Applying to Oxbridge

I studied chemistry, economics, mathematics and history whilst at sixth form but it was as far back as Year 9 that I first thought about applying to Oxford or Cambridge. I was fortunate to visit Worcester College, University of Oxford as part of a G&T trip organised by the school. It inspired me to work hard for my GCSE's! I'm now studying law at Churchill College, Cambridge.

Needless to say, Cambridge is better than Oxford, as least that’s what the league tables say! For me though, the differences between the Law course on offer led me to choose Cambridge. At Cambridge, there is greater scope to choose what modules and areas of law you study than at Oxford. Also, when I visited the cities, I preferred Cambridge to Oxford; it’s not as crowded! 

Cambridge admission tutors are quick to stress that they’re looking for students with ‘strong academic ability and potential’. Getting involved in an array of extra-curricular activities is unlikely to bolster your application significantly. Showing that you are enthusiastic for the course you want to study is important though. This applies to all universities. Whilst at sixth form, I attended free events organised by Cambridge and Oxford, such as the law ‘subject master class’ at Cambridge. They run similar programmes in many different subjects.  I also attended a UNIQ summer school which is the only official summer school at University of Oxford. It was completely free and open to all state educated students. I did the Law course which gave me the best insight possible into studying the subject at university. The Sutton Trust also has lots of different programmes on offer.

Participating in the programmes not only ensures you make the right decision in terms of what subject to study at university but also looks good on your personal statement! I’d strongly recommend applying. Finally, in my first year of sixth form I completed an extended project dissertation on the British constitution. I’d strongly recommend doing a dissertation related to the course you want to study. It shows the admission tutors that you actually want to study the subject.

I knew from attending an Open Day at Cambridge that the interview would be very law focused. I’d mentioned some law books in my personal statement so I reread them and thought about what I’d say if they asked me about a particular book. I reviewed my personal statement and reread my extended project dissertation too. Keeping up with current affairs is also very important. The best way to prepare though is to talk to someone about your subject on a regular basis. 

Two people interviewed me, although one of them was mainly making notes and only asked the occasional question. The interview process at Cambridge is different to the process at Oxford. This is because both universities take a different approach to ensuring ‘the best candidates receive an offer regardless of the College to which they have applied’. For Cambridge, I had one scheduled interview at the college I applied to, Clare College. However, a college can only make so many offers per subject. Therefore the college can ‘pool’ strong applicants so that other colleges whose applicants may not be as strong can make offers. This is completed in January and around ¼ of applicants receive their offer through the pool so don’t be surprised if that happens. It happened to me and Churchill College made me an offer. In contrast, at Oxford you are asked to stay in the city for several days so that different colleges, if necessary, can interview you to ensure the best applicants per subject are given offers.

I only had one interview whereas most subjects have two or more. The interview was completely focussed on law; they didn’t ask me any questions about my personal statement. It was very intense. They gave me an excerpt of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Firstly I had to summarise what it said then we discussed various elements of the Act. Finally, I had to apply around five different scenarios to the Act to determine whether the Act had been violated. They didn’t ask any ‘traditional Oxbridge’ questions. Nonetheless, I didn’t expect the atmosphere to be so intense. I had my interview on 9th December and then received my offer letter on 10th January. 

The first month has been hard work but a lot of fun. Within five days of arriving I had four reading lists to complete within two weeks. I study four compulsory papers this year: Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Civil Law and the Law of Tort. I have two hours of lectures every week day, apart from Thursday when there are three hours. Fortunately, unlike natural scientists I don’t have 9am Saturday lectures. The lecturers are leading academics, some of whom have written the textbooks. I have a supervision session every fortnight for each paper meaning I have two supervisions a week. The supervision system is unique to Oxbridge, although they’re called tutorials at Oxford. For each supervision I have a reading list with questions that’ll be discussed at the supervision. It takes between 10 and 15 hours work to prepare for a supervision and an essay is set every two supervisions. Supervision groups are small, usually two or three students, so any difficulties can be addressed. It is hard work but the course is very interesting. The workload does vary depending on the subject studied! I’d say Law’s above average.  The terms are only eight weeks long meaning everyone is very busy. On the upside the holidays are long!

I’ve joined the Cambridge Union Society which is a debating society. It hosts speakers and debates every week. This term, amongst others, Lord Neuberger, current President of the Supreme Court, Julian Assange (speaking via video link!), founder of WikiLeaks and actor Brian Blessed are speaking. I’m hoping to get involved in some more societies next term.  

Many sixth formers might have the impression that most of the students at Oxford and Cambridge attended Eton and their parents are Conservative politicians, but noting could be further from the truth. Each year, just over 60% of students at Cambridge University are from state schools. Most people I’ve met, from state schools and independent schools, have been really friendly. I haven’t met anyone who went to Eton but I have met a Harrovian who’s really nice. Churchill College is known for being a friendly, unfussy and forward-looking college full of ‘normal’ people; in fact, the College’s motto is ‘Forward’. Moulton students really should not be put off applying.