In the second part of our guide to applying to Oxbridge, we look at how you submit your application, covering important topics from entrance tests to making the most of your personal statement.
This post picks up from the first part of our Ultimate Guide to Successful Oxbridge Applications which can be found here.
This blog post contains information relevant to applying to Oxford and Cambridge for undergraduate entry. If you’re looking to apply to Oxbridge as a postgrad you can find information on Oxford here and on Cambridge here.
So, you’ve worked out whether you’re going to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, you know which subject you want to study, and you know which college you’d like to put as your first choice.
Now it’s time to submit your application! This part of our Oxbridge applications guide will deal with the administrative aspect of applying: knowing what you need to do and by when to enter the running for a place at Oxford or Cambridge. Specifically we’re going to look at the crucial deadlines that you need to know, learn about the UCAS form, and discuss how to make the best impression with your personal statement.
The fundamental rule that all applicants to Oxford and Cambridge should follow if they want to be successful is to know the course. Many courses share entry requirements and deadlines but the only way to make sure that you’re doing everything correctly is to scrutinise your course page and make sure you understand exactly what it requires.
If you know what you want to study and where, we recommend that you go onto your course page and read through all of the detail several times, make a note of the important dates, and really make it clear your mind about what you have to do. Write everything down.
The aspects of your course that you need to pay attention to are:
What qualifications and grades do you need to have to be considered? The course page will tell you the expected A-Level, Advanced Highers or IB grades that you need, as well as the subjects that you need to have studied (for example, to read Chemistry at Oxford you need to have studied Mathematics to A-Level).
Many of the courses at Oxbridge require candidates to sit additional tests as part of their application. These include:
This is a pen-and-paper test that measures ‘problem-solving skills, including numerical and spatial reasoning.’ You need to take the TSA if you are applying for any of these subjects. You can register to take the TSA from the 1st September, and the deadline for registration is the same as the UCAS form (more on that below) – 15th October. The test itself takes place at the beginning of November. Applicants need to register separately to take the TSA.
To be considered for a place at Oxford to read Classics, History, Modern Languages, Mathematics or a number of other subjects, candidates will need to take an admissions test. These have jaunty acronyms such as the ‘CAT’, Classics Admissions Test, or ‘HAT’- History Admissions Test. You need to register for these tests in addition to your UCAS application by the 15th October. The tests are sat at registered centres, which usually means your school.
(Note – a number of Cambridge subjects also require candidates to take these tests. For example, to read English at Cambridge you need to sit the ELAT (English Language Admission Test). However, the majority of these tests are taken by Oxford applicants.)
If you are applying to read Medicine or Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge or Medicine or Biomedical Sciences at Oxford then you need to take the BMAT. Both universities require you to register to take the BMAT by 1st October. There is also an entrance fee to take the BMAT.
As at Oxford there are many subjects at Cambridge that ask candidates to sit additional assessments as part of the admissions process. The full list can be found here. I’ll say it again – make sure to check your course page very carefully since it will tell you exactly what you need to do!
It’s likely that you’ll have to submit some examples of your work as part of your application. This should be work that you’ve done at school or for homework and that has been marked by a teacher; it shouldn’t be specially prepared. You can find out more about the written work part of your application to Oxford here, and to Cambridge here.
It’s also worth finding out from your choice of college if there are any college-specific requirements for your application. Many of the colleges at Cambridge test candidates for the same subject rather differently, so it’s worth doing some additional research as well as getting in touch with the college.
Once you understand exactly what you have to do, it’s time to move on to the next stage of your application, and completing your UCAS form.
UCAS, or the University and Colleges Admissions Services, is the organisation that processes all applications to universities in the UK. To apply to Oxford or Cambridge you have to follow the same process as applying to any other university, by submitting your UCAS form. You can submit your UCAS form any time between the 1st September and the 15th October of the year before entry (or two years if you go for deferred entry). The steps to doing this are:
1) Register. These means setting yourself up on the UCAS website with a username and a password and providing some basic information about yourself. You then –
2) Sign in, and complete your personal details. It’s at this point that you notify UCAS about any funding you’re receiving, your residential status, and whether you have any special needs or disabilities. You can also nominate a parent or guardian to be able to communicate with UCAS. Finally you verify your email address.
3) If you’re an applicant from the UK you’ll then be asked some further questions about your background – this is just to help with statistical analyses of university applications.
4) The next step (for UK and EU applicants) is to let UCAS know about your student finance.
5) Now things start to get interesting. You are asked to declare what courses you would like to apply for, and you can choose up to five courses. Remember that you can’t apply to both Oxford and Cambridge. You can also put that you’re applying for deferred entry, but make sure that your course accepts applicants for deferred entry beforehand!
6) The next step is to enter your education history, and all of your qualifications. The UCAS website has tips on how to handle issues such as submitting AS Levels and what to do if you’re still waiting for a result from a course.
