Congratulations on considering Oxbridge! I say that because you have set your aspirations high and are not scared off. Because it is not impossible to be accepted by Cambridge and Oxford – one in five applicants do. The reason they are different from other universities is that almost all of their applicants have good GCSE results and top predictions for A level. Oxbridge are looking for ‘potential’ amongst these. They want to take out educational and background advantage and look instead at what those students could achieve, given the opportunity.
People with poor exam results do get offers because they are taken in the context of their circumstances. For this reason, the universities use additional tests and interviews to create a more level playing field. It still doesn’t work perfectly, but it is getting better. But if you don’t apply, though, you definitely won’t get in. As long as your other choices are realistic, with one that is below what you think you will get, why not be brave and aspirational?
I speak to many students from schools who think Oxbridge is only looking for students with all A*/level 9s from expensive public schools. Having worked in the Oxbridge outreach programme when I was a student, I can promise you nothing is further from the truth. They are desperate to see candidates for their potential, not for where they come from.
As a result, more so than other universities, they look at your personal statement to see your character (genuine interest and maturity for study) and put your educational history in context. This is why offers can be quite diverse – they depend on each candidate’s background. If you get an A and two Bs from a school where these are the top grades, this shows you have lots of potential when the playing field levels at university. However, if you are getting ABB from a school with small classes and private tuition, you are probably already at your maximum potential.
Like medicine, Oxbridge applications take a longer time. The application dates for Oxbridge are earlier than the general UCAS deadline. It usually is mid-October, this year being Tuesday 15 October 2019. It is also necessary to choose a college to apply to. I often advise my students to look at the applicants per place and then look at the five or six most favourable ones and choose one from there. Otherwise, the choice is overwhelming.
Almost every degree requires some form of admission test or written work, and these dates have been published for the next few years. For more information on which test your degree requires, I suggest visiting the specific UCAS or university admission page. The links are below
Oxbridge uses personal statements differently to other institutions, so they deserve special mention. They are not used in the initial process. Instead, the statement is a starting point for interview after additional tests sort out academic potential. The interviewer uses the statement to get some idea of your subject interest, so he or she can ask you more about the examples you give to prove your passion for the subject. As a result, it is pointless making anything up or stretching the truth – the interviewer will spot it in about five minutes.
Instead use the personal statement framework and guidance on this site to craft a statement that focuses on things you have done to extend yourself beyond the classroom. All candidates will have good grades. What the lecturers are looking for are people who have a deep passion for their subject. You need to have at least two extension activities. Not so much the expensive trips your parents paid for, but the essays you entered into competition or a website you made about a topic. Something that shows your passion.
Your second interview will be more of an oral exam. You will get data or a piece of text and be asked, on the spot, to evaluate it. Again these are quite specific for each subject, but the universities’ websites offer plenty of guidance for each course after you have been offered an interview.