Guide To Applying To Oxbridge

By Rita Powell,2014-06-29 09:33
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Guide To Applying To Oxbridge ...



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    Guide To Applying To Oxbridge


    1.0 Why Oxbridge 3

    ; Stereotypes

    ; Tutorial

    ; Collegiate Structure

    ; Reputation and Funding

    ; Is it for you?

    2.0 Oxford or Cambridge? 7

    ; Similarities

    ; Differences

    3.0 Choosing a College 9

    ; Open Applications

    ; Pooling

    ; The Colleges Oxford

    ; The Colleges - Cambridge

    ; Personality of a College

    4.0 Entry Requirements 16

    ; Format

    ; UCAS and Oxbridge Forms

    ; Submitted Work

    ; Extra Tests

    ; Summary Tables of Requirements for Application

    5.0 Interviews 23

    ; Format

    ; Example Questions

    ; More Obscure Questions

6.0 FAQ 35

7.0 Links 37



    What do the following all have in common? ….Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Hugh Grant,

    Emma Thompson, Ali G, Watson & Crick, They are all Oxbridge graduates Monty Python, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, C.S.Lewis…?

    Don‟t try looking for “Oxbridge” on the list of UCAS universities; it isn‟t some brand new institution. It is, in fact, the name used to refer to both Oxford and

    Cambridge Universities - the two oldest in the UK. They were founded over 750

    years ago and between them have produced a large number of Britain‟s most

    prominent scientists and politicians, as well as notable figures in many other fields. In 2006, The Times Higher Educational Supplement‟s world ranking of universities placed Cambridge and Oxford as the second and third most reputable research universities in the world after Harvard. The competition

    between Oxford and Cambridge also has a long history.

Oxford and Cambridge have been careful to preserve many parts of their history,

    retaining a number of traditions that can seem archaic and bizarre to

    outsiders… and even to insiders!

     Hard-working Traditional



     Upper Class


    Ambitious Resourceful

    Conjuring up an image of Oxbridge, one might imagine “dreaming spires” or a grassy quadrangle surrounded by ancient buildings with bearded professors and studious groups of undergraduates wearing mortarboards. Whatever the image your mind, it is more likely to be completely unfounded or at least only a

    snapshot of what Oxford or Cambridge are really about.

The institutions themselves are often seen as quaint and charming but slow to

    change. There are sometimes accusations that students from less affluent backgrounds are at a disadvantage when applying to Oxbridge and that the


universities have kept their traditional reputation of being socially exclusive and

    elitist. This is strongly denied by both universities.

    In the current climate, the Oxbridge brand name can occasionally work against

    the universities it represents. In a society where inclusiveness, transparency and equality are increasingly the cardinal virtues, the air of mystery and privilege which envelopes Oxbridge is beginning to attract strong criticism, as risks

    alienating sections of society.

This is borne out by statistics. Less than 10% of British children are privately

    educated, but they make up 50% of the Oxbridge student body. However, the acceptance rates for the state and independent schools are actually very similar (30% and 24%). The difference is therefore due to who actually applies in the first place. This is the difference in admission and acceptance rates has brought Oxbridge a great deal of undeserved criticism. Both are working hard to

    change the public perception of the Oxbridge brand, but with 700 years of

    history behind them, it is a slow process.

One significant change in the last century has been an increase in the admission thof female students. Women were not allowed to attain degrees until the 20

    century. At undergraduate level, the male : female ratio is now roughly equal.

Both institutions are famed for the high quality of the educational experience

    they deliver. Students are generally taught by some of the world leaders in their

    fields. It is an opportunity to push yourself to achieve the highest levels of achievement you possibly can.

Tutorial / supervision system

    Oxbridge pride themselves on their specialised teaching system. There is more teaching individually and in small groups than most universities. You are therefore expected to be self-motivated and be able to work well independently.

    The principal method of teaching is the “tutorial” (Oxford) or “supervision”

    (Cambridge) system.

These are weekly hour-long sessions in which a small group of students

    (usually 1 to 3) meet up with a tutor or doctoral student within their college. Typically, you will be asked to produce an essay / assignment prior to the

    lesson which will be discussed during the hour along with any difficulties arising from the week‟s lectures. Students typically have 2 or 3 supervisions/tutorials a week. This teaching system is not totally unique to Oxbridge but few other universities have the resources to support such a system on the scale required and rely more on a larger work group (e.g. seminars and lectures).

Small group teaching, with students being taught to communicate their ideas

    with an academic, is an obvious catalyst to increased confidence. If the students

    are constantly required to articulate, defend, think through and adapt their


    ideas under the most rigorous intellectual cross-examination by some of the brightest minds in the world, and they still survive, it make s negotiations in the real world a walk in the park.

