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How to Get Into Oxford University

How to Get Into Oxford University

10 min Read|February 07 2024
|Written by:

Thomas Babb


Oxford is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, receiving over 24,000 applications for approximately 3,300 undergraduate places every year. The admissions process is highly competitive, and successful applicants must meet rigorous academic standards and demonstrate a passion for their chosen field of study.

To apply to Oxford or Cambridge, you'll need to complete UCAS application, which involves choosing a course, writing a personal statement, and providing academic references. In addition, you'll need to take an admissions test specific to your chosen course, and if successful, you'll be invited to attend an interview. Interviews are designed to assess your academic potential and your passion for your chosen subject, and they play a significant role in the admissions process.

It's essential to research the application process thoroughly to give yourself the best chance of success. Oxford University's website provides detailed information on each stage of the application process, including guidance on choosing a course, writing a personal statement, and preparing for interviews. By taking the time to understand the application process and preparing thoroughly, you'll be well-placed to make a strong application.

Plan Ahead: Choosing A-Levels for Oxford

If you're thinking of applying to the University of Oxford, it's crucial to choose the right A-level subjects to give yourself the best chance of success. Oxford expects applicants to have strong academic backgrounds and to have achieved high grades in their A-levels or equivalent qualifications. The university is looking for candidates who are academically talented, motivated, and passionate about their chosen field of study.

To increase your chances of being accepted to Oxford, it's crucial to plan ahead and choose the best A-level combinations. Some courses at Oxford require specific A-level subjects. For example, if you're considering applying for a course in physics, you'll need to have studied A-level mathematics and physics. Similarly, if you're considering a course in modern languages, you'll need to have studied at least one modern language to A-level standard.

It's worth noting that some subjects, such as English, history, and mathematics, are more commonly studied at Oxford than others. These subjects were the most popular among successful Oxford applicants in 2021. However, it's essential to choose subjects that you enjoy and are passionate about. Remember, the admissions tutors are looking for candidates who are academically talented and motivated, so it's crucial to choose subjects that you'll enjoy studying and excel in.

Choose the Right Course at Oxford

Choosing the right undergraduate course is a crucial step in the process of getting into Oxford University. With a wide range of undergraduate courses across various disciplines including arts, humanities, social sciences, and STEM subjects, it is important to choose a course that you are passionate about and aligns with your academic strengths and interests. However, it is also important to consider your post-university plans when choosing a course.

When selecting a course, it is essential to consider the specific requirements of each course and whether you meet them. Some courses require specific A-level subjects, while others require a certain level of language proficiency. Additionally, it is worth considering the teaching style and assessment methods used for each course. Some courses may involve a lot of independent study and research, while others may be more lecture-based and exam-focused. It's important to choose a course that plays to your strengths and one that you will enjoy studying.

When choosing the right course at Oxford, it's essential to consider your future career aspirations. If you're interested in a particular field, such as medicine or law, then choosing a course that aligns with those interests is crucial. Similarly, if you're passionate about a particular subject, such as English literature or history, then studying that subject can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding career. It's important to choose a course that will provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in your chosen career path.

While some courses are more popular than others, it's important to choose a course that is the right fit for you. Below we show a graph of the most popular Oxford courses by the number of places, seeing that History, English, and PPE are the three most popular courses. Ultimately, the key is to choose a course that aligns with your interests, strengths, and future career aspirations.

Most popular Oxford courses by number of places

Most popular Oxford courses by number of places

Gaining Relevant Work Experience

While gaining relevant work experience is a bonus, it's not always necessary to get into the University of Oxford. However, for certain courses like medicine, work experience is an essential requirement to demonstrate your suitability for the profession.

For other courses, it's still advantageous to have relevant work experience to showcase your passion and dedication to the subject. Work experience can also provide valuable skills and insights into the industry or profession, making you stand out to potential employers after graduation.

There are many ways to gain relevant work experience, such as internships, volunteering opportunities, and work experience programs. You can also explore online resources, networking events, and extracurricular activities related to your field of interest to gain practical experience and demonstrate your passion for the subject.

Study Beyond the Curriculum and Read Widely

To stand out in the competitive Oxford admissions process, it's important to demonstrate a genuine passion for your chosen field of study. Going beyond the curriculum and exploring the subject in greater depth can showcase your academic potential and commitment to your chosen field.

One way to go beyond the curriculum is by reading widely around your chosen subject. This can include academic journals, books, and articles. The Oxford University website provides reading lists for each course, and it's worth consulting these to get a sense of the kind of material you should be reading. Additionally, you can explore related fields to gain a broader perspective and demonstrate your intellectual curiosity.

Another way to go beyond the curriculum is by attending lectures, conferences, and other events related to your chosen field. Oxford University offers many opportunities to engage with experts in a variety of fields through public lectures, seminars, and workshops. Attending these events can broaden your knowledge and understanding of the subject, and demonstrate your commitment to learning.

