A huge amount of student attention is always – and understandably – given to the Personal Statement part of the application. It’s definitely the thing that students feel they can ‘control’ the most, and improve the most – but it’s not the only thing that Admissions Tutors will consider, and it’s important that the whole application is given due care and attention.
Booking additional tests and checking calendar windows in early September
All details of how to book, and information for students is here: Thinking Skills Assessments.
For most years, the candidate booking date for the TSA is well before the October 15 deadline for the UCAS deadline. Don’t get caught out by that!
For a new centre or school, these tests will need to be run in exam conditions by authorised centres only. You’ll need to apply for that – perhaps worth talking to your exams office to see if you’re a Cambridge centre already – and check details here: adminnistering TSA as a centre. The deadline is 16 September – well before the admissions deadline. Again, don’t get caught out!
Decision-making on College choices
College choices can be an important part of the decision-making choices for students.
However, it’s important to recognise that candidates don’t have to make a college choice. They are able to submit an “open application” to the subject, rather than to an individual College. The admissions team will then allocate the candidate to a College.
If you want to choose a College, then it’s worth checking which offer Geography. Not all Oxford Colleges do, while Cambridge seems to have a wider spread. You can see details here:
Beyond ‘do they offer Geography?’, College choice is a very personal decision. You’ll get the same Geography experience and access to facilities at university level, so there’s not a huge amount of academic difference between them. It’s very much about what ‘fits’ with your own personal preferences and thoughts about your life. You might like to think about:
- The location of the College relative to what you’re interested in (Geography Department, libraries, river, centre of town)
- The size of the College and how many Geographers you’d be working with
- The resources and accommodation offer of the College
The best way is often to get a sense of the ‘feel of a place’ on Open Days. If you want to make a College choice, I’d strongly suggest that you go and see a few Colleges to make an informed decision!
Ensure the whole application process is considered
Your UCAS application form will be sent – blind – to all of your universities at once. They won’t know where else you’ve applied, but they might be able to guess that a high grade prediction application that comes to them before the 15th October is likely to also be applying to Oxford or Cambridge!
You need to select a reasonable profile for your applications and choices.
First, it’s advised and likely that you will be applying for similar courses at all five universities. This means your personal statement and reference will be coherent, and align with what you think is important for those courses.
Second, to lower your risks, it’s normally advised that you should have a range of university entry requirements in your application. Let’s say you’re applying to Oxford (A*AA) – you might also want to have another 1-2 at the same grade. But you might also want to have an AAA or even AAB choice in your five, to give you an insurance offer. There’s no point having a firm choice and insurance that are the same grade – if the summer results aren’t what you want, you’ll have missed both universities!
Don’t make your entire UCAS process about the Oxbridge application – it’s just one of five, remember! Double check all of the application details, make sure all of the grades, course choices and university selections are accurate and exactly what you want before you hit send!
The school reference
It’s often helpful to have reference support, particularly if you’re writing for the first time. You’ll want to deliberately dovetail your reference to the application components. You want to ensure that the same ideas and highlights are supported exactly, and that you’re able to emphasise the core elements of an excellent application too.
You can also talk about what might overlap and link – ensuring that the candidate can free up space in their personal statement to talk about something different than you cover in the reference.
It’s also helpful to have a context statement put in place for your school. An example of the historic grade profile, and a judgement sense of the candidate (“this is the best Geographer we have seen in five years”, or “in a class of excellent Geographers, X stands far above in their scholarship and engagement. Their EPQ on…”) can help to give the admissions tutor a sense of how this person compares to other candidates.
A high-quality academic reference can be quite tricky to write, so do seek wider support – Head of Sixth Form, any Oxbridge contacts – if it’s your first time.
Cambridge – Supplementary Application Questions
For admissions at Cambridge, all subjects complete an additional Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ). This is available to candidates, and guidance is provided to support the completion. Once your UCAS application has been received by the University, they’ll send you details to the email address that you applied with.
Like UCAS, it’s an online questionnaire with lots of details – and takes time and precision to do right. Unlike UCAS, it’s highly personal and tailored only to Cambridge – including some of your additional information and an additional depth to some of the AS/A Level subject details, or further biographical information. Cambridge are slightly more advanced in their use of socio-economic data in supporting applications, so don’t be surprised to be asked details about whether you were eligible for Free School Meals etc.
You’ll also have the option of sharing further information (e.g. extenuating circumstances, particular personal or additional needs) and making additional personal statement of up to 1200 characters. It’s worth thinking about how you want to use these things – and to consider them alongside your existing personal statement. Repetition is unnecessary – and this offers you a chance for bespoke Cambridge-specific thoughts about why a particular course or structure suits you.
Most candidates will have to complete this within about 10-14 days of the original UCAS deadline, so be prepared for this if you’ve applied to Cambridge!
By early October, all of this will be well underway, and hopefully, you’ll be ready to submit on time, with any additional testing requirements, with a quality application showing the best of your Geography candidate’s ability.
You’ll also want to be considering support and preparation for the other phases of assessment that are important.