How to Prepare for an Oxbridge Interview

Oxbridge interviews are the most well-known of all undergraduate interviews. They are the final stage in the Oxbridge application process for all applicants, no matter which course you’re applying for. Places at Oxbridge are notoriously competitive, so preparing for an interview can feel like a lot of pressure, especially if you have never attended one before.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to prepare and many ways in which the Profs can help you make the most of your Oxbridge interview. Read on to find out more.

How do you secure an Oxbridge interview?

In order to secure an interview with Oxford or Cambridge, you’ll need to meet a range of requirements first. These include:

Meeting the grade requirements.

The grades required for entry differ depending on which course you’re applying for and whether it’s at Oxford or Cambridge. Whether your predicted final grades meet the requirements or not will play a central role in whether you are offered an interview.

Scoring highly enough in your admissions test.

Almost all Oxbridge courses require applicants to take an admissions test. At Oxford, all of these tests occur before the interview stage, while at Cambridge, they may be taken before, during or after your interview. Your score in this test will be taken into consideration when deciding whether to offer you an interview, and in combination with your interview performance when deciding on whether to offer you a place.

Building a strong academic profile.

Though meeting the grade and admissions test requirements is paramount to receiving an interview, building a strong academic profile overall is also important and will impact Oxbridge’s decision on whether or not to offer you an interview. You can build your academic profile by undertaking work experience, engaging in relevant extracurricular activities, and reading around your subject outside the confines of your course syllabus.

Writing a quality personal statement.

Your personal statement is your first chance to tell Oxford or Cambridge why you deserve a place on your chosen course and how you are a good fit. This includes what skills and qualities you have, why you’re passionate about the course, what work experience you have, and proof of your academic ability.

Note that all students applying to university for 2023, 2024 or 2025 will still be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from January 2025 onwards (October 2024, for Oxbridge applicants), there will be changes to the UCAS application process and students will no longer be required to write a personal statement. Instead, all applicants will answer a series of shorter, more tailored questions provided by UCAS.

There’s a lot to think about before you reach the interview stage. Thankfully, the Profs’ Oxbridge tutors can support you with all elements of your application, from meeting the entry requirements to writing your personal statement. Reach out to our experienced consultancy team to see how we can help you.

Key facts about Oxbridge interviews

There’s often a lot of uncertainty and anxiety around the Oxbridge interview process, but with the right information, you’ll feel confident that you know what is expected of you and how to prepare. Here are some key facts about the Oxbridge interview:

You will be interviewed by a panel of two or three academic tutors.

The type of interviews Oxbridge typically use are panel interviews. They will consist of two or three tutors interviewing you, but they may conduct the interview in a range of ways. For example, they might begin by talking about a specific topic between themselves and expect you to join in the conversation. Alternatively, they might expect you to take the lead from the start and debate a topic explored in your personal statement.

Joe’s tip: What you write in your personal statement can influence your interview. If you dedicate a paragraph of your statement to a particular interesting topic or author, it is possible that your interviewers will ask you to discuss this in your interview. If you can guide your interviewers to talk about your strongest topics, you’ll be at a huge advantage over the competition.

Interviewers will be looking for your academic potential.

The Oxbridge interview is designed to assess your academic potential, not just your current subject knowledge. Your interviewers will be looking for your enthusiasm for your subject, as well as your ability to be self-motivated, proactive and curious. They’ll be testing how willing you are to listen and learn from the interviewers, as well as what you can contribute to the discussion.

You will be required to apply your knowledge to new situations.

Many of the questions you will be asked in an Oxbridge interview will require you to apply your existing academic knowledge and soft skills to new scenarios. You might also be given unseen objects to discuss or texts to analyse as part of your interview. These unfamiliar contexts will help the interviewers assess your approach to learning and your ability to think critically and creatively when presented with new ideas.

You will also be asked questions relating to your application.

Your interviewers will also ask you questions that relate to the contents of your application and academic studies. They’ll want to understand your existing academic knowledge and achievements, any work experience you have completed and what you gained from it, and other information provided in your personal statement.

Joe’s tip: Though your hobbies and non-subject-related interests certainly show your personality, they’re not what your interviewer is primarily looking for. Unless you have competed at an international level, limit your hobbies to one line, and focus on talking about your academic achievements, work experience or volunteering, and your motivations for studying your chosen course. Everything you say in your Oxbridge interview should prove to your interviewer how and why you are the best candidate for a place.

There’s no way of knowing the questions beforehand, so thorough preparation is key.

Oxbridge interview questions are individual to each candidate’s application. Though you can research common interview questions as part of your preparation (and we would advise you do so), it is impossible to predict exactly which questions you’ll be asked. This means that the more thorough and well-rounded your preparation is, the better.

The interview stage of the Oxbridge application process is notoriously challenging, but the Profs’ experienced Oxbridge admissions tutors know exactly how to help you prepare. If you need support securing or preparing for an Oxbridge interview, get in touch today.

6 tips for preparing for an Oxbridge interview

Good preparation is key to a successful Oxbridge interview. Here are six top tips to help you prepare to showcase this and succeed in your postgraduate interview:

1. Prepare for an interview before you receive an invite

Lots of students wait until they receive an invitation for an interview before they start preparing. This means they are left with just 7 days to prepare. It’s better to prepare for a potential Oxbridge interview before an interview invite is sent to you to give you as much time as possible to prepare.

