What are university Admission Tutors really looking for in applicants applying to Oxbridge?

So you have received your AS-Level results, in some cases if you are taking a Gap Year, you will also have received your A2 results. The dust has now settled from Results Day, you have celebrated your results, and now you are thinking about applying to university. If you have top grades across the board; congratulations. But for those who do not have straight A*’s at A-Level, do not think that this prevents you from being a competitive candidate applying for Oxbridge. Of course there will be some candidates who have maximum grades at GCSE, AS-Level (and maybe A2 Level), but there will be many candidates who are eventually offered a place at Oxbridge who have AAA or A*AA. This is because Oxbridge Admissions Tutors take a holistic approach to each application; they want to understand YOU as a potential member of the university (or college) community. Academic results are just one part of the wider picture. This is not to say your results are not important – a strong set of GCSE grades demonstrates a good work ethic –  and strong AS / A2 results demonstrate you can compete with the academic rigours of the university course; but it is still only one (albeit very important) component of the admissions process.

Below are 5 additional factors, aside from stellar GCSE and AS / A2 results, that Admissions Tutors are looking for in applicants applying to Oxbridge:-

Wider Reading 

It is simply not enough to apply to Oxbridge – or indeed any other competitive university – without reading outside of the narrow AS and A2 syllabi. This is particularly true for candidates applying for humanities and social sciences. Through your own wider reading, you are able to explore in more detail areas of your subject that you find particularly interesting; for example if you are applying for PPE at Oxford, but have a real passion for political thought, then reading Sopin’s “Libertarianism and Federalism” or Mill’s “On Liberty” will allow you to demonstrate your commitment to the subject and more importantly will give you an opportunity to share your own unique perspectives on your chosen subject in your personal statement. Being different is the name of the game. You do this by providing details around YOUR interests, passions and ambitions.

Wider reading will also serve as a starting point in your interview, and thus will give you another opportunity to demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for your subject as well as the chance to communicate your own opinions on the given topic.

Strong Performance in the Admissions Tests

Cambridge tends to require candidates to submit individual marks for their modules while at Oxford there is a wide range of admissions tests, especially for the humanities and social sciences. Candidates should attempt a mock paper 8-10 weeks before test day in order to identify areas of weakness and to become more familiar with the test format. Making sure what the admissions tests are assessing are crucial to ensure your preparation is as efficient as possible. For example, PPE applicants preparing for the TSA should focus on critical thinking exercises, law applicants preparing for the LNAT should read high quality articles and think about argument structure and assumptions that have been made in the text, and history applicants preparing for the HAT should practice explaining and analysing historical texts and writing cogently at length. Thorough preparation for these tests will ensure that you perform to your maximum potential.

A Genuine Passion and Enthusiasm for your Subject

Admissions tutors are looking for candidates who have a real passion for their subject. How do you know if you are passionate about your subject? Students whose extra-curricular activities involve their subject or who talk about their subject outside of an academic setting and who constantly want to learn more about the subject because they love it, will be able to exude this enthusiasm in an interview setting which is almost impossible to fake.

A Strong Reference 

A glowing reference from an educational professional – such as your teacher or Headmaster – is a crucial part of your application. Admissions Tutors will be looking for references that demonstrate the student’s academic potential, passion for their chosen subject and a “likeability” which will fit well into the university community. An independent reference from a third party goes a long way in building an Admission Tutor’s confidence in your application. If possible, guide your referee on themes and topics that you would like him / her to mention, so that it ties in well with your personal statement.

Strong Performance in Interview 

This is where your application is won or lost. A very strong candidate on paper who performs poorly in interview and is unable to communicate why he wants to study his / her chosen course will face disappointment. Conversely, a candidate with AAB or AAA who can articulate passionately, but genuinely, why he / she wants to study the course will be rewarded with an offer. The interview process is so important because of the teaching methods at Oxbridge. The tutorial system requires students to defend their arguments and engage in academic debate with their tutors twice a week. Strong communication skills, the ability to listen, an agile mind and being likeable, are all necessary in order to make the tutorial system work. An interview is the only way Admissions Tutors can assess which students will thrive in the tutorial system.