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Choose the Oxford College to Apply To

Choosing a college when applying to Oxford is an important decision, but not one that will necessarily make or break an applicant's chances of acceptance. While some colleges receive more applications than others, the university makes admissions decisions as a whole, rather than on an individual college basis.

That being said, it is important for applicants to carefully consider their choice of college, as it can have an impact on their interview experience. Each college has its own tutors and admissions process, and the college an applicant applies to will determine who interviews them. It is important for applicants to research the different colleges and their specific requirements and preferences to determine which college is the best fit for them.

Some colleges have specific strengths and specialisations in certain subjects, and applicants may want to consider these when making their decision. Additionally, each college has its own unique social and cultural atmosphere, and applicants may want to choose a college that aligns with their personal preferences and interests.

It is also important to note that applicants do not necessarily have to choose a college when applying, and may instead opt for an open application, which allows the university to allocate them to a college that has space and is most suitable for their application.

While the choice of college may not be the most important factor in the admissions process, it is still can impact an applicant's interview experience. Applicants should carefully consider their options and choose a college that aligns with their academic and personal preferences, while keeping in mind that the university makes admissions decisions as a whole.

Writing a Compelling Personal Statement

The personal statement is an important part of the application process. It provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your passion for the subject you are applying to study, and to showcase your academic achievements and relevant experiences. The personal statement should be well-written, engaging, and focused on your chosen subject.

To make your personal statement compelling, it's important to demonstrate your interest in the subject and why you are passionate about it. This can include discussing specific books, articles, or experiences that have influenced your decision to study the subject. Admissions tutors are looking for applicants who have a deep interest in their chosen subject and who can demonstrate a strong motivation to succeed academically.

It's also important to demonstrate the specific things you have done related to the subject, rather than simply listing extracurricular activities. This can include discussing research projects you have completed, work experience in the field, or any relevant volunteering or community service. Admissions tutors want to see evidence of your commitment to the subject and your ability to engage with it in a meaningful way.

During the interview process, interviewers may ask you about the things you wrote in your personal statement. Therefore, it's important to make sure that your personal statement is an accurate reflection of your interests, achievements, and experiences. By writing a strong personal statement that demonstrates your passion and commitment to your chosen subject, you may increase your chances of being invited for an interview.

Oxford University Courses with Highest Admissions Success Rates

Oxford University Courses with Highest Admissions Success Rates

Achieving a Top Scores on the Admissions Test

Achieving a top score on the admissions test is crucial to getting into Oxford. These tests are designed to assess knowledge and skills beyond the A-level syllabus, and provide a fair and objective way to evaluate applicants' potential. Many great candidates all achieve top grades at A-level, and the admissions tests are a way to differentiate between these candidates. Therefore, it's vital that students spend a lot of time preparing for these tests.

It's recommended that students start preparing for the admissions tests in the summer after their Year 12 exams. This gives them enough time to get familiar with the format of the tests, as well as to study the material that will be covered. Doing well on the admissions tests is vital, as a good score is required for students to be invited for an interview.

The admissions tests vary depending on the course you're applying for, and typically consist of subject-specific tests, critical thinking tests, and language tests. Some courses may also require a written work submission as part of the application process.

The admissions tests for Oxford University include the following:

The Oxford University website provides guidance and resources for each admissions test, including past papers, practice questions, and revision guides. It's also worth seeking guidance from your teachers or specialist Oxford-educated tutors to to help you prepare effectively.

Nailing the Oxford Interviews

The interviews are the most important parts of the application process, and are designed to assess a candidate's academic potential. They are an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their ability to think independently, engage with new ideas, and to show self-motivation and enthusiasm for their subject.

Candidates who are shortlisted for interview will typically have at least two interviews, and will be interviewed by academic tutors who teach and research at the University. The tutors may be from different colleges, and if a candidate is applying for a joint course with two or more subjects, they should expect to be interviewed by tutors representing each of the subjects. In some cases, candidates may have 'initial' interviews at their first college, followed by an 'additional' interview at another college.

The interviews are predominantly focused on technical questions related to the subject, and the tutors will also ask questions about the candidate's personal statement and motivations for applying. Depending on the course, candidates may also be given a text, poem, graph or object and asked to answer questions and comment on it.

It is natural to feel nervous about the interview process, but candidates should try to be themselves and to engage with the tutors. If a candidate doesn't know the answer to a question, they should apply their mind to it and try to demonstrate their thought process. Tutors are interested in how candidates think and approach problems, and are not trying to catch them out.

Preparation for the interviews is key. Candidates should ensure they have a good understanding of their subject beyond their school or college syllabus, and should be prepared to demonstrate their knowledge and interest in the subject. It is also important to practice mock interviews, either with teachers or private tutors, in order to become more comfortable with the interview format.

