The University of Oxford – Dive into the Admissions & Application Process

FYI: If you haven’t read The University of Oxford General Information post, I recommend beginning there and getting a broader base of Oxford as a whole.

The admission process for the University of Oxford is put in place for the upmost academic and personal fit when deciding which individuals to admit within its selective institution. A student who feels they are academically on par to play with the rest of them at Oxford and feels confident with the learning environment and curriculum at hand can get a clear, understanding of the admission process from application to offer.

What I appreciated about the University of Oxford’s International Guidance Counselor Conference, was an incredibly transparent window into their selection process. There are no formulas. No tricks. No back-doors. Not even legacy consideration. Just an application process that tests the individual’s intellectual curiosity and fit for potential at Oxford. With limited spots at a selective institution it’s never a guarantee, but I do believe an academically qualified student can better position themselves for consideration by understanding the process as a whole.

As in any institution you’re applying to, it’s incredibly important to research academic, social and personal fit. This will look differently for EVERY student! Take the time to research, ask questions and gather information before you begin the application process.

General Information

  • Oxford receives over 23,000 applications and makes about 3,800 offers to fill a little over 3,000 spaces
  • There is no difference in the admission reviewal process for UK and international students, each student is reviewed equally and on an individual basis
  • There are no quotas to fill in admissions
    • What does a quota mean? Aside from Medicine (I’ll touch on this later) Oxford does NOT have any mandated spaces to fill for specific student populations. It’s an equal applicant pool and they are purely looking for the brightest and best fit for their institution and the courses (majors) students apply for.
  • Students should be CAREFUL to choose the right course to apply to. This plays a vital role in the decision making process and it’s important a student understands what they are applying for.
  • There is no early admission plan
  • Legacy and personal connections to Oxford do not matter whatsoever
  • Students choose their course and can either apply to a specific college or leave it in the open general application and Oxford will allocate a college
    • Note on colleges: The colleges make the selection for students in undergrad admission! It DOES NOT matter which college a student applies for or even if they do not list a college at all. Oxford will place a student. However, the academic tutors within the colleges will review application and conduct the interviews. College choice is NOT something a student should be concerned with and an academic tutor has no idea if they choose their college or not. But it IS helpful to know that an application will be reviewed and possibly interviewed by academic tutors within the course subject area listed on the application.
  • Do not send any additional materials that are NOT asked in the application process

Apply via UCAS

  • Seniors will apply in the Fall (check the courses for specific dates) through the UCAS website
  • Students applying will want to see if their high school is registered with UCAS or not. If the high school is not registered, it is OKAY and will not be a negative towards the student, however if the high school IS it can be helpful to working with counselors and staying on track.
  • A referee will submit the letter of reference (letter of recommendation) on the student’s behalf via UCAS and a student can complete their personal statement and submit the application as well as view information for any admission tests they may need to take.


  • The high school curriculum and exams Oxford is looking for will depend on the course a student is applying to and of course, the curriculum that was available to the student at their respective high school.
  • There is NO preference or priority for curricula, meaning if an applicant took APs and another IB, they will still be evaluated equally within the context of their academic environment.
  • More and more testing does NOT mean a higher quality application.

What I loved about Oxford’s admission process is that they REALLY want to see students engaging and diving deeper into the subject area they’re applying for. So if a student, for example, is applying for a science course and continues to overtake AP exams in areas outside of science, that is taking away from time that could be best spent on exploring the world of science in a more intellectually curious way.

  • Teachers will be asked to provide predicted grades for the Spring semester. These are IMPORTANT to making a decision.

“Supercurriculars” and the types of engagement Oxford will expect to see

Oxford is not looking for a broader list of activities, awards and clubs participated in high school. They DO however want to see how a student has taken a genuine interest into the area of course in which they hope to study. This means seeing things like reading, listening to podcasts, attending lectures beyond the high school walls. And NOT because it’s a checklist, but because it’s an authentic academic interest and the student cannot get enough of the information. There isn’t one way to do this. It’s an organic reflection of the student’s want to learn in their respective areas.

They are looking for a passion and interest into the chosen subjects and a capacity for independent learning and research. They want to see how you engage with texts, challenge ideas and critically analyze the subject at hand.

Oxford’s learning style and classroom environment is not for everyone and it is important that academic fit matches. As much as a student may want to Oxford to accept them, it is equally important they want to accept Oxford and the value they place on their curriculum model.

In addition to classes, students will participate in weekly tutorials often comprising of two students and one academic tutor. Students prepare work/reading ahead of time to bring to the tutorials ready to discuss and dissect. Students will be challenged to analyze works, get critiqued and pushed deeper within their studies. Read more on the last post HERE.

Personal Statement

The personal statement is one piece of the application that fits into a wider picture. It should also be mostly about your interest/experience into the course of study your applying to…like about 80% about academics. Here are some tips:

  • Be reflective and honest
  • Apply for the course you want to study for
  • Don’t over edit
  • Don’t just compile a list of achievements
  • There doesn’t need to be a pivotal moment or a big bold opening statement
  • How have you enthusiastically engaged into the topic/subject area?
  • If you can’t say anything about your subject of interest than it might not be the right course for you
  • Oxford is looking for honest portrayals of you as the student, there is no formula or textbook personal statement


The letter of reference will hopefully validate and add onto your academic interests, pursuits and accomplishments within the course your applying for. You can have multiple teachers provide comments on one reference. Oxford is looking for your aptitude for the degree, areas of particular strengths, your academic suitability for the course, and anything relevant such as your experience with debating, writing, etc.

Admission Tests

Not all, but a good majority of courses students apply for at Oxford require an admission test. The admission tests can make or break an applicant and is an important part of admissions. Here are a few comments on the admission tests:

  • The tests give different measures of academic potential
  • They are designed to stretch and challenge the student
  • The point is to see how an applicant can apply the knowledge they’ve already got within their course area with a different context
  • Looking for how you use information and knowledge and can adapt that to a new conversation
  • The exams do not meet any specific high school curriculum (it does not matter or favor you to take IB/AP, etc.)
  • Applicants are already in the top of the school and excellent students, the admission tests are a way to differentiate applicants into the next round for interviews


The interview is another piece to the full application for consideration. They last about 25-40 minutes in length. They are structured but relatively informal and have some of the following components:

  • Problem solving scenarios
  • Discussion relevant to the course applying for
  • Interactive assessment of interest, aptitude core knowledge and technical skill
  • Looking to see how you can think through a problem, what is your capacity to learn from mistakes and listen in discussion
  • Looking for your ability to think independently, engage in new ideas beyond the material you’ve learned in school
  • Average 2 tutors interviewing you but there can also be more
  • The tutors ARE aware you may be nervous! They’ll typically start with an ice breaker about something familiar to get you going
  • They don’t want to hear what you already know, they want to see you absorb, adapt and analyze new information within your subject area of interest

Watch this video for a window into interviewing: University of Oxford Interviews

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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