Are you dreaming about reading English literature at Oxford? Perhaps studying Physics at Cambridge? Getting a place at Oxbridge requires excellent A-levels and GCSE grades but you also need thorough and ‘smart’ preparation. This practical guide will help you to through the arduous and extremely competitive application process to Oxford and Cambridge.
Firstly, it is important to be realistic about Oxbridge admission requirements. We have summarised the 2015 admission data to illustrate how competitive Oxbridge courses can be:
In 2015 the number of admissions to Oxford reached their historical peak of 18,377 applicants out of which about 17% successfully secured their places. It is worth knowing that some courses are more competitive and some less oversubscribed than others. For instance, Economics and Management, PPE, Medicine, Physics and Law are considered to be the most competitive, while Classics, Music, Biological Sciences, Modern Languages, or Chemistry are statistically easier to get into. You can see the full breakdown here.
Only 4,253 out of over 16,000 applications received a conditional offer for Cambridge in 2015. The total number of accepted students (the ones who met the conditions) was 3,449. That gives us a 21% acceptance rate – only slightly higher than Oxford. You can see the full breakdown here.
It is important to remember some basics in order to maximise your chances of getting a place and, above all, avoid fundamental mistakes.
It is important to be aware of whether you can achieve the minimum grade requirement (see Oxbridge grade criteria in FAQ section below) before you decide to apply. For instance, if your expected A-levels marks oscillate between A and B or lower, you should re-think whether Oxbridge is a suitable choice for you. Oxbridge takes only the brightest students and – what it means in practice – the best achievers (A* and A).
It is a good idea to discuss your academic plans with your teachers and/or tutors as these are the people who know best your academic progress and performance. As the application requires 2 references, it is crucial you think about your 2 referees ahead; even 2 years before your university course is due to start. Your reference would be much better if your referee has tracked your progress and achievements from the last few years of secondary school.
The unique character of Oxbridge education is its collegiate life. A college is your accommodation, place of academic work, and above all your closest student community. Every Oxbridge student belongs to a particular college. It is often underestimated how much your college choice matters in the application. You can either put your college preferences in the application (we advise you to do thorough research) or select the ‘open application’ option. In the latter case you should be aware of the fact that it is very likely you will be allocated to a college that has fewer applications. For instance, female applicants who select the ‘open application’ option are very often allocated to a unisex college.
The Personal Statement (PS) is your gateway to university and probably one of the most important documents you are going to write in your life. Therefore, it is crucial not to postpone it until the UCAS deadline (15 October for Oxbridge each year – see FAQ). We have prepared a list of the most basic things you should keep in mind while drafting your PS.
Many undergraduate courses at both Oxford and Cambridge require passing the admission assessments, they often check applicants’ language, mathematical, or reasoning abilities. These exams are quite demanding and very often test both accuracy and how you work under pressure. We cannot emphasise enough that thorough preparation is needed to pass them well. Thus, you should start practising your exam papers before submitting your application. Private tutors are able to help with in preparing for the specific assessments in advance.
The admission assessments take place around November. Please note that some departments such as Medicine or Biomedical Sciences at Oxford require registering for their admission assessments by 1 October. This is another reason why waiting until the UCAS deadline is not the best idea. Please check for more details about Oxford and Cambridge admissions tests.
Arts and Humanities departments at Oxbridge and Cambridge might require an essay or a written work in early November. This might be another or an alternative assessment to the entry tests. Check the details about each department’s requirements (Oxford and Cambridge).
Interviews (there might be more than one) are considered to be one of the most mysterious and difficult parts of the admission process. They usually take place in early December. Getting an invitation is already a great achievement.
Generally speaking, both Oxford and Cambridge look for students who can demonstrate breadth and depth of reading. For instance, if you apply for a History course it is good to show your academic interviewers that you are aware of various concepts and authors but at the same time you should demonstrate your passion and interest in specific topics. These interviews are not to ‘tick box’ your knowledge but to give you an opportunity to demonstrate your way of thinking and your analysis of a given problem/case.