Collegiate Structure


     ; Accommodation ; Lectures

    ; Dining ; Exams ; Supervisions/tutorials ; Higher level clubs and organisations ; Bar ; Union ; Social (clubs/sports)

     ; Welfare

    ; Applications

    Both universities are comprised of a number of colleges that provide the

    environment for living, working and sleeping. These provide a small, friendly

    environment within the context of a huge international university. Applications are made through the individual colleges rather than the university itself, so you must choose a specific college you would like to attend (or make an open application). All colleges are part of the university as a whole and students reading (studying) the same subject will be given lectures together irrespective of their college; however, supervisions and tutorials are given within the colleges.

    Accommodation and meals are generally provided by the colleges and a large part of the social life of a student may revolve around their particular college (most colleges have their own bar!). Colleges within the university generally have their own societies and teams and often compete against each other (e.g.

    rowing, rugby, chess, etc.); they will, however, pool their talents in university-wide teams to compete against other universities especially the “greater enemy” (i.e.

    the other, either Oxford or Cambridge) in “Varsity” matches.

Reputation and Funding

Graduates from Oxbridge can generally enjoy good career prospects, as

    mention of these universities on a C.V. commands respect from potential employers.

Oxford and Cambridge also generally have a better level of funding than other

    universities, so their facilities are usually second to none. This also means that accommodation and meals are often subsidised and there are also a number of grants and scholarships available.

On the more negative side, however, Oxbridge doesn‟t suit everyone. You need

    to be extremely motivated and dedicated to maximising your potential. In order

    to achieve a place, you need an outstanding academic record and also a well-

    rounded personality.


Is it for you ?

    Once you have secured a place, it isn‟t all plain sailing. Oxbridge make you work very hard for your degree:

    ; Terms are short but extremely intense

    ; There are usually lectures on Saturdays

    ; There are strict rules on concentrating on your studies and not having a

    part-time job

Oxbridge students aren‟t a certain “type” but all are focused and enthusiastic

    about their subject. If this doesn‟t sound like you, then it is unlikely you would be

    happy there. The best way to check is to go and visit.



You can‟t apply to both, so you will need to choose between them.

    Both are world-class education institutions with reputations for excellence, and it is generally easier to list the similarities between them than the differences.


    ; Age and Tradition - old buildings and often quirky procedures

    ; Beautiful Colleges most are historic buildings surrounded by beautiful


    ; Academic Excellence professors are often leaders in their field; both

    universities can name some of the most exalted political, business and

    academic figures in history amongst their alumni

    ; Social Composition college system; teams and societies; events and


    ; Outstanding Facilities well funded; cutting-edge research centres;

    closely associated with research bodies, companies and spin-offs,

    especially in the sciences

    ; Tutorial / supervision Teaching System small group teaching; intense

    but effective at maximising students‟ potential

Both Oxford and Cambridge are historic towns possessing:

    ; Well-regarded printing houses (Oxford University Press and Cambridge

    University Press)

    ; Botanical gardens

    ; Museums (the Ashmolean and the Fitzwilliam)

    ; Legal deposit libraries (Bodleian and the Cambridge University Library)

    ; Debating societies (Oxford Union and Cambridge Union)


    ; Size Oxford is a larger city, is busier and is more industrial. This also

    means that there is more to do outside of the university and it can feel less


    ; Architecture the “dreaming spires” of Oxford give it a slightly different

    “feel” to that of Cambridge. Which you prefer is completely personal.

    ; Course structures Cambridge offers a “tripos” structure that allows

    you to study quite wide-ranging subjects over the three years , whereas

    Oxford offers more “joint honours” courses where two subjects can be

    studied together.

    ; Unique subjects both offer subjects not available at the other and both

    offer completely unique subjects not offered elsewhere at all (e.g.


    Veterinary Science at Cambridge but not at Oxford, PPE at Oxford, SPS

    at Cambridge).

    o Science Oxford offers all three sciences separately (and also

    some variations, e.g. Human Sciences). At Cambridge, all

    scientists take Natural Sciences and choose modules within this

    which allows more flexibility if desired.

    ; Exams At Cambridge you have three sets of exams at each stage of the

    tripos (end of each year IA, IB and II). At Oxford you have two sets of exams prelims of mods within the first 2 years, and finals at the end of the third.

    Both universities have retained traditions that date back centuries. Both have

    unique names and terms that can initially seem like a foreign language, e.g.