Candidates should aim to prepare for the interviews during the summer after their Year 12 exams, and should focus on doing well in the admissions tests in order to be invited for an interview. Hiring a private tutor can be beneficial in preparing for the admissions tests, as well as in providing additional support and guidance for the interview process.

The Oxford interview process is designed to assess a candidate's academic potential, and is the most important part of the application process. Candidates should be prepared to engage with tutors, demonstrate their knowledge and interest in the subject, and practice mock interviews in order to feel more comfortable with the format.

Oxford University Courses with Lowest Admissions Success Rates

Oxford University Courses with Lowest Admissions Success Rates

Meeting Grade Requirements for Oxford

To secure a place at Oxford, students must meet the grade requirements for their chosen course. Offers are given out in January to students who have performed successfully at the interviews. These are conditional offers, which means students must achieve the required A-level or International Baccalaureate (IB) grades to secure their place.

The specific grade requirements vary depending on the course, but in general, students are expected to achieve A* and A grades in their A-Level subjects. For example, the grade requirements for the Mathematics course at Oxford include A*A*A in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, and another subject.

For IB students applying to Oxford, the grade requirements are slightly different, but still very high. Students are expected to achieve a score of 38-40 points or higher, depending on the course. For example, the grade requirements for the History course at Oxford include a score of 38-40 points in the IB, with 7, 6, 6 at Higher Level in History and two other subjects. IB tutors are great for those students who find certain subjects difficult and they can help you achieve high scores on your tests.

It is important to note that meeting the grade requirements is not enough to guarantee admission to Oxford. As mentioned earlier, admission is based on a holistic evaluation of a student's academic potential and suitability for the course, which includes factors such as the personal statement, admissions tests, and interviews.

Furthermore, students who come from underprivileged backgrounds or who have faced significant personal challenges may be eligible for special consideration, even if they do not meet the grade requirements. Oxford has a number of access and outreach programs in place to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds have equal opportunities to apply and succeed at the university.

A-Level Grades of applicants to Oxford University

A-Level Grades of applicants to Oxford University

How Oxford Makes Admissions Decisions

When making admissions decisions, Oxford University considers many factors, but the most important one is how well applicants do at their interviews, and second to this, how students perform in their admissions test when taken.

Here's what Dr Shao, a lecturer in mathematics and interviewer at Oxford has to say:

"There are many misconceptions about how we make decisions. The difficulty is that there are so many good applicants who are predicted all A*s at A-Level and who have top GCSE scores. The admissions test, and then the interviews, allow us to differentiate between these applicants. For Mathematics, even strong students will struggle with the test. In the interviews we really get to see how students think, and we're able to test their ability to learn and go beyond their comfort zone, which is something that A-Levels don't to. My advice to students is to focus on depth of understanding and skill in the subject you are applying for rather than being a jack of all trades."

It is important to note that taking 4 or more A-Levels does not necessarily improve an applicant's chances of being accepted. As stated by Dr Shao, the focus should be on excelling in the specific subject that they are applying for. Applicants should not feel pressured to do too many extracurricular activities, as these are not the main criteria considered by admissions tutors.

Admissions decisions at Oxford are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the individual strengths and potential of each applicant. Tutors consider academic achievements, the quality of the personal statement, admissions test scores, and the applicant's performance in the interview. They are looking for students who are passionate and dedicated to their subject, and who show the potential to thrive in the Oxford academic environment.

The interview process is designed to assess the academic potential of each applicant, looking at their self-motivation, critical thinking, and enthusiasm for their subject. Admissions tutors are not interested in superficial qualities such as manners, appearance, or background. Instead, they want to see evidence of a student's ability to think independently and engage with new ideas beyond their school or college syllabus.

In some cases, tutors may consider other factors such as an applicant's personal circumstances, such as being the first in their family to attend university or overcoming adversity. However, these factors are only taken into account if they are relevant to the applicant's academic potential.

Applying to Oxford as an International Student

When applying to Oxford University as an international student, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind. Firstly, it's important to make sure that you meet the same academic requirements as domestic students, with the necessary grades or scores in A-levels, IB, or other equivalent qualifications. International students are also required to take the same admissions tests as domestic students, such as the BMAT, LNAT, or TSA.

However, there are some additional steps that international students may need to take. For example, if English is not your first language, you may need to take an English language test, such as the TOEFL or IELTS, to demonstrate your proficiency in the language. It's important to check the specific requirements for your course and ensure that you have met the necessary language requirements before applying.

Another consideration for international students is that they are more likely to have online interviews rather than in-person interviews due to logistical challenges. It's important to prepare for this format of interview and make sure that you have a stable internet connection and a quiet space for the interview. The university provides guidance on how to prepare for online interviews, so it's essential to review this information and practice beforehand.

