Everyone wants to get into Oxbridge, but how do you get through the doors? The director of Varsity Education James Gold has the inside track

Q:If a student is looking to apply to Oxbridge, when should they start the application process?

A: Early preparation for an Oxbridge application is absolutely essential. Their knowledge and thought process will need to extend far beyond the A-Level curriculum. They should to look to increase their breadth and depth of knowledge in order to fuel both their understanding and interest in the subject. For instance, if they are a history student studying the Civil Rights Movement, they should consider studying the Anti-Apartheid Movement for comparison. Also, the student should try to keep on top of the news and consider how it relates to their subject as it may be discussed during interviews.Q: Is it best to choose a degree which leads to a career path?

A: We always advise students to study a degree which they genuinely find interesting and enjoyable as it will form a large part of their life over the next three to four years. Students that thrive in high-level academic environments are those who are genuinely passionate about their subject. It is always possible to take conversion courses after an undergraduate degree, for a career in law for example, and many careers do not require a specific degree subject.

Q: Choosing a college is quite difficult. Does it matter which college a student applies to?

A: Students should dedicate time to selecting a college as it will be the place that they will eat, sleep and study for the entirety of their degree. Whilst colleges generally have more similarities than differences, it is important for a student to choose the college which is right for them based on their priorities whether it is the size, history or location. It is also important to consider that choosing the right college can sometimes have an impact on application success. For instance, if the student is the right fit for the college, they will find they have more in common with the interviewer, ie. a liberal minded student discussing politics with a like-minded professor will feel more confident and comfortable during interviews. College choice will not stop a top student receiving an offer however, the right selection will undoubtedly make the application process easier.

Q: How can a student stand out to an admissions tutor?

A: Admissions tutors are looking for intelligent, academically curious and interesting students. Simply having straight A*s at A-Level doesn’t necessarily mean a student is right for Oxbridge. Students should seek to develop their confidence and knowledge such that they can have a broad-ranging and challenging discussion during interviews that will peak the interest of an admissions tutor. Varsity Education often advises students to be creative in their preparation. We would reasonably expect any students looking to study law to have visited a court to see the judicial process in action. A more creative student may have attended the House of Commons or investigated the legal system in foreign jurisdictions to understand points of connection and contrast.

Q: We hear a lot about the importance of extracurricular activities. Is this importance overstated?

A: We believe that academic curiosity carries greater importance than extra-curricular activities in the case of Oxbridge admissions. Oxbridge is an elite academic environment and whilst students will often participate in an impressive range of extra-curricular activities, this is not the principle criteria upon which they are selected. Oxbridge academics are world leaders in their field of study. They are looking for students who share their passion and curiosity for a subject to which they have themselves dedicated decades of study. As a result, developing a strong academic profile is more important than undertaking a large number of extracurricular activities.

Q: Should younger readers, such as those sitting their GCSEs, be thinking about their Oxbridge application?

A: It is never to soon to be thinking ahead about your university choices, but students currently sitting GCSEs certainly shouldn’t worry if they have not yet given the topic much thought. The summer after sitting GCSEs is an ideal time for students to start thinking more seriously about whether they wish to apply to Oxbridge. Residential summer courses, such as our two week preparation programmes, can be an excellent way of gaining an inside understanding of the admissions system, understanding whether Oxbridge is right for them and building a road-map towards a successful Oxbridge application.