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Making an application to Oxford or Cambridge can seem like a complex process. Unlike most other UK universities, applying to Oxbridge requires your knowledge of different deadlines and requirements: college choice decisions, factoring in admissions test deadlines, even applying to UCAS by a different date than everyone else.

In addition to these significant differences, applicants to Oxford or Cambridge also have to consider Oxbridge bursary deadlines and choral and organ scholarship deadlines if relevant.

To simplify this process, we have put together all the key Oxbridge application dates and deadlines for 2019-2020 applicants in this calendar. Use it to see when significant deadlines for the application process occur and help you to plan your Oxbridge preparation.

Once students have understood the important dates, they will need to plan out their preparation across the application cycle. For a full, tailored plan of action for preparation, as well as all of the research and information students need to make sure they are putting forward an application that represents their full potential, students can book an appointment with one of our Senior Consultants for a Private Consultation.

 

The summer between Year 12 and 13 is key for preparing for all areas of the Oxbridge application – but it can be difficult to know where to begin!  To help, we have broken the summer up into three sections – Early, Mid and Late - to help you structure your preparation and ensure that make real progress between June and August.

Early Summer: End of June – mid July

Reading: There are plenty of reading lists online – both on our website, and on college or department websites, for example.  For those applying to subjects where reading is key, pick one or two key, canonical books you will read early in summer to give you a grounding in the subject.

Admissions Tests:  Early Summer is the time to research the admissions test you will be sitting and make sure that you are aware of its requirements.  You can therefore come up with a list of topics and/or skills that you need to work on throughout the rest of the break.

Personal Statement:  Now is the time to make a list of everything you have read and participated in outside of class that is relevant to your subject.  This will be a great starting point for your personal statement, but also highlight what further actions you need to take.

Mid-Summer: Mid-July – Mid-August

Reading: The books you read in early summer should be the building blocks for your reading, inspiring an interest in one or two areas that you continue exploring.  Feel free to choose more niche and specialised books at this point.

Admissions Tests:  At the beginning of this time-period, sit one mock admissions test under timed conditions, and then reflect.  Where are your strengths?  What do you need to work on?  Make a list of areas you need to improve, then start working on them.

Personal Statement: Start working on the points you identified as lacking in early summer.  This might involve work experience, visiting exhibitions, signing up to a Maths challenge, or watching TED talks.

End of Summer: Mid-August – early September

Reading: You should now be reading something beyond that which you will include in your personal statement, so that you have more content to discuss at interview.  You should become comfortable talking about your reading with others – find a friend and chat about what you’ve been interested in!

Admissions Tests:  Finish off polishing any areas of improvement you identified in your first mock test, and then sit another.  Again, make sure you stick to the conditions you will have in the actual test!  Reflect on this test: have you improved and are there further areas to work on when you return to school or college?

Personal Statement:  Having spent apt time preparing, now is the time to write your first draft.   Having a solid draft now will give you some time in September for re-writes.

The Oxbridge selection process can seem mysterious and confusing to many students. What are Admissions Tutors actually looking for? How will they assess me and which elements of my application will they pay the most attention to? These are some of the questions you may have as an applicant. The answers can vary greatly depending on which subject you are applying for as well as the university, since different faculties are largely free to make their own rules. So, for example, the History faculty may have very different criteria for which applicants should be invited to interview than the Law faculty. In this resource, we’ll demystify the application and give you a clear guide to what you should be focusing on.

Admissions Tests 

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For many (though not all) subjects at both Oxford and Cambridge, you will have to take an admissions test as part of your application, and your score will contribute to your chances of success.

In general, Oxford interviews fewer people than Cambridge, so the admissions tests are more important in shortlisting candidates to invite to interview. On the other hand, Cambridge, maintaining its high interview rate, seems to put less emphasis on the admissions test scores prior to interview (however, the ENGAA (Engineering Admissions Assessment) and the TSAC (Thinking Skills Assessment Chemistry) seem to be exceptions to this ). This means that by and large, if you are applying to Oxford, it’s especially important that you aim for top marks in your admissions test. 

