Every year the number of applications for undergraduate places increases. But the number of places on offer does not. So competition is stiff and the vast majority of applicants are strong and, at least in the UCAS application, look competitive. Many good candidates will not get an interview or not get a place. We know this is very disappointing but this does not mean we do not think those applicants were good. It also doesn’t mean we have made a mistake. We work very hard in looking at applicants as individuals but ultimately most applicants will not get a place. So in applying, you do need to be prepared to be disappointed. But this should also not put you off: you definitely can’t get a place without applying! And we would really strongly encourage you to apply even if you don’t know anyone who has been to Oxford or Cambridge – we are for all pupils regardless of background.
Applicants should realise that it is not what they know that matters in an interview, but what they can do with that knowledge. Interviewers are looking for students who are able to make considered responses to questions and in follow-up discussions. Being reflective and analytical, realising when a concept has been approached from the wrong perspective, and being receptive to the cues that an interviewer provides during the conversation are all things that interviewers will be looking for.
Actually, the people I wish knew more about the process are many of the ones who don’t apply, who may be put off my inaccurate impressions that the experience of applying is really arduous and difficult and painful. It does require a bit more effort than applying to other courses but it really isn’t that much harder, there is a lot of help and guidance readily available, and it could be life-changing.
It’s not the be-all-and-end-all. As university applicants, your mission is to be studying the subject of your dreams at a university somewhere. Could be Oxford, could be somewhere else. Just apply and don’t sweat it and see what happens. Sure, do a bit of preparation, find out about the course you are applying for etc, but if you impress us and we can find a place for you, great – if not, don’t worry about it. Being happy and healthy is much more important than applying to Oxford and anyway, people tend to perform better if they are not too stressed. Back yourself intellectually – say to yourself “I can do this” and give it a whirl – otherwise you’ll always wonder what would have happened. I speak to Oxford undergraduates about this all the time – and not one of them actually thought they’d get a place. But they gave it a go.