How to get into Oxford University
For Undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MS) degrees
Oxford University received 22,000 applications for 2018 entry. Tutors carefully studied each application to make a shortlist of candidates for interviews. Finally, only about 3,200 were offered admission, providing a glimpse of how difficult the competition is to ascend to “the rarified reaches of academia,” as someone put it.
If you want to go to Oxford, you need to apply a year ahead of the start of your course by completing an online UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) application form at UCAS. Applications open in early September and close on October 15. The application process is only conducted online. You need to check the deadlines so that you have all the information and material to send your application on time.
Undergraduate Admissions at Oxford University
Choice of Course
The first step to applying to Oxford is to choose a course. You can study the details of each course, and if possible, attend an open day at the university. You should be passionate about your area of study and yearn to pursue it far beyond what you did at school. If you can, go for extra coaching classes or read from university books and on the Internet.
Choice of College
You can either choose a college from the over 30 colleges available, or you can make an open application and let the university allot you a college. Find out which colleges accept applications for the course that you want to take up. You can choose to specify your preference for a college but you can even leave it open. The final decision is not yours. In 2017, 35% applicants got offers from colleges they didn’t specify. College campus codes are listed here
The next step is to check the admission requirements for the course. Oxford demands near-perfect grades. The general requirements are between A*A*A and AAA at A-level, or equivalent, depending on the subject. You need to develop a work ethic to achieve excellent grades right from early days at school. Build a positive attitude to working hard.
There are also specific subject requirements for some courses. For example, some require candidates to take a test or submit written work.
Extracurriculars are important, but you should not indulge in them to such an extent that they take your attention away from your academic studies. Oxford makes it clear that extracurriculars are taken into account only if they help to show how you are qualified to join Oxford. You don’t have to be incredibly well-rounded to be accepted at Oxford. But take care not to neglect your interests apart from studies. Try to achieve a fine balance.
Generally, your application requirements include the following:
- Personal Statement about the subject that you want to study
- References from your recommenders – teachers, etc
- Standardized Test Scores – English fluency and other subject based entrance tests
- High grades/GPA in high school with special course grade requirements as per department you are interested
- Examples of written work (as per various department requirements)
- Application fee
Visit the course page of the university or undergraduate admissions page for details.
Your personal statement should complement what your recommenders have mentioned regarding your achievements. It pays to link your accomplishments to the subject you want to study at Oxford. If you have done any work related to your favorite subject, mention it. Remember that points from your personal statement may come up at the interview. Express your interests, with honesty, evaluate your accomplishments, stay away from plagiarising material. Here’s a guide provided to write the personal statement.
It is recommended that you choose a referee, a teacher or someone who can vouch for your academic achievements. The reference should reach the university before the application deadline and is required to be in English.
Test Scores – English Proficiency and others
If you are not a native speaker of English, you need to pass an English proficiency test, such as IELTS or TOEFL. Many courses also require an admissions test. Check your course requirements page to see if an admissions test is required. For instance, the department of Chemistry requires a Thinking Skills Assessment:Section 1 test, Computer Science requires Mathematics Admissions Test, applicants for Medicine are required to take the BMAT, etc. Most of Oxford’s tests are administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing. Check the Oxford application guidelines for information on registration, deadlines, preparation and other information.
- TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE
- ETS TOEFL iBT Test Format and Preparation
- IELTS Exam – Eligibility, format, pattern, etc
You are required to specify your grades, standardized test scores, qualifications, but are not required to send any transcripts at this stage. Those will be asked for only if you are offered a place at the university. The general requirement, as mentioned before, is very high grades A*A*A and AAA at A-level, or any international equivalent of the UK grading system, depending on the subject.
Many courses may require additional submission of proof of the quality of written work produced by you and marked by a teacher. Each piece needs to be within 2,000 words and should have a cover sheet to describe the work. Courses like Chemistry, Computer Science, etc don’t require any written work, while English and related subjects definitely do. Check the course pages for the individual stipulations.
If you are shortlisted, you will be called for an interview. If you are an international student living far from the UK and has been shortlisted, the interview could be held on telephone or the Internet. Applicants for Medicine need to attend the interview at the university.
The interview aims to assess your academic abilities and academic potential. Usually, on average, there will be two interviewers at your interview. Do you have the motivation and enthusiasm to excel in your subject? Can you think independently and engage with new ideas beyond what your curriculum necessitates? Can you approach a problem in an analytical way? These are some of the questions your interviewers will try to find an answer for. Much of the teaching at Oxford is conducted through small tutorials, and the university will try to judge whether you can learn in this way.
At the interview, you will need to apply your knowledge to answer the questions of the interviewers. You will require a broad understanding of various aspects of your area of interest. For example, if you are an art student, you will be asked to discuss a painting that you have not seen before. You will be expected to mention the relevant influences or movements.
Tutors feel that some candidates who have prepared carefully perform less well than those who have not (watch this Oxford Pathways video for a short Interview Tutorial)
Tutors prepare shortlists of candidates to interview in late November or early December. They usually conduct interviews from early December to mid-December. You may not receive a notification about the interview until a week before the big day. If you don’t receive an interview call, it means your application has not been successful. For starters, here are some Interview Tips obtained from various sources.
- Relax and be yourself. You will be able to think more clearly
- Practice speaking about your subject with friends, teachers, or family, or record a vlog
- Prepare to answer some general questions about your subject, such as why you chose it and what role it plays in society
- For a subject that you studied in school, brush up on what you’ve learned
- Read newspaper and journal articles on your chosen subject
- Before the interview, re-read your personal statement and other written material that you’ve submitted
Graduate Admissions at Oxford University
Oxford has a rigorous curriculum, and the university wants to find out whether applicants will be able to shoulder the academic burden. Some departments require a minimum GPA of 3.7 on the 4.0 scale and others a minimum of 3.5. In order to show that your interest in your subject goes beyond the regular curriculum, you could join clubs in your current university or join an internship. Develop a background knowledge about your chosen subject by reading whatever you can find on the Internet or get your hands on.
You should find out more about the graduate program you want to do at Oxford by visiting the university’s website. Find out if you are eligible for the program you want to apply for and the grades required. Some disciplines have specific requirements, such as Säid Business School courses and programs such as Postgraduate Certificate in Education, clinical medical degrees, and software engineering.
You should know about the application process and requirements such as standardized tests, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and written work that you have to submit.
Just as in the case of undergraduate study, you may choose a college for your graduate study or make an open application and let the university allot you to a college. Whether or not you are admitted does not depend on your choice of college and you may be assigned to another college. Find out which college accepts applications for the graduate study in the subject of your choice. Other considerations for choice of college include accommodation for couples and families, and funding programs.
To provide letters of recommendation, choose a teacher who knows your academic work and your ability and potential. Inform him or her about the process and the deadline. Make sure that the teacher submits the recommendation on time as Oxford does not send reminders.
If you are not a native speaker of English or from a majority English-speaking country, you will require to clear an English proficiency test such as IELTS or TOEFL. Ideally, you should take the English proficiency test before the application deadline. If you clear it after the deadline, have the scores sent to the university or submit them yourself as early as you can.
Complete and submit your online application well before the deadline. Gather all the material you need in advance to avoid last-minute problems. Tick off all the required material from the checklist available on the applications page.
MBA Admissions at Oxford University
If you’re looking for an Oxford MBA, follow the links below for additional guidance.
- Oxford MBA – Deadlines, Fees, Essays
- How I got into Oxford MBA at Said Business School
- Life as a student at Oxford MBA
- Oxford vs Cambridge University
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