An Oxford Student’s Guide to Applying to the University

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Applying to university is always a long process, from deciding which course to study, to writing the best personal statement you can. For Oxford University, the process is even longer, with things like admissions tests and interviews to think about, and notoriously difficult to get through. As a current Oxford student, I have been through the whole application process, and know just how intimidating it can be! But nobody should be dissuaded from applying to Oxford just because of its difficult reputation.

This article will guide you through every step of the process, answering many common questions potential applicants may have from someone who has experienced it all. Hopefully, by the end, you will be equipped with all the information you need to make the best application you can!

How do you apply to Oxford University?

The first thing to clear up is that the basics of applying to Oxford are the same as for any other university in the UK. You submit a central application through UCAS, which allows you to apply to a maximum of five universities. Check out this page from UCAS for their guide to your university application.

The form includes basic information about you, as well as a personal statement, which is your chance to show off your skills and experience to universities. There’s more advice about writing a great personal statement for Oxford later in the article!

However, there are a few things to be aware of that are different about the UCAS application if you are applying to Oxford. Firstly, if one of your five choices is Oxford University, you can’t also apply to Cambridge University in the same year, and vice versa. There’s more on this in this Think Student article.

You also apply to a specific college within the university. The college system can be confusing if you haven’t come across it before – this link from Oxford University’s website has more information.

You can also find information about individual colleges on this link. You might, for example, want to apply to a smaller college, or one that offers accommodation for all the years of your course.

Don’t worry too much about this, though. Colleges are more similar than different, and you may get a place at a different college from the one you applied to.

Additionally, there is a significantly earlier deadline to submit your UCAS application if you are applying to Oxford, Cambridge, or for a course in medicine, veterinary science or dentistry. Keep reading for more on this and other key dates.

When is the Oxford University application deadline?

You may be expecting the UCAS application deadline to be somewhere near the end of January – and this is true for most courses. However, if you are applying to the University of Oxford, you will have to submit your application by a much earlier deadline. This falls around the 15th of October every year.

The reason for this earlier deadline is so that there is time for the university to interview applicants. This is a longer process than if they were just looking through UCAS applications.

Similarly, medicine and related courses carry out interviews, as well as courses at Cambridge University. Therefore, these options also have this early entry deadline.

In fact, you will find that much of the information in this article is also relevant if you are applying to Cambridge. The two universities have relatively similar application processes!

Have a look at this page from the official UCAS website for more information about key deadlines. You’ll notice that for 2024 entry, the early deadline is the 16th of October – more than three months before the standard deadline on the 31st of January!

What does the University of Oxford’s application process involve?

For most universities and courses, the UCAS form you submit will essentially be your whole application. Unfortunately, there are a few more stages if you are applying to Oxford (or Cambridge, or medical courses).

A couple of these have been mentioned, but it is useful to have an idea of a timeline, and what you will be expected to do, when. The first stage is still your UCAS application, which as mentioned will need to be submitted by mid-October.

For most courses at Oxford, you will then have to sit an admissions test. This is also usually held in mid-October, a few days after the application deadline.

You’ll likely want to prepare for these tests a few weeks in advance, so you are preparing for admissions tests alongside finalising your UCAS application. There’s more information about admissions tests and advice on preparing if you keep reading!

The university then takes into account your application and test score to decide whether to invite you to the next stage – interviews. The vast majority of interviews take place in December, in the last couple of weeks of the school term. Again, keep reading for plenty of interview advice to come.

After this, you’ve finally completed the application process – well done! Your application is now in the hands of admissions tutors. They will look at your application as a whole and send out their decision in early January.

The final part of the process is achieving your A-Level (or equivalent) grades, if you haven’t taken these exams already. This is a really important final stage of the process, but it isn’t unique to Oxford. Nearly all universities give out conditional offers, which means you have to achieve certain grades to confirm your place.

Check out this page on the Oxford University website for a timeline of the admissions process.

How do you write a personal statement for Oxford University?

Writing a personal statement is often a big worry for students, and it can be hard to know where to start. The good thing to know is that there is not any sort of special changes you have to make here if you are applying to Oxford. The same general advice applies to any personal statement: talk about why you want to study your subject, and what you have done to explore your interest in it.

I would highly recommend doing activities outside of schoolwork related to your subject. You can then write about this in your personal statement, and even talk about it in your interview.

There are really simple ways to prove to universities that you are passionate about your subject. For example, attending an online webinar from the comfort of your own home.

One thing to be aware of is that Oxford University is not as interested in your extracurricular activities as other universities may be. They are keener on seeing how you engage directly with your subject.

Nevertheless, it is worth putting in any of these extra activities you do if other universities you are applying to will look at them. I certainly wrote about extracurricular activities in my own personal statement. The general advice is to have roughly 80% of your statement be related to your subject, and 20% be about extracurricular activities like sports or music.

Have a look at this page of the Oxford website for their advice and FAQs about personal statements.

Are there entrance tests for Oxford University?

As mentioned, most courses will ask for a certain entrance test as part of the application process. You can double check if you will need one, and exactly which one, by checking out the course page on the university website, linked here.

The entrance test can seem unnecessary, but it is helpful for the university to standardise applications. Students may be taking lots of different qualifications – A-Levels, Scottish Highers, international qualifications. Having one test that all applicants have taken is a fairer way of comparing them.

You enter for these exams through your school, but it’s really important not to miss the deadline to enter. This is normally at the end of September. Talk to the Exams Officer at your school, who should be able to sort it all out for you.

When it comes to preparing for your entrance test, the best method is to do practice questions. There are official past papers available for free online, although some tests have more resources available than others.

My advice would be to time yourself as much as possible when answering questions, because these tests tend to be very time pressured. You can also check out official information and advice on Oxford University’s website here.

How do Oxford University interviews work?

For every course at Oxford University, you will have to go to one or more interviews. You will get an interview invite in late November, and as mentioned, they take place around mid-December. Interviews used to happen in person, but since the pandemic, they’ve been moved online, and are still this way as of the 2024 entry cycle.

Everyone’s interview experience is slightly different. You normally have two interviews, but you might have one or three.

They might be at the college you originally applied to, a different college, or multiple. Don’t worry too much about these logistics. They won’t tell you anything about how likely you are to get an offer.

There are lots of misconceptions about Oxford interviews – especially that they are looking for a certain stereotypical student. This isn’t the case! The main thing tutors are looking for in interviews is that you are passionate about your subject and can talk about your ideas on it.

In the interview itself, you with have a panel of normally two or three interviewers, asking various questions about your subject. For humanities subjects, they are more likely to ask about things you have mentioned on your personal statement. For more science-based subjects, you usually work through a few problems or graphs, although it is still worth knowing your personal statement well.

The key thing to remember is that the interviews are meant to be hard! They often ask questions you don’t know the answer to. My best advice would be to think out loud – give them your ideas, even if they are wrong, because they can then guide you onto the right path.

For more on Oxford University interviews and how they work, have a look at this guide from their website.

How should you prepare for Oxford University interviews?

With this in mind, the best way to prepare for your interviews is to practise. There are plenty of sample interview questions online, for every subject. Practise speaking your answers out loud – it might feel silly, but it does help!

Even better, see if you can get a couple of friends or family members to practise with you. The more you try answering questions out loud, and get feedback from others, the easier it gets.

I know a lot of people who get offers come out of their interviews thinking they have gone badly. This is absolutely fine!

The interviewers aren’t looking for students who know all the answers. They are looking for people who are interested in the subject, and willing to discuss it and adapt their ideas after feedback from tutors.

You can check out this Think Student article for general advice on preparing for university interviews

What sort of help should you get during the Oxford University application process?

There are often lots of private companies advertising Oxbridge application help, or expensive summer schools claiming to increase your chances of getting in by 90%. I certainly found these intimidating when I was applying, and wondered if you needed that sort of help to stand a chance of getting in.

