Tips for getting in to Oxbridge

Emily is in her first year studying English Literature at Queens’ College Cambridge and has kindly offered us these tips for those interested in applying to the Universities of Oxford / Cambridge.

  1. Love your subject!

Starting off with a ridiculously obvious one but you have to really love the subject that you are applying for and this passion has to come across in your personal statement and at interview. If you aren’t really enthused by it, it is unlikely that you will enjoy going to Oxford or Cambridge anyway due to the workload.

  1. Go above and beyond your syllabus

To get an interview and then to eventually get an offer at Oxbridge you have to show that you have gone above and beyond your syllabus and shown your own initiative to read outside your homework. For example, if you find a particular topic interesting in the syllabus you should expand that interest to levels that you do not need to know for your exams and write about that part on your personal statement. It is also important to know however that you are not expected to know everything just know the things that you are interested in in detail and be able to think more widely about other subjects.

  1. Keep up to date with the news

A really practical thing that you can do is keep up to date with the news. If you are applying for a science subject it is a good idea to look into articles on advancements on different areas of science that you are interested in. If you are applying for an arts or humanities subject just watching the news or reading a newspaper can help prepare you for interview.

  1. Practice talking about your subject

Interviews are on the whole incredibly scary and even if you are the most confident person, you would be surprised how easily you seize up and have a mind blank when two professors at the top of your field ask you your opinion on the topics you have discussed on your personal statement. Practice talking about the books that you have read or the work that you have been doing in class to a friend, parent, pet or even a pot-plant!

  1. Good grades

Cambridge and Oxford University don’t seem to care about extra-curricular activities. It is all about getting good grades and showing your love for your subject so concentrate on this in your personal statement rather than mentioning that you achieved bronze DofE!

  1. Think outside the box

In your research beforehand and in your interview, be unique and think outside the box. For example, if you are applying to study History, bear in mind how many other students will have expressed that their favourite part of History is Henry VIII! Try and be more unique with your thinking – is there a more obscure period of history that your prefer? Is there a certain character/event/war/theme in Henry VIII’s court that you are interested in?

  1. Make connections

It is also a good idea to make connections in your head between different topics before you go into your interview. Being able to link different themes and ideas is a very useful skill, especially when questions are thrown at you that you may struggle to see any connection to the work that you have done in the past. If you are applying for English, for example, being able to see common themes between books in a specific period or a pattern through the works of a particular author, will definitely help you navigate your interview.

  1. Be brave

Make sure that you are brave in your interview and argue your point with confidence. The interviewer will most probably be goading you to argue back at them so make sure you speak up and say your opinions. Interviews are like supervisions so they are just testing if you would thrive in this environment and if they would enjoy teaching you!

  1. Prepare to make mistakes

It is completely okay to backtrack from a statement you have made in your personal statement or in the interview as long as you give clear reasoning as to why you originally said what you said and how your opinions have changed. Realising that you are wrong rather than being backed into a corner is a much better option.

  1. Don’t stress

Try to relax! Oxbridge is definitely not the be all and end all and if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. I would try to treat the whole thing like a valuable experience that you will learn so much from rather than pinning all your hopes on it. In fact, if you are someone who really stresses out, Oxford and Cambridge may not be the place for you due to the high pressure environment and the workload.