We guide you through the application process for Oxbridge
There are differences between the protocols for applying to the two universities.
Once you have decided you would like to apply to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge or a specific science at Oxford, there are further steps you need to take in addition to processing your application via UCAS.
We are here to advise you at every stage. Please feel free to contact us to see how we can help. We offer a free initial 15-minute online consultation.
1) Choose a course and university
We can advise you on your choice of university
Making the decision which university to apply for goes together with deciding which course you would like to study. The approach taken for teaching the sciences is very different at Oxford and Cambridge.
Best suited to A-level students with a broad interest in the sciences, who may not yet be sure which areas they prefer
Cambridge offers a single programme for science undergraduates, known as the Natural Sciences Tripos. Within this framework, students have the opportunity to study a number of different science subjects. The number of courses taken reduces each year, leading to a process of gradual specialisation before completion of the degree.
The philosophy behind this approach is that it allows undergraduates to learn from lots of different areas of science on their journey to becoming more of an expert in one discipline.
Year one of the Tripos is known as Part IA: four experimental subjects are chosen from a group of seven, and one mathematics course from a group of two. Year two is known as Part IB: three subjects are chosen from a group of currently twenty one.
Year three is known as Part II: one subject is chosen from a group of currently seventeen, some of which have the choice of a further year known as Part III.
Best suited to A-level students who would prefer to study a more specific discipline
Oxford offers a number of different science courses. Alongside Biology, Chemistry and Physics, there are more niche choices such as Biomedical Sciences, Human Sciences, and Physics with Psychology.
Choosing Oxford therefore allows students to focus on a specific branch of science, and deepen their understanding in this from the start.
The science courses are not of the same duration: some are three years, and some have an essential or optional fourth year.
Chemistry, for example, is a four year course, whereas undergraduates taking Biology must complete three years, with the option of then completing a fourth year to obtain an MBiol degree.
2) Choose a college
We can help you choose the college most suited to you
Every student who studies at Oxford or Cambridge is associated with one of many colleges. This becomes their home during their time at university, where they have accommodation, spend much of their social time, and have most of their supervisions (Cambridge) and tutorials (Oxford).
We can help you choose the right college for you, taking all relevant factors into account. There is the option of submitting an 'open application' via UCAS, where you indicate no preference. This can work for some candidates, but we advise taking the time to consider which college is likely to be a better match for you.
Every college has its own characteristics. Features to take into account when choosing a college include: location, size, history, facilities, and character.
We strongly recommend visiting the the City of your chosen university beforehand to visit some of the colleges, so you can get a 'feel' for them and let this inform your decision as well.
We can use application statistics for each college. These reveal information that can help make your decision, such as the proportion of applicants awarded a place, and the percentage of candidates awarded places from State and Independent schools.
However, it is important to note that Cambridge and Oxford communicate that the choice of college should make no difference on an applicant's chances of success.
Under some circumstances, you can even be awarded a place at a college different from the one you chose. Both universities have a process of reallocating suitably strong candidates to a different college, to make the system as fair as possible.
Twenty-nine colleges to choose from to study Natural Sciences
There are 31 colleges in the City of Cambridge, 29 of which admit students for undergraduate study. All of these also offer places for the Natural Sciences Tripos.
Cambridge aims to ensure all suitable applicants are awarded a place, independent of the college they apply for, through using what is known as their pooling system.
If an applicant is not awarded a place after interview at their chosen college, but the admissions tutors feel they are a strong candidate, they are added to the 'winter pool'. Other colleges can then then choose to offer a place to some students from the pool.
It is wrong to be under the impression that the college has any influence on the quality of education. All NatSci students attend the same lectures. Supervisions are usually held at the student's own college, but there is no predictable difference between the proficiency of supervisors at a particular college, and many supervisions are attended at other colleges.
Two colleges currently require applicants to sit an additional exam to the NSAA: Trinity and Magdelene. We can help you prepare for these should you make one of these your choice.
Number of colleges to choose from determined by studied course
The collegiate-system at Oxford is a bit more complicated. Strictly speaking, not all resident halls where you stay are referred to as colleges.
There are 36 colleges, 3 societies, and 5 permanent private halls. We will refer to them all as colleges, as is often the case. The Oxford University website provides further details on the organisation of resident halls.
Different colleges offer a different selection of courses for undergraduates. It is important to check which colleges offer the subject you hope to study. Information on the courses facilitated by each college can be found on the Oxford University website.
Individual course faculties work together with the colleges at Oxford to help ensure that suitable applicants are awarded a place. Some students may be asked to attend an interview at a college different from the one they originally applied for.
