Oxbridge application process


Anyone had a child go through the Oxbridge application process ?
Do you have any words of wisdom, advice or gotcha’s ?


My neighbour (a very competent 17 year old) has just been accepted to Oxford to read music. I’m going to ask her for some tips and come back to you!


Hello DSR. Fran (who has just been offered a place at Oxbridge) offered these pointers:

• In terms of the application and personal statement, get as much help as you can from your school and, if there isn’t a dedicated helper, seek out the person who may have guided another student through the process and ask for their help
• Fran says she found that there was plenty of help online in term of guidance and tips on the application but less so in terms of the interview process so she focused on advice for that part of the process to help with this thread
• Go through the application criteria with a fine tooth comb so you know exactly what they are looking for and what you need to do
• Eat, sleep and breathe your subject to prepare for the interview. Fran wants to study German and said she tried to conduct as much normal life as possible in German in the run up to the interview. So, if she wanted to watch a YouTube clip her friends were talking about, she’s watch it in German or with German subtitles.
• Critical thinking is essential for the interview and, by her own admission, not the normal teenage mindset. She practised by asking her parents to question all her responses.

Normal teenage response
Fran, did you enjoy the film?
Yes - thanks

Practising for Oxbridge interview response
Fran, did you enjoy the film?
Yes - thanks
Why? What was good about it?
It was beautifully shot and very inspiring in terms of the main character’s journey
What journey?
Well, she always felt she wanted to invent something but…
[Goes on for up to ten minutes!]

Fran described being pretty exhausted by the preparation process of thinking AROUND everything but it was well worth it. She also said that the best but of advice she was given was to be prepared on how to respond if she provided an incorrect answer on her subject. It happens; and much of the process is about how you react and handle yourself. Getting something wrong and bounding back shows your resilience as a learner.

Hope that all helps!


Thanks Head Girl :slight_smile:


My son has also been through the process and despite being predicted 2A* and 2A’s plus being deputy head boy, World Challenge leader and captain of the 1st rugby team etc, etc was turned down last week. He spent 3 days in Oxford before xmas but was only interviewed for just 12 minutes and then a further 20 minutes. He wasn’t asked about his personal statement, although he was hugely prepared, and has won prizes for History at his ‘super-selective’ grammar school…but he was asked a few obscure questions about the ‘morality of history’…which he felt he answered well. The only advice I could offer is to show the interviewer that you are well aware that you don’t know the answer to everything but that you are a willing and able student with a passion for your subject. If you have the opportunity then give it your best shot but be realistic about the process as only around 20% are successful despite all the candidates being hugely capable. My son was very pragmatic about it, not at all disappointed, and is looking forward to going to Exeter!


That’s a tough lesson @cbpark. I hope your son is okay. Exeter is a fantastic uni!

Many parents have said anecdotally how important it is for students in the Oxbridge process to be prepared to show they are aware that they don’t have all the answers but show flexibility and openness in their approach to their much-loved subject.


I applied and was accepted to read Social and Political Sciences at Selwyn College, Cmbridge. This was 15 years ago now, but I am guessing things haven’t changed that much! Firstly it is important to understand that the difference between Oxbridge and other universities is that you apply to the college. Getting the right college is important as each one is very different, especially in terms of how traditional they are and how many places they have for any given subject. I chose a college which accepted a high proportion of state school students, as I was one, and had more spaces in the humanities.

The inteview is scary, but again, because I had chosed the most relax college, for me it was a laid back professor in a small room, not a bank of old men in a library!

I got offered a place but didn’t meet the AAA offer. I got put in the pool. This is a bit like clearing, when the college can’t offer you a place but liked you enough to think you would be a good Oxbridge student. The other colleges with spaces for the subject you have applied for then look at your application and select students to fill their spaces.

I didn’t get a place from the pool and ended up going to Goldsmith’s. My two best friends did go to Selwyn and in hindsight I felt not going was a blessing in disguise. The teaching process at Oxbridge consists of lectures and tutorials. You have a tutor who sets you an essay on a Thursday to be submitted on Monday. You then sit with them on the following Thursday to critique your essay. You then get set a new essay title and so forth. My learning style requires more support and encouragement and I could not have coped with being criticised as much as my friends were. I much preferred being top of the class in a good university than struggling for approval at Cambridge. My friends also struggled to get work when they left as many employers are weary of Oxbridge graduates.

My advice would be to research the colleges, and go for it if you want to, but to think about why you want to go to Oxbridge. I am proud to say I was offered a place but I applied because it was seen as the academic pinnacle, and not because it was the right environment for me.


Thank you @vickyvyse for your sharing your experience and insights. I guess, like every step in education, it’s a very personal decision. Some people thrive on the pressure of the Oxbridge application process; others quickly become overwhelmed. I guess parental support is absolutely key to navigate such a complex system.


Do Oxbridge colleges require a reference from your school and how much of an importance is attached to this reference?