(Original post by H&E)
Following my complaints against persistent repetition of the same questions about Oxbridge, F. Poste and I decided to attempt to construct a document containing the basic information for those in the early stages of the application process. Ultimately, we hope it'll get placed in the announcements section of this forum. In the meantime, however, we thought the best way to fine tune it would be to post it here, where all users of the forum can make their own comments. By far of background, F. Poste and I are from the opposite ends of the school spectrum - I'm at a public school, whereas she was the first applicant ever to Oxbridge from her school. We are both presently in the U6th, holding offers from Oxford, so there may be Cambridge specific information we have missed. Anyway, constructive criticism please - we have worked quite hard at this.
Embryonic Oxbridge FAQ:
This is only a most general guide, attempting to deal with some of the questions which have been repeatedly asked on UKL. It is not definitive! At the end of the day, there is no alternative to doing your own research, reading the prospectuses, visiting the colleges and speaking to students. As a starting block, however, we hope this proves useful.
Firstly, if you are still studying for your GCSEs, it's probably too early to think about university in general and Oxbridge in particular. Do what you enjoy, and do it well - you'll have plenty of time to worry about university later on!
Is it worth applying?:
i) The decision to apply to Oxbridge may be difficult, particularly if you are from a background that is not experienced with the universities. The best way to decide whether you’re “Oxbridge material” is to do your research. It’s important to ask yourself whether you’d be happy there, even without the glamour and reputation that the Oxbridge name carries.
ii) If you think you’ll fulfil the grade requirements, you like the university, don’t mind or enjoy challenging academic work and you have a genuine interest in your subject, then go for it! All you’ll lose is the application fee. Believe it or not, most people actually enjoy the application process!
i) Attainment at GCSE varies considerably among Oxbridge students, as this can depend very strongly on factors beyond ability. Generally, however, you will be expected to be near the top of your school.
ii) If you don't have an A* in subjects related to your course (for example, a PPE applicant with an A in Maths GCSE) tutors may well ask you about this. You should have an explanation!
iii) If there are genuine outside factors which adversely affected your performance make sure you inform the tutors - they will take things like illness, school mess-up or exam board failures into account. The best way to let them know of these problems is to ask the person who writes your reference to include them; there they'll probably hold more weight.
AS and A2:
i) Doing more than 4 AS's and 3 A2's is not required in any way.
ii) High grades are expected - aim for straight A's; most successful applicants will have at most one B.
iii) For some courses, certain A-levels will be expected - Medics often need Chemistry, Biology and either Physics or Maths, for example. However, subjects described as "recommended" in prospectuses (a modern language for history, or history for English) are far from essential. If you are interested in a subject, choose it - you will enjoy it more, and probably get a better grade.
iv) Studying untraditional A-level subjects, such as business studies or sociology, is fine so long as you can show you took them because you were genuinely interested in the course, rather than because they are viewed as easy. However, it’s generally thought that it’s best to be taking the majority of your A-levels in more of the established academic subjects.
i) Tutors are happy to are happy to accept candidates studying qualifications other than GCSE's or A-levels.
ii) If you suspect tutors will be unfamiliar with the qualifications you are studying for, contact them and clarify their position. Be aware that most tutors will be familiar with IGCSE's, Scottish Highers, Baccalaureat(both French and Intl.), Abitur and SAT's.
iii) Whatever you are studying, tutors will expect you to show academic promise.
i) The primary consideration for admissions is academics. Thus you will not be rejected, nor accepted, on account of the fact that you played Tiddlywinks for Middlesex U17's. However, remember tutors will have to teach you, and may prefer to see a bit of individuality, or at least an ability to do something other than academic work.
ii) There are no specific requirements - if you aren't a prefect or didn't make the 1st XV that really isn't a problem. As before, do what you enjoy and do it to the best of your ability.
i) Admissions statistics are hard to interpret, for a multitude of factors. Competitiveness should certainly be considered, but only as a minor factor. Choosing a college because it has a 3:1 ratio of applications to places over one which has a 4:1 is not advisable.
ii) Colleges are not the same! It is worth spending a bit of time walking around them, talking to students, trying to get some feel for the atmosphere. Colleges are not the be all and end all of your university experience, but you will probably spend at least two years living in them.
iii) Do not choose a college because a friend or relative went there - make the right choice for you, not your parents! Never, ever mention that you chose a college due to a family link, it will extremely unimpressive.
iv) College stereotypes will rarely be applicable to the majority of students. Merton students may work harder, on average, than LMH students - but these are only small, relative differences. Colleges are big enough to ensure you will probably find people you can relate to wherever you apply.
v) Unfortunately, some colleges are much more expensive to live in than others. Accomodation costs are listed in the alternative prospectus (see bottom for links).
i) The best preparation for interview is to get as good at your subject as possible. Read around the subject, revise your a-level materials, go through any prepared essays and, finally, just spend time clarifying your own thoughts in your mind.
ii) Remember that generally the interviewers are on your side - they want to give you a chance to show what you can do, not trip you up in some childish way.
iii) A useful way of gaining confidence before interview is getting used to talking about your subject. Find a couple of friends or a teacher, and discuss your subject for 20 or 30 minutes. If you can find someone who capable of asking some difficult questions about what you say, that's a bonus. Also try practicing talking to people you don't know, as this will simulate interviews best.
iv) More and more subjects now require candidates to sit tests at interview. You can check if your course involves a test at interview by looking at the course description in the prospectus. There is plenty of information online, including past papers, designed to familiarise you with the format of the exam to ensure you can do yourself justice.
The extra form:
i) Copies of this should be available from your school, if not, then it’s your school’s responsibility to call up the admissions office and get some copies.
ii) You are not expected to fill in the extra information box; only include something directly relevant to your Oxbridge application which could not be included in your UCAS form.
Oxford Admissions - http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/
Oxford Alternative Prospectus - http://users.ox.ac.uk/~wadh1305/ousu/pubs/ap2003.pdf
Oxford Open Days - http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/opendays/
Cambridge Admissions - http://www.cam.ac.uk/cambuniv/courses.html
Cambridge Alternative Prospectus - http://www.cusu.cam.ac.uk/publications/altpro/
Cambridge Open Days - http://www.cam.ac.uk/cambuniv/ugpros...welcome12.html
Database of previous applicants' experiences - http://oa.waveflex.com