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Commonly Asked Questions to Oxbridge Applications

Find below a list of the most commonly asked questions regarding both the Oxford and Cambridge University application process. For further questions email [email protected]

Personal Statement

There is no set ‘formula’ for writing a personal statement, in fact, the ‘perfect’ statement doesn’t exist. As it says in the name, a personal statement should be ‘personal’ and needs to come from you. Your statement should show why you want to study the specific courses that you have applied to at all five universities (not just Oxford or Cambridge), and reflect your academic self, interests, motivations, and potential. We always advise that, in addition to any support that we can offer, you also ask the opinion of two or three third parties, such as your teachers or parents.

Our Premier Service includes a face-to-face personal statement discussion session with a mentor and a review with a former Admissions Tutor. As part of our Access Programme, for those that apply and are awarded a place, we provide initial advice on drafting a Personal Statement with a consultant, telephone and email support to provide advice and suggest improvements, and feedback and proof-reading of the final draft For those that register on our site, we offer a whole raft of free personal statement resources, including a guide on how to start out, writing action plans, hints and tips on structure, and subject-specific tools and examples.

Admissions Tests

With Admissions Tests the key to success is personal practice. The more familiar you are with the types of questions asked and the timings of the exam, the better you will perform. It is also important, however, to be prepared for the unexpected should a usual source or question be asked.  Our Admissions Test Courses are designed to help you to perform at your best in these tests and include test strategy and test technique tutorials, along with a mock Admissions Test (unique to Oxbridge Applications) sat under exam conditions.

Those that join our Premier Scheme will receive one-to-one tutorials with our test experts, have full access to our mock tests, and our Admissions Test Tuition PackageAccess Programme students that need to sit an Admissions Test, can also take a place at one of our Admissions Test Courses Tuition Packages and receive two practice papers with answers for their test. If you register on our site, we provide a large array of free admissions test resources, including a breakdown of which test is required for which course, test specific guidance, mini mock papers (with answers), fact files, and details on what makes a good score.


When Admissions Tutors interview applicants they are ultimately looking for someone that they would enjoy teaching for the next three/four years. They will be likely to offer places to those speak eloquently and articulately about their subject, and can work through a challenging problem or source. The best way to prepare is to read around your subject, practice questions and to work on your communication. If you join our Premier Service, you will prepare for the interview by developing your subject-knowledge, communication, and academic strength with an Oxbridge-graduate mentor. Confidence and essential communication skills will be built by attending sessions with a communications specialist. Further mock interview practice will be available on both our Interview Preparation Package and Oxbridge Preparation Course.

If you do not want the complete preparation of our Premier Service, we also offer places on both our Interview Preparation Days and Oxbridge Preparation Weekend independently. Those that qualify for a place on our Access Programme, will receive a free place at one of our Interview Preparation Days. We offer a wide selection of free interview support resources for those that register on our site, including a breakdown of how the interview period works, help on how to prepare, and past interview questions,

Strong candidates will be able to demonstrate academic ability, independence, and flexibility of thought, and an informed application of logic to tackle unfamiliar questions. Knowing your school syllabus thoroughly is important as this allows applicants to support their points with evidence at each turn, but the key is to move beyond your syllabus and answer difficult questions with sound judgment, supposition and lateral thought.
Strong candidates will have:

  • Good GCSE results
  • Good GCSE results in relation to their school
  • A strong personal statement
  • A good school/tutor reference
  • Good module marks (if required)
  • Good predicted grades
  • Excellent submitted work (if required)
  • High scores in the admissions tests (if required)
  • An ability to perform well in an interview

Oxbridge Applications is independent of both Oxford and Cambridge. This means that we give impartial advice about both universities and that we do not give names or details of any of the students we support to Oxford or Cambridge.

Every piece of guidance and advice we give is tailored to the individual and therefore no student is supported in the same way. We look to support each applicant as an individual who wants to excel in their chosen subject, therefore there is no ‘style’ to applicants who ask for our guidance.

Our policy is to offer honest advice to every individual who comes to us with a question. As an independent body staffed completely by Oxbridge graduates, we want students to perform to the best of their ability and therefore will never be shy to say where improvement needs to be made or if there is an aspect of the application which will prove a struggle.

We are not the universities themselves and we know from personal experience that some decisions, within the application process, are difficult to make. Further, we want students to know why they are applying and what they can expect if they are lucky enough to be successful. The process requires commitment and students need to be happy about this prospect and so honesty is required from our consultants, the applicants and their guardians.

This is completely your call. We provide support with admissions test and interview preparation, focusing on the practical application of applicant’s skills through mock examinations and interviews. If you would like support, call us and we can talk through your options with no obligation.
We work with many schools ourselves to support their Oxbridge applicants and many schools organise practise tests and interviews independently. Each school has a different history and approach with applications to Oxford and Cambridge.

We regularly support students, who are applying for Medicine and Law. Our work on admissions tests covers the BMAT, UKCAT, and LNAT, so we can guide applicants who need to take these tests and we can organise tuition for exceptional cases.

We can also support applicants who require interview practice, such as those wishing to study Veterinary Science, Medicine, Law, and Dentistry. Should you need support with writing your personal statement, we can also help with this, give tips and help you to get started.

UCAS does not allow the universities you have selected to see each other until you have accepted your first and second choice offers.
However, because the deadline for Oxford and Cambridge is earlier than for UCAS, universities can make a supposition that you have applied to Oxbridge. This should not change the potential to be made an offer, but if you believe this to inhibit your chances, you can submit your options on your UCAS form in stages.

  • If you submit your UCAS form to Oxbridge before the deadline, you can then login into your account again at any time before the non-Oxbridge deadline and select the other four universities you would like to apply to.
  • You may find it easier and simpler to submit your UCAS form to all your university choices at the same time. In this case, please do not worry; just like Oxford and Cambridge, other leading universities are interested in hearing from the best candidates. The fact that a student is applying to Oxford or Cambridge indicates that they are serious about studying hard, ambitious and have the backing of their school. Given that three-quarters of Oxbridge applicants do not receive an offer, a policy of rejecting likely Oxbridge applicants would mean losing out on well over 20,000 outstanding students!

Will I be positively or negatively discriminated against on account of my independent or state school background?

Irrespective of background (school, family or other) an applicant is offered a place based on academic ability and potential. Excellent candidates, who perform well at every stage of the application process are successful every year. It can be useful to know the average GCSE results of your school, as this is taken into account. (You can find this information here)
However, you are applying as an individual and should not be too caught up in your understanding of how your school is perceived.

Most potential Oxbridge candidates will have excellent academic records and qualifications. However, not all successful Oxbridge applicants have attained straight A*s at GCSE. Oxbridge tutors appreciate that students’ academic and intellectual capabilities develop greatly during Sixth form studies.

You should:

  • Think about your individual application against the criteria in question 1
  • Think about why you did not perform as well as you wanted in your GCSEs and see what you can do from here
  • Consider if you might be considered for the Cambridge Special Access Scheme if there is a reason why your schooling was disrupted

How much will I be expected to know about my particular subject in advance of the interview, especially in a subject I have not studied at AS or A-level?

If you are applying for a university place in a subject which is taught at A-level at your school or college, you will be expected to be taking that subject at A-level. Accordingly, you will be expected to know all your A-level subjects extremely well, and particularly the subject(s) you are applying to read at Oxbridge.

If the A-level is not available, as is often the case with Philosophy or Law for example, you will not be expected to have taken this or demonstrate the same degree of knowledge. However, you will be expected to have done a fair amount of further reading around the subject, as well as be able to show a keen interest and excellent potential ability. You will need to convince your interviewers that you did not choose the new subject on a whim and that despite not having studied it previously you are eager to spend your time studying it at Oxbridge.

Are any AS/A-level subjects not accepted by Oxford and Cambridge? Do Oxford and Cambridge view certain A-level subjects as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ subjects?

Oxbridge will consider applicants with all combinations of AS/A-level subjects, but it is definitely worth bearing in mind that they, along with other prestigious universities, may regard certain subjects more highly than others. Taking more than one of the following list of AS/A-level subjects may limit an applicant’s chances of being successful:
Art and design
Business studies
Communication studies
Design and technology
Drama and theatre studies
Film studies
Health and social care
Home economics
Information and communication technology
Leisure studies
Media studies
Music technology
Performance studies
Performing arts
Physical education
Sports studies
Travel and tourism

Yes, most UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, will ask you for evidence of your fluency in English. This is to make sure that you will be able to succeed in an environment where the teaching is given in English. The qualifications that Oxford and Cambridge will accept are as follows:

  • GCSE in English Language/IGCSE in English as a Foreign Language: at grade C or above for Cambridge, B or above for Oxford
  • For EU students, a high grade in English taken as part of a leaving examination (eg the European Baccalaureate, the French Baccalaureate, Abitur, etc) may be acceptable
  • International Baccalaureate Standard Level (SL): score of 5 in English
  • European Baccalaureate: score of 70% in English
  • IELTS: overall grade of 7.0, usually with 7.0 in each element
  • Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE): at grade A
  • Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE): at grade B or above
  • Oxford only – TOEFL (paper-based): overall score of 600, with a Test of Written English score of 5.5
  • Oxford only – TOEFL (internet-based): overall score of 100

If this is not achieved at the time of application it may form part of any conditional offer, which must be met by August of the year you will start your course.
Please see ‘English Language Requirements for International Students’ for more information.

As in other areas of the Oxbridge admissions, there is no standard policy and the answer is down to individual tutors making subjective choices. There are, however, some guidelines.
With some of the ‘hard’, technical subjects (Maths, Physics, Medicine etc.) there is sometimes a fear amongst tutors that applicants will go ‘off the boil’ in their gap year as these subjects are harder to keep up to speed than some of the arts subjects (which can be supplemented with outside reading). Engineering is an exception; some Cambridge colleges actively encourage a gap year (check the prospectus for which ones).

There are two routes by which you can take a gap year before university:
1. Apply deferred entry (e.g. apply in 2014 for entry in 2016)
2. Apply post-A-level (e.g. apply in 2015, after your A-levels, for entry in 2016)

Both routes have their advantages and disadvantages:

  • Deferred entry – by applying for a deferred place, you are asking the tutors to save you a place without knowing the quality of next year’s applicants. So if you are applying in 2014 for entry in 2016, you have got to convince the tutors that you’re not only amongst the top candidates they are interviewing this year, but also that you will be one of the best applicants next year, which is much more difficult to decide. However, if you are unsuccessful in securing a deferred place, you then have the option to reapply post-A-level the following year and still take a gap year.
  • Post-A-level – the main advantage of applying post-A-level is that you will be applying with achieved rather than predicted A-levels. This is a big incentive for universities as they will be able to make unconditional offers and will not have the uncertainty of you perhaps not achieving the grades asked for. The disadvantage, however, is that if you are unsuccessful, you would only be able to reapply if you then took two gap years – not a particularly engaging prospect for a university.
  • What can you do?
  • If you are convinced that a gap year is a right decision for you, we suggest that you get a short list of colleges to which you’d be interested in applying and then write or speak to the relevant tutors asking their policy.
  • Look into what experiences you could have on your gap year that would be relevant to your course and maintain your interest and abilities in the subject – an applicant who is going to use their gap year wisely is a much more exciting prospect for an admissions tutor.

Alternatively, you could consider:

  • Taking a gap year after your degree – you will have even more friends to choose to take with you then!
  • Asking the college if you can take a gap year if and when you receive your offer – the worst that they can say is ‘no’.

What can you do?

  • Make sure to check in the prospectus which colleges offer your course
  • Look at the university websites to get an initial feel for the differences between the colleges
  • Go to an Open Day – most people do not decide on a college until they have visited it. Seeing the city and university in the flesh often makes you consider factors you might not have thought about before, such as the location of your college, faculty and university facilities.
  • Look at the profiles of the tutors at individual colleges
  • Call us to discuss the matter in more detail.

Oxford normally lets you know just before Christmas and Cambridge like to do so just before the New Year.

Joining the Premier Service

To begin the process, contact one of our consultants to book a Private Consultation. The Premier Service is tailored to each individual student and we only invite students to join whom we feel will most benefit from long-term support. Typically, Premier Service Clients begin working with us from up to two years before the application.

Book a Private Consultation

Call +44 (0)207 499 2394 or email us

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