University of Oxford FAQ - Applying

Many people apply to Oxford without a great deal of thought, simply on the basis of its reputation or because, having got three As at AS level their school have encouraged them to. This tends to lead to a lot of very simple questions which hopefully this section will answer.

Before you apply

Many people have a mental image of the "Oxford type", which usually involves some combination of tweed, pearls, a trust fund, 25 A-levels, no life, or being a personal friend of a tutor. Hopefully you're already aware that this is a very long way away from the truth. Students are admitted to Oxford purely on academic merit: and the work-hard play-hard ethic perpetuates: Oxford students tend to get involved in far more extra curriculars than people at other universities (as helped by the collegiate system). So now you know you have a chance, what do you want to know?

How important are my GCSEs / A-levels / aptitude tests / Personal Statement / interview?

All of the above factors play some role in deciding whether or not you get an offer but they vary widely by subject. For Medicine the BMAT and your GCSE scores are used to remove the majority of candidates. See here for details. For other subjects the cut is less severe - the History HAT removes the bottom 20% of candidates only. It seems generally accepted that while bad grades may raise a question mark (although far less so in irrelevant subjects - your aptitude in German is unlikely to impact upon your application for Physics), good grades do not guarantee you a place. An applicant with "lesser" grades may be accepted over one with straight As since the age of 5 if he is seen to have natural flair and passion for his subject. In the same way some subjects (such as English) will use your Personal Statement to supplement the interview (asking you about texts you have read etc) while others seem to ignore it entirely.

Naturally less-than-perfect grades may not put you at the top of the list prior-to interview. But remember that TSR is full of people who got in with only 1 or 2 A*s at GCSE - as well as those with perfect 600/600 UMS scores who were rejected. Your grades are not the be-all-and-end-all.

I really love my subject but I'm not ready to give up studying a language / doing English / my interest in politics. Can I study a Joint Honours degree?

Many universities - especially the former polytechnics will allow you to pick and choose your own course from all the subjects they offer. This is not the case at Oxford - there are a very limited number of joint honours programs. But this does have the advantage that if you DO study Joint Honours then you won't just be studying English and studying History - you'll have "bridge papers" which cover common ground between them.

Language degrees are almost always joint honours. Some students do study "French Sole" or "German Sole" but this was a relatively new innovation in the last 5 years. Most students studying just one language will do combine it with Linguistics, although others do Joint Honours Language and English / History / Philosophy / Classics. Also available are English and History; as well as combinations with Philosophy (Maths and Phil, or Physics and Phil).

Some programmes are ALWAYS Joint Honours (e.g. Economics and Management, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and Philosophy and Theology).

I study the IB / French Baccalaureate / Abitur / APs. Will I be at a disadvantage? Fewer students with alternative qualifications are accepted than with A-levels, but this is often simply because they don't have the support in their home country in applying. American students especially, who have often been schooled for breadth and encouraged to apply for a liberal arts education, may find themselves without the depth of knowledge expected.

I come from a state school. Is Oxford full of private students? In 2006 47.6% of applications came from state-maintained schools. 47.1% of offers were then made to these students. The short version is that the lack of state-maintained students in Oxford is purely a function of a lack of applicants.

Naturally, a large proportion of those students come from grammar schools. However 26.7% of offers still go to state schoolers (compared to 27.3% of applicants). There is nothing to prevent you from applying!

If you come from a particularly poor educational background (to the extent that your grades are far above the average there) then it may be worth considering the Oxford Access Scheme.

How important is it to visit the college I apply to before I apply there?

If you're able to visit Oxford before you apply then it's worth the visit. You can guarantee that while facilities and food are important, some colleges will just give you a buzz! However, at the end of the day, 20% of offers are given by a different college than the one you originally applied to. And EVERYBODY ends up loving their college!

I really want to go to Oxford - I've heard it's very prestigious. Are there any subjects / colleges that are easy to get in for?

The short answer is no. For EVERY degree program at Oxford you will need A*AA or AAA at A-level or the equivalent (depending on the course requirements), and there will be at least 2 applicants per place (rising to around 10 for E+M and Medicine). Oxford regularly admit to being forced to turn down capable candidates because of a lack of places. There's no "easy college" either. Colleges send one another candidates to increase fairness - 1 in 5 offers are given by a different college to the one that the candidate applied to.

Will it help me if I sign up to a commercial event claiming to give practice?

As a general rule absolutely not. Oxford do run their own summer schemes (such as UNIQ) for various subjects, but there are also a lot of independent companies charging extortionate sums for so-called "master classes". Some of them claim quite favourable acceptance ratios for their customers - but this is largely based on helping internationals who are not used to the British system, and simple things such as interview practice and looking over personal statements that are available far more cheaply elsewhere.

How do I Apply?

How do I apply to Oxford?

There are no special routes for applying to Oxford. All applications have to go through UCAS, just like all other UK Universities.

