Student Success: Applying To Oxbridge from A State School

Even in 2024, there is a myth that only privately educated students belong at Oxbridge. No matter who you are, the transition from school to university is both exciting and nerve-wracking. For public school students, the prospect of going to university - particularly to a socially accepted 'good' university, such as Oxbridge or a Russell Group - has its own set of challenges.

Last Updated: 15th May 2019

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Even in 2024, the myth that only privately educated students belong in Oxbridge exists. We’re here to dispel that myth.

No matter who you are, the transition from school to university is exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure.

But for state-school students, the prospect of going to university – particularly a socially-accepted ‘good’ university, like Oxbridge or a Russell Group – has its own set of exciting and nerve-wracking challenges.

Although it’s true a small group of independent schools such as Westminster School, Eton College and St Paul’s School have huge numbers of students receiving offers, this does not mean state school students are any less deserving of a place.

In this guide, we’ll explore some of the data behind this myth and hear from two successful state school applicants about why you shouldn’t let your educational background affect your confidence in your application. First, let’s take a look at a recent announcement from the University of Cambridge. 

University of Cambridge Removes State School Admissions Targets

It was announced on the 11th of March 2024 by Cambridge that they would no longer be setting targets for how many applicants from state schools are admitted to the university. 

Previously, colleges were given the ‘shared responsibility’ of ensuring a certain percentage of students admitted were from a state school, which was set at around 69%. These targets were set back in the 2019/20 admissions cycle but were exceeded in the 2022/23 cycle with nearly 73% of admitted students being from state schools. 

The idea behind this goal was to make admissions more fair and proportional, considering that 90% of UK students attend state schools. However, the decision was met with a fair amount of controversy both externally and within the university.

So five years after the target was originally put in place, the decision has been made to no longer consider applicants’ school type in isolation within their application. While school type will still be considered, a greater focus will now be on increasing student numbers from deprived and under-represented backgrounds, regions and ethnicities. 

So with this in mind, we can already see that admissions for state school students have already been considered heavily over the last few years – a change that will have positively impacted those from that background. But with this announcement, will admissions once again become harder for state school students? 

While there is no longer a threshold that Cambridge must meet for state school admissions, that doesn’t strictly mean that they are actively looking to decrease admissions. The primary point against the targets was that they appeared to be discriminatory against those from private schools. 

Although the targets are gone, Cambridge is still hoping to keep their admissions process fair and proportional, as evidenced by their new initiative to boost admissions from underrepresented groups. Therefore, you should still remain confident in your application despite this change. At the end of the day, the most important factor is the quality of the application you have submitted, alongside your admissions test and interivew.

Your background isn’t what defines your application, it’s the quality of the work you put in. 

No matter your background, Oxbridge is looking for students who can excel in their learning environment. This can be difficult to demonstrate within your application, which is where UniAdmissions is here to help. 

UniAdmissions’ Programmes are designed from the ground up by expert Oxbridge graduates who know the process inside out. Book a free consultation today to learn how you can enrol. 

Oxbridge State School Admissions Data

Let’s review the numbers relating to state vs private school admissions at Oxbridge: 

Oxford State School vs Private school admissions

State School Admissions (2022)

Applications: 9,965

Offers: 1,851

Admitted: 1,678

Percentage Admitted: 68.1%

Independent School Admissions (2022)

Applications: 3,855

Offers: 815

Admitted: 785

Percentage Admitted: 31.9%

Cambridge State School vs Private school admissions

State School Admissions (2022)

Applications: 10,314

Offers: 2,324

Admitted: 1,986

Percentage Admitted: 72.9%

Independent School Admissions (2022)

Applications: 3,909

Offers: 816

Admitted: 737

Percentage Admitted: 27.1%

Although not quite proportional to the current UK statistics for state vs independent school students, we can see that a higher percentage of state school applicants are now being admitted, especially a Cambridge. However, the data below tells a different story: 


This data shows a slightly more worrying trend; students from the top 250 schools have a much higher chance of being admitted to Oxford or Cambridge. However, there are a few caveats to this. 

Firstly, this data has been collected over the course of 11 admissions cycles and does not include the most recent cycles, which is when the push for fairer admissions really began. Secondly, it is worth noting that the top schools here are defined as the schools with the highest-performing students. While many of these are independent schools,  that’s not the case for all of them. 

However, this can still be somewhat disheartening to see if you aren’t from this background. However, changes are still being made to improve the fairness of the admissions process at Oxbridge, so you shouldn’t let any of this information put you off applying if your truly believe that you will be a good fit for the university. 

To prove it, we’ve put together two state school student’s experiences with the application process. Don’t be put off because you didn’t go to a selective or private school – you are no less “Oxbridge material” than any other student!

