How to Prepare For Oxbridge Applications
There are many myths surrounding the infamous interviews held by both the University of Oxford and Cambridge. Trick questions designed to catch you off guard and stony faced tutors who spend the time assessing your ability to remain calm as they throw increasingly difficult statements in your direction.

Often these stories are blown completely out of proportion but have become legendary, even at the colleges themselves. Take the one candidate who apparently was offered a place on successfully catching a rugby ball as it was hurled in his direction as he entered the room. Or the applicant who entered the interview room to discover there wasn't a chair.

Or finally, the student who found the interviewer engrossed in a newspaper and, after five minutes, set the paper on fire, thus earning themselves a place.

If you're thinking about applying this autumn, it would be surprising if you had managed to escape these warnings. But, as admissions tutors themselves say, the reality of the interview, and the whole application process, is very different.

Now that exams are over, the summer is the perfect time to start preparing your application to strengthen your chances of getting a place at these notoriously competitive institutions.
And no, that doesn't mean practicing your skills on the rugby field.

Make sure you've chosen the right subject
This applies to any university application. Sometimes your first thoughts about a course aren't always correct; don't be afraid to admit to people that you've had a change of heart and now want to study

English and not medicine.
While you may be limited by the AS and A-levels you have taken, it's important that you enjoy the three or four years you spend at university

According to Dr Helen Swift, admissions tutor at the University of Oxford, one good way of finding out if a particular subject is for you, is to look at how happy you are to pursue relevant areas outside school.

"If applicants find that it’s a chore developing their subject knowledge, it’s an indication that they are not as engaged with the topic as they might be," she says. "It might be a sign that they haven’t chosen the right subject yet, and that they need to rethink their course choice.
"Being able to get on with that quite early over the summer, gives you plenty of time to rethink, rather than having a panic come September."

The important thing is to get reading or 'experiencing'. Read around your subject area, pick up some journals, try and get your head around the academic terminology; if it's not something you enjoy when it's optional, then it's unlikely to be something you enjoy when it's compulsory.

Find the right college for you
The University of Cambridge has 29 undergraduate colleges, while the University of Oxford has 30, and each college is distinct in its atmosphere and student experience.

There are old colleges, such as Merton, which dates back to the 1260s, or more modern institutions, such as St Peter's College, which was founded in 1929.

It's a good idea to spend the summer looking into what each college is like and whether it will be the right place for you to study.

You will immediately be able to narrow down your choices by looking at the courses that each college offers. Not all colleges will offer your subject, so your first point of research will be finding those that do.

Once you have done that, have a look at the colleges' websites or, if you are able to, visit the colleges in person. Get in touch with the admissions tutors in advance to make sure you are able to visit, and at what time of day.

According to James Gold, college director at Oxford Summer College, a lot of the decision making comes down to how you feel about the atmosphere of a college.

"You should look at how big the college is, where the accommodation is, is it a sporty college, does it support music or drama," he says. "The overall stance of the colleges can also be quite different, some are quite traditional and conservative, other are more modern by virtue of the buildings and the way that they approach undergraduate study."

Chatting to a few current students can give you a good idea about the atmosphere in a college, so make sure you corner a few on your visit, or check out the individual JCR websites of each college for a student perspective.

Work on expanding your subject knowledge
The long summer holiday is the perfect time to read up on the subject you could be spending three years of your life studying.

As a starting point, take a look at the required reading for your course options and see if you can get hold of a couple of the books or articles mentioned.

Try and pinpoint a particular area you are most interested in and then focus in on that, deepening your knowledge and giving you something to talk about should you get to the interview stage.
According to Dr Sam Lucy, admissions tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge, having a "specialism" will really help to portray your enthusiasm to college tutors.

For more science-based subjects, she suggests reviewing all the content you have covered so far and revising any areas you are particularly weak in. You will be required to demonstrate your subject knowledge at interview, so make sure you are confident with your formulas.

One way of cementing your subject knowledge is to practice talking it over with family members. This also applies to humanities students. You will be required to talk about your subject a lot at the interview stage, so if you can get into the habit of articulating your passion for the degree now, it will be easy (er) when the time arrives.

Start drafting your personal statement
Unlike other universities, who will be looking for interests outside the education sphere, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are looking for a very academic personal statement. It is suggested that 70 per cent of your 4,000 characters should be set aside for explaining why you want to study your chosen course and why you are the ideal candidate to do so.

Although the actual deadline for Oxbridge applications is October 15 at 6pm (UK time), once you arrive back at school after the summer you will only have six weeks or so to perfect your statement. At the very least, it's worth getting some of your thoughts down about what you have done to demonstrate your interest in the subject. However, don't feel pressure to finish it completely.
"Applicants shouldn’t spend too long getting worried about the personal statement," says Dr Swift, "otherwise it can become a focus for anxiety, which isn’t productive."

According to Dr Swift, candidates need to focus on what they have got out of any extra reading they have done, or trips they have been on; rather than focusing on simply describing the book or the excursion.

Relate the points to other aspects of your knowledge and demonstrate how your knowledge has grown from what you have done outside school.

"Students sometimes think they need to have done ‘Significant Things’, such as something that is really high profile or prestigious or important," says Dr Swift. "However, the emphasis should actually be on what students have got out of it. How do you present the experience as your experience?"

While it might also be tempting to exaggerate your experiences or knowledge, Dr Lucy says it's important not to do so.

"Cambridge and Oxford are interviewing universities, so there is always the risk that somebody might probe into what you’ve written in a bit more detail."

She adds that, actually, it's worth having some information left in standby, so you can expand on your experiences should you reach the interview stage.
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