    SUB FUSC formal academic dress worn for exams in Oxford

    BATTELS your bill for accommodation and food at Oxford

    P‟LODGE – Porters Lodge gatehouse to the college

    BEDDERS / SCOUTS people who clean your roomor empty your bins

    MICHEALMAS / TRINITY / HILARY 3 terms at Oxford

Unique Courses:


    Psychology Architecture

    PPE (Politics, Philosophy & Physiology) Land Economy (Environment, Law &


    Human Sciences Economics

    Economics & Management Philosophy

    Maths & Philosophy Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic

    Classics & English Veterinary Science

    What should I take into account when choosing which of the two to apply to?

    1) Courses on offer

    e.g. Architecture offered at Cambridge but not at Oxford.

    Combinations of subjects (e.g. PPE, SPS, Natural Sciences)

    Joint courses offered at Oxford at Oxford (e.g. History with Economics/

    Politics/ English)

    Cambridge less flexibility, but with the tripos system you can move st subject after the 1year (e.g. Law / History of Art)

     2) City

    Oxford is larger so there is more on offer outside the university.

    Cambridge is more tranquil but can be more insular.

     3) Location

    Transport to London is cheaper and easier and easier from Oxford (coach


    Cambridge can be more isolated.

    Both are surrounded by beautiful countryside.


     4) Family / friends

    There may be a family tradition of attending one or the other ( but check

    this suits you as well !)


    The Oxford and Cambridge collegiate systems are a rare phenomenon. The individual colleges enjoy a surprising degree of autonomy, controlling to some extent their own entrance policies, permanent staff, finances and disciplinary proceedings. Each college employs a body of Fellows or Dons whose

    research and teaching largely defines its academic reputation. Each college

    also has a large number of non-academic staff who regulate the life of the buildings and students. The most significant for the undergraduates are the

    Porters and the Bedders / Scouts. The Porters are based at the college

    gatehouse ( Porter‟s Lodge) and are responsible for overseeing the comings and goings of tourists, students and visitors. Bedders at Cambridge and Scouts at Oxford clean the students‟ rooms.

Each college has a dual function:

    1) it is the hub of pastoral life; the place where you live, eat and socialise

     2) it is the centre of academic life

    The only areas affecting undergraduates where authority is centralised as a university-wide body are lectures and exams.

Colleges are also physically discrete: each has its own grounds and

    accommodation and, as a result of their physical and academic independence, each college has a strong character of its own, and a separate identity that

    its students are free to either embrace or ignore. The character of a college depends both on its make-up of students and fellows/dons, and its traditions and history, with records and stories that stretch back for centuries. Not only does this guarantee a unique experience for the members of each college, it

    creates tremendous diversity in the university as a whole: each friend you

    make in a new college opens up a new experience.

The colleges also provide a close, friendly, familiar environment. Whistle

    college life tends to be warm and inclusive, none of the activities that bind a given college are ever compulsory, and some people choose to participate mainly in university-wide or town activities. Broadly speaking, the collegiate system offers all the care and individual attention of a tiny establishment,

    with the resources and academic clout of a huge one.

    There are over 60 Oxbridge colleges including some that are for mature students only. For undergraduates, there are 29 at Oxford and 25 at Cambridge to choose from.


    There are several factors you need to consider when choosing the correct college to apply to:

; Subject

    o Does it cover your subject?

; How likely am I to get in?

    o What is the applications: places ratio for my subject?

    o What is the academic reputation for my subject ?

    o Don‟t just look at overall academic rankings – rankings within your

    subjects are more important. Also, the number of applicants per

    place doesn‟t give an idea of the quality of those applications.

; Quality of teaching

    o How many tutors are there for your subjects?

    o What is their reputation?

    o What do the current students think of the professors that teach


; How academic?

    o Will you be under great pressure to achieve?

    o Does this type of environment suit you?

    o Is the library well stocked for your subject?

; Architecture / Feel

    o Gothic? Renaissance? 1960‟s concrete? Historical or modern


    o Spacious gardens or compact? Are you allowed to sit and relax on

    the grass?

    o Sleepy and quiet or busting and active?

    o “Personality” of the college – do you feel content here?

; Facicilities

    o Gardens, accommodation, computer facilities, gym, sports facilities,

    theatre, choir, and, chapel, etc.

    o How many meal in college per week? Formal Halls? Cost of these?

    o Is accommodation available all three years? How close is the

    accommodation to the college / town / faculty? (Some college

    housing may be away from the main college site)

; Location

    o Proximity to the town centre / your faculty

; Single-sex colleges

    o Cambridge Newnham and New Hall are female only


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