Oxford and Cambridge University (also known as Oxbridge) are two of the best universities in the world. Every year, they receive tens of thousands of applications, but only a select few are given a place.
In 2018 for example, the University of Cambridge acceptance rate was under 22%. And in that same year at the University of Oxford, there were 21,515 applications, and only 3,309 students accepted.
How hard is it to get into Oxbridge?
Exceptionally hard. But it’s not impossible.
Here are three simple things you can do to increase your chances of getting in.
1. Stand out
The tricky thing about applying to Oxbridge is that exceptional grades won’t help you.
At other top universities, near perfect exam results are likely to get you an offer. But at Oxford and Cambridge, everybody has top grades (and Oxbridge requirements reflect this), which means being smart doesn’t get you very far.
The question is: What makes you different from the thousands of other applicants?
In order to stand out in your application, you need to demonstrate that you’re passionate about your subject. Your life outside the classroom should prove this.
Get involved with extra-curricular activities that are related to your course. Studying and getting good grades just isn’t enough.
Be sure to read around your subject and do work experience and internships wherever possible.
Your application should be full of activities that show interviewers how serious you are about your course and future.
Beware of lying or exaggerating. You will be asked about these activities in your interview.
2. Get over your fear of failure
Oxbridge is infamous for asking curious questions in interviews.
Some popular ones include:
“Instead of politicians, why don’t we let the managers of Ikea run the country?” – Cambridge interview for Human, Social, and Political Science
“At what point is a person ‘dead’?” – Cambridge interview for Medicine
“Should it be illegal to run a red light in the middle of the night on an empty road?” – Oxford Interview for Law
“Tell me what this rock looks like.” – Oxford interview for Earth Sciences
If you go into an Oxbridge interview with the idea that there are only right or wrong answers, you won’t do very well.
The secret to passing these interviews is to be okay with not knowing the answers.
Interviewers aren’t interested in you saying ‘the right thing’; that’s why they give you such odd questions in the first place.
Instead, interviewers want to know how your brain works when you don’t know the answer.
They want to see whether you’ll give up or persevere. They want to watch you writhe in discomfort as you process all the possibilities; to see whether you can work through the pressure and come up with an answer you’re able to defend.
The best thing you can do to prepare for your interview is to get over your fear of failure.
Once you stop worrying about whether you’re right or wrong, or whether you sound silly or unintelligent, you can tap into the kind of creativity and innovative thinking that Cambridge and Oxford are looking for.
3. Prepare… then prepare some more
Saying you should prepare for Oxbridge entrance exams seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning there are things you can do beyond completing sample papers.
Go onto your desired course website (each department has its own site) and find the recommended reading list for the first year of study.
Pick a few titles to read so you can get yourself on the same level as students who are already taking the course. (This is also a great way to prepare for your interview.)
Another way is to speak to an Oxbridge student or graduate who has experience with the course you’re applying for. They can give you insider tips on acing entrance exams and interviews.
Once you’ve done everything you can to prepare, take a moment to realise what you’ve achieved.
Having the grades to apply to Oxbridge is a huge accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself – no matter what happens next.
If you’re ready to start your academic journey in the UK, contact our admissions office so we can help find the perfect university for you.
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Want to know more?
Here’s our suggested reading list:
Oxford and Cambridge: An insider’s guide to applying
Tips for acing your University of Oxford interview
Preparing for your Cambridge interview
Where to study: Study in the UK – IEC Abroad