3rd July 2018
This guide is taken from the Know How Library, a tool on the Unifrog platform. Not sure whether to take the ACT or the SAT? Or how to give the perfect Oxbridge practice interview? The Know How Library is an easily searchable library of 100s of expert guides for both students and teachers, covering every aspect of the progression process. It is included as standard for Unifrog partner schools.
- It’s who you know, not what you know
Admissions decisions at Oxford and Cambridge are based solely on academic ability and potential. A student’s school, background, income and connections are completely irrelevant to admissions tutors.
Whilst a disproportionate amount of students at Oxford and Cambridge have attended private schools, this phenomenon is not unique to these universities. Universities such as Bristol, St Andrews, Durham and Newcastle have an equal or lower percentage of applicants accepted from state schools.
- The interview will be impossible
Almost every year around December, newspapers publish horror stories of Oxbridge interviews, and detail the difficulty of obtaining a place. But whilst academically challenging, interviews at Oxford and Cambridge are not intended to catch students out - they are designed to test student’s academic ability and potential.
Admissions tutors want to see how students think rather than what they already know, which is why the interviews often cover topics the student hasn’t yet studied, and why the questions aren’t supposed to be fully answerable.
- It’s scary and intimidating
Probably the main fear students have when applying to Oxford or Cambridge is that they will be surrounded by geniuses. Whilst anyone who attends these universities is bound to be bright, the vast majority of people there are just ordinary students.
Most people will be facing very similar anxieties about not being good enough, but if the university has offered you a place it means you deserve to be there as much as any other student.
Both Oxford and Cambridge are aware of the pressures that young people can face during their studies. There are numerous support systems in place within individual colleges and the overall universities which aid students pastorally, financially and academically. Oxford and Cambridge have the lowest drop out rate of any universities in the UK.
- It’s all work and no play
The typical image of an Oxbridge student is one who spends the entirety of their time locked away in their room studying. The workload at Oxford and Cambridge is of course demanding, but applicants shouldn’t fear missing out on a ‘normal’ university experience.
As well as the clubs and bars on offer in the towns, nearly all Oxbridge colleges host many socials, balls and theme nights. At both universities there are hundreds of student-led societies, each with their own social calendars.
- You have to go
Thousands of bright and talented students are rejected from Oxford and Cambridge each year. Our education system fetishises these two universities but there is nothing magical or extraordinary about an Oxbridge degree. Whilst they boast some of the best facilities and teaching in the country, there is nothing to say that a student can’t thrive just as much, if not more so, at another university.
Don’t assume that a course at Oxford or Cambridge is for you simply because it is ranked at the top of the league table. Quite apart from how intelligent you are, you might be unsuited to the system of tutorials and supervisions, or the particular course might not be the most suitable for you.
The medicine courses at Oxford and Cambridge are unlike most other medical degrees because for the first three years the focus is on learning anatomy and physiology rather than practical skills. If in-depth anatomical theory is uninteresting to you then taking a medical degree at Oxford or Cambridge would not make you a better doctor.