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Knowing what to focus on at what time in your application journey, especially when you're a way out from the deadline, can be incredibly difficult without guidance. This guide sets out our experts’ recommendations for monthly tasks and goals along the road to application.

This timeline begins in May of Year 12 (the end of the penultimate school year), and finishes in the summer before University. Use the contents below to jump to the relevant month of your application journey:

 

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May (Year 12): Making Choices

As you approach the end of Year 12, you should be comfortable in your school subjects and will potentially be gearing up to mock exams in the summer. Whilst academic attainment at school should be your top priority, this is also the time to begin solidifying your university and course choices. Consider:

  • Which subjects you enjoy the most, succeed in, and are qualified to study at university.
  • Which universities offer courses in your chosen subject area and fit your personal requirements.
  • Narrowing your best options down to a shortlist. You may take into account a number of factors, all of which should be personal to you. This could include:
    • course syllabus
    • location of university
    • university ranking
    • course admissions requirements
    • and many others

You don’t have to be certain on one course at this stage, but you should narrow down a shortlist and investigate when they are holding open days (most university open days are in June and July, but some are in May) so that you can visit your top choices.

If you are decided on a subject, or have a few options that you want to investigate further, begin making inroads into individual research and extracurricular involvement. Consider reading some key works in the field, subscribing to a relevant newsletter or journal, or organising work experience (such as working in a hospital for Medicine applicants, or some time in the summer spent abroad for languages applicants).


June (Year 12): Refine your Choices

If you are sitting mocks this summer, your priority should be achieving good grades in these exams. In most cases, your teachers will use these grades as an important component of the predicted grades they add to your UCAS form, so be sure to try your best!

With summer ahead, now is the time to refine your university choices. Try to: 

  • Attend university open days, virtual events, and subject-specific workshops to gain first-hand insights into potential courses and campus life.
  • Engage with current students and faculty members, if you can, to learn more about the academic culture and extracurricular opportunities available at Oxford and Cambridge.
  • Ideally at this stage you should have a good idea of which subject and university courses you are aiming to apply for; perhaps discuss these with a teacher or mentor to see if they have targeted advice. 

Begin targeting your subject research with a view to the personal statement. Think about cornerstone books in the field, but also less ‘traditional’ sources of information such as television programmes, podcasts, films, exhibitions, and more.

Keep the materials you consume broad at this stage, but consider keeping notes on which areas within your chosen field you find most interesting as you learn about them more. This will help you when it comes to planning the personal statement over the summer.

If you’re struggling to get started on your personal statement, consider booking an Oxbridge Applications personal statement package for bespoke guidance from an Oxbridge-graduate expert.  


July (Year 12): Hone your Skills

As the holidays approach, make a plane for your personal statement research and extracurricular activities over the summer. Many a student, no matter how good their intentions, has let the summer pass them by because they didn't make a proper plan.

Relaxing over the summer is important, so we recommend setting aside a portion of time each day to gradually chip away at your research.

If you are planning work experience for the summer, make the final preparations for this so that you don’t miss out. Summer schools and courses can also be a good way to build your academic skills and show commitment on your application, so look into these online and make the necessary arrangements. 

When it comes to personal statement research, now is the time to be identifying particular areas you are most interested in and digging deeper.

If you are a maths applicant and enjoyed proofs in class, perhaps find some books on famous proofs to read.

If you enjoyed a documentary about the Revolution of Independence in your history research, look out the best-known academic books on the topic.

If, as an art student, you find yourself drawn to the paintings of Picasso, see if there are any exhibitions of his or similar work near you. Admissions tutors will value specificity in your personal statement, so make sure you’ve looked into the nitty gritty. 


August (Year 12): Shape your Personal Statement and Preview Admissions Tests

The first and foremost aim of your summer holidays should be to relax! Make sure you take quality time away from the books so you don't burn out.

The holidays are also a great chance to work through big ticket items for your personal statement, such as work experience, gallery and museum visits, trips abroad, and volunteering or internship programmes. If you wish to do any of these, you should have prepared or applied for these in advance, ready to make the most of the summer.

Your personal statement should take shape over the summer holidays. We recommend following these steps:

  1. Bring together a long list of all the materials (books, journals, films, etc.) and extracurricular activities that you have consulted or undertaken.
  2. Begin thinking critically about how they link to key knowledge and skills on your chosen course(s).
  3. Start planning the structure of your personal statement: think about grouping together the things you want to mention into two to four main paragraphs, and putting these groups into a logical running order.  

August is a great time to write a first draft of your personal statement whilst you have time away from school. What’s more, your school might have internal deadlines in September for submitting drafts to be looked over.

We recommend bringing together all your notes and making an itemised plan before writing – this will make it a lot easier to find your flow. Don’t be too concerned with making it perfect; this is only your first draft of many. Begin sharing this first draft with parents, friends, or trusted mentors for some advice on improvements. 

We also suggest scoping out your admissions test in August. Again, time can be short once the new school year starts, so take the time now to familiarise yourself with the test format, get registration dates in your diary (most deadlines are in September) and source the materials you will need for revision.

For most admissions tests, going back over your school syllabus (and perhaps looking a little ahead) as well as past and sample test papers are a good place to start.

If you need extra guidance on admissions tests, August is a great time to book onto an Oxbridge Applications admissions test package for bespoke mock tests, advice from former successful applicants, and personalised preparation plans.  


September (Year 13): Finalise your Personal Statement and Practise for Admissions Tests

As you begin your final year of study, your schedule load will likely increase greatly. Ideally you will have drafted your personal statement (at least once) during the summer holidays. Spend September working through redrafts and getting as many people as possible to read through your statement

Your main focus this month should be on preparing for Admissions Tests (most of which are sat in or before October). Our top tips for preparing for the test include:

  • Making sure that you research the test thoroughly and that you use plenty of past papers under exam conditions; given nature of admissions tests as skills- rather than knowledge-based, replicating the conditions as much as possible will help you keep your cool if unexpected questions arise. 
  • Reaching out to others for your admissions test preparation: see if any teachers at school can offer advice or mark your papers (especially essay-based tests like the HAT or the MLAT), working together with classmates taking the same papers to pool resources, or seeking professional advice from mentors such as ours at OA. Often, universities publish advice, either written or in the form of webinars, online, so be sure to look these out.
  • Registering for your test! Don’t forget that for most tests sat in October, you will need to register within September (mid-September for most Cambridge tests, late-September for most Oxford tests). 

Finally, the Oxbridge UCAS deadline is in mid-October, so begin getting your materials together to make submitting your application a breeze:

  • Register for UCAS and look through the required information
  • Input your personal information and GCSE (or equivalent) grades. I
  • If you are required to submit written work to the university, begin preparing these materials, especially if you need to have a teacher mark it before submitting (it’s always good to give your teachers lots of time for tasks like this since they’re likely very busy at the moment!).  


October (Year 13): Submit your UCAS Form and Sit your Admissions Test

October is a red-letter month in the Oxbridge application calendar: the UCAS Oxbridge deadline and most admissions test dates are in October. These are naturally going to be the main focus of your activities this month. 

Your UCAS application should be mostly prepared by October, so submitting the form should be largely a formality. Make sure to get it done by the deadline!

If you are sitting an admissions test in October, spend the first half of the month on revision and putting in some last-minute practice.

Once the admissions tests are finished, it’s time to begin thinking about interviews in early December. Although you won’t know yet if you've been invited, the time between invitation and the interview itself is not very long, so we absolutely recommend preparing in advance; besides, it’s never bad to keep a positive outlook!

  • Begin by thinking carefully about everything you’ve researched (especially the things in your personal statement)
  • Practise expanding on your ideas, thinking broadly and creatively about the resources you've come into contact with.
  • Make some brief notes on your main interests and interesting discussion points.


