Oxford and Cambridge applications

A recent admissions officer said that there are only two reasons not to apply to Oxford or Cambridge; that you will not achieve the grades or that the course is not appropriate for your needs. However, you should be aware that competition is severe. The two universities have world-class reputations and they offer places only to the academic elite. The number of places is restricted and very able students are not always offered a place; this does not mean that rejected applicants are less worthy – far from it! Be prepared for rejection and know that, if you do not secure an offer, this is not a reflection of your ability or worth.

Some students are deterred from applying to Oxford or Cambridge University because of perceptions about social elitism and these are untrue in many cases. QEGS has a good record of successfully supporting students in their application. We regularly achieve 80% of students getting an interview and about half of those winning places. While students should always research and find the college that best suits them, they should also look at where QEGS students have won places in the past. This of course is no assurance that they will take our students again, but at least they have a good idea of what QEGS is like at preparing and sending suitable students.

So who should apply?

You will need to have extremely good GCSE results and be predicted top A Level grades. Most offers are a mixture of A* and A grades and you should check very carefully in the respective prospectuses if you are likely to achieve the expected grades. Both Oxford and Cambridge have used admissions tests for certain subjects in the past. Traditionally, Oxford relied upon these more heavily. With the demise of AS Level, both universities (and may other institutions in the UK) are now expanding these tests to cover the vast majority of subjects. It is important to check the prospectuses to see if your chosen subject requires a test and whether that test can be completed at school (HAT, MAT, PAT, TSA, BMAT, MLAT, ELAT etc) or if it needs to be completed at a test centre. (LNAT, UKCAT) It is very important that you let the exams officer know if you need to register for one of these tests as soon as possible.

What are the advantages?

The quality of education is world class. You would be taught by some of the foremost experts in their field. A degree from one of these institutions would open many doors for you. They use a tutorial approach, where much of your learning would be one to one or in very small groups (2-3) with a fellow, so your ability to think, debate and rationalise will be very well developed. Tutorial systems are increasingly rare in British universities, which usually have much larger teaching groups. The facilities, both academic and social, are outstanding. In Cambridge for example, there are dozens of sports fields, about 150 libraries and almost as many clubs and societies. They also claim to be among the cheapest universities at which to study as they subsidise their accommodation and food heavily. There are also many grants for all sorts of things from books to travel. Many undergraduates are in college accommodation for all three years. This can represent a considerable saving, as students are not subject to the profit-led accommodation market. The collegiate system itself is another major attraction of these universities. Only Durham operates a similar system of colleges where students can live and socialise with a small group of students who come from a variety of subject areas and specialisms. Students become fiercely defensive of their college which becomes a home from home.

What are the challenges?

The standard of work is extremely high and the academic pressure is significant. Terms are only eight or nine weeks long and students have to pack in a colossal amount of work and socialising into that time. Only the most organised and self-motivated will thrive. The selection process can also feel daunting. It is worth remembering that being called to interview is a demonstration that Oxford and Cambridge regard you as a suitable candidate to study with them. If they don’t go on to make you an offer, you are still a superb applicant at the very top of your year.

Application Process

  • At the end of Y12, interested students will be identified and their suitability will be discussed by their teachers. Students will also have the opportunity to visit both universities during their open days in June/July.
  • Over the summer, students should be preparing their personal statements and potentially taking advantage of the summer schools that both universities offer. They should also be considering which university, college and course fits them best. One of the things that both Oxford and Cambridge are looking for are students who have a genuine interest in their subject beyond their school work. If you can identify topics not on your exam syllabuses that interest you, then research them and record what you find. There is no substitute for reading about and exploring academic issues that appeal to you.
  • At the beginning of October, Early Entry students will need to submit their UCAS forms. If they have admissions tests to complete in school, they must have informed the Exams Officer. These tests usually take place in early November. If they need to register to take the test at a centre, this is the responsibility of the student.
  • From October onwards, Mr Martin will run interview workshops with all perspective students and this will culminate in san interview evening where students will have the opportunity to test themselves in an interview setting with outside academics and professionals.
  • Students will be invited for interview towards the end of November/early December. They may also be asked to submit work they have done during their A Level studies. At interview, you are unlikely just to be interviewed once. You will probably have several and often at different colleges. You are not being tested on what you know, but how you think. They want you to be yourself and will try to put you at ease. Their aim is to assess your potential, not trick you or make you feel foolish. These universities are looking for people who can think on their feet, who can think critically and discuss ideas with some confidence. They don’t seek ‘correct’ answers, but an ability to see beyond the obvious. At the interview, you do not have to dress formally but should feel comfortable in your attire. You do not have to appear confident but don’t hide your enthusiasm for your subject.
  • After Christmas, you will here if you have been offered a place. On some occasions, students have been invited for a further interview after the initial interview period. Equally, the pool system in Cambridge means that after a College has rejected you, you could still obtain a place at another college. In 2015, Cambridge pooled about 1 in 5 students and 1 in 4 of those went on to be offered a place at a different college.

Further Information

You will find in S6 in the SFC two folder boxes full of current information about Oxford and Cambridge. You will also find a catalogue of interview statements provided by students from previous years who went through the process. This will allow you to look at the types of interview students faced and the questions they had to answer in your chosen subject. If you have any questions at all about applying to Oxford or Cambridge, Please see Mr Martin.

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