Mon 25th October 2021

So you want to go to Oxford! And why not. Oxford (and Cambridge) are two of the world’s most renowned universities, with a tradition of teaching which stretches back almost a thousand years. Both are small medieval cities, and are made up of colleges, each with its own character , which provide the opportunity for students to live , eat  and study together as part of an academic community. 

But Oxford is not for the faint-hearted. You need to enjoy discussion, debate and defending your ideas. The core teaching method is the tutorial, where one, two or three students meet with their tutor once or twice a week to discuss their essay or other assignment. The workload is intense and reading lists are long. There is no escape… you cannot sit on the back row of a large lecture theatre and fall asleep. You need to think for yourself and be able to express yourself clearly. Whatever your subject, it is a wonderful preparation for the world of work. 

Oxford welcomes applications from the brightest and the best students worldwide. There is no magic formula for success….you must have an excellent school record and show that you have the stamina to work hard in a very competitive environment. 

Almost certainly you will apply to Oxford  before the results of your final school examinations, eg Abitur , ALevels, AP, or IB. Remember the closing date for your application through UCAS is October 15th, earlier than other universities. You will need to have a good academic reference, and to write a personal statement , which we will discuss below. Your previous school results ((I)GCSE or equivalent ) are very important , since it is the only solid evidence that admissions tutors will have of your academic ability. Typically Oxford expects at least  6 grades 8-9 in GCSE, for example.  

Of course your predicted grades in your ALevels or equivalent  must be excellent. Typically Oxford  will be looking for at least  A*AA at ALevel or 40-42 points in the IB, 4 APs at grade 5,  or 1.1/1.2 in Abitur.  If your first language is not English you will be expected to have at least 7.0 IELTS, or equivalent (eg TOEFL 100). 

But many students achieve these grades. The top universities therefore need additional criteria by which they can select the best students. This is why there are admissions tests in many subjects . At Oxford and Cambridge the admissions tests include BMAT(Medicine), ELAT (English Literature), MLAT (Modern Languages), LNAT (Law), MAT(Maths) , PAT(Physics) and TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment, leading to various degrees). These tests are not intended to assess subject knowledge, but your aptitude for studying a certain subject. For example the MLAT sometimes asks candidates to work out the meaning of phrases in an invented language and the TSA often asks candidates to logically interpret data from a written article. All the tests are looking for the ability to reason critically and to express yourself clearly. Sample papers do help, since you are then used to the format of the examination, and they are available online.  The tests are normally taken in November. In some subjects you also need to submit samples of written work and the Oxford University website will provide full information (www.ox.ac.uk/admissions)

Alongside your previous and predicted  exam results, the UCAS form contains a reference from your  school or college of the student, and a Personal Statement, in which you must try to impress the admissions tutors by writing about why you  deserve a place, and your enthusiasm for your chosen subject.

The admissions tutors assess these forms, and the results of any tests you have taken in November, and then offer interviews to the students they feel are the best candidates.  The interviews take place in December. 

The personal statement is very important. It should have three ingredients:

•    Why you want to study your chosen subject. This is very important. Having been part of an admissions team at a leading University I used to tire of reading about applicants “enjoying football” or “have travelled extensively”. This does not show anyone why the candidate is suited to studying History or why the tutor would enjoy teaching him or her. If you have done any additional reading about your subject, or if you have used your initiative to gain insight into it (eg by attending some lectures in your local university) then this does warm the admission tutors to you. 

•    As a potential member of an academic community you need to be able to show a breadth of other interests. It does not matter what they are….sports, cinema, debating and lots of others…. but these interests must be actively pursued. No-one is impressed by a candidate who watches chess on television. You need to show that you will be a worthwhile member of the University and will contribute to its life. 

•    You also need to show that you are a mature and responsible person. Work experience, holding positions of responsibility or voluntary work all help. You are a member of society and need to show that you can make a contribution.  

The interview procedure is almost unique to Oxford and Cambridge, and is the best way for the admissions tutors to decide which candidates are the most talented in their subject of choice. Overseas candidates are normally interviewed in their own countries. Candidates are generally interviewed 2 or 3 times, in order for the tutors to gain a complete picture of the student and their academic interests and abilities.  Tutors will also ask questions about your Personal Statement, and about your own particular areas of interest, both in your chosen subject and more generally. 

After the interview period the tutors will offer a place at the university for the students they believe to be the best candidates.These offers are normally made in January. 

The offers given are conditional upon the results of school leaving examinations  , which you will  sit the following Summer. Therefore, in order to gain the place on your  course of choice, you must gain excellent results in these  examinations. Many students fail to make their offers, and therefore cannot study Oxford. 

Admissions rates vary from subject to subject. For example admissions in Classics last year were 45% of applicants, and in Economics and Management 6%. 

If you receive an offer and obtain the required grades, your course will begin the following October. You will spend part of your summer holiday reading and preparing yourself for the start of your course, where you will receive some of the best teaching  in the world.


How we can help 

Oxford International Study Centre has many years of experience of supporting students in their preparation for admission to Oxford (or Cambridge, where the application process is very similar). We do this in three ways:

•    Guidance with your personal statement. This is usually under the supervision of a Senior Tutor in your chosen degree subject, and the content and structure of your statement is checked by the Principal before submission; 

•    Tuition for the admission tests. This is in the hands of our tutors who have extensive experience of teaching for these tests . Several of them also teach for the University. We draw upon our bank of sample and past exam papers . 

•    Interview preparation. Over many years we have compiled a collection of sample interview questions, often drawing upon our academic connections in the University here. We provide guidance from two tutors, one a subject specialist, the other dealing with more general questions . You will be given practice in how to get to the essential point of the questions and how to express your ideas successfully. You will be given a mock interview with feedback from a panel of tutors. 

Michael, who gained a place for English Literature at Oxford, wrote:

"All in all, truly outstanding, both for summer courses and university application help.
In 2015 and 2016, I spent two weeks in Oxford with OISC in the summer and each time, it was an enriching experience: fascinating lessons, (extremely) friendly staff and interesting activities in the afternoons.
Additionally, OISC were able to offer me invaluable advice and support for my (successful) UCAS application and university interviews. The wealth of information provided was, I believe, crucial in mastering the British application format; I was then excellently prepared for an additional A-level needed for my application by e-mail tuition with Philip.
In short, I was extremely satisfied with the services provided by OISC, and would like to give special thanks to Philip (for his demanding but rewarding lessons and essay marking) and Dawn (for her constant support)."

Our programmes can be taken on line or in Oxford. They are designed for individuals and we offer flexible packages. If you would like a quotation, without commitment, please send me details of your present studies, chosen degree course, and the things you think you need most help with. I will then get back to you with suggestions and fees. 


Carolyn Llewelyn, MA(Oxon)
International Director
Oxford International Study Centre 
www.oxintstudycentre.com