With most students out of school until September and exams either postponed or cancelled, it is essential for those candidates who might wish to apply to Oxbridge this autumn not to lose momentum or sight of their studies. This summertime period before the busyness of the new school year is a serious and crucial time where potential candidates should make the difficult decision of whether or not to make an Oxbridge application, and they must explore how much time they are willing to invest in the process.

Whilst students may be worried their chosen work experience or summer course is no longer able to go ahead, remember all students are in the same boat. The admissions staff will consider this. Plans may have changed, but students can still make use of the extra time by reading, listening and watching.

Below we have sought to answer some critical questions regarding what the Oxbridge admissions process would involve.

What are the key dates for Oxbridge students?

The Oxbridge UCAS deadline is 15th October. Students can apply to five universities in the UK, including one from either Oxford or Cambridge – you cannot apply to both.

Next, the admissions assessment will follow in October or November. Most courses will have an admissions assessment; Oxford will assess candidates pre-interview, and Cambridge will have around half of their assessments pre-interview and the other half of the assessments will be held at the same time as interviewing.

The last step is an in-person interview, which will take place in December. Interviews will usually be held in the college the student makes an application to, but students may be required to attend multiple meetings.

Finally, in January, offers will be made.

What can students do to help their predicted grades and school reference, given that the schools are closed, and they are no longer having face to face interaction with their teachers?

Even though students are not physically going into school, students must continue with their school work as normal online. Students will need to make sure that they are in constant contact with their teachers to ensure that they stay in their minds, so they receive a good reference further down the line.

It is also important for students to make sure they are up to date with the administrative side of UCAS, for example, the school will often have their internal deadlines for personal statement drafts so that students are best prepared when autumn comes around.

What are Oxbridge looking for amongst their prospective students?

It is important to note that both Oxford and Cambridge are places of academic rigour, and only those who are academically capable should consider making an application. Ultimately, Oxbridge are looking for prospective students who show both engagement and commitment to their chosen subject, whether this is through broader reading, work experience, school societies and so on. Students will also be selected based on their potential to study that subject rather than how much they currently know.

How should students look to decide which course they want to apply for?

Students are attracted to Oxford and Cambridge for many reasons. However, the first should be the course that they wish to study. Students should already have a strong relationship with their particular subject; therefore, it should be reasonably obvious which course they should apply for.

It is also important to note that students should not look at acceptance or rejection statistics to determine which course to apply for, as it is a common myth that some courses are easier to get in above others. Ultimately it is important to think about the subject students have the most appreciation for, and the one that has exciting potential further down the line.

How should students choose between Oxford and Cambridge if they cannot attend an open day or visit the university, and how should they research the different colleges?

Cambridge has made all of their open days virtual, and Oxford will most likely follow suit. In terms of choosing between the two, this should ultimately come down to which course interests you most, as noted above. Again, when selecting your college, students must not look at the college’s acceptance or rejection rates, as the university will see through this and their admissions process is designed to select the best candidates, to whichever college they apply.

Both universities have a pooling system where they can switch applicants, so that if one college has a higher number of strong applicants than they can accept, they will be made available to other colleges, rather than rejected.

Therefore, other important factors students should consider when choosing a college should instead include factors such as location, size, accommodation, extracurricular activities such as sports and music, as well as what research is being done by current tutors in their chosen subject.

Where should students start in terms of looking for extra reading and resources?

If you’re genuinely interested and passionate about your chosen subject, the reading you have already done should inspire and lead you to other sources of information. However, as a starting point, both Oxford and Cambridge will have reading lists for all of their subjects on each of the course websites. It is ultimately about quality rather than quantity.

Students must also be up to date with current research in their chosen subject, although this will be more relevant for some courses over others. Universities, including those other than Oxford and Cambridge, will also have their own resources on their websites, for example in podcasts and lectures that are available online, and these can also be great starting points.

What should an Oxbridge personal statement look like?

Students applying to Oxbridge should write a personal statement that focuses 80% on academics. It should demonstrate a real passion for your subject and show that you are consistently engaged. It is important to give examples of what interests you most in the course, and back it up with evidence; for example, a lecture you have watched or a book you have read. The best personal statements will also always make connections between different findings, readings, lectures—this is also true for Oxbridge interviews.

How should applicants prepare for the admissions assessment?

Admissions assessments are designed to be challenging; they are looking to assess how students think, rather than what information they have already learnt through study. The universities will provide information about each of the courses’ admissions tests on their website, which detail their structure and what they might include. Past papers will give students a sense of what will be required and are an excellent tool for any preparation.

What would an Oxbridge interview look like?

An interview will consist of a question and answer format and will last around 25 minutes with two or three Oxbridge teachers. They may draw questions from your personal statement, aptitude tests, or the current climate in relation to your subject. Practising mock interviews with unfamiliar people can provide excellent practice, and the university course pages will potentially have examples of previous interview questions to use. It is also important to note that the admissions staff will not expect you to know everything, and it is not necessarily seen as a disadvantage if you do not know the answer to their question, just as long as you can back this up.

Further details on University of Oxford admissions process can be found here.

Further details on University of Cambridge admissions process can be found here.

For further information on the Oxbridge admissions process, or to speak an experienced Oxbridge advisor, please contact Quintessentially Education.