There are also resources aimed specifically at Scottish applicants, to help you prepare your application with your specific context in mind!
First things first, you need to decide whether you would like to apply to Oxford or Cambridge. You’re only allowed to pick one, and you also have to work out if it’s right for you - which can be really daunting. This is something that every applicant has to do, so there are lots of resources out there, aimed at folk from across the UK and the world, and from a range of different backgrounds. Check out the rest of the InsideUni 🔗 🌟 site and YouTube channel 🔗 containing video Q&As with current students. There are also the official admissions websites for Oxford 🔗 and Cambridge 🔗 to inform your choices.
The Clydeside Project 🔗 🌟 is a free mentoring platform for students at Scottish state schools from S3+. It pairs you with a current student at Oxford/Cambridge who can give you support as you look towards developing your subject knowledge, and then applying to either university. You can also find a page with a detailed list of Access Schemes and Resources 🔗 for Scottish students on their website. It’s updated regularly so keep an eye on the ‘Upcoming Events’ tab in particular!
Outreach Activities in Scotland 🔗 Representatives from both Cambridge and Oxford visit Scotland each year, and you can sign up to attend events such as these ones held in Scotland. There is also a newsletter that your teachers can sign up to, for updates on upcoming events and helpful Scotland-specific information.
Scottish Students Q&A 🔗 🌟 Students from both Oxford and Cambridge, studying a range of different subjects, answer some questions from home about their experiences of studying at and applying to Oxbridge.
Having done a bit of research, you might now be thinking that it sounds great and all, but is it really worth it? There’s the additional pressure of tuition fees and distance, and there’s a good chance that as a high achieving student you might be looking at unconditionals to some top Scottish universities based on your Highers. It’s not right for everyone, but we’ve spoken to some Scots at Oxbridge who made the decision that it was right for them:
‘It may sound a daunting prospect but there are student loans covering the tuition fees and other funding support. I have had the most amazing university experience at Oxford and can't imagine having studied anywhere else now.’ - Reuben, Mathematics, Worcester College, Oxford
‘There are a lot of scary things about applying to Oxford, and for Scottish people this might especially be the tuition fees! After having come out the other side I can say that it was worth it, the amount of experiences I have had in Oxford are unlike what I could get anywhere else in the world’ - Andrew, Chinese, Pembroke College, Oxford
Once you’ve decided it is worth giving a shot, the next step is applying!
There are details on the application process in the general sites linked above, as again this will apply to all applicants. However, we’ve noted here some things to be aware of as a Scottish applicant:
SAQ 🔗 When you apply to Cambridge, you also submit a Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ), to give the university some additional information about you and your learning. Use this opportunity! At many schools, Advanced Highers teaching is quite minimal or disrupted compared to A Levels (e.g. merged with Higher classes, only a few periods with a teacher, self taught, at other schools). Make sure you tell the university this when asked in the SAQ so they can take your circumstances into account.
Special Circumstances 🔗 If you’re applying to Oxford, you won’t be asked to submit an SAQ, but if you feel your performance has been severely affected due to minimal or disrupted teaching there are a number of ways you can let the university know. It may be that your offer is reduced from the standard AAB at Advanced Higher to AA or even lower, so this is definitely worth doing!
For many Cambridge and Oxford courses, you will have to take an admissions test.
Finding a local test centre 🔗 If your school is not a registered test centre, worry not! You can find one close to you by following this link. NB: Somewhat confusingly, Oxford uses ‘Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing’.
Get your school registered as a test centre 🔗 Particularly useful if you live in a rural area or will have significant trouble getting to a test center, you can also ask your school to register instead. This is a fairly quick and easy process so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle for them.
Again, you’re in the same boat as everyone else here! InsideUni 🔗 🌟 has relevant testimonials of students who have been through the interview process, to help familiarise you in what it might be like. Also look at Oxford interview information 🔗 and Cambridge interview information 🔗 to hear what the universities have to say.
Be clear if something hasn’t been covered in your course - although this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t answer a question, and showing flexible thinking is a good thing! This is what one current Scots student had to say:
“I felt a little nervous at the interview that I wouldn't know things they asked me (and that turned out to be partly true!) but in the end it never mattered because they knew that I hadn't covered that content in school. The way the interviews worked for everyone was to determine thinking processes and not knowledge so in the end it was fine.” - Aysha, Medicine, Gonville & Caius, Cambridge
If you are made an offer, the grades you have to achieve will be largely based on Advanced Highers.
CAMBRIDGE: Entrance Requirements 🔗 ‘Scottish Highers & Advanced Highers’ section. Get in touch with the college you’re applying to if you’re only able to do 2 Advanced Highers!
Entrance Requirements 🔗 See the ‘UK qualifications’ page and scroll down to the bottom for the ‘Scottish qualifications’ tab. Same as Cambridge, it’s a good idea to get in touch with the college you’re applying to if you’re only able to do 2 Advanced Highers!
ADVICE FOR TEACHERS:
Advice for Teachers 🔗 🌟 This is a great site to show your teachers if they are keen to help but unsure how to go about it.
Again, have a look at the Access Schemes and Resources 🔗 page on The Clydeside Project website - you’ll find some useful links under the ‘For teachers’ subheading.
Information for Teachers 🔗 🌟 An equivalent site for Cambridge, full of helpful advice.
It’s not just about the cost though - there are lots of ways to fund your time at Oxford or Cambridge. Have a look at InsideUni’s Financial Aid and Scholarships guide 🔗 to see what support might be available for you.
Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) 🔗 🌟 provides loans for both tuition fees and maintenance costs, and you may also be eligible for a bursary dependent on household income. You apply to them even though you will be studying in England, as you are a Scottish student.
Grants for Individuals 🔗 This document highlights lots of grants that are available to Scottish students. Quite a few are aimed at postgrads, and many are highly specific (e.g. based on your area of birth/residency etc.) - but you might find that you qualify for one!
The Cambridge Bursary Scheme 🔗 🌟 has a page specifically for Scottish students 🔗 due to a couple of issues with the SAAS/university communications. Be sure to have a look to ensure you’re not missing out on any money you are eligible for.
This is what one student had to say about finances:
“I was very hesitant about accepting my Cambridge offer due to tuition fees & worries about cost of living. However, my thinking was that it was one less year than Scottish uni & I was just putting myself in the same boat as English students re fees (arguably better due to the differences in paying back interest). I also was eligible for bursary at Cambridge, which wasn’t the case for my insurance choice in Scotland, so that helped with the day to day costs & reassured me that I wasn’t being completely mad!!” - Finn, History, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
TRAVEL AND DISTANCE:
Getting to Cambridge isn’t too tricky. By train, if you can get to Edinburgh (or join the line if you live further South!) then take the East Coast main-line - it's a handful of changes, and usually costs £20-30 if booked well in advance. You can also fly to Stansted & get the train from there (less than an hour), which is useful especially if you end up needing to travel at short notice.
Getting to Oxford is much the same. By train, it’s best to book in advance as the price goes up from £35-40 the closer you are to your departure date when you book. From Glasgow or Edinburgh it takes around six hours with just one change at Birmingham New Street. If you plan on taking the train several times a year, it’s a good idea to invest in a 16-25 Railcard 🔗 as this will save you ⅓ of the cost of your tickets. There is also a bus station in the centre of Oxford that provides a cheaper alternative to rail travel.
COMMUNITY AND CULTURE:
Oxford also has a Scottish Society 🔗 🌟 (you’ll hear it referred to as ‘ScotSoc’) that organise a number of events such as ceilidhs, Scottish breakfasts, and pub trips throughout the year to help connect the Scottish community across the university. There is also a Caledonian Society 🔗 (‘CalSoc’) who organise more decadent, formal ceilidhs once a term, if that’s something that interests you - though be warned, they’ve got a reputation for being populated with more English folk than Scots!
It’s a bit daunting knowing you’ll be one of not that many Scots - especially if you’ve been in Scotland for most or all of your life. However, as these current students explain, it can be a good thing:
‘It isn't nearly as “posh” as you might think - there’s no Bullingdon Club around every corner. Just because there are fewer Scottish folk here doesn't mean you won't either have fun or make friends here, or feel unwelcome.’ - Ronnie, Earth Sciences, St Edmund Hall College, Oxford
“There's nothing like being in a different country to feel your own nationality more strongly. Some of my favourite moments were showing my friends from different countries how to dance at the Ceilidh run by the college.” - Alec, Law postgraduate, Girton College, Cambridge
Burns is a surprisingly big deal in both Oxford and Cambridge! Most colleges will host a formal dinner in celebration - and as a Scottish student, it’s likely they’ll ask if you would like to give a speech! It’s a nice opportunity to be proud of your Scottishness, explain what a haggis is, and teach your new pals how to ceilidh.
“I try and go to something every year! All very different experiences. I've seen it all by this point: a proper dinner with bagpipes and haggis, ceilidhs, even one time where the address to the haggis was rapped.” - Aysha, Medicine, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
‘I was a bit worried that Burns Night in Oxford would either be too formal or a total parody. But it ended up being one of the best nights I’ve had here - and a great opportunity to show off what I learned from all those years of obligatory ceilidh lessons at school!’ - Mhairi, Philosophy and French, Exeter College, Oxford
CURRENT STUDENTS ON FITTING IN AND STICKING OUT (IN A GOOD WAY):
‘It might seem like you're making a strange decision but there will be other people at Oxford like you who are far from home, perhaps from a state school background, who didn't go through the English education system, or who didn't understand some of the culture of Oxford. Those people will be Scots and non-Scots alike. The student body of Oxford will be all the better for having you, and they'll be happy to.’ - Kat, Theology, Worcester College, Oxford
“There are many students in Cambridge who are trying to work out what the heck is going on - what's fun is trying to do it together. One of my favourite Cambridge moments was seeing the huge number of national societies at Freshers Fair, with cross-cultural exchange, conversation practice, language learning programmes, and high-jinx between tables. When you're there, being Scottish is another shade in a brilliant mess of flags, colours, foods, and communities.” - Alec, law postgrad, Girton College, Cambridge
‘Apply! It's one option of five on UCAS, and you won't know until you try. I've not regretted my decision for a second. Also, don't be put off by the myths surrounding Oxford, because mostly that's all they are - myths.’ - Catherine, Spanish and Linguistics, Exeter College, Oxford
‘I have no regrets about applying for Oxford, despite all the doubts and worries I had about getting in and fitting in. If you’re unsure or doubt yourself, just apply! You definitely won’t get in if you don’t apply, so apply and you may surprise yourself’ - Sophie, PPE, Balliol College, Oxford
“I applied to give it a go - it’s one option on UCAS, and I fancied pushing myself. Three years later, I’ve graduated! I’ve loved my time at Cambridge - for all of its challenges, I know I made the right decision.” - Finn, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge