Do you dream of rowing your way to fame in the Putney Boat Race? Or attending one of those glamourous May Balls? Or maybe you just want to learn from the best and get a world-class university education? Then applying to Oxford or Cambridge University (collectively known as Oxbridge) might just be for you.
Both Oxford and Cambridge universities look for the brightest students from all backgrounds. In fact, recent steps have been made to improve diversity across UK universities, resulting in a rise in admissions from British state-educated pupils. Furthermore, in Cambridge, extra places have been opened up for disadvantaged students who perform better than expected in their A-levels.
But with a record 65,870 students applying for ‘early deadline’ university courses in 2018 -- including Oxbridge applications -- it pays for students to start preparing their applications for 2019 as soon as possible to give you the greatest chance of success.
Rather than being a closed process, applications to Oxbridge take place through UCAS and it isn’t all that different from applying to any other university. That said, there are a few differences to bear in mind to ensure that you perfect your Oxbridge application:
Preparation is key
Make sure to start planning months in advance, well ahead of the October deadline to really take the time to consider your choices and avoid any last minute panic. Applying to Oxbridge can be both exciting but challenging, and requires ability and focused preparation. There is no blueprint but a careful, considered application can be crucial to this whole process. This involves really thinking about your reasons for wanting to go there, and what you have to offer your chosen college above and beyond academic ability,
Will I meet the grade?
The fact that you are even thinking about applying to Oxbridge suggests that you are probably one of the top academic performers in your school year. Depending on the course you’re considering, conditional offers require A or A* grades in your A-Levels and only top grades in the Higher Levels of the IB Diploma, 7s and 6s. Having Oxbridge in your sights is one thing but you need to keep focussed on your day to day coursework and be super disciplined about revising for exams to make sure you reach your expected grades.
Which shade of blue?
There’s no doubting that both universities offer the very best international standards and facilities for teaching. But will you choose Cambridge Blue or Oxford Blue? It might seem like an odd question but when it comes to applying to Oxbridge, you’ll need to decide which one is right for you as unfortunately you can’t apply for both during the same admissions round. Do as much research as possible,go to open days and get the inside track from students currently studying there. This will also give you an opportunity to explore each city and get a better feel for the place. After all, it’s important that you like the city itself, as well as the course and college you choose.
How do I apply?
Once you’ve done all your research and decided whether Oxford or Cambridge is the best fit for you, it’s time to start filling out the UCAS application form. It’s important to remember that Oxbridge applications close slightly earlier than for other universities, so make sure you get yours in on or before the October 15 deadline.
The application form itself is mostly straightforward, but the personal statement will require a lot of time and thought to ensure that yours stands out. The first hurdle a lot of students face is finding the right tone for this. The key is to strike a balance between a tone that is true to who you are and which also conveys a high level of intellectual curiosity and independent thinking around your chosen degree subject. You need to show your drive for studying this particular subject and prove that you are prepared to go above and beyond the standard A Level syllabus to achieve the highest grades.
Both universities will also ask students to prepare and submit samples of written work. Be sure to pick something engaging, dynamic and full of thought-provoking views, backed up with evidence and examples where possible. It’s critical to show that you have a deep knowledge of the subject, because most admissions tutors will expect you to talk about it with confidence and conviction as a discussion point during the interview. Even better, choose something you love, not just one you think will be a means to an end, as this will allow your energy and enthusiasm to shine through.
Not necessarily the case with Cambridge but if you are applying for Oxford University, you should expect to complete an admissions test for most of its courses. These tests are set in place to measure problem-solving and critical thinking skills that students will require for their degree course. To help prepare, it’s a good idea to get hold of past sample papers which will give you a broader sense of the type of academic skills required to study here.
What can I expect from the interview?
Once you’ve submitted your written applications, successful candidates will then be invited to an interview with the course tutors -- either at the college itself, via Skype or over the phone. Despite what urban myths suggest, this interview isn’t designed to catch you out and you won’t be expected to catch the interviewer’s attention by setting light to the newspaper they are reading. But do expect to be challenged. The tutors will pose some tough questions on your chosen subject and these will get harder as the discussion progresses. As long as you have a genuine interest in the course and an ability to articulate your own views based on your knowledge, you should ace this part. It’s critical to practice beforehand and lean on friends, family or supportive teachers to role play with you in advance to help build confidence.
If you are determined, brave, and possess the academic rigour and passion for your chosen subject, there’s nothing to stop you from applying to two of the world’s leading institutions. Above all, stay calm and have faith in yourself. Even if you don’t secure a place, it will still be a fantastic experience and you’ll learn so much about yourself and what to expect from any top university. If you are one of the lucky ones who get in, the opportunities to learn and network with some of the world’s brightest students are unparalleled.
Punts at the ready!
By Helen Lami, managing director Academic Summer