An Insider's Guide to Applying to Oxford and Cambridge

Helen Charlesworth works in the Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach Office at the University of Oxford. Below she provides a guide for those preparing their Oxford or Cambridge applications, and some Top Tips for applying to Oxford or Cambridge.


Oxford and Cambridge universities hold a special place in many people’s imagination. With several hundreds of years of history and countless appearances in novels, films and television programmes, the two institutions are very well known across the globe.

This can be a great advantage in attracting applicants as our reputation certainly precedes us. However, there are some disadvantages as well, as our portrayal in the media has led to some popular — but false — stereotypes about what kind of students we admit.

In truth Oxford and Cambridge Universities:

What makes Oxford and Cambridge such special universities?

The collegiate system

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Is it for you?

Check the course details

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Choosing between Oxford and Cambridge

Entry requirements

How to apply

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Assessing applications


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Tests before interview

Tests at interview

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Written work

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Top tips for applying to Oxford or Cambridge


  1. Choose a course you are really passionate about.
  2. Read widely around your chosen subject. It’s not enough just to do well at school or college. Tutors have often devoted their life to their subject, so of course they want to teach students who share their enthusiasm.
  3. Practice talking about your subject: not just with your teachers and fellow students, but with other friends and family members. Talking to non-experts is an excellent exercise as it gets you thinking in new ways and helps you to find new ways of expressing the concepts and issues involved.


  1. Stretch the truth on your application form. Tutors may ask you about anything you include in your application, so make sure it’s all correct.
  2. Spend time worrying about which college to apply to. There are far more productive ways to spend your time.
  3. Lose heart! The application process is very competitive, and sadly there just are not enough places for all the people who apply. However, the only way to guarantee you will not be successful is to not try at all. Why not go for it?

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