How To Prepare For Cambridge and Oxford Applications


The information from this article was distributed in the handout of the ‘How to prepare students for successful applications to Oxford or Cambridge’ talk at IACAC 2016 (International Association for College Admission Counseling). The featured contributors of this article are Francis McIvor (British School Jakarta), Elisabeth Marksteiner (International School of Lug and Luzern), Rachel Lister (University of Cambridge), and Katrina Edmunds (Institut Le Rosey).


Studying at Cambridge University

Both universities rank in the top 10 in the QS World Rankings of 2016, with Cambridge at 3rd and Oxford in 6th place. Along with these universities, other commonly known and highly respected institutions include Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and Imperial.

There are many reasons why these universities would be ideal places to study, including a focused curriculum, individualised teaching, world-class facilities and libraries, good funding opportunities, and staff with a high level of expertise. Negative reasons for applying to Cambridge or Oxford would be solely based on their place in the league tables and for the famous name each university holds.

The academic insights into both Cambridge and Oxford involve a specific style of learning such as intense 8-week terms, independent learning, papers not coursework, and terminal exams. Students additionally have a weekly tutorial for each course taken. Essays and independent study subjects are set far in advance, so students can undertake extensive research and complete supervision with tutors.  

An example of these sessions can be found below.

Students and tutors alike praise the supervision system that relies on these sessions because it emphasises structured learning. Attending a university like Cambridge or Oxford is not for those who like to sleep. The schedule can involve very long days and many hours of revision and preparation alongside social and sporting activities.


Slide from IACAC 2016 Presentation 'How to prepare students for successful applications to Oxford or Cambridge'

Now, which university to choose? This depends on the choice of degree, structure of the programme and the focus of the course. The humanities at each university have similar names and approaches, whereas the social sciences degrees have very different approaches. If a science degree is sought after, Cambridge degrees start broad and specialise later, whereas Oxford degrees are specialised from the onset of the program. Examples of these science courses at Oxford include Biochemistry (molecular and cellular), Human Sciences and Experimental Psychology.