November (Year 13):  Practise Interview Technique

November should be almost exclusively spent preparing for interviews, as you will find out about whether you are invited to interview between mid-November and early December.

Interview technique is best learned through practice. We recommend asking a trusted friend, a parent, a teacher, or a mentor to ask you a selection of questions around your subject.

Past interview questions can be found online or in one of our bespoke course reports (available on the Oxbridge Application website here).

The key is to practice answering on the hoof rather than pre-preparing answers: admissions tutors can always tell if you are reciting something for the hundredth time and they won’t like it.

If you are required to submit written work to Oxford, you will have to submit this in early November. Double-check all communication from the college to which you have applied to ensure that you fulfil all of their requirements before submitting 


December (Year 13): Smash the Interviews and take a Well-Deserved Break!

Oxbridge Interviews are conducted in the first few weeks of December. If all has gone to plan, you should have put a good deal of interview preparation in throughout October and November which, combined with the wealth of independent research you have completed, will stand in you in good stead for the interviews.

Our main additional piece of advice is to try and remain calm in the face of understandably enormous nerves! Everybody feels anxious before interviews, and this will happen no matter what, but try to feel secure in the knowledge that you have a lot to offer the interviewers.

Remember that they are not looking to ‘catch you out’, but to help tease the best performance possible out of you on the day. Think of the interview as an opportunity to have an interesting conversation and learn from some world-leading experts in your chosen field. 

Once the interviews are complete: take a well deserved rest. There’s nothing to do until you hear back from the universities in the new year, so be proud of your achievements so far and enjoy the school holidays (whilst keeping up your school work, of course!).  


January (Year 13): Offers and More Cambridge Interviews

Ring in the new year with (hopefully!) an offer from Oxford or Cambridge. In the first week or so of January, Oxford applicants will hear back regarding their offer. Cambridge applicants usually hear in the latter half of the month, with some being asked to additional college interviews in January.

If you are invited back for another interview, stay relaxed and prepare briefly just as you did in December.


February-April (Year 13): Focus on Exam Revision

By this point every applicant should have heard back about their Oxbridge application, and other university decisions will be coming in. We recommend focusing on you’re A levels (or equivalent) throughout the spring. It can be tempting to think about the university offers coming in (or not), but until you have heard back from all choices on your UCAS form it’s best to sit tight and keep chugging along with revision.

As Easter approaches, after which point many schools will finish classroom teaching and allow students dedicated revision, it’s best to pinpoint your weaknesses ahead of summer exams, continuing to do so into May. After all, there’s no point having great uni offers if you don’t have the grades to match them! 


May-June (Year 13): Exam Season   

Your absolute priority in May and June of your final year of school is smashing your exams! Remember everything you have practiced in revision, try to keep your cool, and do yourself proud come the exams themselves.  

One piece of admin you need to remember is responding to your university offers! If you received all of your uni decisions by the 16th May, then you have to identify your firm and insurance university offers on UCAS by the 6th June. If you received your last decision after the 16th May, then you have until the 24th July to respond to your offers. 


July (Year 13): Congratulations on Finishing Exams!

If all has gone to plan, come July you will have completed your exams and will be sitting on firm and insurance university offers to be proud of! With these in hand, it’s now time to relax for some well-deserved rest and recuperation over the summer.

If you are especially eager to do something with your July, you can always check out any recommended reading or pre-course preparation your universities of choice publish online.  


August (Year 13): Get your Results

For most students studying under the UK education system, mid-August means finding out your A Level results (for other qualifications, your results timeline may be different).

This is both an exciting and a nerve-wracking time for all involved! We recommend trying your best not to think too much about it before the big day, but that you do have a game plan in place based on the different potential paths ahead.

We recommend reading through our dedicated blog post all about what to do once you’ve received your A level results, with different options based on the different eventualities


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