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Students by now will have heard about their interview results from both Oxford and Cambridge. For some it will have been good news, but for others there may have been disappointment. Even if the result is not what you wanted, it’s important to remember that the final decision doesn’t take away from the effort and drive put into your application. It also doesn’t mean that you are not “good enough” for either Oxford or Cambridge. It may have come down to something as simple as nerves on interview day or a few silly mistakes on an admissions test. Unsuccessful applicants who reapply are frequently successful on their second try, and often go on to achieve First class degrees at Oxford or Cambridge.

Below, we’ve answered some common questions we often get asked here at Oxbridge Applications from students asking about how to re-apply.

First question, please!

I just got rejected to study Maths and Philosophy at Christ Church. I’m pretty sure I want to do a re-application but I wonder whether I should change course or try for Cambridge for a better shot next year?

Hi, thanks for the question. This really depends on what you actually want to study. In terms of stats,  applicants who apply for the same course at the same university have a higher chance of success, but don’t let this be the takeaway point as many students are successful when they change course and university. It’s much more about getting the grades and making the right choice in terms of course.
Your first step will need to be securing A-level grades that match at least the entry requirements, but to stand a strong chance you should try to exceed them as much as possible on A*s or D1s or get the highest IB score you possibly can. For Oxford 60% of accepted applicants in the 2020 UCAS cycle had A*A*A* or above in their A Levels.
In addition, you need to start working out exactly which course is the right fit for you. Hopefully, you’ve already figured out that Maths and Philosophy is the course for you, in which case continue your reading and studies in that direction. However, don’t be afraid to take a step back and reflect – maybe having gone through the process already, you now realise that the Natural Sciences course at Cambridge with the Physics pathway is what gets you really fired up! 
It’s true to say that other courses have a higher average success rate. However, switching course or university solely for this reason is probably not the best move. Make sure that whatever decision you make next, it’s an authentic one that is genuinely in line with your academic interests – and we can help with that.
On our website we have a plethora of resources that can be helpful in helping you decide on a course –have a look at our reading lists that contain various introductory-level textbooks and texts and our various blogs dedicated to choosing a course. Also feel welcome to call us to chat about what you could do to discover alternative degree options.


I was just wondering whether I’ll be given an unconditional offer if my re-application is successful?

Yes, in most cases as you will already have your IB/A-level or Pre-U grades. If you are relying on a resit to bring your grades up to the minimum requirements then expect an offer to be given on condition on this resit grade.

International applicants may be asked for an additional English qualification and other courses will need to see a certain STEP score from you.

Next question, please!


I’ve just been turned down by Sidney Sussex for Maths, and I’m wondering what to do next. Do courses and colleges vary on their opinions about gap years?

Yes, at Cambridge Colleges vary slightly on their view on the usefulness of gap years depending on subject. Oxford, whose Colleges are less independent from one another, tend to be more uniform by academic department. A general rule is that the more the course involves maths and physics, the more risky admissions tutors might see a gap year because these skills come ‘off the boil’ more quickly, but – particularly if you are applying for a mathematical/physical science at Cambridge – you should look at individual college pages on gap years to check whether they have a policy on them. With physical/mathematical sciences, you should try to show a structured form of practising your skills through the year – perhaps working through a textbook, enrolling in another course, participating in a competition, or tutoring the A Level syllabus.

For most humanities and social sciences, by contrast, gap years are generally well regarded. Although no course is innately for those who are re-applying, you do find certain courses suit the gap year you will inevitably have to take. For example, you could consider being an archaeologist’s assistant in remote parts of Italy if Archaeology or Classics is what you’re going for. Alternatively, maybe you would prefer to work in a farmer’s shop down a cobbled alley way in Bordeaux to improve your French skills and get valuable cultural experience. Having these plans in place for your gap year will put you in great stead to hit the ground running with your degree and look fantastic to admissions tutors.

Bear in mind, however, that gap year applicants will also be expected to be more intellectually mature and better-grounded than their younger competitors. They will have covered more material, and have had longer to investigate their chosen subject.

I was curious about how I can go through UCAS again if I’ll no longer be at school next year?

Great question! The answer to this one is situational but I’ll be happy to outline the options. Your first step is to communicate with the school or sixth form college you’re about to leave to see what their support will be. You won’t be their first re-applicant most likely so they’re a great source of information. You’ll probably find you will have to make an independent application whereby you pay a small fee to get things going. On your UCAS form you will declare your previous application, and you’ll need to go about getting a reference from your school or from someone else. Make sure you check with your chosen referee that they are happy to provide this reference. At the point of submission, your referee will be sent an email with information on how to proceed with giving their reference.

On a related note, if your course requires a pre-interview admissions test (e.g. the HAT), please check that you can still use your school as an exam centre. Otherwise, you may have to do a search in your local area and set up registering yourself there.

Deciding to do a re-application also means you may need to prepare new pieces of written work, which is intended to represent your best ability at the point of applying. This really requires swiftness and quick decision as these pieces of written work must be marked before you leave school in a few months’ time.

Any more questions?

I’m already holding good offers at Durham, St. Andrew’s and LSE. I know I want to go for Cambridge again but do I risk not getting a place at my other universities a second time round?

What a good question and one we get very frequently. In our experience, we see students able to secure an offer at their other universities a second time round even after relinquishing their initial offers. Universities are large institutions and they definitely don’t “hold a grudge” so to speak; they are looking at each new cohort of applicants fresh, and interested in accepting the best out of the bunch. Having said this, I would argue that it’s always better to turn down offers before accepting to allow for others to receive a place that you won’t be taking.

It’s also not possible to defer these offers and apply to Oxbridge in the meantime, apart from in exceptional circumstances agreed with the universities directly. On UCAS, you must relinquish them and start from scratch with the next cycle. As there are no guarantees to be re-offered a place, turning down a highly competitive place is a risky business. That’s why it’s best to aim for as high as possible in your A Levels (or equivalent) to boost your chances, put extra effort into your new personal statement, and have a couple of ‘insurance’ choices on your UCAS form.

When should I start preparing for my re-application?

A very important question with a simple answer; as soon as possible! Many applicants on their first time round will have left all of the preparatory readings too late, resulting in a last-minute scramble. With that in mind, it’s better to get going as soon as you have made the right choice in terms of course.

The beauty really is in HOW you go about your preparation. Oxford and Cambridge want to see applicants that have a genuine commitment to their subject which they pursue even in their free time. Thanks to the powers of Google, finding fantastic papers and resources for every possible niche area of interest you may have is but a simple click away. Our tip is to introduce at least an extra hour’s worth of reading on your subject a week and increase this to two or three by the summer.

How can I get more help and information on re-applying?

We speak to students in this position regularly. Don’t be afraid to send an email to [email protected]. with your question or simply ring us and speak to one of our highly knowledgeable and friendly consultants , call +44 (0) 207 499 2394.

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