Updated: Jun 19, 2022
Getting accepted to study at Oxford or Cambridge is no easy task. Being good at school is not the only requirement. You will need to plan well in advance and make sure to write the best application possible. Polish your interview skills and get ready to be admitted into these two prestigious universities.
Tip #1 - Decide if Oxbridge is right for you
Oxford and Cambridge are great places to study and look very good on a CV. One in five members of the Parliament actually went to Oxbridge! Make sure to visit Oxford and Cambridge. You can access the colleges and talk to the students. You can also contact the universities and colleges through their webpages or by phone. Don't send emails to the lectures and professors. They don't deal with general queries and are already busy enough.
Tip #2 - Decide if you are willing to commit yourself early
Your A-Levels will determine if you are admitted or not. As a teenager, you will be expected to work over 40 hours a week for some subjects, so make sure you are willing to dedicate yourself to the hard work. Your A-Level results are extremely important. If you feel you will be able to achieve highly when taking more than three A-Level results, then feel free to do so. However, the number of results is far less important than the grades. It is better to do better with three A levels (at least AAA or higher, dependent on the course and university), then to do worse with four or more. Most admissions tutors will agree with this. It is not mandatory to disclaim your GCSE grades but they are often used to distinguish between entrants due to the high number of A's achieved at A level. As they are not mandatory, there is officially no level to reach. In practice, the better they are, the more likely you are to be accepted.
Tip #3 - Decide what you want to study at University
Your choice of A-Levels need to reflect your desire to study a discipline. You cannot study medicine if you never had an interest in science. It's always a good idea to check in advance what is needed in your aspiring field. It's also a great idea to make sure you are passionate about your subject, don't just do it for Oxbridge, for a job or because you are good at it. You will be slogging it out for the next three or more years, make sure it's something you can enjoy. The interviewer will also be looking out for this passion. Think ahead. Your degree will decide what you do in life. You should realise that you might not work in history, even if you have a degree in the field. Decide what's right for you and don't let others choose for you.
Tip #4 - Choose between Cambridge and Oxford
It might be obvious but you need to know where you want to study when you apply. There is a strong rivalry between the two universities and you probably already have a preference. The most rational way to pick the right institution for you is by picking the strongest in your field. Oxford performs far worse in engineering and technology than Cambridge but is better for life sciences, medicine and humanities. It is slightly easier to reach Cambridge from London. Think about the financial implication. The tuition fees are currently £9,250 per year and you should allow an additional £9,670 per year to live in Cambridge. Oxford is slightly more expensive in terms of living costs.
Tip #5 - Choose your college
You will need to pick a college when you apply and write the application. Read up about as many colleges as you can. You can view the statistics of each college online to see how many people applied and got in for each course. Study the history of the college and try to remember the name of a few of its prominent members. It's important to show that you care. Make sure to choose a college that offers your subject. You can find information on this on the University websites. Only take an open application if you are unsure what college you want to go to. This will not affect your chances but you will be asked why you didn't apply for a college at the interview. Make sure to underline that it has nothing to do with you not caring or not having read on them.
Tip #6 - Write an excellent personal statement and UCAS application
Oxbridge will only look at your personal statement for a few minutes. It has to be perfect. Ask several teachers to look over it and even get your friends to double-check. Make sure to take the advice of experienced teachers. There are many ways to approach a personal statement but make sure to mention the following in your letter:
Introduction about the subject, why you want to do it, etc. (show some knowledge of the course)
Non academic achievement
Extra curricular activities and hobbies
Conclusion (include what you want to do after university).
Tip #7 - Take the test
There are extra steps between the UCAS and the interview for some courses. The first one is a taking an admissions test. Different subjects require different entrance exams, so check with your university which test you need to take and when you need to register by. The test is not systematic. It is required when you need specific knowledge or skills, like Latin and Greek for Classic studies. A full list and several examples of tests are available on the webpages of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. Each test is different. Make sure to read what's required and the criteria about your specific discipline.
Tip #8 - Submit your written work
You may need to submit written work depending on your subject. The piece needs to be marked and cannot be more than 2,000 words. Make sure to select the best written work you can. The college you are applying to will tell you how to submit your written work. The written work should be relevant to your future career path. Don't send a history essay if you want to study biology.
Tip #9 - Shine at the interview
If you are called for an interview, you will need to prepare. They will ask you difficult questions and try to test you. You must prove your knowledge and your desire to learn in that particular university. They will also ask you about your hobbies. Remember that they are looking for human beings who can contribute to the life of the college.
Know why you want to go to the college, why you want to study your course, and what you love about your course.
Stay confident throughout the interviews.
It is always a bonus to search up your interviewers to see the areas they specialise in. Read up on these areas as it may be likely that they will ask you questions on those topics. It is always better to be clued up, and you will impress them.
It is a good idea to get your teachers to give you several different styles of mock interviews. Make sure you study relevant topics and be prepared to answer questions that require independent thought.
Don't forgot to dress properly and behave impeccably. The first impression counts a lot. However make sure that you feel comfortable in your clothes, this may seem minor but it could affect your performance in the interview which is by far the most critical part of this process. Whether to wear a suit or not is an ambiguous subject. Some tutors may dress much more casually than others (this may have a correlation with which subject they teach). The letter or email inviting you to the interview may hold a hint on what kind of clothes are acceptable.
Tip #10 - Secure your place
Oxbridge will typically notify you of their decisions six months before your final A-Levels. If you get accepted, you will still have to perform well at your A-Levels as the offer will be conditional on your receiving certain grades. The typical Oxford offer is AAA at A-Level, but Cambridge offers usually asks for the new A* grade. If you are rejected, you will need to consider your options. You can also choose to apply for another university.