Applying to Oxbridge

Careers Aug 23, 2021

If you are applying to the UK for college, you may have already given Oxbridge (Oxford + Cambridge) a thought. After all, the idea of having conversations with amongst the most renowned in their particular fields and studying in colleges where a ton of academic history has been created is quite fascinating. If you are looking to apply or are at least thinking of it, here are some things you might want to consider.

There is no typical Oxbridge applicant.

So many people have a monolithic image of how an Oxbridge applicant looks. They see someone with star-studded profiles and stellar international achievements, amidst which they get intimidated and end up deciding not to apply. But an Oxbridge student is just anyone who is passionate about their subject and thinks critically about it.

Don't let a "what-if" deter you from applying (unless, of course, you have five universities you prefer over Oxford or Cambridge). Because that is the only way to guarantee you won't get in.

Is this really what you want?

While this may sound obvious, it is still something many people may forget to do: think about why you want to apply. Do you like the course structure or specific modules? Are you interested in the academically stimulating environment it promises? A fair share of aspirants often have universities they would rather go to. But they offer "because it's Oxbridge" as reasons for applying.

At the end of the day, a university is much more about just getting a degree. And before choosing to spend three years (or more) of your life there, you may want to reconsider your options if you feel you may not actually enjoy studying at Oxbridge.


Requirements generally range from A*A*A to AAA. Most equivalent international qualifications are also acceptable. The University of Cambridge accepts fewer international qualifications independently, often requiring additional qualifications like the Advanced Placement exams.  Many subjects also require you to take additional exams, many of which for Cambridge are at the interview stage. But do check out web pages for your respective courses to get a better idea.


Your super-curricular engagements are your opportunity to provide how you think in the context of your subject. These form a critical part of the Oxbridge admission process as they help determine whether their academic environment suits you.

Additionally, one mistake many applicants often tend to make is mentioning everything they've done. But admission officers are not looking for lists but reflection. They are not interested in the number of books you can name but how they affected your thought process.

Internships, fellowships and the like may be a bonus, but they are definitely not necessary. It is easier to find these if you have the social capital towards that path, and admission officers recognize that. What matters the most is how you utilized the opportunities that were accessible to you.

If you want to talk about volunteering or internships done in areas unrelated to your subject, it may be good to do so by going into the transferable skills you gained through them. You can also check out our Tomato Timer episode about perfecting your personal statement to find out more about what are colleges exactly looking for.

The Collegiate System

Both Oxford and Cambridge are made up of over 30 colleges. Regardless of what college you go to, you are ultimately a part of the university department. So, you will have access to the same lectures and similar academic resources. Choosing a college is more about other preferences like accommodation, location, size, societies etc.

If the college you go to makes no difference to you, you can make an open application, and you will be pooled to any college with relatively fewer applications. At the same time, though, do note that making an open application does not increase your chances of getting in. If the college of your choice cannot accept you, but they feel your application is strong enough to be a part of the university, you will be pooled anyway.

Hopefully, that should give you a basic overview of applying to Oxbridge.

Amidst all this, please remember to not reduce your worth to the university you go to. Give your best shot, enjoy the process, celebrate if you get what you want and give yourself the space you need if things don't turn out the best. Either way, we got you. Good luck!


Ritika Singhal

Senior year student passionate about social justice and inclusive reform | she/her