Finishing touches for your Oxbridge application form
So, hopefully you've decided you're going to give Oxbridge a go and you're working away on your personal statement (if not, hint: start drafting!). There are loads of resources out there on what makes a good personal statement, including this video created for UCAS by someone who reads them all day every day for a living so probably knows a few tricks.
But Oxbridge is a fraction more involved than the typical application, so here's a few other things you might like to consider:
1. Some colleges are more oversubscribed than others.
This is not a huge secret. You can read this data for Cambridge (pdf). What you'll notice in Table 5.1 is that some colleges are flooded with applicants, often from particular school types.
Apply to the college you like and for which you meet the entrance requirements. It really is that simple. You don't have to be a sheep and apply to the same college everyone else from your type of school does.
2. Colleges give strong clues as to what they're looking for
It is worth checking this before you choose a college to apply for. Some colleges will ask you to send in samples of your school work, others will ask you to do a written test or sit an additional exam. Really, this shouldn't daunt you for three reasons. Firstly, if you're applying for Oxbridge have a bit of faith in yourself in being able to jump the hurdles! Secondly, it might put others off which is to your advantage. Thirdly, once you graduate you're going to spend a lot of time passing tests and writing job applications so if a slightly tricky process bothers you now just wait 'til you've finished university! It is good life experience.
3. Some subjects are more oversubscribed than others
One of the things that makes it very difficult to discern any possible biases at Oxbridge is that in some cases the number of applicants for a subject is very small and in all cases each college only admits a few applicants per subject so it is all quite fragmented (you might like to consider that next time you're reading some tabloid tripe).
If we look at Anglo-Saxon or History of Art as examples you'll see the numbers applying are tiny. Where there are slightly more candidates you can pick out some surprising finds. Take Classics for example, typically considered the domain of 'posh kids': actually in 2013 at least, your odds of being accepted from the maintained (state) sector were 62% versus 47% in the independent sector. Conversely, Law seems to have favoured candidates from the independent sector.
What does all this mean? In all likelihood it means insofar as schools go, that Classics had a good year for candidates from state schools and Law had a good year from the independent sector. But it also can't be escaped that the overall admissions odds seem to be rather a lot higher for Classics than for Law!
The other point to note is that you can switch subjects half way through. Colleges don't like you doing this, but it is worth bearing in mind if you're really torn between two subjects that you love equally. Love is the keyword here. You do have to actually love the subject and be able to demonstrate that! This is your priority number one! So don't ever say "If I don't like it, I can always switch, right?"
PS Make sure you read the form
A good friend of mine filled out his form in a rush and put 'X' in the box where it said colleges. He was then very surprised at interview to be asked why he had chosen his particular college. Sensing quickly that he must have done so on the form without realising, he made something up on the spot and got away with it. Of course, had 'X' turned out to be the code for one of the all girls colleges, he could have found himself in more trouble. The other thing to learn from this is that despite his utter lack of preparation, he got a place. So don't panic if you've left it late - I hadn't considered applying until about three days before the deadline when someone mentioned it to me.