2. Know your personal statement inside out

If you make it to the interview stage of the Oxbridge admissions process, you’ve already done a great job of writing your personal statement. But its job isn’t over just yet.

In your interview, you’ll likely be asked questions relating to many elements of your personal statement, such as your academic achievements, work experience, and passion for the subject area. One of the best things you can do to prepare for an Oxbridge interview is to know this information inside out.

You can also prepare jumping off points based on your personal statement that steer the conversation in a direction that shows you in your best light. For example, if there’s a topic you mentioned in your personal statement that you are particularly knowledgeable about, bring that up in your interview.

Joe’s tip: If you’ve mentioned a reading on a specific topic in your personal statement, make sure you have read it before the interview! The fastest way to a rejection is to be caught lying on your statement.

3. Read around your subject

One of the best things you can do ahead of an Oxbridge interview is to read as extensively as you can around your course. Both Oxford and Cambridge like well-read students and any topics that you can show you’re passionate and knowledgeable about may give you an edge over your competition.

Some specific readings you can do include: Research from Oxford or Cambridge academics, important work from other leading academics and institutions, and industry news and updates. This wider reading will prove that you’re a proactive, engaged, and passionate student.

Joe’s tip: Reading around your subject doesn’t have to be from a book! Whilst it’s important to read one or two key texts, taking notes on TED talks, watching (quality) YouTube videos, and listening to podcasts can all be faster and more enjoyable ways to learn about a broader range of topics to discuss.

4. Research your interviewers and their interests

It’s worth researching the tutors that will be teaching on your course and the research they have done. If you read a text on a subject they are known for – and tell them that you are interested in that subject – you may be able to guide the conversation onto this topic. This gives you the opportunity to build a rapport with your interviewers and show that you would be an ideal fit for your chosen course.

5. Learn techniques for staying calm and confident

If you’ve already made it to the interview stage of the Oxbridge admissions process, you probably have outstanding predicted grades, a strong personal statement, and may have already achieved great results in your admissions test.

However, when faced with the daunting interview scenario, you’ll almost certainly start to feel the pressure. Learning techniques to stay calm and confident in your Oxbridge interview is key to your success.
Your interviewers will be looking for your ability to remain unfazed by the challenging questions and situations they present to you. They’ll want you to rationalise the answers you give and be visibly confident in your abilities, even if you make a mistake.

The Profs’ Oxbridge consultants have years of experience helping students prepare for their interviews. We can help give you a confidence boost and equip you with tactics you can use to stay calm and collected, so reach out if you need support.

6. Practise with an expert

The best preparation you can do for an Oxbridge interview is to practise everything you’ve learnt with someone who knows exactly how to help. With an experienced interview expert, you can practise applying your knowledge to the kinds of scenarios you’ll be presented with in the interview. You’ll also get an understanding of the format of the interview and can test your ‘staying calm and confident’ techniques.

Top schools in the UK may arrange mock interviews for students, but practising with an ex-admissions officer or alumnus of the process, which the Profs can offer you, will be invaluable to your preparation. Working with one of our experts could ultimately make all the difference to the outcome of your application.

 

We have many tutors who can guide you through the Oxbridge application process and prepare you to succeed in your Oxbridge interview. No matter what you need help with, get in touch with our experienced team and receive the right support from a trained professional.

FAQs

Which universities require interviews for undergraduate degrees?

Oxford and Cambridge typically hold interviews for all of their undergraduate courses. Some other top universities also interview applicants for certain courses, such as UCL and Imperial College London. If you’re applying to study Medicine or a related medical degree, you’ll be required to attend an interview at every university. For more information on the medical school admissions interview, read our helpful guide.

What are interviewers looking for in an Oxbridge interview?

Oxbridge interviews are designed to assess your academic potential, not just your current subject knowledge. Your interviewers will be looking for your enthusiasm and subject knowledge, as well as your ability to be self-motivated, proactive and curious. They’ll be testing how well your interviewer can teach you, how willing you are to listen and learn, and how you adapt to new or unfamiliar questions and scenarios.

There are many questions you could be asked in an Oxbridge interview, but with good preparation and an understanding of what to expect, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to answer anything. Find out more about how the Profs’ interview training can help improve your chances of success by speaking to one of our expert consultants today.

How many people get offered an Oxbridge interview?

If you apply to Oxbridge, there’s no guarantee that you will be offered an interview. The decision to offer you an interview depends on the quality of your application, the competitiveness of the course you’re applying for, and your performance in any admissions tests.

Oxford and Cambridge offer interviews to significantly different percentages of applicants. Oxford typically receives over 22,000 applications and invites approximately 45% of these students to interview, while Cambridge receives just under 21,000 applicants and typically offers interviews to around 75% of them.

How many people are successful after an Oxbridge interview?

At Oxford, around 37% of applicants who are interviewed are subsequently offered places at the university. Cambridge interviews a higher percentage of its applicants for a similar number of places, so the post-interview success rate is lower. Around 25% of interviewees are offered places at Cambridge University.