This may happen for example if the first college received too many strong applicants to grant them all a place. In 2021, about 25% of successful candidates received offers from a college they did not choose via UCAS.
As with Cambridge, it is wrong to be under the impression that the college has any influence on the quality of education. For the same course, students attend the same lectures and tutorials are usually held at the student's own college.
Whether you need to take an admissions test before interview depends on your chosen course. For example, there is no admissions test for Biology or Chemistry, but Physics applicants must take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) and candidates for Biomedical Sciences sit the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT).
3) Process application
We can help you complete your application
The protocol for applying to Oxford and Cambridge is different from most universities. Your UCAS application must be submitted earlier, by mid-October. There are additional steps you have to take as well.
Candidates must complete an additional application
After submitting their UCAS application, Cambridge requires all applicants for the Natural Sciences to complete 'My Cambridge Application'. We can help you do this.
In addition to providing administrative details, applicants are asked to provide academic details not included via the UCAS system. This helps to make sure the admissions tutors can make the most informed decision possible.
Compulsory academic information you must provide includes the topics you have covered so far in your A levels, as well as the marks you achieved in the modules of any AS/A-level module exams you have already taken.
There is also the option of including an additional personal statement. We recommend taking advantage of this.
It provides you with the opportunity of submitting what you could not fit into your UCAS personal statement, highlighting further qualities. You can reference other academic material, making it more likely that this will be discussed at interview.
There is no additional application to submit
Oxford does not require applicants to complete another submission in addition to your UCAS application.
If you have to take a written test for your chosen course, you must register for this outside of the UCAS system. Registrations must be made between 1 September and 30 September via your school.
4) Sit written tests
We can help you prepare for assessments
All applicants for Natural Sciences at Cambridge must take the Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA). Some Oxford applicants must sit a written exam before being invited for interview.
Candidates sit the NSAA
Cambridge Admissions tutors use the NSAA to help distinguish between candidates. It is a challenging exam and our consultants have lots of experience helping applicants prepare. Please see our NSAA page for more information.
Candidates sit a written test or have no test depending on the course
The courses which do not have a written test are Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Human Sciences, and Earth Sciences.
Candidates must sit the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) for Biomedical Sciences. There is the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) for Materials Science, Physics and Philosophy, and Physics.
The Mathematics Aptitude Test (MAT) is taken for Computer Science as well as Computer Science and Philosophy. And psychology applicants sit the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA).
5) Attend interview
We can help prepare you for interview
The interview is the most important part of the application process. The admissions tutors are able to meet you and determine your ability in and enthusiasm for your subject, the two most important attributes they are looking for. We specialise in helping you prepare for this.
Please visit our Interview page for more information.
Candidates should expect questions from all areas of science relevant to their choice of biological or physical Natural Sciences
Cambridge is looking for students with a broad interest in the sciences, and as such applicants should be prepared for questions on any of their science A levels. Maths questions will also be asked.
Those who have chosen to study physical Natural Sciences are more likely to face questions on chemistry and physics, whereas candidates for biological Natural Sciences are more likely to face questions on biology and chemistry.
For Trinity college, applicants invited for interview must sit an additional written test. This consists of a single section on mathematical fluency and two sections on science. More information on this and example questions can be found here.
Candidates should expect questions related to all areas of science relevant to their chosen subject
Oxford courses are more specialised, and as such questions are confined to the relevant science or sciences. Nonetheless, it is wise to be prepared for making connections between all sciences studied at A level.
6) Receive decision
We can continue to help with your A levels
After your interview at one or more colleges, you will eventually learn whether you have received an offer. Both universities send their decisions in January.
Whether for Oxbridge or another University, you will most likely have received an offer conditional on achieving certain grades in your A-level exams. The grades in any conditional offer can vary according to college and university, but for Oxford and Cambridge they are typically A*A*A. We can provide further A-level tuition to our students until they complete their exams.
Applicants receive the decision in January 2023
After all of your hard work, if the admissions tutors determine you you should be awarded a place, you will receive your offer to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge.
There is also the possibility of the tutor deciding you are a strong candidate but they cannot accept you for their college. This may be because there were more good applicants than they have capacity for. You will then be placed in what is referred to as the pooling system, where other colleges have the choice of awarding you a place instead.
Applicants receive the decision from Oxford on 23 January 2023
The courses which do not have a written test are Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Human Sciences, and Earth Sciences. Candidates must sit the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) for Biomedical Sciences.
Candidates sit the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) for Materials Science, Physics and Philosophy, and Physics. Applicants for Computer Science take the Mathematics Aptitude Test (MAT). And students hoping to study Psychology sit the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA).