Admissions: 5 Things to Know About Getting Into Oxford and Cambridge

Posted by Imran Mahmud on 4/20/15 10:39 AM

brideshead_2929616bWatch the Jeremy Irons Brideshead Revisited and tell us you don’t want to go to Oxford.

Oxford and Cambridge (affectionately known to many as “Oxbridge”) are amongst the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Hundreds of leading figures from virtually every sector of society have passed through the Ivory towers of Oxford and Cambridge, and have gone on to shape the world we live in dramatically, whether through politics, science, or the arts.

But what exactly does it take to get into Oxford and Cambridge? Oxbridge’s formidable reputation is matched by its exacting admissions processes, which received thousands of applications each year from students across the world. In particular, the Oxbridge Interview is notorious for its challenging nature: applicants can be grilled on serious questions pertaining to their chosen field. Questions are not about the applicant, particularly; rather, they are more like, “Here is a cactus. Tell me about it” or “What is language?” This sets it apart from the typical US college interview, which is much more about getting to know the student.

Additionally, the essay is significantly different from the Common App essay, which is a narrative about the applicant. The UCAS essay, however, asks the student to demonstrate her critical thinking and ability to engage with an intellectual subject.

To better understand what is needed to make the cut at Oxbridge, we spoke to Dr. Imran Mahmud, who holds several degrees from Oxford and was an admissions tutor for two years at Hertford College.

1) Academic ability

At their heart, Oxford and Cambridge are academic heavyweights. Across courses at the university, the single most important factor in admissions is academic performance. Applicants that don’t have the right grades (or predictions) simply wont make the cut. However, test scores are not enough. 

“Academics want to see evidence of a genuine passion for the subject. What have you done that will set you apart from other smart kids? Have you gone that extra mile to learn more about the area you claim to be so passionate about?”

2) Logical thought

Oxford and Cambridge’s teaching models at undergraduate level are built around the tutorial. Tutorials are small group discussions (usually 1-3 students) lead by academics who are specialists in their fields. Although daunting at first, tutorials are a tremendous privilege. Where else do students get close access to the world’s leading minds in their field?

“In tutorials, academics will probe students’ understanding of key concepts in their field, and take them on an intellectual journey to the frontiers of knowledge. The admissions process is designed to pick out students who can think systematically and logically through complex problems. Being able to think logically or systematically is key to holding your own in these tutorials”

3) The ability to communicate ideas

In order to succeed in academia and life, communicating your ideas is essential. Particularly in tutorials, students will be challenged on their points of view and be asked to justify them. Being able to communicate your ideas clearly and succinctly will give you an edge.

“When interviewing, students with excellent communication skills stand out from the crowd. This includes both written skills in personal statements, but also verbal and non-verbal communication which is crucial to succeeding in interviews. There are several tried-and-tested ways to improve your confidence and clarity when being interviewed”

4)   Managing stress

Studying at Oxbridge will be stressful. Many students will go from being the most outstanding in their class at high school, to being one of many faces in a room full of the highest potential students in the world. The workload is high, and for some the combination of expectation and academic performance can prove too much.

“I look for several factors when considering a students’ ability to withstand the stress of Oxbridge. Firstly, student that have interests outside their studies are better placed to take their mind off their work and de-stress. Secondly, students with evidence of good time management are less likely to fall behind on their commitments. Thirdly, students who are better able to form strong social support networks will probably be more resilient to the stresses of university life” 

5) Enthusiasm is infectious

The single most charming quality in a student is enthusiasm. The success of tutorials relies upon students’ willingness to prepare and be excited by the material at hand. The best students have an infectious enthusiasm for their work, and that enthusiasm rubs off onto other students! 

“There is nothing more depressing than arriving at a tutorial with students who are not motivated or interested in the work at hand. The two hours you spend together can feel like a lifetime. On the other hand, I learn the most from enthusiastic and motivated students who bring out the best in each other—and me!”

If you’re interesting in applying to Oxford and Cambridge (or any school in the UK/Irish system, like St. Andrews or Edinburgh or Trinity College Dublin, etc), but don’t know where to start, give Cambridge Coaching a call! We have expert admissions coaches with experience applying to these elite, remarkable schools, and we can give you the guidance you need. Get in touch with us today!

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our private admissions coaches in NYC, Boston, and online [keyword tutors]: How Do I Start My College Essay, Simplifying School Selection, and 4 Things You Need to Know About the Waitlist

Download Our  Personal Statement Kickstart

Tags: college admissions