Realistically, a lot of the process for applying to Oxbridge is no different to other universities – you’ve got to make good decisions based on your research and thinking, and then prepare a high quality application.
So, what’s different?
First, the timescale is accelerated. Unlike other university applications, the first phase of UCAS needs to be done by October 15th. This means that a lot of the work needs to be done in between Year 12 and Year 13, rather than purely at the start of Y13 as you might be able to do for other application cycles.
Second, there are often additional requirements involved. This might be the submission of work, the completion of pre-interview assessments (Thinking Skills Assessments for Oxford, traditionally), and the interview process. These all take time to prepare, and it’s helpful if you can have a clear sequence from start to finish in your mind.
I’d recommend something like this:
|Year 12, Spring Term||Student: Decide whether you are interested in Oxbridge Student: Decide which one, and why – this might involve course research, topic knowledge, or even structural thoughts about interview and approach. Teacher: Clarify timescale and expectations of work that’s needed Teacher: Start thinking about reading and wider experiences|
|Year 12, Summer Term||Student: Focus on high quality of reading and wider experience, start developing first draft of personal statement Student: Look at additional requirements and plan accordingly – you may want to acquire TSA prep materials for Oxford candidates, and start thinking about how to support that. Note that Oxford and Cambridge have broadly consistent approaches across their whole cohort (i.e. Oxford Geography requires TSA, Cambridge doesn’t), but they might have some individual needs depending on College (e.g. submitted work). Check carefully! Teacher: Check in with your exams officer about what might be needed (and when) for entry to additional tests if required. Teacher: Agree a timescale/drafting process for PS drafts – normally want “a good one” by first week back!|
|Year 13, September||Student: complete normal UCAS application proforma Student: draft and complete Personal Statement Student: start thinking about any additional requirements – e.g. submitted work or SAQ answers Teacher: support with PS draft Teacher: support with transition to test prep if required|
|Year 13, October||For Oxford: test preparation for TSA Normally takes place at the end of the half term, or in the first week back. Check carefully on deadlines for entry and on the date of the test – it *must* be done in person on that day, so holidays can’t happen!|
|Year 13, November||You may or may not know if you have an invitation to interview. But prepare as if you do – lots of conversations, practice interviews, and scholarly reading exercises|
|Year 13, December||Interview window is normally first two weeks of December, although decisions might not come until January!|
This is an idealised timetable. No matter when a student decides they want to apply to Oxbridge – and in the days of AS/A2, we’d have some who’d realise they were good enough after their AS results day in August….! – they can always make a good application in a shorter time-frame.
However, as with anything, the more time you have available to prepare and think, the better the outcome is likely to be, and the lower the stress for candidate and teachers respectively!
So, I’d encourage starting early to lay the groundwork. This builds on the principle of ‘the rich diet of Geography education’ and allows developing and meaningful conversations to happen over the timetable!