The right mindset for Oxbridge applications

What's the right mindset when you're applying to Oxbridge?

With only about 20% of Cambridge applicants and 16% of Oxford applicants getting a place, it's important that you go into the process with a healthy attitude so that you can get the most out of the experience, whatever the outcome.

In this article you'll discover:

  • Mindsets you want to avoid when applying to Oxbridge
  • The right mindset for Oxbridge applications

Let's make a start…

Mindsets you want to avoid when applying to Oxbridge

1. Needing it too much

I often come across students who have set their heart on studying at either Oxford or Cambridge at a young age. This is what happened to me. When I was nine years old I visited Cambridge and walking round the Great Court of Trinity College and decided I wanted to study there.

The trouble is, people who develop this ambition at a young age often end up building their identities around this goal. And this is a very dangerous thing to do when, at best, you've got a 1 in 5 chance of achieving it. And, if you have built your identity around being someone who goes to Oxford or Cambridge, or someone who went there, and you don't get in, it's absolutely devastating.

The truth is, there are many excellent universities out there that would be just as fulfilling for you in terms of places to study. They may not all have the pretty architecture – but, pretty buildings aren't actually what university study is all about and if they're the reason you want to study at Oxbridge you need to re-assess your motivations because something as flimsy as this will soon be sniffed out in the application process.

2. Not believing it's for you

There are many people who stand a very good chance of being offered a place at Oxbridge, because they have the necessary grades and intellectual flexibility, but have mentally ruled themselves out, for whatever reason. Maybe you think:

  • You're not rich enough
  • You're not posh enough
  • Your skin's the wrong colour
  • You've got the wrong accent
  • You went to the wrong kind of school
  • Etc, etc, etc

The reality is, there has never been a better time to apply to Oxbridge if you're not a white, male, rich, privately educated person with a plummy accent.

Due to the political pressure being put on both Oxford and Cambridge they are working harder than ever to find the students from deprived areas and comprehensive schools who are more than worthy of a place.

Even twenty years ago when I was there my group of friends all went to state schools, bar one. Oxbridge students have certainly moved on from the Brideshead Revisited stereotypes of decades ago.

If you're predicted As and A*s in your A-Levels, you come from a less privileged area and attend a comprehensive school there's never been a better time to get a place or fit in when you get there. Don't let outdated stereotypes or inverted snobbery get in your way!

3. Thinking it's your ‘birthright'

Now, I've never actually met anyone in person who's told me in so many words that they believed it was their birthright to go to Oxbridge. But, I've met people who have implied this.

One example was a mother who emailed me after her child was rejected by Oxford. The whole family was in pieces because an older sibling was at Oxford and, if my memory serves me correctly, one of the parents had been. It sounded like they'd taken a fairly lazy approach to the application process, because they believed he'd get a place (they'd been told he was Oxbridge material throughout his school years). The trouble was, he was rejected and this precipitated an identity crisis for the student and a lot of self-flagellation by the parents because they could see they hadn't approached the application with enough rigour.

Another example was a student who went to a high-profile school which sent a lot of students to Oxbridge. The student in question had got a B in one of their A-Levels and hadn't just been rejected by Oxbridge, but by all the universities they applied to. Again, they were having an identity crisis because they'd been schooled in an environment where they'd been taught to expect to get into Oxbridge and they were now left behind, with no university to go to, when all their peers were moving on to do the kind of courses they wanted to do at the universities they wanted to attend.

Let me be very clear. Oxbridge is no-one's birthright. No one ‘deserves' it. You have to work really hard to even be able to consider applying, you have to treat the application process with a massive amount of respect and, if you get a place, you see that as a privilege, not something that was due to you.

Many students who are more than capable of getting a place, and have the grades and experience to get a place, won't get one simply because of the quantity of other candidates applying and the exceptional quality of their applications. Read more here about what you're up against.

The right mindset for Oxbridge applications

We've thought about three mindsets that aren't helpful when you're applying to Oxford or Cambridge. Let's think about the right mindset now.

Want it, don't need it

As my head coach, Helen Chaplain, says you have to want it, not need it.

This means that you're not going to define yourself by your success or failure to get in.

It means that you're going to be realistic about your chances of getting in.

It means you're going to treat the application process with respect and take nothing for granted.

It also means that you're going to seriously consider which other universities you're going to apply to, knowing that it's more than likely that you'll be going to one of them, rather than Oxford or Cambridge.

Finally, it means that you're going to be incredibly proud of yourself for being sufficiently excellent to be in a position where applying gives you a better chance of success than looking for a needle in a haystack. Because, seriously, if you're good enough to apply you're an incredible student.

Need help with your Oxbridge application?

Check out our other articles about getting into Oxbridge. And, if you need help with your Oxbridge application mindset, check out how we can help with our Oxbridge Preparation coaching. We do Oxbridge interview mindset coaching with our students every year to help them perform their best, and get the most out of, their Oxbridge interview.

Learn more about Oxbridge Preparation coaching.

Or, if you just want help with your personal statement click here.

And, good luck!


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