How to Prepare for an Oxbridge Interview

Interviews are not part of the admissions process for most universities’ undergraduate courses. However, if you’re applying for Oxbridge, you must prepare for an interview; Oxbridge has a unique interview process compared to all other universities. If you’re in with a chance, you will be selected for this step of the admissions process. 

Cambridge interviews 75% of their applicants yet their undergraduate acceptance rate is just 19%. Oxford interviews 45% of their applicants yet their acceptance rate is just 15%. The conclusion? Many applicants who meet the entry requirements get the opportunity of an interview but this interview is the true filtering process. It’ll make or break your offer. So, it’s crucial you start preparing for your interview as soon as possible. Don’t leave it until you get your invite!

Serious about securing your future? Chat with our expert Oxbridge admissions team and interview coaches. We have tried and tested methods of success. Hence, 55% of our Oxbridge applicants get in – that’s 3x the national average! Don’t leave your admission to chance.

Also, don’t forget to check out our other relevant Oxbridge articles:

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.

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 to prepare for a Cambridge interview

Around 75% of applicants are invited for an interview with a Cambridge college – hence Cambridge truly uses the interview as a form of culling applicants. Remember, you will not receive an offer before successfully passing the interview round. It’s therefore imperative that you prepare to be interviewed by practising your interview skills and developing your subject knowledge with a professional. 

In your interview, Cambridge is checking whether you think independently and are excited about your course. When they ask you a question, they are watching how you answer it, rather than your answer itself. Your interview is your chance to engage academically with people in your discipline who are far more senior. Your Cambridge interview is also an audition to check your suitability for the one-to-one conversational style of teaching that you would receive there. Hence, if you can smash this, assuming you’re selected for an interview, you’re in with a good chance of admission even if you don’t fulfil all of Cambridge’s entry requirements.

Check out our video on how to prepare for a university interview!

Practising with an interview training expert who understands the Cambridge admissions process is the most surefire way to improve your interviewing abilities and maximise your chances of success. 

How to prepare for an Oxford interview

All shortlisted applicants (approximately 10,000 out of 22,000 applicants) are invited for an interview with Oxford University. Oxford interviews 45% of their applicants – that’s 25% less than Cambridge. Hence, unlike Cambridge, Oxford’s interviews are another relatively equal-weighted step of the admissions process. Hence, your application is what wins you the crucial chance of an interview and you will only be interviewed if Oxford approves of your application and are genuinely thinking about giving you a place. 

That said, Oxford’s acceptance rate is 15% which is 30% less than the number of students they interview. So, you will not receive an offer before successfully passing the interview round; it’s a key stage of the Oxbridge application process. It’s therefore imperative that you prepare to be interviewed by practising your interview skills and developing your subject knowledge and people skills beforehand. 

If you do well enough to get an interview, well done! This is such an achievement and you wouldn’t be here if you were not being seriously considered.

Undergraduate interviews for Oxford are usually held in early December. 

In your interview, Oxford is checking whether you think independently and are excited about your course. When they ask you a question, they are watching how you answer it, rather than your answer itself. Your interview is your chance to engage academically with people in your discipline who are far more senior. Your Oxford interview is also an audition to check your suitability for the one-to-one conversational style of tutelage that you would receive there. Hence, if you can smash this, you’re in with a good chance of admission even if you don’t fulfil all of Oxford’s entry requirements.

Check out our video on how to prepare for a university interview!

Practising with one of our excellent interview training experts who understands the Cambridge admissions process is the most surefire way to improve your interviewing abilities and maximise your chances of success. 

Oxbridge disclaimer: get subject-specific. Interviews tend to include academic questions based around the subject you’re applying for, so prepare wider reading and check over your personal statement to ensure you can expand on any points you made. Similarly, you may be required to prepare written work and/or complete an admissions test as part of your interview. So, always check the specifics on your course page and keep an eye on your email. Plus, you might have multiple interviews, not just for colleges but for subjects e.g. one for Spanish and one for German. Prepare equally for all your interviews. Avoid leaning more into your strengths or weaknesses.

Oxbridge Medicine interviews at Oxford still follow the traditional panel format (rather than an MMI format), so you’ll need to research common questions and practise interview techniques to maximise your chances of success. Interviews for other subjects also tend to follow this traditional panel format, but what each department is looking for will differ, so it’s best to work with an expert to tailor your preparation accordingly.

7 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 your interview well in advance

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. Prestigious institutions like Oxbridge seek academic excellence as well as intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills. By starting early, you have the opportunity to thoroughly research your chosen field, practice articulating your ideas concisely and persuasively, and seek guidance from our experienced Oxbridge interview tutors who can help you refine your interview technique. Investing time and effort beforehand can significantly enhance your confidence and performance on the big day, ultimately increasing your chances of securing a coveted spot at Oxbridge. 

So, why not do everything you can to secure your place? Start early!

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.

Note: Remain flexible and open-minded. Do not go to the interview with set ideas and plans. It’s important that you’re not regurgitating facts or rehearsed knowledge. You need to be present, engaged, and actively thinking.

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.

Also, always check whether there’s pre-reading and get to the interview early. This way, even if you’re surprised by any expectations, you at least have time to prepare. 

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. See not knowing something as an opportunity

If you don’t know something – that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to say so. The interview is not a knowledge test but a thought process. However, consider delivery. Instead of saying you don’t know something in a cold-cut manner, try “I don’t know but this is my train of thought/speculations” or “I don’t know but this has sparked X idea/X question.” 

Talk through your thinking aloud to show how you think and above all, show that you’re teachable. Oxbridge looks for potential, so it’s okay to not know everything as long as you portray yourself as an intelligent and enthusiastic student who can be taught.

You should also keep in mind, Oxbridge sometimes seeks to push students to the point of not knowing so that they can see how they respond to being challenged. Hence, they are more interested in how you answer a question and how your brain works, than your answer itself. 

6. 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.

Unsure of how to answer a question? Articulate what you’re thinking and/or sit for a moment in silence. You can even say: “Please can I have a moment to think about that.” 

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.

7. 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.