Map Oxbridge Applications, 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

Oxford and Cambridge receive thousands of applications for their limited places every year – around 34,000 for just over 6,000 places. Strong candidates will have a mature understanding of their subject, a keen interest to find out more and a mind that can analyse problems and deal with new challenges by thinking logically and laterally. These are all excellent qualities to have, but one question many students ask is how they can demonstrate their genuine enthusiasm for their subject and intellectual curiosity. We’ve have outlined some ideas for you to use to explore your own subject.  You don’t have to start writing your personal statement just yet, but it’s never too early to start thinking about how you can explore your subject and demonstrate your subject passion.

Essay Competitions

Many colleges of Oxford and Cambridge run essay competitions for Year 12 students – these are not just for subjects such as English and History, but stretch to Chemistry and Land Economy.  Not only could you win yourself a sum of money, but it’s something that you can write about in your personal statement, which will show that you’re commitment to your subject is long-standing. Often the competition will ask you to write about something that you have not studied at school – and this is a great opportunity to explore an area you’re interested in and to get those personal statement brownie points for independent research skills!  This also has the potential to serve as an springboard for discussion when it comes to the real interview. Be quick though, as many of the essay competitions have deadlines in March. At Peterhouse College, Cambridge is running three competitions for History, Science and English and Corpus Christi, Oxford is running two competitions for Chemistry and Biochemistry . Good luck – and let us know how you get on.

Work Experience

If you’re applying for a more vocational subject such as Law, Medicine or Engineering, chances are that you are already thinking about organising some practical work experience. Don’t forget that sometimes things that aren’t difficult to obtain are actually much more impressive – here are some ideas we’ve had:

Attending local magistrates court trials

This is great as it puts you exactly where you want to be for all the legal action! Don’t forget to take notes so that you can speak confidently about the different cases you saw and explain the complexities involved in each. After all, it’s not just about watching the cases, but about your understanding and analysis of it.  Try to think of examples where a particular ruling has changed your understanding of the law – this might be something interesting to discuss in interview.

Shadowing a doctor at the hospital

This is brilliant work experience. You’ll be able to see how the hospital works, find out about different conditions, diagnosis and treatment.  It’s best to get referred by your GP for this, so try to see them face-to-face and ask if there is anyone who you could contact. Don’t be too ambitious – ask for a week or just a few days not a month! And don’t just think about being on the wards: working in the laboratory, or in a care home or hospice will give you very different, but equally interesting and challenging work experience to speak about.

Nuffield Bursaries for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

A fantastic opportunity and a very prestigious award, the bursary gives you the chance to work with a team from your local university conducting research and contributing to a project.  Get your application in early and be flexible about what you are assigned to. Click here for more information.


Reading is really important for applicants to Oxford and Cambridge – it shows you enthusiasm for your subject and introduces you to loads of interesting ideas which you can write about in your personal statement, use as examples in your Admissions Test and written work and discuss at interview.  Use our reading rooms to find your next great subject-specific read. If you need any specific advice for your subject, or you’re not sure where to begin, give us a call on +44 (0)20 7499 2394 or email

Oxbridge Applications Logo

Our Oxbridge-graduate consultants are available between 9.00 am – 5.00 pm from Monday to Friday, with additional evening availability when requested.

Oxbridge Applications, 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

Added to cart

View Cart