How To Get Into Oxbridge
Is your child applying to Oxford or Cambridge University this year? Our Oxbridge Application Guide features many helpful tips for the Oxbridge interview, assessments and written work. We also offer advice about how to choose the best college.
Oxford University and Cambridge University are two of the most prestigious education institutions in the world. Every year each attracts tens of thousands of applicants from across the globe, all hoping to secure a place at one of their colleges. With competition so fierce, it becomes a real challenge to stand out from the crowd. Our Oxbridge admissions consultants can guide students through every step of the application process. We also provide specialist tuition to prepare them for entrance tests and interviews.
Preparation is key for the Oxbridge Application
The first thing to consider for your child’s Oxbridge application is that there is no substitute for thorough and well-supported preparation. Applications for Oxbridge open in June, and the deadline is in the middle of October each year. Ideally, applications should begin at least 12 months beforehand to ensure a thorough level of preparation.
We encourage students who aspire to an Oxbridge education to think about their prospective application before their GCSE exams. GCSE results are likely to be the only public exam grades the admissions tutors will be able to see at the time of your child’s application, so achieving strong results here is key. Following their GCSEs, your child should begin to step up their preparation by considering the course they would like to apply for and embarking on a programme of wider reading. From Year 12 onwards it is time to hone in on the application itself: from college selection and the personal statement to assessment test revision and interview preparation.
The average acceptance rate for Oxbridge is 17%. However, the students who make full use of the SLT Oxbridge Placement Programme have achieved a 60% success rate for their Oxbridge applications.
To find out more, and to enquire about a bespoke admissions service for your child, please contact us.
1. Academic Excellence
Oxbridge is searching for the brightest academic minds. An applicant must have achieved at least eight 8-9 grades in their GCSES, and will be predicted either i) 3 A-A*s in their A Levels, ii) over 40 points in their International Baccalaureate (IB), or iii) Level 6-7 at Higher Level. (You can see other international requirements at the end of this page). Successful applicants are predominantly those from whom Oxbridge can discern genuine, proactive interest – and potential to excel – in their degree. Therefore, from the outset, an outstanding academic history is crucial in demonstrating your child’s potential. Ultimately, good grades indicate to the admissions teams that your child will truly benefit from the standard and style of learning at Oxbridge.
It is also important to consider whether Oxbridge truly is the right choice for your child. Receiving an offer is an aspiration for many families and certainly a laudable achievement. However, the Oxbridge environment does not suit every student, no matter how intelligent or intellectually curious they are. It may be that the collegiate system is not their preference, that the cities of Oxford or Cambridge do not appeal to them, or that they would flourish better in a less pressurised environment. Before jumping into an application, it is worth carefully reflecting on whether your child would be happier at one of the many other excellent universities in the UK, or around the world.
2. Selecting the Right Course
Oxford and Cambridge University look for students who have a thorough knowledge of, and genuine passion for, their subject. During their time at university, your child will be expected to engage in academically rigorous discussions with their professors and peers. For humanities subjects they will read an extensive amount of literature and submit a minimum of two essays per week. STEM students will face a similarly heavy workload of lab-time, independent learning and tutorials. It is therefore crucial that they research their course thoroughly and are confident that it is the right one for them.
If possible, it is advisable to speak to current or recent students on the course to get a sense of whether it is the right fit. If you do not know any and your school cannot put you in touch, this can often be done on open days or even on online forums such as The Student Room.
3. Choosing the Best College
An important part of your child’s Oxbridge application is selecting their college, as this will be their place of academic work, accommodation and closest student community. When choosing a college, encourage your child to read the different prospectuses, attend open days and talk to people who know the college well. Ask them questions, such as: Do you want to be in the city centre or on the outskirts of the city? Would you like to belong to a small college, steeped in tradition, or a larger, more modern college? (And, for your daughter) Would you prefer an all-girls or mixed college? If your child finds the college selection process too difficult and would rather focus on their exams, they can opt for an ‘Open Application’. This will randomly allocate them to a college. Please keep in mind they will not be able to request another college further down the line.
4. Writing an Exemplary Personal Statement
The personal statement is considered to be the gateway to Oxbridge. It is an applicant’s first opportunity to demonstrate their academic credentials and prove just how passionate they are about taking their chosen degree. They should include everything from the books and articles that inspired their interest, to any lectures or courses that have advanced their knowledge. Subject-related work experience is helpful but, because Oxford and Cambridge are more concerned with prospective students’ academic potential, you should encourage them to keep any mention of irrelevant extra-curricular activities to a minimum. Their personal statement must adhere to UCAS guidelines, and observe the maximum of 4000 characters. Please keep in mind the Oxbridge deadline (mid-October, earlier than for other universities) and that students can only write one statement for all of their university choices. For more advice on how to write an outstanding personal statement for Oxbridge, read our in-depth guide here, or contact us for more bespoke help.
5. Preparing for Admission Assessments and Written Work
As well as your child’s main application through UCAS, applicants may be required to sit admission assessments for courses at Oxford and Cambridge. These tests measure their abilities in the subject for which they are applying. At SLT, we introduce Oxbridge-educated private tutors who will help your child prepare for these assessments. Many subjects also require the submission of written work to demonstrate your child’s current ability. This is usually one or two pieces of writing which have been completed as part of their ordinary schoolwork. If they choose to submit a pre-written school essay, even if it has scored highly, we would advise that your child proofreads the essay with the help of a teacher, a parent, or one of our Oxbridge tutors.
Common Application Tests
|BMAT (Biomedical Admissions Test)
|BMAT (Biomedical Admissions Test)
|CAT (Classics Admissions Test)
|Cambridge Personal Styles Questionnaire (CPSQ)
|ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test)
|ENGAA (Engineering Admissions Assessment)
|GAT (Geography Admissions Test)
|NSAA (Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment)
|HAT (History Admissions Test)
|TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admission)
|LNAT (Law National Aptitude Test)
|STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) – for mathematics, taken in June of Y13.
|MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test)
|MLAT (Modern Languages Admissions Test)
|PAT (Physics Admissions Test)
|Philosophy Test (for Philosophy and Theology only)
|TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment)
|Fine Art practical
|Music Performance Test
Additional Oxbridge requirements
Remember that your child may only apply for either Oxford or Cambridge in the same year.
Following your child’s main application through UCAS, Cambridge requires its applicants to complete ‘My Cambridge Application’. This was previously known as the SAQ (Supplementary Application Questionnaire), and its purpose is to provide more detailed information and the opportunity to submit a further statement. As well as this, applicants are asked to complete the Additional Applicant Information Form (AAIF), regarding interview arrangements.
Oxbridge applicants, however, should note that registration for the Universities’ various admissions tests is not automatically completed through their UCAS application. Oxford recommends registering for these as soon as possible after the first of September, even if your child has not yet completed their UCAS application. These registrations are usually made by your child’s school but can be done as a private candidate too. The registration deadline is normally late September – the 29th of September in 2023. Time is of the essence, as the time following the initial registration opening leaves your child only a month before the Oxbridge application deadline (typically the 15th October each year).
6. How to Impress at Interview
Many applicants consider the interview to be the most intimidating (and mysterious) part of the admissions process. Interviews usually take place in early December and receiving an invitation is a great achievement. Both Oxford and Cambridge are looking for students who can demonstrate a breadth and depth of reading and ability to discuss a range of topics at a high academic level. It is important that applicants answer the question they have been asked, avoid waffling and provide examples to back up their claims. To do this effectively takes practice.
While they should be confident in their opinions, your child should also take time to consider the interviewer’s responses, and really engage in the discussion. Oxbridge are seeking students who can address issues logically, reason to conclusion and defend their own ideas. But stubbornly refusing to give any ground when challenged or corrected is not advisable. Admissions tutors are also looking for applicants who would be a pleasure to teach over the next three or four years. They will look favourably on those students who can take information presented to them during the interview, digest it and learn from it, producing a more nuanced, better informed opinion. For more advice, read SLT’s guide on how to impress at the Oxbridge interview.
