The universities of Oxford and Cambridge, sometimes collectively referred to as “Oxbridge” are two of the most prestigious universities in the whole of the United Kingdom, and the world as well. Aspiring students from all around the world have their eyes keenly set on the pursuance of their higher education from Oxbridge. Earlier, we had covered the Oxbridge application process. In this post, we will discuss how to get into Oxbridge from India.
How to Get into Oxbridge from India
Co-authored by Priyamvada Agarwal and Parinita Gupta
For an international student, especially one from India, it is a big decision to consider Oxbridge for their future education. Not only does it involve a major relocation from one country to another and uprooting their entire life; but there’s also a significant amount of hard work, dedication, and investment required for them to achieve this big goal of getting into the prestigious Oxbridge since you can apply to only one between Cambridge and Oxford at the undergraduate level.
How hard is it to Get into Oxbridge?
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%.
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.
Chances of Getting into Oxbridge vs Ivy League
- 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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How to Start Preparing for Oxbridge?
If you wish to get into the world’s most renowned universities. It’s important that you start preparing and start early! In fact, 2-3 years prior! This gives you a major head start against others and also gives you more clarity and an edge on what you want.
The first step here would be to start by focusing on getting high grades when at high school. As an Indian student, it’s already expected of you generally to score as high as possible from your parents or other family members. But if you wish to get into Oxbridge, this is a must, and this time not to please your family members, but Oxbridge itself.
Grades isn’t just where it ends of course. Opting for relevant subjects in high school that you wish to study at Oxbridge is also important and if you plan on studying medicine, going for arts while at high school wouldn’t be the smartest decision.
That being said, another important aspect is focusing on improving your English language, and your understanding of grammar and how it works. Thorough knowledge of English literature helps as well. At the end of the day, it’s Oxbridge, and English is one of the most important aspects of studying at one of these universities.
You must also ensure that what you choose to study at high school or post-high school is recognized by both these universities.
Requirements to get into Oxbridge
There are minimum requirements that every Oxbridge aspirant is expected to fulfill. Though sometimes sounding rather shallow, this is important and is in fact only the first few parameters on the basis on which students are judged and evaluated upon from the wide range of other parameters that these universities get on to at the later stages of evaluation.
Of course, you must meet the cut-off or minimum grade requirements of these universities and the course that you have chosen. Apart from that, you are also expected to be physically present for the interview. The pedestal of these universities is quite high and therefore they expect nothing short of the best student who is completely willing to commit and dedicate themselves to studying at the university.
However, if for any reason, such as VISA, etc. an international student misses the chance to be physically present for the interview, the universities are quite understanding of the issue, but then again, they expect you to at least try your best if not anything more.
Steps of Oxbridge Application Process
The steps of the application include:
- Course Selection – 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.
- zcollege Selection – 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.
- 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.
- Additional University Form – After UCAS, the secondary or additional form/forms need to be completed from the university website.
- Entrance/Admission 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.
- College Essay(s) – Besides the Personal Statement submitted in the UCAS, the university may ask for one or more essays.
- Personal 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.
- Final Decision – If all goes well end of January the offer letters are mailed.
What does Oxbridge look for in an ideal candidate?
The application process of these universities is known to be extremely rigorous if that’s already not apparent from what’s been mentioned above.
These universities ask their candidates questions in new, different, and unique ways in their search for their ideal candidate, so much so that it questions them on every aspect of their mind and brain and their understanding of the world around them, constantly challenging their intellect and analyzing on their curiosity for what’s unknown and also what’s already known to them.
It is highly suggested that an aspirant be prepared for these questions by reading up on as much as possible about the history, current affairs, and anything that’s relevant to the course that they’ve chosen. The university needs to know that the course that you have decided to take up is going to help you in the long run and that you in fact a dedicated to it.
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Top Assessment Factors for Oxbridge Admissions:
The most obvious difference between admissions at Oxbridge and other universities is the emphasis on academics. You need to have consistent academic grades from Grade 9 onwards.
If you are taking the IB, a score of at least 38, including core points is required for Oxford with 766 at a higher level. For Cambridge, the typical requirement is a total score of at least 40 including core points, and 776 at a higher level.
It has been known for Cambridge to make offers of 42 points with 777 at a higher level, particularly for the sciences and maths. This is something to consider when choosing between the two as Oxford rarely makes such high demands.
While other universities may decide to offer you a place based on other skills, extracurricular interests, and experience you have, it’s your academic performance and ambitions that really interest Oxford and Cambridge admissions tutors.
Many colleges and many subjects at both Oxford and Cambridge now require you to sit admissions tests. These are additional tests, which you arrange through your school or a test center, that aim to test your knowledge of concepts, your critical thinking, or both.
Each test is explained on its own website where you can find more information, as well as past papers which are crucial for practice before the real test. Look out for our blog about admissions tests coming soon. In the meantime, you can go to the relevant website (Oxford or Cambridge) and check if you need to take an additional test and if so, which one.
- Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) — required by Oxford for a number of subjects including Psychology, Chemistry and Geography
- National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) — required by many universities for applicants reading Law
- Medical College Admissions Test (UKCAT and BMAT) — required by many universities for applicants reading Medicine
It’s always Much More than Just Grades
After you submit your UCAS application form, Cambridge applicants are expected to fill in an SAQ. SAQ asks for extra information on top of your Ucas application, including:
- education and qualification history
- personal details
- topics covered as part of your AS/A-level (or equivalent) courses
- registration numbers for admissions assessments (if applicable)
Oxford doesn’t have an SAQ, but it does require applicants for most courses to take a test as part of the application process.
Personal statement and Essays
It is an important part of any university application – and whether applying to Oxbridge or anywhere else, it’s a great opportunity to highlight your academic potential and to demonstrate that you’ve read widely around your subject (particularly important for Oxbridge candidates!).
But while it might be used by other universities as a means to decide whether or not to offer you a place, Oxbridge admissions tutors have all that additional information about you on which to make their decision – your test scores, interview performance, submitted coursework – making it less of a priority.
Your personal statement is likely to be used as a guide to what to ask you at the interview, so make sure you’re able to talk confidently about anything you include.
Performance during the Oxbridge interview
A good deal of the teaching at Oxford or Cambridge takes place in small classes (‘tutorials’ at Oxford and ‘supervisions’ at Cambridge). In many ways, your interview will be replicating this type of class to assess whether you’re suited to the teaching style.
Interviews are less common at other universities and can range from the Oxbridge-style ‘exam out loud’ to more of an informal discussion about your suitability for the course.
Interviews at Cambridge normally take place in one college, often on a single day – but Oxford applicants will usually stay for at least a couple of days and maybe be interviewed at multiple colleges.
Genuine Interest in the Subject
- Tutors can easily identify when a student is not really that interested in their subject. Therefore, it is critical that you pick the right subject for you in the first place as it is very difficult to fake interest at interview. That said, if you have picked the right subject then you should naturally come across as interested!
- It is also important to boost your knowledge by reading widely around your subject. Both universities will have a reading list for each course and you should use this to guide your reading. Pick books you really like the sound of and make sure you read them before the interview!
- Take inspiration from the reading list to find your own books. For example, if there is a book on molecular biology which interests you- find more information on that subject by yourself. This will show initiative and will help you come across as knowledgeable and engaged in your subject at interview.
- Having said that, don’t try to mention your reading at every opportunity as this may come across as forced. The reading should help you naturally chat about interesting topics and subjects which is exactly what the interviewers are looking for!
- It is true that the best Oxbridge candidates have often read widely around their chosen subject and have put a lot of effort into finding out more about subjects that interest them. However, tutors at Oxbridge are looking for more than just the ability to read and regurgitate information.
- They are looking for critical thinking. This somewhat broad quality is what sets apart good candidates from great ones.
- Broadly, being able to think critically means that you are able to objectively analyse and evaluate an argument, theory or statement in order to form your own judgement.
- Whenever you read information, be that in a textbook, in an academic journal, in a newspaper or online, you should not only be taking the information in, but also processing it, evaluating it and coming to your own conclusions about it. This may include but is not limited to:
- Identifying different arguments based around a topic or issue
- Evaluating an argument or statement in order to identify its strengths and weaknesses
- Using the above to form a reasoned and evidenced argument of your own.
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Why should Indians consider Oxbridge?
The answer is quite apparent at this point. Everything from lifestyle, opportunities to the quality of education, is better at Oxbridge, UK and not just in comparison with the quality of education in India, but rather the entire world. Oxbridge should most definitely be a consideration for all students, especially the ones planning to study medicine, law, engineering, or English!
The cities in which each of these universities are located happen to be two of the major cities of the UK and offer an ample number of opportunities for fresh graduates. Apart from that, the lifestyle that both these cities have to offer are unmatched to that of anywhere else in the world, so undoubtedly the debate shouldn’t even be if Oxbridge should be a consideration, the real debate is why it should be the first choice and that’s pretty apparent by now.
But, here’s the tough question!
How to choose between Oxford and Cambridge?
The choice of making a decision between Oxford and Cambridge is probably one of the most difficult ones to make for anyone. Both these universities are absolutely outstanding and spectacular at what they do and offer top-notch education and academic life in all of their departments and course programs.
When both of them are the best, which one does a person choose?
The answer lies with you in fact.
Consider Syllabus / Curriculum
Start by analyzing the syllabus and the course structure of your program in both of these universities and weighing your pros and cons.
Choose the Right Content and Format
Deciding between which content and format of the course would be the best and most comfortable for you to study. After all, this is what determines the next few years of your life, if not the whole career trajectory, which by the way, it probably will. Analyzing this will give you strong indications of what’s best for you.
Focus on Location
Another one of the major factors to consider is the locations of both these universities. Despite both these cities offering an ample number of opportunities and an unmatched level of lifestyle, they happen to be quite different from each other. The campus of both of these universities happens to be quite different as well. Therefore, a brief (or a long) visit might be of help here.
Getting a chance to ‘feel’ the university, its environment, and the city would help you give major clarity on which of these you should choose.
Featured Image Source: SI-UK