in my own ability – even if I did end up missing the grades on results day.”

How to get into oxbridge

Oxford and Cambridge are the best universities in the UK. It’s official.

And you (or your child) have decided you want to study there. (Go you!)

You’re clearly intelligent (after all you’re getting straight As or even A*s). You also work blimmin’ hard.

But what else do you need to do to get into Oxbridge, the UK’s premiere universities and be the fellow alum of Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Emma Thompson and AS Byatt?

Well, I’ve got the complete low-down here for you.

How to get into Oxbridge

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My Top Ten Mastermind programme is a small group coaching programme for students in years 11 and 12 who are aiming for Oxbridge or a top Russell Group University. When you take part in the programme you will be guided through planning and doing all the activities and experiences you need to support your application, on top of getting the grades.

Oxford and Cambridge are two of the best universities in the world.

It, therefore, comes as no surprise that competition between applicants is fierce. While excellent qualifications certainly help, they are by no means all you need to receive an offer.

To ensure they attract the students best suited to them, Oxbridge has a rigorous, complex and daunting application procedure.

Read on to discover top tips from Oxbridge applications company William Clarence on how to win the place of your dreams.

6 top tips for winning a place at Oxford or Cambridge:

1. Act quickly

Unlike all other universities, the deadline for Oxbridge applications is October, almost a year before the course starts. As a student exhausted from A-Levels, spending the summer working on applications forms is the last thing you’ll want to do.

This is where our Oxbridge applications company can help. Our UCAS adviser is on hand to guide you through the process, and we can put in the legwork as early as possible so that there’s no last-minute rush.

2. Do your research

You can’t apply for Oxford and Cambridge in the same admissions round, so you need to be clear about the reasons for choosing one above the other.

If you are shortlisted for interview, you will be expected to speak passionately about your selected subject, and have opinions on why you have applied for a specific college.

Our educational consultants can help you make the right choices and pass on their in-depth knowledge of each university.

3. Create a perfect personal statement

The UCAS personal statement is the chance for you to stand out from the crowd; to tell the admissions tutor a little about you, your relevant experience and why you’re right for the course in question.

One statement has to cover all applications – too general and it lacks focus, too specific and it risks alienating other options if your first choice isn’t offered.

Your teachers may have 20 or 30 statements to look at, and can’t possibly invest as much time as you’ll need in yours. We can offer one to one advice and as much time as necessary.

4. Prepare for the admissions tests

Many courses require an admissions test as part of the application process. These are written exams designed to show how you think, analyse and solve difficult questions.

Most students will have never come across anything like these before, and they can unnerve and derail the most confident of people.

Our Oxbridge applications company experts can prepare you for these – show you what to expect, how to deal with seemingly random questions, and even provide you with mock tests using past papers and our unrivalled knowledge of each course.

5. Be interview ready

For many applicants, the Oxbridge interview will be so daunting, nerves can get the better of them. We offer advice on everything, from what to wear, what questions to expect, what to say and what not to say.

We can set mock interviews, recreate the environment in which they will expect to find themselves and put them through the paces. The idea isn’t to produce a robot rattling off a pre-prepared script, but to help you relax so that when the real thing comes around, there are no surprises.

6. Be flexible

Getting into Oxbridge is not easy, and not everyone will be successful – regardless of a gold standard application, unbeatable qualifications and a good interview.

If you don’t receive an offer of a place, we’re here to advise you of other options at quality universities and support you as you continue your journey to higher education in a different direction.

Looking for additional Oxbridge application support?

As an established Oxbridge applications company, William Clarence Education offers unbiased advice on UK School and University Placement, Oxbridge Admissions, US College Applications, UCAS application and extensive support for parents and students in all aspects of preparing for entry to the UK.

If this is something you feel that you would benefit from, do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your particular needs.

The only things that Oxford students have in common are academic ability and intellectual curiosity. Our students come from all over the world and bring with them an amazing range of backgrounds and interests. This helps make our University one of the most exciting learning environments anywhere. Oxford is recognised as offering one of the best educations in the world and competition for places to study here at undergraduate level is intense. On average we receive over 20,000 applications for approximately 3,250 places each year.

To make a competitive application by our 15 October deadline, follow the steps below:

    and make sure that you have met or are on target to meet the admission requirements
  1. Explore our colleges and decide whether to express a college preference or make an open application on your UCAS form
  2. Look at our admissions timeline and note the deadlines
  3. Read our guide for applicants to learn about each stage of the admissions process.

How to get into oxbridge

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Competition for places at Oxford and Cambridge is fierce. Each January we hear of the lucky place-winners and the less lucky who miss out. But what are your chances of getting an offer from Oxford or Cambridge, how can you try to make these statistics meaningful, and what can you do to improve them?

