Oxbridge – How to Increase Your Chances of a Successful Application

Our partners at Holland Park Education give the inside track on what makes a successful application.


If you’re one of the 40,000 students thinking of applying to Oxbridge, then it’s worth knowing from the start that the chances of obtaining an offer are roughly 20%. Of course, there are ways of improving your odds.

Holland Park’s tutor Nicholas Reed Langan, is a graduate of Merton College, Oxford and has vast experience working with students on their Oxbridge interview techniques and applications. Here he shares his insider knowledge on what makes a successful application.


If you want to study at Oxford or Cambridge, you need to apply a year before the start date of your course by completing an online UCAS application form at www.ucas.com. Applications open in June so you can start work on the form from then. You won’t be able to submit your application until early September. There is a strict submission deadline of 6pm (UK time) on 15th October.


While you DO have to decide between an Oxford College or a Cambridge one, you don’t HAVE to specify which College you want to attend. If, having looked at the different Colleges, you don’t mind, you could make an Open Application through UCAS instead. If you’re set on a specific college but don’t get in, don’t worry all is not lost. Your application could be placed in a ‘winter pool’. Although impressed by your application, your College may not have a place for you and so may pool your application for other Colleges to consider.

Nick says “Typically, one in four applicants is pooled and, of these, around one in five is made an offer of a place by a different College to the one they applied.”

Try not to overthink it. For equally well-qualified applicants, making an open application or indicating a preference College makes no difference to your chance of being made an offer. But remember, you can only make one application at a time.


Take your time in selecting your undergraduate course and do your research!

“It may seem obvious but the course you choose should be something you enjoy!” Nick says. “You’re preparing for a much more intense three year period – so if you’re not enjoying it then you need to rethink the course or subject.” Also, double check the course requirements. Have you made the correct A Level choices? Are you likely to achieve the necessary grades required?


With thousands of applications to compete against – how can you make your personal statement stand out? “Straight A’s and glowing references are par for the course,” explains Nick “but don’t dismiss your interests or hobbies.” They want to see what you read and are interested in. Nick pushes the point, “Can you think? Debate? Can you attempt original thought?”

You should also attempt at least 4 drafts of your personal statement before final submission. As Nick explains, “The first draft is normally terrible and demands refinement, you must also ensure you are counting the characters and not the words.” He adds, “Any characters over the word limit will simply be cut off, you don’t want to be sitting there 30 minutes to deadline wondering where your closing statement has gone.”


If you get offered an interview, the hard work can really begin. “Interviews can be tough, but it’s a balance between sticking by your opinions and being able to re-evaluate your position. Expect to be challenged and to be able to examine your ideas.” Nick also asserts, “Make sure you have read what you claim to have read and can talk about it easily. Now is not the time for last minute cramming of texts!”


  • For most courses at Oxford you are required to take a test as part of your application. Registration for tests is not automatic and is not part of the UCAS process. Please check the details for your course, including how to register.
  • For Cambridge, most applicants are required to take a written assessment, either pre-interview or at interview.

Remember, applications must be submitted by 6pm on October 15th through Ucas. For more information:

Applying to Oxford – Timeline

Applying to Cambridge – Timeline


Holland Park Tuition & Education 

Since 2004, Holland Park Education has been committed to giving parents and children access to the best private tutoring and consultancy, and each year, Holland Park experts help students achieve places at the most sought after schools, pass public and entry exams and reach target grades. Offices in London, Dubai and Shanghai facilitate global tuition and consultancy and we have thousands of hours experience teaching, mentoring and advising both online and in person to an exceptionally high standard.