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A guide to the Oxbridge application process

Want to apply for Oxford or Cambridge? Here's how it works

Although Oxford and Cambridge have a similar application process, they aren't quite the same. In this article we'll go through the process for each of these universities and highlight the key differences between them.

The first step is choosing between Oxford and Cambridge, as you can't apply for both in the same application cycle. You might already know which one you want to go for, but if you have any questions you could visit the Oxford and Cambridge forums on our sister site The Student Room to see what other students are saying about their experiences. Here's what to do after you've decided.

1. Fill out your Ucas application

As you're applying to Oxford or Cambridge, there's an early deadline of 15 October 2024 for 2025 entry. That's more than three months before the main university application deadline of 29 January 2025. So start your Ucas application as soon as possible.

Form

Other than the earlier deadline, the application you fill out on your Ucas Hub will be almost the same as for every other university.

The main difference between Oxbridge and most other unis is that they are collegiate unis.

This means that when entering the university into your 'courses' section, you will need to specify a campus code. For most universities, this will be main site, but for collegiate universities like Oxford and Cambridge, you need to choose the college you wish to apply to from the list (or put a '9', if you have no college preference and want to make an open application).

Personal statement

Your personal statement might be the trickiest part of a Ucas application. While other universities place more importance on extracurricular activities, this isn't the case with Oxford or Cambridge – so the academic stuff really should fill most of it.

The good news is that generally Oxbridge have more information to base their decision on than most other universities (such as pre-interview tests, written work and interviews) so the personal statement may not be your only chance to shine.

Reference

Everyone needs a reference for their Ucas form, but you should tell your referee (normally your tutor) that you're applying to Oxford or Cambridge as soon as possible because they need to be aware of your early deadline.

Many schools and colleges will make an extra effort for the references of Oxford and Cambridge applicants. Again, the reference is one of the many factors the universities take into account.

2. Extra forms (Cambridge only)

After sending your Ucas application you will be asked via email to complete a form called My Cambridge Application (MyCApp), which asks for the following:

  • your Ucas Personal ID number
  • a passport-style digital photograph of yourself
  • details of the units you have taken or are taking, including the UMS results achieved so far if you have taken/are taking modular AS/A-levels
  • details of the band scores you have achieved if you have taken Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers
  • a copy of your high school transcript and/or university transcript (if required)
  • fee payment (if applicable).

The deadline for submitting your MyCApp is 22 October 2024 at 6pm.

The purpose of the My Cambridge Application is to ensure that Cambridge has complete and consistent information about all its applicants, including things that aren't part of the Ucas application – like the topics you've covered as part of your AS/A-level (or equivalent) courses, which helps interviewers decide which questions to ask.

There's space for an (optional) additional personal statement here, where you can mention any specific areas of interest within the Cambridge course tripos – this is useful if other courses you're applying for in Ucas aren't exactly the same.

You will also be asked to complete an Additional Applicant Information Form (AAIF) in one sitting, to go through any interview arrangements.

3. Pre-interview tests

You need to check whether there are pre-interview tests to take for your course – like the Bmat for medicine, Mat for maths, or Lnat for law. It's your responsibility to enter yourself for the tests – and to turn up!

These tests are much more common at Oxford – with most courses requiring you to take an admissions test, including:

  • Classics Admissions Test (Cat)
  • English Literature Test (Elat)
  • Mathematics Admissions Test (Mat)
  • Modern Languages Admissions Test (Mlat)
  • Physics Aptitude Test (Pat)
  • Philosophy Test (PHIL)
  • Thinking Skills Assessment Oxford (TSA Oxford)

These are used to significantly reduce the applicants invited to interview, so take them seriously. Example papers are available online for most of these tests – it's definitely worth practising.

This article goes into more detail about all of the pre-interview tests you may have to take, including deadlines and fees for 2024 entry

4. Written work

Some subjects require examples of your written work to be sent in. This doesn't normally need to be be something you've written especially for the application – it can just be some high-quality work you've completed recently.

It doesn't always have to be an essay directly related to the subject you're applying for either, so check the instructions carefully. An extended project may also be suitable (either complete or in almost-complete draft form).

5. Wait to hear back

After the deadline, most colleges will tell you they've received your application. If you made an open application, you will be told which college you have been allocated to – but they don't know you made an open application.

Admissions tests

Now you've got at least a month of waiting to hear if you're being invited to interview. If you've got an admissions test, you'll do this in between now and then.

Interview invites

Most interviews will take place in December. You can expect to hear whether you're being invited about two weeks before. 

6. Interview

Interviews are a crucial part of the Oxford and Cambridge admissions procedures. But there's nothing to be afraid of – interviews are done by academic tutors and are not designed to catch you out. 

Since your interviewer is likely to be involved in your tuition throughout your time at university, they are just trying to decide the following:

  • Does this person show outstanding ability?
  • Would this person gain academically from the very small group style of teaching?
  • Is this a person I would enjoy teaching?

7. Decision letter

After interviews you wait to find out if you've been accepted...

You'll hear back from Oxford and Cambridge in January. The decision will appear in your Ucas Hub, and will be followed by direct communication from the college you applied to. 

If you have an offer – well done! If you get rejected, try not to be too downhearted as it's extremely common – and it's partly down to luck. 

8. Winter pool (Cambridge only)

Now comes the complicated part of Cambridge admissions. Some people won't get a straight rejection or acceptance and they'll be pooled. Pooled applicants have been identified as a strong applicant by their chosen college, but haven't been selected by them – so they get placed in a college-wide pool.

Being in the pool is a whole new waiting game. You may be given a straight offer by another college, or you could called for an interview at another. Sometimes a college wants to see other applicants from the pool before it fills all of its places with direct applicants – this results in several applicants being pooled and subsequently being awarded places at their original college of choice.

There are many reasons you might be placed in the pool – maybe there weren't any places left at your first choice college, or they wanted to compare you to other applicants; you may end up with an offer from your original college even after being pooled.

You'll find out whether or not you've been offered a place at the end of January. 

9. Study, take exams and wait for results day

You will now have a really long wait while you study for your exams. Some colleges might send you forms and other information, whereas you might not hear from others until after results day. Don't worry about this, they haven't forgotten you.

Made your offer? Congratulations!

If you haven't got a place, you'll be going to your insurance university. But that's still great – you can make the most of all the opportunities you'lll get there.

I've changed my mind about my course! What should I do?

It happens. Sometimes you realise that the course isn't the right one for you, or even that Oxbridge isn't for you. What you need to do is contact your college as soon as possible.

If the new course has space for you then they'll probably want to re-interview you, but the college could also just say no. You'd then need to decide whether you want to take up your original offer or withdraw from Ucas and apply for a different subject next year.

Your other options would be to go your insurance choice or try for somewhere else in Clearing.

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