Oxbridge Application Process for Indian / International Students

Oxford and Cambridge universities, also known collectively as Oxbridge, hold a special place in the imagination. In India and around the world, the thought of applying to Oxford and Cambridge is considered a high-status affair among the students and parents. For anyone who wishes to secure a place at an Oxbridge school, needs to meet tough entry requirements, pass admissions tests, and answer famously difficult interview questions. In this post, we will look at the nitty-gritty of the Oxbridge application process for international students.

The Big Buzz around Oxbridge Application

No doubt that these two universities are considered legendary around the world for the repute they have created because of their teaching methods and alma matter.  Thus making it natural as to why they have no trouble attracting plentiful applicants each year.

The Oxbridge application deadline is Oct 15 every year. If you are eligible to apply to either of these institutions it is considered phenomenally impressive, and if an admit call comes in it is like developing wings to fly high!

Oxbridge Acceptance Rates (Undergraduate)

Both Cambridge and Oxford are extremely competitive; especially for international students.

The Cambridge acceptance rate is around 21%. Oxford acceptance rate is around 18%.

Application Statistics for the University of Cambridge

In 2020 (for the 2021 admission cycle), the acceptance rate was ~16%.

Cambridge Acceptance Rate
Cambridge Admission Statistics in the last 5 years (Source)

Oxbridge Admission Statistics
Cambridge Application Statistics by Course for 2021 (Source)

Oxbridge Application Statistics
Cambridge Application Statistics by College for 2021 (Source)

Admission Statistics of the University of Oxford

In 2020, more than 23,000 people applied for undergraduate studies at Oxford for 3,300 undergraduate places. So, that makes an acceptance rate of 14.3%. Read more about the Oxford admission statistics.

Oxbridge vs Ivy League Admissions

You might think that the acceptance rates for Oxbridge are much higher than the Ivy League schools in the US.

Statistically, an applicant’s odds of getting into Oxford or Cambridge are somewhere around 16%. That is higher than even the least selective Ivies (around 7% – 10.6% ), and a long way off the most selective one (Harvard – around 5%).

However, those numbers can be deceiving.

  • You can only apply to either Oxford or Cambridge. So, your competition drops by half.
  • By contrast, you could theoretically apply to all eight Ivies. So your odds of not getting into Oxbridge are static at around 84%. The odds of not getting into any Ivy if you applied to all eight are around (0.927 ^ 8) = 54.5%* (mathematically speaking). Comparing those figures, Oxbridge looks a lot harder.
  • In the UK you can apply to a maximum of five universities. So only serious Oxbridge candidates apply to Oxbridge.
  • In the US, it is unlimited, so a lot of people will “have a go” and apply to Ivy Schools even though they have no realistic chance. That is a big factor behind the really low yields at Ivy League schools.
  • Applicants also need to keep in mind that the nature of the evaluation is very different.
  • Oxbridge applications are absolutely all-in on academic achievement with brutal entrance exams and comparatively less focus on holistic profile.
  • Ivy League schools (and other elite US schools) tend to go for more ‘holistic’ assessments. Every year there are a few head-scratchers who get into Harvard because they are seen as leaders of the future despite having very mediocre academic stats.

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Collegiate System at Oxbridge

Both Oxford and Cambridge operate in a collegiate system, which means they are made up of individual colleges, as well as different academic departments. While academic departments are designated for course designing, teaching, and assessment, whereas the placed college will be your second home when studying.

Colleges not only provide academic and cultural support but have a diverse range of students bringing in a lot of cultural and ethnic value exchange.

But always remember, the college choice does not matter! 

Each college offers the same excellent standard of teaching and maintains a very high academic standard.

Both universities try to ensure that the students are successful in getting a place at whichever college they’ve applied to. But at the same time, an applicant may be interviewed by more than one college.

Oxbridge has similar teaching methods wherein students are made to attend lectures, seminars, classes, and laboratory work in appropriation to their course.

The only difference is in the name: Oxford refers to these sessions as ‘tutorials’, while Cambridge refers to them as ‘supervisions’. 

Different Stages of Oxbridge Application Process for an Indian Student

Always remember, the admission review team is looking for applicants who can portray the greatest academic ability and potential – and based on their close scrutiny evaluation they select those that they think are best suited for the course and can adapt well to the teaching style at the University.

What does Oxbridge look for?

Some of the qualities checked to include

  • Ability and motivation to take a step beyond the regular curriculum at school
  • Clear evidence of independent self-studying and regular practice
  • Willingness to indulge in new ideas
  • Openness to explore and debate ideas and opinions in a logical and analytical manner
  • Self-discipline is one of the key essentials needed to study at such a high-end university because being able to organise time effectively is a mandatory must

Thus, in all stages of the application, the above criteria must be demonstrated. Also one can apply to either Oxford or Cambridge within the same year at the undergraduate level.