In short, you definitely don’t need to pay a lot for private help to get into Oxford! There isn’t a magic formula that companies know, so don’t feel the need to spend a lot of money on your application.

That being said, there are other forms of help that can be really useful when you are applying. As mentioned, talking through interview practice questions with friends, parents or teachers is a great way to prepare.

Your school is also a great source of help, as they sort out UCAS applications every year, so will be familiar with the process. For example, I had a mock interview at my school.

If you ask a teacher for this, they will often be happy to sit down with you and ask you some interview questions. You could also ask a relevant subject teacher to read over your personal statement, or for recommendations on books to read to do with your course.

How do you receive your admissions decision from the University of Oxford?

Once you have handed in your UCAS application, completed any entrance test, and attended interviews, you’ve made it through the application process – well done! Your application will now be in the hands of Oxford tutors.

It can be easy to overthink your application but try not to worry about it too much – you’ve done everything you can. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it really is true!

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait long for the outcome of the application. After interviews in mid-December, it’s only a few weeks before decisions are released in early January.

For 2024 entry, the date is the 9th of January. You can see more about this in the admissions timeline on this page of the University of Oxford’s website.

Generally, you will receive your decision via UCAS at some point in the morning. Some colleges may also send letters or emails – personally, I got a letter as well as the UCAS notification – but your UCAS will update that day no matter what.

What are the types of decision you can receive from the University of Oxford?

Your decision might be an offer of a place, in which case, congratulations! This is a great achievement.

For most people, you will get an offer from a particular college – which may or may not be the one you applied to. There will also be conditions about getting certain A-Level (or equivalent) grades, although you might have already got these if you applied after a gap year.

In this case, you can now focus on schoolwork, and getting the top grades you’ll need to secure a place. For A-Levels, most courses at Oxford ask for A*AA.

The final piece of the puzzle comes on results day, where, if you meet the grade conditions, your place will be confirmed. You’ll be ready to go to Oxford that September!

Alternatively, the decision you receive could be a rejection. Even still, you should be proud of yourself for getting through the application process – it’s an achievement in itself!

Remember, Oxford University isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s just one of your five choices – or more, if you use services like UCAS Extra or Clearing. You can have an equally fulfilling experience at any other university.

Hopefully, this article has given you a guide through each stage of the application process and will help you through this journey. Best of luck with your application, and remember to be proud of yourself, no matter the outcome.

How hard is it to get into Oxford University?

Oxford University has a notorious reputation of being really difficult to get into – but is this true?

Ultimately, both Oxford and Cambridge University do indeed have some of the lowest acceptance rates in the UK, so are two of the most difficult universities to get into. However, it is by no means impossible!

Oxford’s website has plenty of statistics about their admissions, which can be found on their website here. For example, it states that in 2022, more than 23,000 applicants applied for around 3,300 places. This is a success rate of about 14%, or 1 in 7.

For comparison, this article from Save the Student states that the average acceptance rate for all universities in the UK is just over 69% – a much higher figure!

The exact rate does vary slightly depending on the course you are applying for – the more competitive the course, the lower the acceptance rate. For example, medicine has an average acceptance rate of about 8%, compared to Archaeology and Anthropology, which accepts close to 20% of applicants. You can look at statistics for individual courses on the Oxford University website here.

Additionally, the acceptance rate tends to be lower for international applicants, as lots of people apply for a limited quota of places.

For more on how hard it is to get in, check out this Think Student article.

Is it worth applying to Oxford University?

Ultimately, my advice would be to not let the statistics put you off from applying. It can be easy to get caught up in trying to work out exactly how likely you are to get in, but this won’t actually help your application! All you can do is apply and try your best – you don’t have anything to lose by giving it a try, but if you don’t apply, you can’t get in!

Personally, I did find the application process difficult, and you may find yourself working a lot harder for it than your friends are for other universities. Preparing for admissions tests and interviews on top of A-Level work isn’t easy!

That being said, the process is surprisingly rewarding, no matter whether or not you actually end up getting a place. You will find yourself developing things like interview skills, which will almost certainly be useful in your future.

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