7) You then put in any employment history you might have, and then you –
8) Write your personal statement. This is the most important part of the UCAS form, and that's what we’re going to look at next.
The Personal Statement of your UCAS form is your first opportunity (beyond your exam grades) to demonstrate that you are Oxbridge material. While it is possible to overestimate the importance of this part of your application (especially when applying to Oxford and Cambridge, since you have so many other points of contact such as the admissions tests and interview) the personal statement is a chance to show your enthusiasm for your subject, that you’ve read widely about it, and that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to study it in a demanding environment.
So how to write a personal statement well? The key is in the word ‘personal’. As we discussed in Part 1 of our Ultimate Guide to Oxbridge Applications, if you’re applying to Cambridge or Oxford it’s likely that you’re both proficient in your chosen subject and have a passion for it, and this needs to shine through in your personal statement. However, you need to prove that you have a passion for your subject; it’s not enough to just say that you like it. Many candidates will write lengthy paragraphs about their passion for studying Physics or Music, but won’t demonstrate how they’ve acted on this passion. Do you have any qualifications – beyond your exam grades – in your subject? Do you have any work experience that might show how you’ve gone the extra mile to learn more about it? What have you read? Where have you been? What is it — very specifically — about your subject that interests you? Your personal statement should be full of answers to these questions.
It’s important to think about the personal statement from the point of view of the people who will read it – the admissions tutor and your potential future Director of Studies. They will want to see that you’re the kind of person that will thrive at Oxford and Cambridge, who will bring energy and enthusiasm to your studies, and who will be enjoyable to teach, too. Try to demonstrate that you’ve researched your course and discuss the particular parts of it that enthuse you.
You only have 4000 characters to write the personal statement, so you do need to be relatively concise, but that should be more than enough to show your enthusiasm, experience and talent for your chosen subject. There’s no right way to structure your statement, but a good way to go about it is to begin by outlining your interest in your subject, and then to discuss what you’ve read and studied so far. Then you can go over any relevant experience you have and the ways in which you’ve tried to develop your knowledge of the subject. Finally bring everything together in a conclusion that neatly summarises what you’ve said and that reinforces both your love for the subject and your own personal qualities.
As well as the UCAS form, the entrance tests and your written work, there might also be additional parts of your application that you have to complete, depending on whether you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge and whether you want to be considered for an organ or choral scholarship.
1) The Supplementary Application Questionnaire (for Cambridge applicants)
In addition to submitting their UCAS form, Cambridge applicants also have to fill in an additional online questionnaire, known as the Supplementary Application Questionnaire, or SAQ, which is due in a week after the UCAS form. Amongst other things the SAQ asks you for personal details, a photograph and information about your education. Crucially, the form also contains a section for an additional personal statement, and candidates should use this space well to enhance their application. The SAQ also asks you for your UMS marks (the marks that dictate your exam grades at A Level).
2) The Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA)
The COPA is primarily for overseas students, for example for those applying from outside the EU, but you also need to complete it if you want to be considered for an Organ Scholarship to Cambridge. You need to have submitted your COPA by 1st September.
3) The Choral and Organ Scholarship online application to Oxford
To apply for a choral or organ scholarship to Oxford you need to fill in an online application and submit it by September 1st. Details can be found about this here.
Now that’s we’ve gone over the process for applying to Oxbridge, let’s focus on the crucial deadlines in the process.
1) 1st September: Deadline for COPA applications for organ scholarship (and overseas) applications to Cambridge, and for submitting the online application form for organ and choral scholarships to Oxford
2) 1st October: Registration deadline for those taking the BMAT to read Medicine or Biomedical Sciences (Oxford) or Medicine or Veterinary Science (Cambridge)
3) 15th October: The big deadline. While each subject is different, and some (particularly at Oxford) will require you to put in additional applications (we’ll get to this later) almost all subjects have the same deadline for application, which is the 15th October. By 6pm on the 15th October the year before entry (or two years if you’re going for deferred entry) applicants will need to have submitted their UCAS form. The applications themselves open at the beginning of September, so prospective applicants have around six weeks to get their applications in.
4) 22nd October: deadline for submitting the online Supplementary Application Questionnaire (Cambridge only)
5) 3rd November: the usual deadline for submitting written work to Cambridge
6) 10th November: deadline for submitting written work to Oxford. A small note – your work needs to arrive by or before the 10th November, so make sure you don’t send it too late!
So, you’ve written your personal statement and submitted your UCAS form, registered for the entrance tests and sent in your written work. Now it’s time to wait and see if you’re invited to interview. We’ll go over the interview process in part 3 of our Ultimate Guide to Oxbridge Applications. But in the meantime, good luck!
UK Study Centre have extensive experience in helping students gain places at Oxford and Cambridge. You can learn more about our Oxbridge applications consultancy here.