Friday, December 2, 2011

Oxford and Cambridge University Interviews: A Guide for Students

Oxford University student

Have Oxford or Cambridge Universities asked you for an interview?  If so, well done!  This means that of all the many thousands of applications they receive each year, they are interested in YOURS.  Now that that you’ve come this far, how can you ensure that you make it through the Oxbridge interview stage of the application process?  Here are some answers to commonly asked questions:

When are the interviews?
Oxford and Cambridge University interview potential undergraduate candidates in December.  For Oxford this takes place over a two period (you can view that full two week schedule for Oxford University here for entry in 2012, or deferred entry in 2013).  For Cambridge University some candidates may be interviewed earlier than December, but most students are interviewed in the first three weeks of December.  You might only get a week’s notice that the university is interested in interviewing you, so make sure you don’t have any other commitments at this time and you are able to travel to Oxford or Cambridge if you are asked to come.

What about international students?  Do they have to go to an interview?

Basically, yes.  However, if it is extremely difficult for you to travel to the UK, Oxford University may be willing to conduct a telephone, video or internet interview.  The main exception to this is applicants for Medicine.  All potential Medical students must attend interviews in Oxford in person.

For Cambridge University, you may be able to have you interview outside the UK as the University conducts interviews in several overseas locations.  For example, in 2011, interviews will be held in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan and Canada, as well as the UK.

How many interviews are there?
At Oxford there is often more than one interview at more than one college, so you will probably need to stay for a couple of days.  However, the university will provide accommodation and food for free at one of the colleges.  If you are interviewed at Cambridge, there are usually two interviews which are about 20 to 45 minutes each.  Like Oxford, if you need to stay the night, the University will provide you with accommodation.

What are they looking for?
You interviewers will be looking for your potential academic ability.  This means that they are assessing your enthusiasm and commitment for the subject, your ability to think clearly and logically, and your willingness to debate and development an argument.  In order for them to do this, the interviewers will need to ask you questions that may go beyond what you have studied and learnt at school.  Therefore, be prepared to answer and discuss topics that are outside your A level curriculum.  To help you with this, you should read widely around the subject (which if you are passionate about your subject, you will already be doing) and think critically about what you are reading.  In addition, the interviewers may ask you about your UCAS personal statement, or about some of the written work you have submitted, so bring these with you to the interview and be prepared to answer questions about them.

What type of questions can I prepare for?
You should not have rehearsed answers that sound like short speeches, as this will come across as unnatural.  However, you should do practise interviews with a friend or teacher beforehand and you should think about possible answers to the following questions:

Why do you want to study at Oxford/Cambridge?
Why do you want to study your chosen subject?

When will I find out the results of my interview?
You will be informed of the university’s decision by the end of January, though you may hear earlier and many Oxford candidates will hear by the end of December.  You will receive a letter that will explain whether your application has been successful or not, and if it has been successful, what the conditions of the offer are, such as what grades you will need to get in your A levels if you have not already taken them.

If you aren’t offered a place, don’t give up!  There are many other excellent universities you could attend.  Alternatively, you could wait a year and reapply, or apply for post-graduate studies after you have completed your first degree elsewhere.  There are many students who aren’t able to get into Oxford or Cambridge as undergraduates, but later go on to do research there.

Lastly, good luck!   


  1. Nice post I actually have an interview at Cambridge in a few hours.

  2. Good Luck! I hope you do well. If you get the chance, come back here and share your expereince with others.