The Overall Success Rate

Your chances of obtaining an offer from Oxford or Cambridge (before you have confirmed your course and college choice, sat your potential admissions test, and been invited up for interview) are roughly 17%, a figure that comes from around 46,000 applicants chasing 8,000 places at the two universities (for 2021 entry, Cambridge offered places to 4,245 out of their 22,788 applicants, whereas Oxford offered places to 3,932 out of 23,414 applicants).

As statisticians will tell you, this figure can’t tell us very much about any individual. So, what factors most influence applicant’s chances of getting an offer?

Your Course Choice

Getting much closer to the real figure, acceptance rates across the c. 80 undergraduate courses vary from 4% to above 50%.

Let us say you’ve settled on applying for Maths at Oxford. This has a success rate of about 11% on average. But the average applicant does not really exist.

‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ Requirements

Your chances can plummet to 0% for any course if you do not meet the hard requirements (barring sufficient mitigating circumstances). These include required A level subjects (or equivalent) and a realistic prospect of achieving the standard offer, as indicated by your school predictions.

In addition, pay close attention to the ‘soft’ requirements – the ‘recommended’ and ‘desired’ subjects – as, in practice, it may be very rare for applicants to be accepted without them. For Maths, for example, it is rare for an applicant to be accepted without Further Maths A Level, if offered by school. These vary by college at Cambridge, so do your research before moving to the next stage of the application.

GCSEs are another ‘soft’ requirement, if taken. These are always contextualised, which means they take school performance into account, but they are considered in the pre- and post- interview admissions decisions. Whereas Oxford set no official GCSE requirement, where applicants have them, they tend to be used heavily. For example, the average number of A* for successful Medicine applicants at Oxford is above 10.

Weightings

Now you have identified some of the assessed steps of the application process, how can you get a bit more precise with judging your chances?

The first thing to do is try to find out how different elements of the application may be weighted for your particular course. This is not always possible and needs to be inferred. As a rule of thumb, Oxford more heavily weight GCSEs and pre-tests in determining who to interview, where Cambridge pay close attention to likely A Level performance (as they ask candidates to achieve more highly in these).

For Maths at Oxford, the most weighted factors are GCSEs (if taken), A Level predictions, and the MAT entrance exam. For courses with far more applicants than places, admissions tests are used to distinguish between the many similarly qualified applicants. This is certainly true for maths, for which the MAT exam is highly influential, even after interview: in 2021, the mean MAT score was 58.8 (standard deviation of 18), whereas the mean MAT score of those offered a place was 82.1 (with a standard deviation of 10). There is no ‘absolute’ benchmark for any admissions test, but a relative one, in comparison to the applicant cohort that year.

The Interview

Let’s say you’ve got high GCSE grades, good predictions, and you meet the criteria for the course. You have also performed well (in the top 25%) in your admissions test. You then get called to be interviewed in December.

By the time you are sitting opposite your interviewer, your chances of success at Oxford are around 1 in 3 – and about 1 in 4 at Cambridge. You can’t prepare your answers for an interview as you’ll never be able to predict what questions you’ll be asked. However, you can practice thinking about your subject logically and laterally, trying to make links between different topics and seeing how real-world events can relate to your course. It’s also good to get as much mock interview practice before the real thing, preferable with a range of different people. This will help you get used to talking about your subject with a stranger and responding to new, challenging questions.

Though your application is considered holistically, with each piece being considered, the interview gives admissions tutors a sense of whether you are both suitable for the course and the style of teaching and learning at the university. Performing ‘well’ at interview can increase likelihood of being offered a place, but, conversely, applicants who show lots of potential who have a ‘bad day’ on the interview can also be offered a place.

Lies, Lies, and Statistics

We’ve looked at some factors which may affect the likelihood of being offered an Oxbridge place. The truth is that some deserving applicants with apparently good chances miss out on places each year, whereas others who apply to Oxbridge as a ‘long shot’ are given places. Admissions tutors make the process as fair as possible, but they are also human, and no admissions process can be perfect.

It is possible to assess whether an applicant meets or exceeds the entry requirements for a particular course, but applications are assessed holistically and qualitatively. Therefore, an ‘Oxbridge Success Calculator’ based on exam scores is, more-or-less, nonsense.

In Summary

Our advice to you is to thoroughly research all your decisions, to work hard in all the areas you can and to have confidence in your own ability. Set yourself concrete, achievable goals, and make a habit to spend time exploring your subject area outside of school. With careful decision-making, effective preparation, and a touch of luck, good applicants are successful.

Above all, if you do not apply, then you have no chance at all. For some help to navigate this process, access our free resources – including our free ebook “So You Want To Go To Oxbridge? Tell me about a banana…” by registering online. Additionally, feel free to contact our Oxbridge advising team on +44 (0)207499 2394 or email at [email protected] to discuss your situation.

