Is Oxbridge all it’s cracked up to be?

Oct 10, 2013 by

They top the university league tables and receive no end of media attention. But are Oxford and Cambridge all they’re cracked up to be? And how hard is it to get a place to study there?

Plenty of Britain’s top jobs are taken by Oxbridge graduates. Around 62% of high-flyers in the diplomatic service, 58% of those in the law, and 55% of those at the top of the civil service were educated there, according to research by the Sutton Trust. But this doesn’t mean Oxbridge is necessarily the best place to study, says Stephen Isherwood of the Association of Graduate Recruiters.

“Lots of students decide that they’d prefer to go elsewhere because they prefer the course syllabus or because the institution is a specialist one. The musician Jamie Cullum, for example, rejected a place at Oxford to study at the University of Reading. You’ve got to think long and hard about the institution, the course and what you hope to get out of it.”

And while an Oxbridge degree might sound impressive, it won’t guarantee you a job. “There’s no denying that Oxbridge have some really bright students, so they might be more targeted by employers. But talk to any recruiter and they’ll tell you that they’ve turned down a fair number of Oxbridge candidates – just because you’ve been there it doesn’t mean you can walk through the door.”

If you do choose to apply there, the best advice is to ignore media stereotypes and “make sure you know why you really want to study the course you’ve chosen for the next three or four years”, says Naina Bajekal, a student at New College, Oxford University. There isn’t an Oxford type, agrees Mike Nicholson, head of undergraduate admissions at the university. “We’re just interested in bright students who care passionately about their subject.”

So how does the admissions process work?

Roughly speaking, Oxford and Cambridge receive just over five applications for each place. Candidates are shortlisted on the basis of their predicted A-level grades, GCSE marks, personal statement, school reference and any entrance tests or work submitted. Cambridge promises to interview “everyone who has a realistic chance of being offered a place, which is over 80% of applicants each year.” At Oxford, 60% of those applying in October 2011 were invited to interview, with 35% receiving offers.

Of those students starting at Cambridge in September 2012, 83.1% achieved A*A*A or above (400+ Ucas points), counting only their best three A-Levels, and excluding general studies and critical thinking. Some 74.3% of those awarded a place at Oxford in 2012 achieved the same grades.

Both universities consider candidates’ educational or social background when making offers. Oxford uses a “flagging” system to identify and support candidates who come from poorer neighborhoods or who have been in care, explains Nicholson.

“We get all the information about an application together – the Ucas form, aptitude tests and so on – and then if we’ve got candidates who have been given a contextual flag and we feel that we should interview them, even if they haven’t done as well on the aptitude tests, we will interview them as well.”

This policy does not disadvantage any non-flagged candidates, adds Nicholson. “Their place isn’t being taken by someone who has a contextual flag, we’re just interviewing some additional candidates.”

Cambridge also consider candidates’ academic record and predicted grade “in the context of the quality (but not type) of schools/colleges at which it was achieved.”

The success rate of students varies across the board, but you can find details for each individual course, broken down by private and state schools, by searching the interactive below.

If you do decide to apply, you’ve got less than a week left to submit your application – the deadline is 15th October.

Is Oxbridge all it’s cracked up to be? | Education |

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