After the interview it is polite to send an email to your interviewers thanking them for their time.
We hope this short guide clarified some of your questions about the Oxbridge admission process. Our tutors and Educational Consultants can offer you help at any stage of the application process. We have Oxbridge-educated tutors who have considerable insight into all parts of the application process, from personal statements to interviews such as interview techniques and specific types of questions needed for Oxbridge. Knowledge of the process is one thing but practice is another. Practice of tests and interview questions can greatly enhance your chances of getting a place.
We have helped some of our students to get into Oxbridge. We want to share with you what our old A-level student, Tosca, said about us:
“When I came out of the 6th form with a huge lack of confidence having got not very good A-levels. My Simply Learning tutor not only rebuilt my confidence from scratch but really emphasised to me why I wanted to do that subject and ultimately helped me to get a place at Oxford.”
What is the deadline for undergraduate applications to Oxford and Cambridge?
Unlike the rest of the UK universities (15 January), the deadline for Oxbridge undergraduate admissions is on 15 October at 6 pm each year. Students must submit their complete UCAS application between 1 September and 15 October. UCAS is the national platform for ALL undergraduate applications. Oxbridge does not have a separate application system.
What are the entry requirements for Oxford and Cambridge?
It really depends on the subject you apply for, however, conditional offers for Oxford undergraduate courses usually vary between A*A*A and AAA (A-level), or the equivalent of minimum 38-40 IB points. Some grades might be expected at a higher level. For Cambridge the offer is the same (2 A* and an A) for sciences, A*AA for arts, and 40-41 IB points. Please see the list of minimum international qualifications for (Cambridge University) and (Oxford University).
What if the English is not my first language?
Both Oxford and Cambridge expect their students to have an excellent level of English. Non-natives might be expected to prove their language level if their language of instruction was not English. Please look at the Oxford and Cambridge websites to check the updated admissions criteria.
What are the entry tests for Oxford and Cambridge that I need to sit?
Many departments run a rigid pre-screening of the undergraduate applicants before they invite them for the interview. We strongly advise you to prepare much in advance for these tests. Please refer to Oxford and Cambridge for more details on the specific entry tests:
Can I apply for both Oxford and Cambridge at the same time?
No, it is not possible to apply for both universities in the same admissions year. The decision whether to apply for Oxford or Cambridge remains very personal one as both institutions hold equal reputation of academic excellence.
What is the cost of undergraduate degree at Oxford and Cambridge?
For a Home (UK) or EU students the tuition fee in 2016 at both universities is £9,000. You can access the government loan for the full amount so you do not need to pay any fees in advance.
If you are an international student (‘Overseas’ or ‘Islands’ status) you are not eligible for the government loan. At Oxford your tuition would vary from £15,295 to £22,515 . At Cambridge the tuition cost depends on the taught subject and varies between £16,608 up to £40,200 for the academic year 2016/7.
Please note that students may have different fee arrangements for medical/veterinary courses.
How ‘international’ are Oxford and Cambridge?
One third of Oxford students (including 17% of undergraduates) are from overseas. They represent 138 countries of the world.
More than 11% of Cambridge undergraduates are international citizens (this excludes the EU) from 65 countries.
How will Brexit affect tuition fees at Oxbridge?
So far there has been no change of tuition fees for undergraduate courses for the academic year 2016/7. But neither Oxford nor Cambridge has denied that there might be an increase of fees in the future. Tuition fees for 2017/8 courses have not yet been announced. Please check university websites for more information.
Choosing an Oxford College
Applying to Read English at Oxford University
Oxbridge Entry Advice
University of Oxford Undergraduate Prospectus 2017 Entry
A short video on how to apply for Oxford undergraduate courses.
University of Cambridge Undergraduate Prospectus 2017 Entry
Cambridge undergraduate admission process explained in less than 3 min.