However, you may need to submit written work, or take a written test for some of the courses that Oxford offers. The courses are listed herealong with any special subject requirements. You also need to select a college (or make an open application) before submitting your application.

If your application is shortlisted you will then be invited for an interview.

Oxford University recently made a short animated film about the application process, available here.

Picking a College

Should I pick a college to apply to where the tutor's interests correspond with my own? Will they talk about them in interview?

For many subjects (sciences especially) teaching is very much specialised, with you being passed around the department to be tutored by specialists. Your college tutor's interests will therefore be irrelevant to your education. The interview is about you, not them, and at the age of 18 you're unlikely to be able to engage in reasonable discussion with them. Attempting to do so is more than likely to just embarass you.

Is a college's position in the Norrington Table important?

The Norrington Table is a previously-unauthorised, recently-made-official table comparing the achievements of Finals students across all colleges. It changes a lot from year to year, so as you can imagine a lot of it can be taken with a pinch of salt. A few things should be noted though:

1. Merton is consistently top of the table, followed relatively closely by Magdalen and Christ Church in either order. Part of this is attributed to Merton's philosophy of offering extra tutorials and more contact time. Its reputation as "The Geek College" is not really deserved - but for those students who do want to achieve highly the support at Merton is definitely there.

2. Arts students and science students tend to be spread across 1st - 3rd rather differently, with proportionally more 2:1s in say English and more 1sts and 3rds in Maths. The Norrington Table is weighted in favour of 1sts (i.e. 5 points for a 1st and then 3 for a 2:1, 2 for a 2:2 and 1 for a 3rd). So colleges which take more Arts students are likely to feature lower in the table.

So essentially... take it all with a pinch of salt!

Does it matter which College I apply to?

Essentially, no. It's just down to personal preference, all the lectures are given by the same Professors no matter which college you attend. However, the tutors do vary between colleges, but you will have no way of knowing who your tutors will be before you apply.

Although, it is worth bearing in mind that not all colleges offer the same courses, and some courses are far more heavily subscribed for certain colleges than others.

See here for an animated film made by Oxford University about applying to Colleges.

The UCAS form

What are they looking for from my Personal Statement? The PS has varying importance depending on subject, with some merely using it to get rid of anybody who's clearly not interested, and others basing entire interviews on its contents. The basic rules are simple. Your statement should scream passion: Why do you love your subject? Which bits in particular interest you? What have you done (books you've read, TV programmes you've watched, lectures you've attended) to demonstrate this passion. Sell yourself - it's amazing how concise you can make a statement (In the PS Helper forum we regularly half the length of a statement by removing waffle) so make sure that the most important things are in there and that you sell yourself.

I have tonnes of extracurriculars. Should I mention them on the application form? If they are relevant then yes. If they are not then no. If you think you can make them relevant and have the space then go for it. The only subject for which extra-curriculars are truly application-determiningly necessary is Medicine. For all other subjects extra curriculars can be very useful to demonstrate your interest, and to express how you're suited to the course as a person, but they're unlikely to damn you if you don't have them. One thing to be aware of: Lying is a daft idea. You can just guarantee that the obscure sport you claim to play will be the interviewer's favourite.


I'm coming from abroad / Scotland / Newcastle - can I stay the night before my interview?

Most colleges, if not all, will offer accommodation to all interview candidates for the length of time they are required to be in Oxford.

The letter says I WILL be needed until December 10th but MAY be needed until December 11th. What does that mean? What do I do about trains? Will they still accomodate me?

Generally you will have a certain number of scheduled interviews (1-3) that are predetermined before you arrive. However the college may decide to interview you again, or to send you to another college. A release notice will be posted telling you when you can go home. The timing of these varies by subject but they usually go up at 9am, 2pm and 5pm. If you have far to travel then tell the college ASAP and they will try to arrange a room for you for an extra night - they won't just leave you on the street!

I want to stay in Oxford to do some shopping. Can I just hang around?

The official answer is no. For some colleges there will be room and you may be able to hang around for an extra day if you plead long distances. However some colleges (e.g. Jesus) do not physically have space for all the applicants (and will be using accomodation at other colleges already) and should you try to pull a fast one will point you in the direction of the Backpackers' Hostel.

Do I need to wear a suit for my interview?

No. For some subjects - such as law and medicine - the majority of applicants will. However as a general rule your tutors may not even dress in suits and if it makes you uncomfortable it's far better to go in other clothes. (We don't advocate turning up in hot pants or a t-shirt with an offensive slogan but you get the idea - I personally went in jeans and got in just fine!) Some people may find that being in a suit puts them in the right mindset, and if you're used to wearing one then you may feel ok like that, but nobody is going to reject you because you work a t-shirt.

What can I do to prepare?

