The admissions process for the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford – jointly known as Oxbridge – can seem daunting. Having an A-level tutor can help reduce the stress of applying and support you to reach the required standard.
Not only do you need to do well in your A Levels, pass any subject specific admission tests and write an excellent personal statement, you also need to submit your application early, get to grips with the collegiate system, and prepare for your interviews.
Despite all this, applying for a place at Oxford or Cambridge is very much worth it for the unparalleled quality of teaching. There are also a wealth of opportunities that an Oxbridge degree can open up for you in later life. This article will guide you through all the stages of the Oxbridge entrance process, from choosing to submit an application to final interviews.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge are notorious for being hard to get into, but they are also known for a whole lot more. Both universities are renowned for their academic excellence, with Oxford ranked as second in the world and Cambridge sharing third place with Stanford University. Oxbridge professors tend to be experts in their fields, meaning that students benefit from lectures and teaching from leading academics, such as Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web (Christ Church College, Oxford).
This reputation for excellence carries through to the day-to-day experience of an Oxbridge student. At only 8 weeks, the terms are very short in comparison to other universities, but the learning experience at Oxbridge is intense and personalised, with regular check-ins to assess progress.
At other universities, students are expected to regularly attend lectures, however, at Oxford and Cambridge these lectures are only a part of a wider offering. Seminars and small group meetings – known as ‘tutorials’ in Oxford or ‘supervisions’ in Cambridge – allow students to discuss their work and ideas in detail. Oxbridge life is certainly intense, but for those who enjoy their subjects and are keen for rigorous intellectual development, this can be a positive.
TThere is also more to Oxbridge than academic excellence. The collegiate set-up allows students to have a home away from home while at university. The focal point of both the academic life and the social life of Oxbridge is the college, meaning that it is easy to get to know everyone and to make friends quickly. All colleges will have plenty of student-led activities and societies that you can get involved with, such as ‘Ents’ nights and sports teams. Many students will also choose to branch out beyond their colleges, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet students from other colleges.
One key quirk of the Oxbridge entrance process is that you cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge. Before you start thinking about colleges, it is important to think about which of the two universities you prefer. Whilst both are generally on par academically, it is worth carefully considering the following questions:
Courses differ slightly between Oxford and Cambridge, so you may find that one does the course you want to apply for, and one does not. In cases where both universities offer the same course, they will tend to structure them differently. Depending on your interests, you may find that one would suit you more than the other.
Oxford and Cambridge are alike, but Oxford is generally known for being bigger and livelier. If a bustling city with more going on in terms of nightlife, museums, and shops is what you are after, then Oxford may be a better fit for you. If, however, you are looking for something quieter and more relaxed, then Cambridge would be the better choice.
The Oxbridge entrance system allows you to apply to a specific college, or to do an ‘open application’, which randomly allocates you to a college. Oxbridge colleges all have different characters, specialisms, and academic prestige, so it is wise to think carefully about all the colleges before selecting one. The following elements are all worth considering:
The UCAS application requirements for Oxbridge entrance are not dissimilar to those for other universities. The key difference is that applications are due in mid-October.
The Oxbridge entrance process requires top A Level or equivalent grades. Also a good set of GCSE or equivalent grades. It is not the case, however, that you need to have, or have been predicted, a set of straight A*s. Provided the rest of your application is strong, an AAA grade or prediction should be enough to get you to interview. In some rare cases, a lower grade may be sufficient, depending on the rest of your application.
Just as with other universities, you will have to write a Personal Statement as a part of the Oxbridge entrance process. This Personal Statement is used to assess the quality of your application, and if you are invited to interview it will often be used as the basis for questions and discussion.
For Cambridge you will also have to submit a Supplementary Additional Questionnaire (SAQ), which gathers additional information from prospective students. There is also an optional Cambridge-specific additional Personal Statement, which is useful for those who are applying for a course which is unique to the university, such as HSPS.
As well as requiring good grades and a strong Personal Statement, the Oxbridge entrance process often requires students to undertake subject-specific admissions tests. These tests tend to take place in early November, although in some cases Cambridge candidates will sit these tests when they go up to interview.
The Oxbridge entrance exams, also known as the Oxbridge admissions tests, are subject-specific exams that are required for applicants to the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. These exams are designed to assess the knowledge and skills of applicants in specific subjects and are typically taken by students who are applying to study a particular subject at one of these universities.
Some of the subjects that may have subject-specific exams as part of the Oxbridge admissions process include:
The format and content of these exams can vary depending on the subject and the university. Some exams may be written, while others may be oral or practical in nature. Some exams may be multiple choice, while others may require full written responses. It is important for applicants to carefully review the requirements for their specific subject and university in order to properly prepare for the exams. We have tutors who specialise in these tests and can help you prepare.
If your application is strong, the next stage in the process is being invited up to interview. These take place in-person in early December and are known for being difficult. Interviews vary wildly, but will generally involve a task, some questions based on content drawn from your personal statement, and general discussion. The discussion is rigorous – tutors are looking for students who are clever and capable, but also genuinely interested in their subject and teachable. In some cases, students will be ‘pooled’, which means undertaking further interviews at other colleges. Oxford conducts pooled interviews in the same period as first interviews, while Cambridge invites pooled candidates back for a second interview after Christmas.
If you feel that Oxford or Cambridge might be right for you, there are many great ways to prepare. The preparation process can also be enjoyable, as a key part of it is engaging more widely with your chosen subject. It is a good idea to start early, to give yourself time to read around your subject and prepare. Gathering as much information as possible about the universities and colleges is also a great idea, so we would highly recommend attending open days and wandering around the cities. Finally, it is worth engaging with your subject beyond the curriculum, which can be achieved through wide reading and research, and through mentoring. Our Oxbridge entrance mentors are very familiar with all of the admissions requirements, having gone through the process themselves and having subsequently guided other students through it.
There are several reasons why you might consider working with one of our professional tutors to help you prepare for the Oxbridge admissions process. Some of the potential benefits of working with one of our tutors include:
Are you ready to further your knowledge and gain entry to one of the most prestigious colleges in the United Kingdom? Contact Mentor Education today.