Navigating the Path to Oxbridge

Every year, the competition for top UK universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, intensifies. Applicants find themselves asking, “What are my chances of getting into Oxford or Cambridge?” The pursuit of admission to these prestigious institutions has become increasingly competitive, prompting applicants to seek insights into their prospects. While the application process remains more art than science, understanding key indicators and leveraging valuable statistics can offer a clearer perspective on one’s standing.


Photographer: Stephanie O’Callaghan


This article is taken from the Winter 2023/2024 issue of

Think Global People magazine

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View your copy of the Winter 2023 issue of Think Global People magazine.
In this article, we at Oxbridge Applications, a UK-based industry-leading university admissions consultancy, bring together key statistics and our mentors’ experience from the past 25 years to help bring you closer to understanding your real chances of success in applying to Oxbridge.

The Overall Success Rate: A Starting Point

At the heart of assessing your chances lies the overall success rate—an indicator derived from the competition for approximately 46,000 applicants vying for 8,000 places at Oxford and Cambridge. For the 2021 entry, Cambridge extended offers to 4,245 out of 22,788 applicants (18.6%), while Oxford admitted 3,932 out of 23,414 applicants (16.8%). While this figure provides a broad overview, it only loosely applies to individuals, as it doesn't consider specific courses, colleges, or an applicant's performance in admission tests and interviews.Furthermore, statistics show that overseas applicants may face slightly different overall success rates. For example, in the most recent 2022-23 admissions cycle, while UK applicants to Cambridge show an overall acceptance rate of 18.8%, international applicants had an overall average success rate of 9.8%. While this number varies from 0 to 100% depending on the specific region, what it tells us is that international applicants on average stand the most to gain from researching and strategising with data-driven insights into their application.

Tailoring Your Path: Success Factors

Course choice: A strategic decisionChoosing your course is pivotal, with acceptance rates varying widely across the approximately 80 undergraduate courses. For example, applying for Maths at Oxford yields an average success rate of about 11%. While we would never recommend that an applicant select a subject that they aren’t interested in academically purely due to its higher acceptance rate, it can sometimes be worthwhile investigating courses within the same subject umbrella that may have higher acceptance rates but still pique your academic interests. Overall course figures, however, still don’t get quite to the heart of what makes one applicant more competitive than the next; for that, we need to delve a little deeper.'Hard' and 'soft' requirements: The essentialsMeeting the 'hard' requirements – specific A Level (or equivalent) subjects and evidence of likely achievement – forms the foundation of any successful offer; without predicted grades that meet these requirements, an applicant’s chances of success fall to effectively. Beyond these, 'soft' requirements, such as recommended or desired A level subjects, add nuance. For instance, certain subjects may be 'desired' but, in practice, significantly impact acceptance chances. This is particularly the case for highly oversubscribed courses, a category into which many Oxbridge courses fall.Weightings: Decoding the processUnderstanding how elements of your application are weighted is crucial. While it's not always explicit, as a rule of thumb, Oxford may place heavier emphasis on GCSEs (or other early-stage examination results) and admissions tests, while Cambridge closely scrutinises predicted performance in school-leaving qualifications. For courses with intense competition, like Maths at Oxford, admissions tests play a crucial role; while getting a very high score is unlikely to carry an otherwise weak application, scoring below the average mark can significantly lower one’s chances of being invited to interview. With this being the case, looking into admissions test statistics (such as previous years’ average marks) can be very useful in preparing for the application and measuring expectations.The interview: A defining momentAssuming you've met initial requirements and performed well in admissions tests, the interview becomes a critical juncture. At Oxford, your chances of acceptance having been invited to interview are around one in three, with this falling to one in four at Cambridge. But again, this figure does not consider performance. While preparing specific answers is challenging, cultivating a logical and lateral understanding of your subject, practising mock interviews, and making connections between topics can naturally enhance your chances.Navigating UncertaintyIn college admissions, outcomes can often be surprising, with underdog candidates gaining admission while top contenders may not. This inherent unpredictability underscores the difficulty in assessing one's chances, as admissions tutors aim for fairness, but face the challenge of subjective evaluations. Our approach to guidance maintains a commitment to honesty and fairness, focusing on integrity and exceptional academic support. We assess Oxbridge candidates through detailed academic interviews to identify areas for enhancement and develop a tailored strategy that covers all aspects of the application process – from university and programme selection to personal statement, admissions tests, and interview preparations. Every individual concern is addressed, with discussions on extra support possibilities. In the face of uncertainties, it's essential to conduct thorough research, prepare diligently, and have confidence in your abilities. Skillfully using relevant statistics in your application strategy can effectively enhance your real-world chances.About Oxbridge ApplicationsFor over 25 years, Oxbridge Applications has been the unequivocal leader for guiding over 100,000 students from 120 countries towards Oxford and Cambridge. Esteemed UK schools like Marlborough College, Haberdashers’ Boys' School, Rugby School, St. Mary’s Ascot, Wellington College, Benenden, and James Allen’s Girls have trusted their specialised Oxbridge application support.

Their offerings include personal consultations, personal statement advice, admissions test assistance, and mock interview sessions, while also keeping educators and students informed about university application updates.Register on the Oxbridge Applications website for free access to a wealth of resources, including the comprehensive e-book "Do you Want to Go to Oxbridge? Tell me about a banana...", essential for applying to Oxford, Cambridge, or any leading UK university.
Starting your application process early, especially for years 2024 or 2025, is vital for success. Early and thorough preparation significantly boosts your chances. For tailored guidance, reach out to their team of Oxbridge graduate consultants at +44 (0)207499 2394 or They provide customised advice to students starting from age 14, leveraging their expertise and detailed statistical analysis to improve your application outcomes.

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