It depends by subject. For some, such as English, the interviews may focus in part upon texts you've studied, or read for pleasure. No matter what your subject is, check up on any books you've mentioned. It's a good idea to make sure you know your basic A-level stuff - but these interviews are a test of aptitude not how much you know. Scientific interviews will often cover topics that you haven't studied in your A-levels and are designed to test the way you think, rather than how much you know.

Will I have interviews at other colleges?

For some subjects (such as Biology, Engineering and Physics) you will be assigned another college for a second interview before you even get to Oxford. For others, some people will be interviewed again while others won't.

I've been sent home early / asked to stay for another interview. Is this is a good / bad thing?

There are many reasons for having extra interview - some positive and some negative.

If you are only interviewed at the college you applied to then the most likely reason is that you were either a 'definite yes' or a 'definite no' at that college.

If you were interviewed at more than one college, and weren't expecting to be, then the reasons for this can be incredibly varied. There are the obvious ones - such as a candidate who the interviewers feel may have been nervous and underperformed, or one who they would like to offer a place to but have had some exceptional candidates and have no more spaces left. Several tutors teach at more than one college, and if they disagree with a colleague they're interviewing with at College X, they may send you to College Y if they think you'll get a place there. There are also extra interviews that have nothing to do with your getting in - some heads of department will send around a candidate to demonstrate "the standard we should be expecting", and tutors may swap candidates to compare the standard they've received that year.

Above all, you cannot know what it's for. So just relax, remind yourself that you've obviously not been rejected outright if you're being interviewed multiple times, and take the opportunity to impress them some more.

How will I know if I'm going to be interviewed again?

All the colleges will keep a board somewhere with interview times, and extra interviews will be added. So make sure you keep an eye on it! If you are to be interviewed again at short notice they will probably try to call you on your mobile: but don't worry. If the interview helpers cannot contact you they will call the college and tell them: you won't be blamed for not being available with only an hour's notice!

Decisions and beyond

How soon can I hope to hear whether I've been accepted?

Previously, letters could go out on the final week of interviews. Nowadays, however, every college in the University will send a letter at the same time. For 2016 entry this will be on January 6th. Colleges usually send a letter, but some send an accompanying email as well. Do not worry if you haven't got an email! Further, don't expect UCAS Track to update for a week or so. Each college will send all letters (rejections and acceptances) out at once. These are normally sent first class.

I'm going on holiday over Christmas - how will I find out whether I've been accepted?

You won't find out until January anyway!

I just got my rejection letter. Can I appeal?

Sorry, but no. By the time you get your letter the decisions have been made and the offers going out. You may think your application was near-perfect: and perhaps it was. Every year Oxford reject people who they COULD have taken, but they had better applicants. On the other hand there may have been some gaping flaw that you just didn't notice. There's also the possibility that smart as you were, and good at your subject as you are, you're just not suited to the Oxford system. If being interrogated by a tutor made you feel uncomfortable, then try to bear in mind that this is a bit like tutorials are: every week.

I just got my rejection letter. Can I go to my second choice university and reapply while I'm there as a first-year, so I wouldn't have to take a gap year?

Well Oxford don't accept transfers: so you'll be doing your first year twice. You also have to do it with the full understanding and backing of your university tutor. Which means asking somebody you've known for a couple of weeks to write you a reference (bear in mind that you still have to apply by October 15th). Technically, yes it is possible. Just make sure you ask yourself why you're doing it. And whether you'd be able to really throw yourself into university life for a year, just to leave at the end. Sometimes taking a gap year and gaining relevant experience can be what makes your application.

If you were rejected once already, will Oxford be biased against you?

It's generally recommended that you don't apply to the same college twice, as tutors are likely to remember you. But beyond this there's nothing to prevent you from applying again. There's no magic list with names blacked out, and even Oxford accept that within the year you've been away you may have changed, or the competition may just be less strong.

I don't think I like the college I've been assigned to. It's too old / new / small / big / far from the centre / close from the centre and just doesn't have that Oxford flair I was looking for. I'm horribly disappointed and don't think I even want an offer from them. Would I be able to change colleges once I'm there, or would I only be able to avoid Suck College by turning down my Oxford offer?

"Migrations" as they're called are very rare, and are only generally given out if a student changes subject or has serious personal problems. No matter how disappointed you are now don't forget that you don't have to spend all your time in college: all you really need to do there is eat and sleep. You can socialise wherever you like. Besides which, everybody loves their college in the end!

Achieving your offer

Do I really have to get AAA to get in? What if I miss it by a grade?

An AAA offer really does mean an AAA offer. In 2006 6% of Fine Art students were let in without AAA - and that's the highest percentage of any subject. For some subjects (namely Medicine, E+M, Engineering, Physics, Maths, Computer Science and History with ML) not a single person was admitted without meeting the full offer. The university gives "open offers" - which are an official offer but with no definite college. If you miss your grades then that person takes your space.

For IB the university is historically slightly more lenient (possibly because an IB point is considered "smaller" than a whole A-level grade) but the situation is still not promising for those who slip a grade.