10 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Applied To Oxbridge

The "Oxbridge experience" is often shrouded in mystery. Students tend to apply with hundreds of misconceptions and assumptions about what their next three years might be like. Knowing a few key points when applying can make the process a lot less daunting. Here are 10 things I wish I had known when I applied to Oxbridge.

Author: Darcy Hammond

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The ‘Oxbridge experience’ is often shrouded in mystery. Students tend to apply with hundreds of misconceptions and assumptions of what their next three years could be like. 

While there are indeed some strange traditions that are unique to Oxbridge, knowing some key points when submitting your application can make the process much less daunting.

Here are 10 things I wish I had known when I applied to Oxbridge.

1. Choose a university subject you love

It is important that you make an application for a subject that you are really interested in. This will help you actually land an interview because the passion should shine through your Personal Statement and during an interview. Lecturers and supervisors want students who are enthusiastic about their courses, just like they are! 

Importantly, you have to remember that you will be spending a large amount of your time at university completing assignments and preparing for assessments. If you don’t like your subject, this will affect your experience for the worse.

As part of choosing a subject that you love, I would also recommend applying to a college you can imagine yourself living in for three years. There is no point getting bogged down in statistics and trying to ‘play the game’ of where your odds are higher. If Oxbridge thinks you are suitable, they will take you on. 

Take a look at our ‘How to choose an Oxbridge College’ guides for more information:

2. Call up the admissions office for your chosen subject and ask them questions

Don’t be afraid to either call up the admissions office, your desired college, or the faculty you wish to apply for. This will help you get a better idea of what you want to study and what to expect.

You can find the A-Z of Cambridge Colleges here and Oxford Colleges here

oxford-university-from-above
University of Oxford from above

3. Don’t write anything on your personal statement that you have not done

If you are asked a question about something you wrote in your Personal Statement that you did not do, this will show during an interview and it won’t look good. At the same time, this means that you should know your Personal Statement inside out and are able to answer questions related to your noted experiences.

4. Read beyond your A-level courses

Oxbridge are looking for candidates who can demonstrate an interest in their subject beyond their A-level courses. Read articles and books related to the subject you are applying for and seek to further your knowledge in certain areas using any means you can access.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

If you receive an interview, and even beforehand, make sure to practice by arranging mock interviews. This could be with teachers at your school, through us! and even with your friends and family. Practice how to answer more simple questions about why you want to study your subject at university and more complex questions relating to course content.

6. Take your time when answering interview questions

You don’t have to feel like you must answer a question the second it is asked. You are allowed to take a few seconds to think your answers through, formulate a logical sequence to your thoughts, and then provide a response. This will sound better than just rambling on for minutes. Crucially, if you genuinely don’t know something, it’s better to say that you don’t know rather than making up an answer, they will know if you are talking nonsense!

7. DON’T listen to everything people say to you when you are having your interview

People may try to put you off before your interview but just ignore them. Stay calm and trust in yourself. If you have put the time in to practice your interviewing skills and answering questions, then you know you will do the best you can. 

If you would like some extra support, our Oxbridge Interview Programmes are designed to give you the highest chance of an offer at the interview stage through intensive courses and mock interviews with our specialist Oxbridge Tutors. 

8. Treat your interviews separately

You may feel like one of your interviews went really badly, or perhaps that it went really well. The next one could be different so don’t get too preoccupied with the previous one. Treat them as separate stages and go in giving it your best shot each time. You honestly never know how you fared until they respond.

9. The interview is meant to mirror the supervision and tutorial system at Oxbridge

Lecturers and supervisors are looking for students they will be able to hold in-depth, academic conversations with. The interview is meant to test whether they can push you to develop your academic and analytical abilities and whether you can cope with the concepts and the pressure. Therefore, you should go into an interview thinking that you are there to have a conversation with someone about topics you love, and to show them just how well you can, or at least try, to answer complex questions.

10. You will be given a LOT of work at Oxbridge

You are likely to have heard this a number of times, but your workload at Oxbridge will be large. You won’t be able to imagine this until you actually experience it, so just make sure you are mentally and emotionally prepared to work extremely hard. What should give you some consolation is that after your Oxbridge experience, no amount of work will seem too large for you.

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