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How to become a student at Oxford or Cambridge?

The interview season is just around the corner and the general anxiety of applicants is growing every week. It is known that the interview procedure at Oxford and Cambridge is not an easy one, it is an important part of the application process, designed to seem much harder than it actually is.

It is undeniable that an interview at the University of Oxford and Cambridge is far from easy for the overwhelming majority of candidates, and this is not a myth immortalized in the media.

The teaching system at Oxford and Cambridge is not for everyone and is very different from many other universities. Communication with tutors is limited in time, short periods are very large loads, extremely high standards. At Oxford and Cambridge, the interview plays a fundamental role in choosing the most suitable candidates for this unique environment. Interviews are conducted in order to select from a huge number of applications that come every year from students who look very similar on paper, almost all those who have high academic performance, proclaimed an impulse to study the subject, remembering the recommendations from teachers. Interviews allow teachers to be convinced that they are making the right choice by exposing candidates to similar methods, observing how they cope with a particular task.

“Explain what a banana is” we destroy the myth of questions

You’ve probably heard a story about students who were horrified by insoluble questions, such as “tell me a few words about a banana” or “what happens when you drop an ant?”. It is a pity that such stories still retain their relevance, in reality interviews at Oxbridge for most candidates are more mundane than these questions.

In fact, this is more than a simple discussion, but not often asked such intractable questions, you may even be asked “what do you want to talk about.” Mary Bird from Cambridge spoke about the interview process: My priority is to involve the applicant in the conversation, and not to dissuade him.

Interviewers at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are not impressed by those who tell well-known facts without a word. Oxford and Cambridge require energetic students who think of themselves, independent, with high intelligence, and analytical mindset, quickly perceive new information.

Moreover, the interviews in these universities are aimed at checking how you think, remember, overcome difficult tasks. Interviewers do not always look for the right or wrong answers, in fact, they can deliberately ask you thematic questions that you hear for the first time. This should not embarrass you. What they need to hear is an intellectual, deliberate critical look at a particular problem, use already known facts referring to the fact that you have never discussed this issue before. It’s okay if you say that you do not know the answer, it is important that you try to analyze the question, and not give up the position.

As mentioned above, the interviewer is also looking for someone who can withstand the requirements of the Oxford and Cambridge system, a purposeful enough person so that he can plan his work combining with a tight schedule.

Who is invited to an interview?

Applicants for an interview vary in profile. As a rule, if your application does not have significant flaws – such as poor results of school exams, or negative recommendations from teachers – you will be invited for an interview.

Preparing for the interview

Interviews at Oxford and Cambridge, designed to see how you will answer an unknown question, therefore, there are difficulties with the preparation. However, there are a few things you can do to increase confidence and feel prepared:

Rehearse the interview scene – The situation will seem easier if you were in it before asking someone from the teachers at the school to do an imaginary interview, this will help to get an idea of ​​the university interview.

Focus on the content of your motivation letter. Read it carefully. perhaps they will find fault with every word (they may not ask about the letter, but be prepared), make sure that you do not contradict what is written.

If you were to submit written work as part of an application, then you must refer to the work to use knowledge of the topic, and if asked, you will be able to demonstrate good knowledge in the field you know.

Search Google for news related to your future profile. If you ideally know the news you have an informed opinion on the relevant news, it shows that you are interested enough and up to date with all the events related to your profile.

May suggest to choose the topic you want to discuss. In this case, you need to have a prepared and researched topic, this will allow you to avoid awkward silence, so consider a topic that you are fluent in and be prepared to answer questions on this topic.

We are going for an interview

Upon arrival at your chosen college, in Oxford, you will be offered to stay for one or two nights during the interview.

Cambridge offers accommodation only for those who come from far away, but this should be warned in advance, and may require that you be in Cambridge for more than a day. Arriving at the interview, you can find out for yourself, or Oxbridge is a place where you really want to learn (you should think about it very seriously).

Those candidates who have visited one of the summer school courses based on these universities find it easier and more comfortable here. In any case, your trip will give you an idea of ​​life in the walls of universities, learn from student life.

Who accepts the interview?

Interviews are conducted by teachers themselves. There is a possibility that in the future they will be your teachers. This is a chance to understand whether you can cooperate in the future.

It is a long-awaited time …

When it comes time for an interview, it seems that life is crumbling before our eyes, and you are about to lose everything. Do not kill yourself with unnecessary worries and frightening thoughts. Now, the main thing is to pull yourself together and enjoy the process. In actual fact, the interview may not be as scary as you imagine.

Candidates usually arrive the day before the interview. Schedule with the exact time of the interview hangs in the hall for students (Junior Common Room). A sufficient amount of time will allow you to find the right audience, and navigate the room. Teachers sometimes gather participants in the morning to conduct an introductory conversation.

Your first interview will be of a scientific nature. In some cases, half an hour before the start of the interview, you may be asked to read a small excerpt from the relevant materials, so during the interview you may be asked about reading comprehension.

Most interviews last up to 30 minutes. After that you can relax, study college or take a walk around the city. Later that day, the results of the first stage will be posted, who is going to the next round and when it will take place. If you did not find your name in the lists, you do not need to sound the alarm, this may mean that the teachers are still discussing your candidacy, and in the near future you will be invited to the second stage.

The next interview is usually more general, based on your first interview. It can be carried out in another college, which means that you were not placed in the place where you initially applied. Do not worry, in the end, everyone likes in college where they are directed.

What happens next?

Adjust to the fact that you need to wait for the results before Christmas, which, of course, gives excitement during the holiday period (note that you will not receive an answer this year until January, but the information may change).

For candidates to study at Cambridge, the expectations are always longer, the results will come on the eve of the New Year. The main thing is not to torture yourself with thoughts that you said something wrong or did not fully answer the question. What is done is done.

If you are not accepted …

Do not take to heart. The competition is big, the places are limited, it is inevitable that some applicants will remain disappointed. However, all is not lost. You can always try to come again the next year in a better position. A whole year of additional life experience will give you confidence and maturity, which may well make an impression on the interview.

You have decided to try your strength again, try to dedicate an additional year to your profile. For example, if you sent a linguistic application, live in the country whose language you are learning. If you are a promising medical student try work experience with a medical practitioner or in a hospital.

Here are three main ideas for your year to make the interview a success the second time:

  • Look for work experience in your chosen field. This demonstrates dedication and a start in your career.
  • Read a lot. Try to get a list of recommended literature in Oxbridge.
  • Create a blog where the suggested topics will be associated with the selected area.
  • We hope that our advice will help you prepare for an interview at Oxbridge.


I am Arnett Harrington, an award winning writer, editor and ghostwriter. I have over fifteen years of experience writing articles, blog posts, academic papers and papers for government agencies, government contracting agencies, nonprofit leadership organizations, and private business owners. I have experience writing press releases and reportage content for government-related industries such as defense, technology, aerospace, business, banking, and other sectors.