How To Get Into the University of Oxford?

Founded over 900 years ago, the University of Oxford is one of the oldest and most prestigious academic institutions in the world. It’s also home to many iconic traditions, such as the “sub fusc” exam wear, college families, the Varsity Blue, and Bumping races

Oxford has an effective and well-known undergraduate tutorial system, which allows students to sit and engage with the top academics in their chosen field every single week. Students will also have unrivalled access to a vast and talented alumni network: remember that 28 British Prime Ministers, 120 Olympic medal winners, and over 50 Nobel Prize Winners went to Oxford.

It’s no real surprise, then, that the University of Oxford had an acceptance rate of just under 15% for undergraduates in 2020. Getting into Oxford is a challenging process, requiring months of hard work and preparation.  

Don’t worry if you’re feeling a bit daunted by the prospect of the Oxford admissions cycle: we’re here to help you understand the administrative aspects of the process and to help you optimise your chances of building a successful application. 

Here’s an overview of the 5 main steps in the Oxford admissions process, to help you learn how to get into the University of Oxford. 

  • Create a UCAS profile

  • Submit your application by 15th October

  • Complete extra tests

  • Attend the Oxford interviews

  • Meet your academic conditions

Let’s look at each of these steps in turn, breaking down what you need to do for each one if you want to boost your chances of producing a successful application. 

How to Get into the University of Oxford: Create a UCAS profile

When you apply to Oxford, you’ll have to submit your application through a centralised portal called UCAS. Here, you’ll select the degree you want to apply for at Oxford. You’ll also fill out your personal details, name a referee and describe your education history.

Normally, your referee will be a school teacher. The same person will also fill out your predicted grades on the UCAS portal.

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to write a Personal Statement that’s between 1000 and 4000 characters long (that’s roughly between 250 and 950 words). You can find out more in-depth information about writing an effective Personal Statement in our step-by-step guide on applying to a UK university, but here are a few quick tips:

  • Demonstrate your desire to study your chosen subject by detailing your actions, not writing empty phrases. Rather than simply saying “I have a lot of passion for Physics,” talk candidly about your experiences in science classes, or on a work experience placement you did at a local lab. 
  • Think about telling a story with your statement. A lot of unsuccessful applicants will attempt to list off various achievements and look to tick boxes to impress admissions teams. Instead, you could try to start your statement by recounting an experience that demonstrates and explains your deep desire to study this subject at university. 
  • Oxford tutors recommend that you dedicate around 80% of your statement to talking about your academic and intellectual passions, spending 20% on your extracurricular activities. 
  • Make the most of the 4000 characters. You can’t really say anything impactful or insightful by sticking to the minimum count of 1000 characters in your statement. 

Applying to Oxford via UCAS: Choosing a College 

When you’re applying to a degree at Oxford, you’ll have the option to either apply for a specific college or to opt for an open application. 

If you want more information on how to choose which college to apply for at Oxford, check out the Choosing the Right Course for You section of the A&J Education website.

Submit Your Application by October 15th

When thinking about how to get into the University of Oxford, remember that the deadline for Oxbridge undergraduate applications is the 15th October every single year. That’s nearly a year before you would actually start studying at the university (if your application is successful). 

The Oxbridge UCAS deadline is over 3 months earlier than the deadline for non-Oxbridge universities (which is the 26th January in 2022). This means that you’ll need to start building your application over the summer (at the very latest). Try to get in touch with your chosen referees as soon as possible, so that they have enough time to write a compelling and impactful reference. 

As soon as you begin to write your Personal Statement, the better. Once you’ve got something down on paper, you can tinker and edit the text multiple times. Try to send your drafts to people who will give constructive and honest feedback: you want to submit a final statement that concisely and articulately reflects your personality and demonstrates your academic passions.  

Prepare for the Admissions Tests 

Most undergraduate applicants will have to take an Oxford admissions test for their chosen subject. For example, if you’re applying for History, you’ll likely take the History Aptitude Test (HAT), while those applying for PPE or Geography will sit the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA). 

Make sure that you check which tests you’ll need to take for your chosen subject: you can use the Admissions Tests section of the Oxford site to get more information. 

It’s also worth noting that you’ll need to register for these tests via UCAS, so remember to do that during the Oxford application process. 

Once you know which test you’ll need to take, and you’ve registered for the assessment online, you can begin to prepare. While it’s difficult to know what subject matter will come up in these skills tests, you can prepare effectively by: 

  • Reviewing practice materials. The Oxford Admissions Tests website section has a wide selection of resources, including past papers and workshop videos, to help you prepare for the assessments. 
  • Being strategic with your revision. Read up on the test and find out what specific skills it’s going to be assessing before you plan your revision strategy. For example, if you’re taking that HAT, then you’ll know that it’s testing for “the ability to read carefully and critically”. You can use this information to hone your critical reading skills by analysing journal or newspaper articles and taking effective notes. 
  • Getting excited about taking them. Try to see these assessments as an opportunity to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity and capacity. Tutors won’t expect you to know all the subject matter: they want to see how you tackle an academic challenge. The more you enjoy the whole experience, the better you’ll do. 

Attend the Interviews

After the initial application review, some prospective students are invited for an interview with academic and admissions staff. Not every applicant makes it to this stage. 

The interviews normally take place over two weeks in December after the end of Oxford’s Michaelmas Term. 

If you are invited, you will be provided accommodation at Oxford for the duration of the interviews. Every candidate who is invited for interviews will have a minimum of two interviews but some candidates have as many as five or six (which may be at multiple colleges).

These interviews provide you with an exciting and excellent opportunity to present yourself as a candidate with intellectual adaptability and a strong desire to learn about your chosen subject. If you want an in-depth, step-by-step guide to acing your Oxford interview, check out our article on alleviating stress during the process

Meet Your Academic Conditions

Oxford will give you a decision in early January following the interviews in December. Decisions arrive by post. 

Most Oxford offers will be conditional on you meeting the degree requirements for your A-level or IB exams. These requirements will vary depending on the college you apply to and the degree you’re interested in. 

If you want more in-depth information on whether to choose A-levels or the IB diploma when heading into Sixth Form, check out our article on IB vs. A-levels for getting into the top UK universities. 

How to Apply to the University of Oxford: A Summary 

In case you missed some of the information in the article, here’s a quick breakdown of the main points to remember when applying to Oxford: 

  1. The admission deadline is always on the 15th of October of the year before you are hoping to study. 
  2. You’ll need to create a profile and submit your application via UCAS.
  3. As part of your application, you’ll need to write a Personal Statement and name a referee.
  4. You will have to decide whether to apply for a specific Oxford college or opt for an open application.
  5. You will then have to register for a subject-based admissions test via UCAS.
  6. If you do well in this test and have a competitive UCAS profile, you will be invited for an interview. Interviews take place in December. 
  7. If you receive a conditional offer, you’ll need to get the required grades in your final-year exams. 

If you’d like more information about the Oxford application process, or simply want some help bolstering your UCAS profile and writing an impressive Personal Statement, get in touch with us at A&J Education to book a free consultation.

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