For many top-performing sixth form students planning their application to study in Higher Education, two British universities will stand out as the target for their ambitions above all others, no matter the excellence of the UK university system as a whole. Two universities dominate the public imagination both in Britain and abroad and, with their long record of the highest academic standing, their centuries’ old history and the beauty and tranquil seclusion of their locations, have come to define our very conception of the university ideal. With all they have to offer, Oxford and Cambridge continue to occupy a unique positon in the university constellation.
Oxford and Cambridge, symbols of academic excellence, dominate the university league tables - always ranked numbers one and two in the UK and currently in the top 5 in the worldwide league table of universities. As two of the world’s oldest universities, Oxford and Cambridge offer a unique attraction - a rich academic heritage combined with a beautiful architectural tradition. There are very few UK universities that are divided into colleges, and the close care a college offers ensures that successful applicants to Oxford and Cambridge are welcomed as undergraduate students into a friendly and comfortable family atmosphere, with teaching colleagues (fellows) and welfare staff living close by, available to offer support and guidance as students go out into the wider university to pursue their academic ambitions.
The tutorial system, where many students still receive either individual or small group tuition (along with just two or three fellow students) offers unrivalled access to some of the world’s finest academics, the prospect of close teaching that makes for a life changing experience.
The Oxbridge application process – why is it so tough?
Oxford and Cambridge are often referred to as ‘Oxbridge’, a short-hand term for this exclusive group of two. Oxbridge operates a different admissions policy to other universities, and works to a different application deadline.
Because of their prestigious status the universities are the most sought after institutions and, as such, know that they will have to deal with a far higher number of applications from high-achieving students, from all around the world. To deal fairly with such high demand for places from aspiring students (on average, there are about 6 applications for every place available), Oxbridge is given its own deadline by the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Three months earlier than the general deadline for our other universities, the deadline is the same each year – 15 th October- and is non-negotiable. No late applications are ever considered. Miss it, and you have to wait for a whole year to try to apply again.
While you are otherwise encouraged to combine universities on your UCAS form in any way you wish, there is a distinct rule for Oxbridge - you can apply to only one of either Oxford or Cambridge (The one exception is for students applying for an organ scholarship, who are allowed to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge.)
Oxbridge ask more from school applicants than other universities. They generally demand higher grades at A level and IB and they also set additional admissions tests for many of their subjects, as well as interviewing all candidates to whom they are considering making an offer of a place of study. Achieving an interview at either Oxford or Cambridge is, in itself, an achievement and, if you get one, a mark of the respect in which Oxbridge already holds your application.
If you are considering applying to Oxford or Cambridge you will have been achieving the highest grades throughout your school career. You are likely to have been a good all-round student at GCSE, equally at home in science, arts and humanities subjects: Oxbridge likes to recruit arts and humanities students who have a logical turn of mind and scientists who are comfortable articulating their thoughts on the page. You will definitely have flair for a certain subject or group of subjects at A level and a passion for learning that has taken you beyond the limitations of the A level study specification. You are also likely to have a wide array of extracurricular interests, be they in the arts, in sports, in other hobbies and pastimes or in commitments to your school community or society at large.
If this sounds like you, your first concern is to choose one university over the other -are you intending to apply for Cambridge or for Oxford? Neither university wants to see you make an application simply telling them you are doing so because they are the best, they want to feel you have appreciated what makes the university you have chosen distinct, both at the university and at the college level, as well as in terms of the course you have selected. The universities are scrutinizing your application to see that you have genuinely found the academic home that is the right place to nurture your interests, and where you can make a real contribution to their community, enhancing the university’s reputation even further through your own achievements in study while you are with them as an undergraduate.
Education Advisers – supporting your Oxbridge application every step of the way
At Education Advisers we can offer you the best guidance at every step of the way with your Oxbridge application. We will advise and assist you to help you take the decisions that are right for you, from choosing between Oxford and Cambridge, to finding the college that is right for you, in selecting the course which combines all the things that interest you most and will lead to a degree that will offer you a range of career choice to inspire you and fulfil your ambitions for life.
Education Advisers can offer you guidance as you complete the UCAS application form, helping you, through discussion, develop your ideas for when you come to write your personal statement, and offering expert preparation as your application progresses to an Admissions Test and then to interview, where we can provide a mock (test) interview. Your mock interviews will be conducted by an academic specialist in your subject. After your mock interview, the specialist tutor, together with your adviser, will offer you further thoughts and guidance as you prepare for the big day, an interview at Oxford or Cambridge.
Applying for Oxbridge is both exciting and nerve-wracking. We have supported many students through this process over many years and will do all we can here at Education Advisers to make your Oxbridge experience enjoyable, enriching – and, we hope, successful.
If you are thinking about applying to Oxford or Cambridge then use our comprehensive advice service to get the help you need.