The application process for international students is largely the same as for domestic students, with a few additional considerations. It's important to carefully review the specific requirements for your course and ensure that you have met all the necessary criteria before applying.

What Oxford Looks for in Applicants

Oxford University seeks students who demonstrate exceptional academic potential, intellectual curiosity, and a passion for learning. In addition to academic excellence, the university values qualities such as independent thinking, critical reasoning, and an ability to engage with complex ideas beyond the scope of the school or college curriculum.

Here are some specific qualities that Oxford looks for in its students:

1. Intellectual curiosity: Oxford seeks students who are genuinely interested in their subject and are eager to learn more about it. Admissions tutors are looking for evidence of independent research and reading, as well as a willingness to explore new ideas and approaches.

2. Critical thinking: Oxford values students who can analyse and evaluate complex information, identify patterns and connections, and form reasoned arguments. Admissions tutors are looking for evidence of strong analytical and problem-solving skills.

3. Independent learning: Oxford is a research-intensive university, and admissions tutors are looking for students who are capable of self-directed study and can take responsibility for their own learning. The university values students who can work independently, manage their time effectively, and seek out support when needed.

4. Resilience: Oxford is a challenging academic environment, and admissions tutors are looking for students who are resilient, adaptable, and able to cope with the demands of the course. The university values students who can overcome setbacks, learn from mistakes, and persist in the face of difficulty.

5. Ambition: Oxford is looking for students who are ambitious, have clear goals, and are willing to work hard to achieve them.


Getting into Oxford University requires a combination of exceptional academic achievement, strong test scores, and impressive personal qualities. Students who want to increase their chances of admission should focus on excelling in their chosen subject, taking part in relevant academic competitions, and developing their critical thinking and independent learning skills. It is also important to show evidence of intellectual curiosity, passion for learning, resilience, and leadership potential, and to prepare thoroughly for the admissions process, including the interview and admissions tests.

While gaining admission to Oxford is challenging, it is a goal worth striving for, as it offers students an unparalleled academic experience and opportunities for personal and professional growth. By following these tips and demonstrating their potential, students can increase their chances of securing a place at this prestigious university.


What A-Levels do you need for Oxford?

The specific A-Level requirements vary depending on the course. Generally, students are expected to achieve top grades in their subjects, with many courses requiring A* and A grades. Applicants should check the specific requirements of their chosen course on the Oxford University website.

Do you need 4 A-Levels to get into Oxford?

No, Oxford does not require applicants to have four A-Levels. However, some courses may require specific subjects, so it's important to check the requirements of the chosen course on the Oxford University website.

Does Oxford look at GCSEs or A Levels?

Oxford considers both GCSEs and A-Levels when making admission decisions. GCSEs are used as an indication of a student's academic potential, while A-Levels are more closely considered to assess their suitability for the course.

Do you need all 9s at GCSE to get into Oxford?

No, Oxford does not require applicants to have all 9s at GCSE. However, the university does look for evidence of strong academic potential and achievement, so it's important to achieve high grades at GCSE.

Can you get into Oxford with average GCSEs?

While strong academic achievement is important for admission to Oxford, the university considers a range of factors when making admission decisions. Applicants who have faced challenges or have demonstrated exceptional academic potential through other means may still be considered for admission.

Is it better to take a gap year before applying to Oxford?

This depends on the individual circumstances of the applicant. Taking a gap year can provide valuable experiences and may be advantageous for some applicants. However, it's important to use the time productively and to demonstrate how the gap year has contributed to personal and academic development.

Can international students apply to Oxford?

Yes, international students are welcome to apply to Oxford. The university has a range of resources and support available for international applicants, including English language tests and visa advice.

Can you apply to multiple colleges at Oxford?

No, applicants can only apply to one college at Oxford. However, students who are not accepted by their chosen college may be considered by another college with available spaces.

When do Oxford offers come out?

Oxford offers are typically given out in January. These offers are conditional and are based on the applicant meeting the required A-Level or IB grades.

Can you reapply to Oxford if unsuccessful the first time?

Yes, students can reapply to Oxford if they were unsuccessful in their first application. However, it's important to take some time to reflect on the reasons for the initial rejection and address any weaknesses in the application. This may include improving academic grades, gaining more relevant work experience, or refining the personal statement. It's also recommended to seek feedback from the admissions tutors or college advisors to gain insight into areas of improvement

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Thomas Babb

Written by: Thomas Babb

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Thomas is a PhD candidate at Oxford University. He served as an interviewer and the lead admissions test marker at Oxford, and teaches undergraduate students at Mansfield College and St Hilda’s College. He has ten years’ experience tutoring A-Level and GCSE students across a range of subjects.

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