Private Consultation prices start at £295 for an hour-long session, and are led by senior members of the Oxbridge Applications team, to help to shape students’ approach to their application. Driven by 20 years of research and first-hand experience in guiding thousands of applicants, consultations provide an honest and detailed assessment, guidance on individual application details, and concrete subject-specific resources and next steps to pursue.

Oxbridge universities are considered to be amongst the best universities in the world, but applying to an Oxbridge university can be an extremely competitive process. The Oxbridge Service will maximise your chances of making a successful application to one of the UK’s top universities.

Our Oxbridge consultants are UK and international University graduates who have helped hundreds of students join the world’s best universities and know what it takes to make a strong application.

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We have helped hundreds of international students join Oxbridge universities and you can be next. Arrange a free consultation today to find out if you are eligible to apply.

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How to get into oxbridge

We will discuss your academic ambitions and decide if you are eligible for the Oxbridge Service. This preliminary consultation is free of charge.

Application Submission

How to get into oxbridge

The Oxbridge application system involves submitting the best of your written work to date and we will review your essays and assist in selecting the work that ensures admissions officers are impressed. We will also professionally complete your application forms.

Personal Statement

How to get into oxbridge

Your personal statement is crucial in determining whether your interview will be secured. Academic grades are essential, but high marks alone will not guarantee an interview. Because of this, your personal statement needs to be a masterpiece of persuasion and concision.

College Selection

How to get into oxbridge

College selection is crucial to the success of your application. What subject you want to study and what sort of person you are make a big difference to which College you should apply to. By getting to know you – and already knowing the colleges – we can make the perfect match for your future.

Interview Practice

How to get into oxbridge

Oxbridge interviews are famously difficult. Every year candidates are caught off guard by the unusual questions which seek to separate the original thinkers from the merely well taught. Our mock interviews will familiarise you with the setting and questions which can be expected and after the interview is complete we will give you 30 minutes of oral feedback.

Oxbridge Application Help

Arrange a free consultation today, in our office or via Skype, to get started and learn more about the Oxbridge Service.

How to get into oxbridge

Winning a place at Oxford or Cambridge is tougher than ever, with only 20% of applicants making a successful application. In order to stand out from the crowd you need to have top A level grades, a winning personal statement and a passion for your subject that you can capably demonstrate at interview.

Packed with essential advice to help you land one of the prestigious places at Oxbridge, Getting into Oxford and Cambridge takes an honest look at what it really takes to win a place at the college of your choice. It contains practical, detailed guidance on the entire application process including:

  • Details of what studying at an Oxbridge college is really like
  • How to write an effective UCAS application, including sample personal statements
  • Advice on how to prepare for and make a great impression at interview
  • Case studies from students who have been through the Oxbridge application process

“MPW has been excellent. The way the teachers taught was very useful for the Medical School interview process – particularly at Cambridge – as I was used to being stretched and challenged by topics I was unfamiliar with.”

Grades achieved at MPW: A*A* Progressed to: Medicine at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge

This is a recurring question and topic of conversation on The Student Room postgraduate forum, and so it was thought that people may find it beneficial if a single thread could provide links to previous threads that had discussed this subject. This should provide quick answers to many of the questions.

LSE, Imperial and other top UK universities are not included in this post due to the fact that it is much easier to search for ‘Oxbridge’ than it is to look for each university’s name individually. Furthermore it is specifically Oxford and Cambridge that are the objects of most yearnings, ‘twould seem.

This thread is divided into two main sections; firstly, links to application information on the universities’ websites and, secondly, a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section. Threads are organised under question headings and subject specific headings. In order to try to help guide you towards any threads that may have touched on your concerns in some way, threads are listed more than once under different questions.

Threads are listed in no particular order, within question categories, and this list is by no means complete.

(If this could become a sticky, that would be great).

1. The Official Line.

Variations may occur between different faculties, so one should check the specific admission criteria for individual courses.

Cambridge provides a statistical breakdown of applications received, overall and for individual courses, at CamDATA. Many faculties also provide their annual reports for download.

Again, variations may occur between different faculties, so it is best to also check the specific requirements of individual courses.

As far as I can see Oxford do not offer statistics on their applications in the same way as Cambridge does.
They do now:
http://www.ox.ac.uk/about_the_univer. ics/index.html

If you are not from the UK and you are unsure as to whether your degree is comparable to undergraduate degrees provided in the UK, Oxford recommends that you utilise this website: http://www.naric.org.uk/ (National Recognition Information Centre). Be aware that you have to pay for this service.

2. Frequently Asked Questions

These are:
(i) General, ‘how do I get into Oxbridge?’ questions.
(ii) Do they take GCSEs or A-levels into account?
(iii) I went to a top tier uni, what do I need to get into Oxbridge?
(iv) I went to a second/lower tier uni; can I get into Oxbridge?
(v) I did a joint honours degree, will that affect my application to Oxbridge?
(vi) Subject specific
(vii) Applying/Accepted
(viii) TSR meta