 

Below, we’ve illustrated how two different faculties use their admissions test to shortlist candidates:

History (Oxford)

The pre-interview shortlist score is a combination of the HAT (History Aptitude Test) score and your contextualised GCSE score, with the HAT weighted at 70%. The aim is that each college should interview three candidates for every place, so the pre-interview shortlisting process is intended to achieve this number. The History faculty advises colleges not to invite for interview candidates scoring below a designated cutoff score, which varies from year to year. However, colleges may “rescue” candidates from below the cutoff score if they have Access or Widening Participation flags, or for extenuating circumstances stated on their UCAS application. 

English (Oxford)

Applicants for English will take the ELAT (English Literature Aptitude Test), with each candidate receiving a score out of 60 and being sorted into four bands on the basis of this score. The score is used in pre-interview ranking and can also be used for deciding between candidates. 

Band one identifies those candidates who should definitely be called for interview unless other indicators strongly suggest otherwise, whereas band four identifies candidates who are unlikely to be invited, unless other factors outweigh the test result. In pre-interview ranking, the ELAT score is weighted at 40% of the overall deciding factors. 

 

Academic Grades

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Along with admissions test scores, GCSE grades are a major element of the pre-interview selection process, and the importance of GCSEs should not be underestimated. This is especially the case under the new A-level system whereby most applicants will not have taken AS exams, meaning that GCSEs are the only concrete qualifications that the average applicant will have when they apply. This also means that if you have slightly weaker GCSE grades but you already have achieved strong A-level results – for example if you are applying after a gap year – these may help compensate.

Some faculties, such as the Oxford History faculty, choose not to consider A-levels or predictions in their official pre-interview shortlist score, because they only use criteria that apply to all applicants. However, the faculty-wide shortlist score does not determine whether you are offered a place as the decision is made by the individual colleges which will take into account many aspects of your application, including A-levels. The purpose of the ranking is rather to give Admissions Tutors an idea of where the applicants to their college fall within the context of all the History applicants that year.  

An example of a faculty that does take predicted and achieved A-levels into account for pre-interview assessment is Chemistry at Oxford, which gives each candidate a mark from one to five based on A-levels or equivalent (achieved/predicted), AS (if applicable), GCSEs or equivalent, and the teacher reference. 

On average Cambridge makes higher offers than Oxford, requiring more A*s at A-level. As they are less selective than Oxford pre-interview, the high offers allow them to whittle down their numerous candidates post-interview. They also tend to make more personalised offers than Oxford, meaning that for some subjects you cannot be entirely sure until you receive your offer what grades will be required at A-level. This is something to bear in mind if your A-level grades or predicted grades are strong but not outstanding. 

Note: some schools do not predict A*s as a matter of policy. If this is the case with your school, make sure that it is mentioned in the teacher reference.

Written Work 

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For some subjects, especially if there is no admissions test, you will be required to submit written work as part of your application. Although written work is often overlooked by candidates, it is a vital piece of the application for many subjects. In the Oxford English faculty for example, the written work score makes up 40% of the pre-interview assessment, whilst GCSEs make up only 17.5%. 

Written work should take the form of school or college work written as part of your course, and should be marked by a teacher. Rules may vary between faculties but the Oxford university guidelines state that each piece should be around 2,000 words long, and should not be re-written or corrected after it has been marked. In Cambridge not all colleges require written work for a particular subject, so check the requirements for your first choice college. 

Written work may be officially assessed according to a number of criteria if it is used in pre-interview shortlisting. The assessment criteria for written work in the Oxford English faculty include:

  • literary sensibility

  • sensitivity to creative use of language

  • evidence of careful and critical reading

  • coherence of argument

  • originality

Since written work is a tutor’s opportunity to see how you structure arguments and what kind of work you might be submitting at university, it is important to submit pieces that show you at your best. As the submitted pieces must be taken from your school work, make sure you work hard on your A-level essays and aim to get high marks so you have a strong selection to choose from. 

Personal Statement

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As you put together your university application, the UCAS personal statement is one of the main things you will be focusing on. In terms of pre-interview selection, faculties which operate a pre-interview score and ranking system tend not to include the personal statement in this ranking. However, as we have already seen, such rankings do not make or break an application, and college Admissions Tutors are free to take all factors into account. 

The personal statement, as the name suggests, is the only truly personal element of your application; it is your opportunity to make an impression on Admissions Tutors as an individual and to convey your passion for the subject. Remember that tutors aren’t just looking for applicants with good grades, but applicants with a demonstrable interest in and aptitude for the subject who will make engaging students – the UCAS statement is your chance pre-interview to show that you are such an applicant. 

The good news is that whilst GCSE grades cannot be changed and admissions test scores depend on your performance in one exam, the personal statement can be tweaked and worked on as often as you like before you submit it, and you can ask for feedback from others. If your grades aren’t as high as they could be, make sure you put extra effort into your personal statement so you stand out and make admissions tutors want to interview you. 

For specialist advice on personal statements or any aspect of your application, get in touch with our expert consultants on + 44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or send us your query at info@oxbridge.i3x.co.uk

physicsDownload the example personal statement on the right

Written by a successful applicant who has now graduated from Oxbridge, this personal statement is annotated by its author, with all the insights hindsight can bring.

For further information on writing your personal statement, see our personal statement ‘first steps’ guide.

What is the SAQ?

The Cambridge Supplementary Application Questionnaire is an additional piece of your application to Cambridge. It is designed so that Cambridge has consistent information from every applicant, beyond the details provided in the UCAS form. It also allows Cambridge to ask questions not required by UCAS, such as details of module marks in AS examinations.

Format of the SAQ

There are eight sections of the SAQ, divided into Application Type, Photograph, Personal Details, BMAT Number, Education, Qualifications, Additional Information and Submit. All of these sections will be fully explained in the form and should not cause any difficulty or worry.

Additional personal statement

Section seven, Additional Information, includes an additional personal statement. Whether you fill this in or not is optional, but it can be a great opportunity to talk specifically about why you want to study the course you have applied for at Cambridge. This section must be a maximum of 1200 characters including spaces.

A frequent worry when submitting a personal statement for UCAS is the inability to tailor it to Cambridge specifically, as it will be used across your applications to all universities. The brilliant thing about the SAQ is that only Cambridge will see it, and so it can be completely tailored to the specific course for which you are applying.

When do I have to complete the SAQ?

For the past three academic years, the deadline for applicants to submit their SAQ has been October 22nd. The deadline is shared by international students who have already completed the COPA.

You will know when to fill out the form as Cambridge will send an email within 48 hours of submitting  your UCAS form, asking you to fill out the SAQ online by the deadline.

It is usually filled out online, although you can contact Cambridge’s Admissions Office directly for a solution if this is a problem for you, either via telephone + 44 (0) 1223 333308 or email saqhelp@admin.cam.ac.uk. The Admissions Office will also answer any queries regarding logging in to the SAQ site.

Completing the SAQ is a very straightforward process with the right understanding of what is required of you.  Ensure you read through the instructions carefully, fill out the SAQ by the deadline, and ask Cambridge if you find anything difficult or are unsure of any aspect of the form at any stage. Cambridge University have a comprehensive guide for filling in the SAQ here.

BioDownload the example personal statement on the right

Written by a successful applicant who has now graduated from Oxbridge, this personal statement is annotated by its author, with all the insights hindsight can bring.

Personal-statement-workbook

Get top tips from our Oxbridge-graduates and fill in our workbook to narrow down the areas of strength you should focus on in your personal statement. Use the structure provided in the workbook to help guide the structure of your writing. 

 

Download our comprehensive personal statement workbook and get extra support while you write.

Philosophy personal statementDownload the example personal statement on the right

Written by a successful applicant who has now graduated from Oxbridge, this personal statement is annotated by its author, with all the insights hindsight can bring.

For further information on writing your personal statement, see our personal statement ‘first steps’ guide.

English and history personal statementDownload the example personal statement on the right…

Written by a successful applicant who has now graduated from Oxbridge, this personal statement is annotated by its author, with all the insights hindsight can bring.

 

UCAS: How To

 

Personal statement: first approaches

 

English personal statementDownload the example personal statement on the right…

Written by a successful applicant who has now graduated from Oxbridge, this personal statement is annotated by its author, with all the insights hindsight can bring.

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Our Oxbridge-graduate consultants are available between 9.00 am – 5.30 pm seven days a week, with additional evening availability when requested.

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


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