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Oxbridge State School Case Studies


Worried that you’ll be at a disadvantage applying from a state school?

There’s no need to stress. It’s definitely achievable; I’ve had first-hand experience to debunk this myth!

“Don’t worry, I know the feeling… that feeling that everyone else at the interview has had loads of specialist help with their interview practice.”

They’ve had tons of UCAT preparation and help with their Personal Statement.

They’ve all arrived together on the school bus and have connections to Oxford or Cambridge through hundreds of ex-pupils passing through the institutions.

It can be easy for these thoughts to get into your head a stop you from performing to the best of your ability. However, myself and plenty of others have been there and are the living proof that you can do it and you have nothing to worry about when looking at your educational background.

I grew up in Northumberland and went to the local state schools (First School, Middle School and High School in the system we have up there) throughout my childhood.

I was the only person applying for Oxbridge or Medicine in my year, so I guess you could say I maybe didn’t have the support in applying that others did. This was probably best highlighted when I spoke to the teacher in charge of admissions about my upcoming UCAT test and she replied with ”What’s the UKCAT?” (This was what it was called when I applied.)

what i hoped my teacher wasn't thinking when i asked about the UKCAT

Stupid drawings aside, I feel that this has in no way disadvantaged me, and if anything, has given me the resilience and gung-ho attitude with which I’ve approached university and beyond.

I researched and prepared for these entrance exams throughout year 12 – much to the confusion of my friends who had no idea what I was working for.

I managed to get interviews at Oxford, Sheffield and Leeds and received offers from the first two of these. I’m now studying for my 3rd-year exams at St Catherine’s College at Oxford.

Newcastle Hospital.

Luckily, I was able to get limited work experience through family friends, which proved to be invaluable, which brings me to my vital tip!

"Don't be afraid to ask people you vaguely know or your parents used to know for work experience!"

They’ll most likely be more than happy to help, especially if you’re polite, create as little extra work for them as possible and buy them a nice bottle of wine at the end of it (let’s face it, who doesn’t that work on…)

Universities are well aware that access to work experience is very school-dependent so don’t worry. If you’ve shown that you’ve tried your absolute best to get medical exposure and show real thought about the little you have seen (top tip – be humble about this stuff!), this is all they can ask for.

The same goes when looking at GCSE grades and other marks they look at in the application process – you will not be disadvantaged for your educational background and there are plenty of access resources in place to ensure you’re not, so be sure to search for these online.


The beginning of my story…

When I was applying for university, I didn’t have any resources like UniAdmissions to help guide me through the thorny path of personal statements and interviews.

My mock-interview for Cambridge involved my sixth form tutor asking me questions like “Would you prefer a book or a Kindle?” without any reference to written work I had submitted, or my personal statement; questions that clearly have no place in an Oxbridge interview.

I was the first in my family to even contemplate applying for university.

The fact that you’re currently reading this blog post – means you’ve already been more proactive than I had been.

But that doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing the same fears and concerns that plagued me all throughout Year 12 and 13.

Now that I’ve come out the other side of the university experience, I’m here to reassure you of two things;

Of course, both of these bullet points are purposely broad.

I’ll go into a bit more detail about both of them now… but read them. Read them again.

It’s easy to buy into the myth that Oxbridge is unattainable if you haven’t studied Latin at GCSE, or if you don’t know anyone who has been to university, even if your state school is a good and high achieving one.

But it’s not true.

Oxbridge aren’t looking for the finished product. All they want is someone who is passionate and engaged about the subject, and who wants to talk about it in a formal setting.

Whilst it’s true that most everyone who applies to Oxbridge entertains these doubts about whether they are ‘good enough’, in my experience it’s a very specific experience to a state-educated student.

Oxbridge can seem like a mythical, alien system – but it’s just another university.

The Oxbridge interviews are designed to coax students out of any pre-coaching they may have been given by their school.

Most of the courses will also have some form of formal or informal test as part of the interview package.

UniAdmissions is the perfect resource for preparing for both the exams and the interviews, from tutors who have experienced them first-hand: this goes some way to redressing the balance between the resources different schools can offer.

Whilst these resources are absolutely something you should tap into, you should also have faith in all the skills you’ve already naturally picked up, even if you don’t know it. You’re smart, you’re engaged, you’re an independent learner, you’re ambitious. It’s these traits that will stand out in the interview.

Clare College Cambridge Natural Sciences
Clare College, Cambridge.

To get the chance to study at Oxford or Cambridge at all, you need to put yourself out there!

Whilst the admissions rates of private to state school students have improved over the years, Oxford and Cambridge are still in need of more talented, driven state school students in their system, and this will never not be true. If you’re considering it, don’t overthink it.

Simply apply. We have a comprehensive guide on how to get into Oxbridge if you’re looking for additional reading.

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