For many applicants to UK Universities, the question of whether to consider an application to Oxford or Cambridge, particularly given the extra work it can entail and higher entry requirements, will be one that pops up. There are various parameters to think about when it comes to making an application to one of the two most famous universities in the UK: do I have a chance at succeeding, how much work is involved in applying, does the course and teaching style suit me? It can also be difficult to filter out all the noise surrounding these universities and their reputations and instead think about the answer from your own personal perspective. Since this is such a complex question, we at Oxbridge Applications have been brought in as experts to give an overview of the different aspects you should consider when thinking about a degree at Oxford or Cambridge, as well as what makes the application process so notorious!
Just because it would sound impressive to say that you have been to Oxford or Cambridge, and whilst of course both universities offer an excellent degree-level education, it doesn’t necessarily mean that spending years at either university would be the best use of your individual time and resources. As much as we here are big advocates for an Oxbridge education (it is in our name after all!), we are in no two minds that an Oxford or Cambridge education is not the right choice for everyone, be that because of the way teaching is structured, the lifestyle, or anything in between. Here are some of the key questions you might want to ask yourself…
Am I Good Enough for Oxbridge?
Perhaps the most obvious consideration is to be realistic about your chances of getting in, and then thriving, in the challenging academic setting of Oxford or Cambridge. As such, both universities have grade requirements and expectations that are higher than a lot of other UK Universities. You should assess whether you will make an impressive applicant against the criteria that colleges look for in an application, which include:
· Your GCSE (or equivalent) results
· The average GCSE (or equivalent) results of your school
· Your personal statement
· Your teacher references
· Your module marks at AS/A2
· Your predicted grades for your upper sixth form exams
· Your written work submission (if applicable)
· Your score in the university/college admissions test (if applicable)
· Your performance at interview
The main thing that Oxbridge universities are looking for is a demonstration of academic potential, so it’s important that you are capable and confident of showing this at all stages of your application. The first and most clear-cut step for assessing your position as a candidate is to look at your grades.
Will the Work/Life Balance at Oxbridge be Right for Me?
Even the most meticulous, hardworking Oxbridge applicants can be daunted by the prospect of long hours of work that a degree at Oxford or Cambridge entails. And this is a very fair concern; after all, university is as much about studying as it is getting the chance to leave home, meet people, and try new things.
We’ll begin by saying that, yes, it is true that studying at Oxbridge can mean a higher workload than friends at other Russell Group universities (think up to two essays a week compared to three or four a term at other universities), setting a pace which is both tough and rewarding in equal measure.
We want, however, to dispel the myth that this means students at Oxford and Cambridge only ever study day in day out. In fact, this could not be further from the truth. In our experience, Oxbridge unis are host to a plethora of extracurricular clubs, societies, and events with which to fill your spare time. Whether you want to discuss International Relations, learn how to play underwater hockey, or spend your weekends at gatherings of the Taylor Swift society, there truly is something for everyone.
In the space of a short 8-week term, Oxbridge students manage somehow to pack in huge amounts of work alongside their favourite pastimes, often forgoing TV and sleep in the process (not that we would recommend the latter). In short, you absolutely can do it all, but you need to be prepared to have a very packed schedule indeed.
Will the Tutorial/Supervision System Suit Me?
The tutorial (Oxford) or supervision (Cambridge), although not being unique to just these universities, is not something used as standard across most UK universities like it is at Oxbridge. A tutorial/supervision is essentially a meeting in which a tutor and a student (or a group of two or three students, this can vary) go through a piece of work, problem sheet, or essay on a topic set by the tutor which the student has produced and handed in prior to the tutorial itself. This is a way of teaching that essentially involves the student (i.e. you) teaching themselves with books and outside materials in order to produce an output which the tutor can mark and then use as a starting point for further academic discussion in the class time. This is intended to streamline and make the most of the time spent in class with world-leading academic tutors; rather than have them teach you simple facts, they instead discuss the finer points or particular issues you may have had with the topic straight off the bat. This is a tried and tested method of teaching at both universities, but can be quite intense and therefore isn’t for everyone, so make sure to think about how you feel regarding this aspect of the teaching before making your applications - you could be sitting in tutorials up to twice a week!
Do I Really Love my Subject?
As we’ve discussed, Oxbridge students are set a large amount of work across a shorter length of term compared to most other unis, meaning that you will be spending an awful lot of time in the presence of your chosen subject, be that in lectures, supervisions/tutorials, or reading at home. This is why tutors are on the look out only for students who can prove that they truly love their subject, and will continue to be passionate about it for the long haul.
Whilst this doesn’t mean you’re going to love every second of pulling an all-nighter to finish that important essay, or spending hours on a Saturday afternoon locked in the library reading sources, having passion for your subject makes these more difficult of times a whole lot more bearable. Therefore, an inherent interest in your subject (not just choosing it because you’re good at it or you think it will be easy!) is the most important thing to consider if you’ve not chosen one already. Read our article on how best to choose your university course here.
As most applicants are painfully aware, the application process is also something that makes Oxbridge distinct from other UK universities (and is the aspect that is going to affect you soonest!) There are several key aspects in which an Oxbridge application differs from a non-Oxbridge one (check out our Oxbridge application timeline to see all of these aspects in chronological layout!). Firstly, the UCAS application deadline is in October rather than January, which will mean getting your admin done much earlier! Applicants from 2024 should also be aware that the UCAS Personal Statement will be changing - read more about this change here. Secondly, there are often admissions tests to be sat as part of an application to Oxbridge, so be sure to check in advance whether your course/college requires this, when it is to be sat, and when the deadline to register is. There have also been recent changes to many of the Oxford and Cambridge Admissions Tests coming into place this year and next year - visit our blog post on changes to the Oxbridge Application process for a full round up. Lastly, Oxford and Cambridge both interview their candidates. Whilst this happens at some other universities (check out our blog article on interviews to see which other UK universities regularly interview their candidates), Oxbridge interviews can be unique in just how academically-focused their interview procedure is.
All in all, there’s a good few factors that set Oxford and Cambridge apart from other UK Universities before you’ve even gone to visit the cities themselves! By asking yourself the above questions and thinking seriously about your interest in your subject, desire to be challenged regularly, and preference in teaching style, hopefully you can bring yourself a few steps closer to figuring out if the Oxbridge path is the right one for you!
Established in 1999, Oxbridge Applications is the global leader in Oxbridge admissions consulting. Over the past 24 years, they have supported in excess of 100,000 students from over 120 countries, and are the trusted in-house support to many of the UK’s highest-achieving schools, including Marlborough College, Haberdashers’ Boys’ School, Rugby School, St Mary’s Ascot, Wellington College, Benenden, James Allen’s Girls, and many more. They are committed to helping promising applicants make the most out of their university applications with guidance in every aspect of the process; from personal statement writing, through admissions test tutoring, to rigorous interview preparation. Oxbridge Applications boasts the biggest network of Oxbridge-graduate tutors - numbering some 2,400 people - enabling them to pair applicants with their best possible mentor.
The Oxbridge Applications website is home to a whole host of free resources to help you get started on your application for Oxford, Cambridge, or any top UK university - register for the website for free to receive access to the full set! You can also download their exclusive free e-book Do you Want to Go to Oxbridge? Tell me about a banana… as a one-stop shop for all things Oxbridge Applications.