Everyone knows that Oxbridge – which means Oxford and Cambridge – are top universities, but does that mean that they suit all high flyers? What are they looking for, and more importantly, what are you looking for, in your higher education experience? Natalie Lancer from MyUniApplication demystifies the Oxbridge application process for us.

One of the key things that set the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge apart is the way they teach. Work is set and discussed in tutorials (which are called ‘supervisions’ at Cambridge) which are led by the subject tutor. These can be in a ratio of one to one, i.e. just you and the subject tutor or maybe up to four students and the subject tutor. Although these tend to be in an informal setting, such as the tutor’s college rooms, there is nowhere to hide in the tutorial – you really need to have done your work and contribute to a feisty discussion in the tutorial. Some students will relish this – but this is a far cry from school. Work is not spoon-fed and regurgitated a few months later in an examination. So if you are able to think on your feet and can explain your views to others, as well as study independently and cope with the pressure of one or two essays a week to present, then Oxbridge would suit you well. Furthermore, both Oxford and Cambridge have amazing sports facilities and well-funded extra-curricular activities in which you can participate, which also attracts applicants.

Something to bear in mind is that Cambridge and Oxford universities do not offer all subjects and very few combinations are possible. So if you are keen to study Politics with Spanish, for example, this is not actually possible at either university. You may have to study Politics with something else, or Modern Languages with something else. Consult the course pages on the university websites to check what subjects are on offer. If what you want to study is not an option, then either you can tinker with your choice or decide not to apply there – you have to weigh up whether what you want to study is more important, or where you go to university. Remember, there may be some solutions of which you are unaware such as the possibility to study a language informally in the Language Centre.

Once you have worked out what you want to study, you need to make sure you can demonstrate your commitment and interest in the subject. This is most likely to be through reading about your subject. There are book lists and other resources readily available on the Cambridge website. Be sure to keep a note of what you read and lectures to which you have listened, so you can discuss them in your Personal Statement.

Something else to bear in mind is that as an Oxbridge student, you are a member of a department and a college. You live, eat, make friends, use the library and have tutorials at your college so it is like a mini-university, within the larger university. The best way to decide what college to apply for is to visit some and speak to current students. You cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year, so you also need to choose which university best suits you. A large factor will be the course content as even courses with the same titles will have different structures and modules. If you do decide to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, remember the application deadline is earlier – October 15th, and you may well have to sit an extra examination, for which you will need to prepare. If you meet their initial criteria, you will be invited for an interview with subject specialists. They offer you a place based on consideration of all aspects of your application, including your teacher’s references, GCSE scores, predicted A-level grades, personal statement, admissions test and your performance at interview. After all your research, you may decide that Oxbridge is not for you. We are so lucky in the UK to have so many top universities – Oxford and Cambridge are not the only ones, so shop around and find five universities that will suit you.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Can you see both sides of an argument?
  • Are you open to changing your opinions when presented with new facts?
  • Do you like coming up with innovative ideas and discussing them?
  • Do you have motivation and enthusiasm for your chosen subject?
  • Do you like reading and thinking critically about what you have read?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then Oxbridge may well be for you!

Natalie Lancer is an expert in mentoring Oxbridge applicants and can advise on subject choice, personal statements and interview technique. She can help you choose a college and prepare for the admissions tests. She will discuss a strategy with you to help you maximise your chance of success. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at natalie@natalielancer.com or on 07747 612 513. www.myuniapplication.com; www.natalielancer.com.