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A collection of articles from The Red Pen team
on wide ranging topics related to studying abroad

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A collection of articles from The Red Pen team on wide ranging topics related to studying abroad.

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16October2014

Oxbridge Applications

by Originally Published in The Hindustan Times Education Supplement

Oxbridge Applications


Students interested in applying to the UK’s prestigious Oxford and Cambridge Universities (aka: Oxbridge) must hand their applications in by today (Oct 15th)! Once the application is submitted the next step in the process is to figure out whether an exam is required for the course to which you have applied. Testing requirements and dates vary by course so check this requirement carefully.

After applying and giving required tests, you may be called for an interview in late November or early December by the university department to which you have applied. Unlike in the US application process, where the interview is informal and non-evaluative, the Oxbridge interview is a critical component of the selection process. Because Oxbridge Universities are structured by a tutorial system in which students meet weekly with their tutors, experts in the field of study, the interview is used to assess whether you can contribute and cope in this type of intense one-on-one learning environment.  The point of the interview is not to check whether you know all the right answers, it is to evaluate the way you deduce information and arrive at conclusions.  Namita Mehta, a graduate of Oxford in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, and former college counselor at B.D. Somani International School, recounts the experience of her Oxford interview: “When I walked into my interview they showed me a molecule and asked me what it is? Nobody memorises molecules! Of course I didn’t know, but I discussed its properties and they helped me along the way. I didn’t get the name of the molecule in the end, but I was close enough for them to understand that I can figure out problems.” (It turns out The molecule was cholesterol!)  You can conduct the interview either in the UK (you will have to travel there) or via Skype. If possible you should travel to the UK for the interview so that you get a complete sense of the Oxbridge experience. You will stay on campus, visit the department and meet other students.

Oxbridge Universities consider applicants with high academic achievement. They are looking for the next Nobel Prize winner; they do not care as much about extracurriculars. Academics are the primary consideration. Besides your school marks and board scores, your academic capacity should be demonstrated through your personal statement.  The personal statement must show passion about your chosen subject as well as significant knowledge of the topic. You have to read far beyond your school curriculum in your area of study, know the contributions different people have made to the field, understand the application of the knowledge, and be able to articulate your real, deep passion for the subject.


If you can get through the rigorous Oxbridge application process and are admitted you will be fortunate to join the ranks of some of the world’s best scholars and a highly accomplished peer group. These are two truly special institutions with unique traditions and history such as Oxford’s required ‘subfusc’ uniform for exams with a carnation pinned on the gown; for the first paper, you have a white carnation, middle papers a pink one and your last paper a red carnation. Through its collegiate systems Oxbridge Universities admit only 3-4 students per subject in each college, and holds the lectures at the departments. As public institutions there is significant pressure on the government to give preference to UK students, so the competition for international students is even tougher. If you are admitted, you will become among the rare few to learn and grow in the unique Oxbridge environment and build lifelong connections with your fellow scholars.


If you aspire to Oxbridge, read up on your subject and prepare yourself as best you can intellectually and academically for the interview process. This is your best chance to prove that you have the right kind of analytical mind to stand up to Oxbridge’s demanding process.

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  1. James Gross

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