Applying to Oxbridge? Our expert guide to improving your chances


If you needed to design a system solely to deliver out the conniving, anxious worst of the nation’s most bookish teenagers, that system can be the Oxbridge admissions course of. Armed with their AS ranges or equal, the scholars at present present process this course of should now put together your utility for both Oxford or Cambridge.

The very first thing to learn about this stage is that you may’t decide each. Between them, Oxford and Cambridge have existed for 17 centuries, and so they’re not going to allow you to, an applicant who has existed for 17 years, play them off towards one another.

So that you’ll have to decide on between them, which generally is determined by which course you’re doing, and on the similar time you’ll have to decide on a university. There are huge faculties, cramped faculties, wealthy faculties, poor faculties, sporty faculties, studious faculties, lovely faculties, ugly faculties, faculties which declare to not be posh, faculties which declare to be the friendliest or most enjoyable or most supportive. 54 of them take undergraduates, and that’s not even counting Oxford’s six everlasting non-public halls, that are smaller however related.

The Telegraph has tried to make as helpful a comparability as potential between the universities, rating them on monetary belongings, educational efficiency, life-style and lodging as a part of our information to selecting between them. Begin right here, and use the information to work out which faculties supply the topics you’re fascinated by, and which of these faculties finest fit your priorities.

It’s pure, at this level, to start to connive. Above all, you need to get into Oxbridge. Do you have to shoot for a much less aggressive course? Do you have to select a university that appears unpopular? It’s pure, too, to be troubled. These are intimidating establishments. Will a few of them really feel extra welcoming than others? Additionally, which faculty bar serves the most affordable drinks?

We put most of those questions, and some extra, to a number of specialists. Some programs, akin to Land Economic system at Cambridge and Classical Archaeology and Historical Historical past at Oxford, are generally seen as softer, however none of our specialists advisable choosing a topic for any purpose aside from enjoyment. Dr Samina Khan, who’s Oxford’s director of undergraduate admissions, warned: “Your degree course will run for three or more years and your workload will feel much lighter if you genuinely love your course.”

Professor Carolyne Larrington, a medievalist who teaches English Language and Literature at St John’s Faculty, Oxford, supplied related recommendation. “If you don’t really have a burning desire to learn lots about your chosen subject, don’t waste your – and everyone else’s – time. That place could go to someone who does want to do the work. And in an Oxford tutorial system” – wherein, as with Cambridge supervisions, college students are given one-on-one tuition/browbeating – “there isn’t anywhere to hide.” (Having as soon as turned as much as considered one of Prof Larrington’s tutorials with out an essay, I agree.)

Dr Sam Lucy, director of admissions at Cambridge, provides that a part of the purpose of the interview stage, which each and every undergraduate should undergo, is for lecturers to check college students’ enthusiasm. The upshot is that enthusiasm is usually extra priceless than data; as Dr Lucy factors out, when you’re going for a course akin to French and Arabic, and haven’t completed an A degree or something prefer it in Arabic, “the interviewer will be more interested in your interest of the culture than your knowledge of the language.”

As for choosing a university, Dr Lucy emphasised the effectiveness of the pool system, whereby candidates who’re ok for his or her course, even when their selection of faculty is oversubscribed, are despatched to different faculties. “Don’t spend too much time worrying about it,” she advises. (“It’ll all pan out,” says Prof Larrington.)

That stated, it’s nonetheless value serious about what your private necessities are. You may favor a smaller undergraduate physique over a big one, or vice versa. You may like an artsier faculty, or a studious one, or a extra central one. Dr Lucy suggests extra standards: “Do you need an oven? Do you like open space about you? Do you like particular architectural styles?”

Applicants who’ve Oxbridge alumni amongst their lecturers and relations will quickly hear about faculties’ reputations. “They may have had an element of truth 20 years ago, but they don’t now,” says Dr Lucy. “I’d ignore the advice of people who haven’t been here within the last five years.”

There’s loads of variation between faculties’ wealth, however bursaries for lower-income college students come from central college funding at each Oxford and Cambridge. Some faculties, because the Telegraph’s information explains, provides you with cheaper lodging or greater scholarships than others; these variations are value taking into account, however Oxbridge typically affords bigger bursaries than nearly some other British universities. 

Everybody I spoke to advisable visiting. “I didn’t believe in myself,” says Phoenix Guwa, now a second-year drugs scholar at Pembroke Faculty, Cambridge. “It was only taking part in the access the summer schools and residential experiences that really encouraged me and pushed me to be here now.”

Richard Foord, now a civil servant, studied English at Hertford Faculty, Oxford, from 2011 to 2014. “I found the open day sealed it for me. I went to lots of different colleges across the day but felt most welcome and comfortable at Hertford – not a very scientific approach in the end, but I ended up pretty happy with my choice.”

The admissions course of feels opaque to lots of the college students navigating it, however faculties are rather more useful than they might have been a era or two in the past. “A very big problem nowadays,” says Guwa, “is the dearth of encouragement that college students are getting, particularly these from backgrounds the place there aren’t essentially loads of sources. 

“The application process to Oxford is not necessarily transparent, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your research. There are loads of people who don’t know how it works, or what Oxford is like, and also don’t know someone that has been to Oxford to ask their questions.” Admissions officers are port of name, as are college students you meet on open days.

Once you’ve chosen a course and faculty, you’ll want a private assertion. “Mention some books beyond your A level texts,” says Prof Larrington, “but be prepared to talk about them. Show your curiosity has been triggered by set texts. What did they lead you to?”

Don’t overlook, says Prof Larrington, that you simply’ll need to ship the identical private assertion to every college you apply to, “so don’t go overboard about one particular place or course, unless you’re applying to the same course across the board.”

And when you’ve obtained poor marks in an examination, or you might have a spot in your CV, “explain, or get the school to explain in reference. Teacher went sick at crucial time? Health issues? Front up about them.”

So, in abstract: ignore your relations, don’t be cynical, and use sources such because the Telegraph’s desk to chop out a few of the work. Now the toughest half is out of the way in which. Besides interviews.

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