Steps of Oxbridge Application Process

The steps of the application include:

  1. COURSE SELETION – First things is to make sure you check the specific details of what the courses at Oxford and Cambridge offer and match it to your liking and career plan.
  2. SELECTING A COLLEGE – Once the subject area is selected which means even the University is finalised, then the next thing to do is decide on the college which you did like to live in. If unsure, then an ‘open’ application can be made.
  3. UCAS APPLICATION – The primary application form where maximum 5 Universities can be selected for application together. The portal opens on 1st September and the deadline for Oxbridge is 15th October 6pm GMT. The application cost is GBP £26.
  4. ADDITIONAL UNIVERSITY FORM – After UCAS, the secondary or additional form/forms need to be completed from the university website.
  5. UNIVERSITY TESTS – Most subjects at Oxbridge require additional tests besides IELTS/TOEFL. This information is available on the course page and needful needs to be done in order to take the test.
  6. ESSAY – Besides the Personal Statement submitted in the UCAS, the university may ask for one or more essays.
  7. INTERVIEW – If all the above stages are crossed successfully, then invite for interview will be sent out. This usually takes place in December. Earlier it was a campus interview but now it is a virtual interview.  
  8. FINAL DECISION  – If all goes well end of January the offer letters are mailed.

Oxbridge Application Assessment Process

So, how’s my application going to be assessed? – A very common question that is asked by parents, students, and even school or college admission counsellors.

Well, it is important to understand that every year lakhs of applications are submitted, and only those applicants get selected – who are predicted to achieve top grades and have a holistic profile.

It’s not possible for Oxford or Cambridge to decide on admission just based on the UCAS applications alone. Thus each university takes a slightly different approach to differentiate between applicants.

Oxbridge applications are usually assessed on a combination of the following:

  • Academic record from class 9 to class 12 mid-terms along with the predicted grades submitted by the school
  • Personal statement or SOP
  • The reference submitted by your subject teacher or school counsellor
  • Additional university form
  • Performance in specified university tests
  • Additional Essay(s)
  • Performance during the interview

How to Write a Personal Statement for Oxbridge Application?

Personal statements for UCAS is a short personalised essay where the applicants have the opportunity to express the profile in words along with talking about the reason for selection of the specific course and share plans on short term and long term goals.

The word limit is 4000 characters; therefore it is necessary to craft the words in a planned manner keeping the entire thing crisp, concise, and precise.

Applicants should take this space to exhibit the self-motivation to learn, the ability to multitask and present oneself as a future achiever. Portraying skills here is a smart way of expressing a lot in few words.

It is vital to always remember that the UCS application is for 5 universities, thus the personal statement should be unbiased towards a specific university and relate to all the applications.

Applying to Oxbridge?

Need more information and tips on writing your Oxbridge personal statement?

What are these additional or secondary forms?

The University of Cambridge asks all applicants to complete an online  Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) besides the UCAS along with needing to complete the Cambridge Online Preliminary Application (COPA).

Whereas the University of Oxford University does not require any extra forms, however, applicants are asked to take an admission test as part of the application.

Oxbridge Admission Tests

Each coursework has its own application requirements, some require additional essays or additional tests.

Preparation for these tests can always be found on the website of the university and it is advised to check the sample papers and practice questions for getting a hold and not going for the test blind.

Most tests are held before the interview. Applicants have to register for these tests well in advance and making sure it is done before the deadline.

All students applying for the standard Medicine program at either of the universities have to register and sit for the BMAT exam as a mandatory part of the application.

For more information about Oxbridge admission tests, please see the Cambridge Assessments and the Oxford Assessments webpages.

How to Prepare for Oxbridge Interviews?

Please note these interviews are not simple straight cut personal interviews like it happens for most universities across the globe. Preparation for the Oxbridge interview needs to be done over a couple of months.

  • The first thing to do is to build knowledge by keeping up to date with the most recent news and developments in the chosen subject field.
  • The next thing is to read up the entire course page of the website in detail – modules offered, teaching methods, assessments ways, details on the faculty, class profile, and career prospects.
  • Lastly, is to work on communication skills especially speaking and listening with brushing up interpersonal skills at the same time.

The interview date varies. Some colleges get in touch just a few weeks before the interview date – therefore, leaving less timeline to prepare. So, applicants should start multitasking with proper focus right from the beginning.

Interviewers are generally looking for candidates who are passionate about their interests, with enthusiasm a criterion for success. Questions might focus on the personal statement. So, it is important to re-read it as a backup and discuss it at length.

Cambridge usually interviews around 75% of their undergraduate applicants; whereas Oxford interviews around 3 applicants for one seat, most applicants will be shortlisted. The purpose and structure of interviews are very similar at both universities.

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Priyamvada Agarwal
Priyamvada Agarwal is a proficient career consultant, educationist & test-prep trainer from Kolkata, shaping the lives of numerous students since 2010. She graduated in Arts from Calcutta University and completed her post-graduate from the University of Cambridge. Over the years, Priyamvada has interacted with and trained thousands of candidates for IELTS/TOEFL/PTE and Verbal section GMAT/GRE/SAT/ACT.  She has also been providing soft-skill & life-skill training to innumerable people through the skill-enhancement workshops that she conducts in MNCs, Private Firms and leading Colleges.
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