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Applying to Oxford or Cambridge

oxbridgeCompetition for places at Oxford and Cambridge – known together as Oxbridge – is fierce, and the process can be complex. Find out how to navigate the forms, colleges and interviews.

Should I apply?

There are two things to think about when deciding whether to apply to Oxford or Cambridge. Most people worry about whether they will be able to get in. While it's true that Oxford and Cambridge are very competitive and you will need top grades, you shouldn't assume that you won't be good enough or you aren't the sort of person who can go. 

But it's also important to think about whether they would suit you. Although Oxford and Cambridge are excellent universities, they aren't the only good places to study and the style of teaching and course content may not be what you are looking for. Make sure you have looked into the course carefully and aren't just assuming that Oxbridge must be the best option if you can get in. If you're not sure, remember that an application isn't a final decision, and the application process and interview may help you to decide if you want to go.

How are Oxford and Cambridge different from other universities?

There are a few differences between Oxbridge and most other universities in the UK:

  • They are made up of individual colleges, which take care of pastoral issues and parts of your teaching.
  • You'll get more intensive, one-to-one teaching time.
  • Terms are shorter, so the work load can be more intensive.
There are also differences in the application process:
  • You can only apply to one of Oxford and Cambridge, not both.
  • Applications have to be in earlier - normally by October 15.
  • You'll apply to a specific college. Even if you submit an open application, a college will be chosen for you. However, the college you apply to can choose to 'pool' you instead of offering a place or rejecting you outright - this means that other colleges can offer you an interview or a place.
  • You'll have to complete an extra application form with additional information.
  • You may have to do an extra test or exam.
  • You'll have to go to an interview as part of the application process.

What are the interviews like?

You’ll hear all sorts of scare stories about Oxbridge interviews, but they’re not as frightening as some people believe. However, you should ‘expect the unexpected’ i.e unusual questions that you haven’t prepared for. This is because interviews at Oxford and Cambridge aren’t designed to discover how many facts you know – they try to explore how you think. So don't worry if you can't answer a question: explaining how you would start thinking about it, or asking an intelligent followup question, can be just as impressive.

What happens if I'm unsuccessful?

You'll normally hear about your application by Christmas, so you'll have plenty of time to think about which of your other options you would prefer. If your heart is set on Oxbridge, you can choose to apply again the following year, but think carefully about this: don't dismiss other universities without seriously considering what you would get out of studying there. If you do decide to reapply, think carefully about what you do with the time: this could include doing extra study to improve your chances and working to build up savings for uni.

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