top of page

Should you apply to Oxford/Cambridge? My top tips for preparing an application

By Leah Aspden

This time last year I made the nerve-wracking decision to apply to the University of Oxford. I’d never really thought about attending and had always seen it as a naturally unattainable feat. That was until my ex-boyfriend got in and I finally saw through its daunting stigma and decided to just go for it. A year of hard work, unparalleled effort and 6 interviews later I have an offer to study English and German at St Anne’s College that I’m praying will be met in summer this year!!

I come from a small village in the North West, so Oxford to me felt like wonderland. I could never quite describe why it felt like home despite its drastic difference to my own. My Mum had me at 16 and a few in my family were unconvinced that Oxford was for someone like me, so in my head it had always been for the privileged few and I definitely wouldn’t fit in. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My ex had made some amazing friends and getting a glimpse of that life when visiting him only made me fall in love with Oxford more. I started preparation very early and it helped massively reviewing the material and preparation work bit by bit over a few months. That is my story cut massively short, so let’s dive in to how I started my application and how you can too!

My Top Tips for Preparing your Application

Overcome the fear: The scariest part of the application is the fear of not getting in. I don’t like the term ‘rejection’ or ‘failure’ personally because I feel neither touch on the mental and physical effort that each individual puts into their application. But the way I saw it and continued to remind myself of it as was the only way I definitely won’t get in is if I don’t apply. I used this as a mantra for the times I felt like giving up, but it is definitely true. Regardless of the outcome, in the years to come when you look back you will be able to look back in pride and be able to say ‘I tried my best’.

Do it for you and nobody else: The interviewers will know if your work is your own passion and your own dream, so stay true to yourself. If you feel Oxford is the place for you then YES of course go for it! But if you would rather go to another university then that is your decision and your future. There is enough pressure on young people as it is to decide what they want to do without outside influences dictating their futures for them.

GCSES should not be your primary concern: If you are in year 11, this is not to say that they are not important, the harder you work the better, but this is to say don’t spend hours like I did agonising over your GCSE results. I didn’t get any 9s, I got four 8s, six 7s and a 6 and I managed to strike lucky. If you are the right candidate for your course and you prove you have put the work in in your A-Level studies and supercurriculars then they will support you. There are people I know who were unfortunately unsuccessful who got nearly all 9s, it is so subjective. But regardless these grades do not define you. 

Make use of ANYTHING offered to you: Oxford has dedicated pages and even twitter accounts to events they hold for potential applicants. It isn’t just the UNIQ summer school or Sutton Trust Programme. In preparation for my application, I went to Oxford for a Modern Languages Study Day hosted by Exeter College and when I didn’t get on UNIQ I went to Cambridge for an English day (which at the time I wasn’t even considering) just to get the experience. On that day I met one of my now best friends and also crossed Cambridge off my list and got a free water bottle. Anything offered by any university is preparation and there is so much out there, regardless of background.

Think what the course wants from you: For example, I did history at A-Level and loved it, but I took a look at the course structure on the Oxford website and thought oof not for me. It is absolutely fine if there is a part of the course that massively interests you and another not so much. For me, it was Medieval English and German which I thought sounded great but realised it is only one part of the course, but I could specialise in it in 4th year if I wanted to. If you are massively interested in French grammar but not so experienced with English Literature and therefore French literature, then it is totally normal, and you will certainly not be the only one. But if you read carefully the Oxford course for modern languages is very literature heavy, so any way you can prove your affinity for literary analysis will be invaluable to you in your Oxbridge application, and they will be impressed that you have pushed yourself.

More tips from Leah coming soon!

My personal blog:

List of resources I found useful in preparing: (practising for the ELAT)

bottom of page