Applying to Oxbridge: tips from tutors – Which? University

Applying to Oxbridge: tips from tutors – Which? University

October 11, 2019 3 By Stanley Isaacs


I think a lot of students think that the process
for applying to Oxford and/ or Cambridge is massively different. There’s a lot of mystique
around the admissions process. Actually about 90% of what we do is done by other universities.
It’s an application via UCAS like any other, but the deadline is October 15th rather than
the later January date for other universities. We have a wonderful opportunity to get a lot
more information about you. So alongside your UCAS form that’s obviously got your predicted
grades, your personal statement, your teacher’s reference in, we are very likely in Oxford
to have a subject-specific tests. About 80% or more of candidates will have a subject-specific
test to sit. We may ask for submitted course work for humanities
subjects, maybe some of the social sciences as well. We send off and let people fill in
a supplementary questionnaire which allows them to tell us their AS results but also
a bit more smaller scale information as well, because that’s a very important part of our
procedures, is looking at the results that people have actually got already in their
AS module scores. And then there’s also the interview that happens
in early December. I think the the second thing to say, is that it’s actually a really
individual process. We’re not in the business of adding up how many GCSEs, how many this,
how many that, and getting a score, and saying yes, that’s yes or no. We’re much more interested
in taking a rounded view of somebody’s academic ability, and their academic potential. Each college has its own admission’s tutor.
That means the amount of people we have available to look at individuals within the application
process is much more than you’d expect at other universities. It is a holistic process.
We’re looking into everything, but there are some more obvious things we need to concern
ourselves with, and the most obvious of them is grades. We are recruiting to a really academic
course. So we’re interested in academic things. So
we are less interested in the other things that people do as a part of a rounded life.
What we are really focusing on is how their academic performance, and their academic ambitions
match with the course that we’ve got. So we want students who are really committed, and
engaged by the subject that they are applying for, and in many cases, that means they will
have to demonstrate that they read much wider than would be the case just to get through
their A-levels or to get their IB qualification. I suppose next in importance would be any
other academic work. It might be submitted work, it might be test results at the interview.
And at interview we get to do quite a bit more exploring of your potential which is
something which you can’t just measure on paper. And we’re not assessing you in lots
of different ways because we are expecting you to be top scoring in absolutely everything
in order to be an credible candidate. We’re looking to push different aspects of you in
different parts of the process. The personal reference, the personal statement
rather is probably of all the obvious things the least important for us. It doesn’t mean
it’s not important at all, on the contrary it is, but it has a different use to at other
universities, who might be making their judgements on that and making people get a place or not
and that will have its own role in their procedure. For us it won’t. It might be a guide to what
we ask at the interview, it might give us some richer sense of who the applicant is,
but in principle and in practice, we probably use that less than other universities. We
just want students who are really, really enthusiastic about their subject and can demonstrate
it. The most crucial thing for applicants to know is that your choice of college doesn’t
affect your chances of getting a place. The application process is designed to get
the people who are best qualified into Oxford courses. In terms of what students should
do to choose a college, I suggest first of all they check whether the college does the
subject they want to study. Most do most but occasionally there’s one or two that don’t
offer what the student wants. If the student is having difficulty choosing
a college, there’s nothing wrong with the open application. You simply say, I want to
go to Cambridge, and the computer decides which college you’ll be allocated to. It doesn’t
matter either way as far as the colleges are concerned, they won’t be asking you at any
stage of the interview why did you pick a particular college. And you know what, a week into in the first
term, nobody can ever understand why they applied to any college but the one that they
ended up at. I can understand people being a bit nervous of that. We’ve got a long history
of myths being told about us, about what kind of institution we are. So first of all, get
rid of the myths, and a quick visit to the place will rapidly do that. Talk to students and academics who are here.
And if you talk to students that are here, you’ll discover that Oxford is already full
of people just like you. Most of our students are in every other way, apart from being clever,
very ordinary. I think the key thing is to make sure the course is exactly what you want
it to be. Do we offer the course that you want to do
and that you think will extend you and develop you and take you to what you want, where you
want to be.