7. Wider Reading
The admissions teams at Oxbridge are looking for evidence of applicants’ genuine interest in the subject for which they are applying. In large part, they can demonstrate this through the books and articles they have read beyond their curriculum at school. Our subject-specific tutors can help your child find interesting books and articles to read which will impress and that they will genuinely enjoy. Wider reading is hugely beneficial to your child’s critical thinking, and helps them form their own opinions on the subject matter.
In the interview, the Oxbridge admissions teams will almost certainly question applicants on any reading mentioned in their personal statement. Your child should not be afraid to discuss the books they have read, and explain their thoughts and opinions. Even discussing aspects of their reading they have disliked or disagreed with can be helpful, as it shows their critical thinking and engagement with their subject matter. But, while it may seem beneficial to read any and every book you can get your hands on, there is no value in only being able to list the titles. ‘Quality Not Quantity’ certainly applies to an Oxbridge applicant’s approach to wider reading.
8. How can Simply Learning Tuition help?
We understand that securing a place at Oxford or Cambridge is not easy. To help your child through every stage of the challenging application process, we provide Oxbridge-educated tutors and education consultants who have considerable insight into everything from personal statements to interviews, and can answer any questions regarding applications to (or life at) Oxford and Cambridge. Our Oxbridge preparation programmes show your child how to build a roadmap for their entire application. We ensure that they are effectively prepared for any deadlines and assignments that have been set. To ensure wellbeing, all students are actively mentored throughout the entire application process. At SLT, we have successfully prepared dozens of students for admission to Oxbridge. Please get in touch if you would like to see how we could support your child with their application.
The University of Oxford and The University of Cambridge are infamously difficult to get into. Cambridge boasts an average of 6 applicants per place across all degree subjects; Oxford similarly claims over 20,000 applicants for approximately 3,250 places. However, and especially with the expert guidance of a personal tutor, educational consultant and/or mentor, such as SLT offers, it is not impossible to get into Oxbridge.
Oxbridge is looking for academic excellence, and so preparation is key. Setting your sights high necessitates setting aside the time and effort to achieve those goals. Your child should therefore be aiming for outstanding exam results. These results will form the foundation of their application, and increase their chances of success from the outset.
Put simply, there is no easy way to get into Oxbridge. Some subjects may seem less popular, or do not require applicants to sit an additional admissions tests: unfortunately, these are not an 'easy route' into Oxford or Cambridge. Some students are tempted to apply for a course which receives fewer applications, but this is not advisable. Every Oxbridge applicant goes through a rigorous process alongside other ambitious students. The application process is designed to discern the applicant's level of personal interest and ability in their chosen course. Disingenuous attempts to 'game the system' will be obvious when the applicant is not able to demonstrate genuine interest in the subject for which they are applying.
Whilst the grade requirements vary across all subjects for entrance into Oxbridge, it is advisable that applicants should have all 'A' grades at minimum for their A-Levels. More generally, both Oxford and Cambridge require students for whom academic challenge is a motivating factor, and are thus most suited to the high standards and academic rigour of Oxbridge.
See SLT's table below for the relevant academic qualifications; note that each course maintains their own specific grade requirements, which can be found on the University websites.
|Range from AAA to A*A*A. Some courses require an A* in certain subjects.
|Advanced Placement (AP) (USA)
|For Oxford, four APs at grade 5; or three, supplemented with scores of 33+ in the ACT or 1480+ (out of 1600) in the SAT.
|European Baccalaureate (EB)
|An average of at least 85%, with grades 8-9 achieved in relevant subjects
|Overall grade from 1.3 to 1.1; grades of 13-15 in more relevant subjects.
|Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE)
|Grades of 5s in all core subjects, and two 5* in relevant core subjects, taken from either Category A or Category C.
|International Baccalaureate (IB)
|Ranges from 38 – 43 points, including core points, and with 6s and 7s in particular subjects.
|Cambridge: Advanced Highers of A1, A1, A2 or A1, A2, A2.
Oxford: Highers grades of AAAAB or AAAAA, supplemented with two (or more) Advanced Highers, or, three Advanced Highers of AAB.
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