Search this blog

Friday, 15 September 2017

Applying to Oxbridge

In year 13, aged 17, I applied to Cambridge to study Philosophy. The whole thing was a mistake; picture a person that will go to any lengths to prove they’re ‘good enough’ or ‘special’ enough to be noticed by others. I had wanted to go to BRIT school aged 16-18 but that didn’t happen. Ironically now I go to ACM which is one of the best music schools in the country.

When applying to Oxbridge, you have to submit your UCAS form earlier than everyone else – it’s due in by the 15th of October. When I applied, everyone applying to Oxbridge got special help and our head of sixth form pressed the button that sent off my application a day before the deadline.

The personal statement has to be written in a very precise way. I did twelve drafts of mine, and a teacher at sixth form who had studied Philosophy at Cambridge coached me on writing it. It has to be written like an essay, where you only write about your subjects and things relevant to it, saving a little section at the end where you discuss a few ‘extra-curricular’ interests. (When I applied to ACM, this ‘personal statement training’ enabled me to dish out my personal statement for ACM in no time, after getting a couple of pals from York who were Music undergrads to look over it).

Once you’ve sent off your UCAS form, you then have to do a bunch of interview prep. I think it’s around 80-90% of Oxbridge applicants that receive an interview. Unless your personal statement was poor, you didn’t have the right predicted grades or too many people were applying for your course, the chances are you will get an interview.

Maybe I didn't get in
cos my hair was pink?!
The interview is a daunting process. The amount of sessions and preparation we had to do for it was additional stress on top of already studying for our A2 exams. You also typically have to do an admissions test around when you go for your interview. When the interview date arrives, you are given the option of staying the night at Cambridge, and you get breakfast and dinner served. At Oxbridge you’re not allowed to get a job as they believe it deters from studies, and food is all catered for.

I remember my interview. It wasn’t great but wasn’t awful. In all honesty it was a bit dry. I was trying my hardest to stay as polite and thoughtful as possible. Nonetheless, I didn’t get in anyway. I didn’t make a fool of myself or slip up, but it wasn’t fabulous. I remember after I walked out I said to a guy ‘that was really bad’ and he went ‘that’s probably a good sign.’ There was a saying at Cambridge that if you thought you did badly in interview, you probably did good.

I didn’t do ‘badly’, I did neutral, but alas I wasn’t accepted. When I got my non-acceptance letter, if I’m honest I was sort of relieved. Applying had been a nightmare. I had been talked out of applying by some due to my ‘lack of facilitating subjects.’ This was another awful excuse I used; I needed to go to Cambridge to prove you didn’t need ‘traditional’ subjects! Film studies is a proper subject!
Got to stay in this lovely room...

Maybe it was my grades. I got an A in Film Studies, B in Psychology, B in History and D in Music at AS; I think you need all or mostly A’s at AS level in order to get accepted for Cambridge. But nonetheless, I tried. When I went to York, everyone said I probably would have hated Cambridge. The work load there is horrific, not to mention it has one of the highest depression and suicide rates in the country. Who knows, maybe if I went to Cam I wouldn’t be here today.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with Cambridge or Oxford. They’re excellent universities. One of the more ‘honest’ reasons I applied was because I wanted to be around a bunch of intellectual people. One buddy in sixth form said to me ‘it’ll probably be a lot of you’s there.’ What person doesn’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of people like them? Luckily, I’ve found people like me through AA and ACM, and in terms of intellectual connection I have the online world and all its colours.

Every year, thousands of students apply to Oxbridge, and students all across the country are psyching themselves up for it. My advice would be to apply because you want to learn about your subject in depth, and receive a top notch education. If you don’t get in, there are plenty of other fine universities in the country. There are many ‘myths’ about Oxbridge that people believe, like that everyone that goes there is stuck up. When I had my interview everyone was lovely, but I did apply to King’s College with is the most ‘liberal’ and ‘open-minded’ college in Cambridge. (And Zadie Smith went to that one, which is probably why I applied).

Oxbridge is not the be-all-and-end-all of education. You can do just as well anywhere else. University isn’t really about the university, in my books; it’s about what you make of it. You can go to a great uni and leave with a 3rd class degree and have no idea where you’re going. It doesn’t matter if you go to Bristol, Leeds, Oxford or London Met; if your motive for going to uni is ‘for the hell of it’ or ‘for fun’, chances are you won’t get a lot out of it.


  1. sorry to hear you had a tough time at uni :/

    1. Aw thank you, it's ok. After not getting into Cambridge I went to York for a term and a half, and now I go to the Academy of Contemporary Music in Surrey which is great :)


I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
I've also published three YA fiction books and two poetry volumes. To check em out, copy and paste this link into your browser: