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Posted July 18, 2012

Oxbridge Take Two: How to Get Into Oxbridge As a Postgrad

... When You Failed As an Undergraduate.

For some legacies and overachievers, failing to get into Oxbridge as an undergraduate was the most crushing experience of their life – so it’s really no wonder that many of the so-called ‘Oxbridge-rejects’ hesitate to put themselves through the wringer again and apply to Oxbridge as a postgraduate. Yet many don’t realise that Oxbridge postgraduate applications are a completely different ball game, and just because they didn’t succeed as an undergraduate does not mean that they are not of the calibre required to study there for a postgraduate degree.

Here are 5 basic tips and things to bear in mind when filling in your application forms for Oxford and Cambridge University.

1. Play to your strengths, downplay your weaknesses

This advice might sound like common sense, but it is an important thing to bear in mind when filling out any Oxford or Cambridge applications, as it is for all UK universities. If you have a great idea for a research project - talk about it. If you did a cool internship related to your subject - talk about it. Similarly, if you feel there are some weaknesses to your application (lack of relevant extracurriculars or a poor area on your transcript), draw emphasis away from it by using your statement to talk about what you’ve done that is great instead. If you’ve got time on your hands to fix the weaknesses, then even better! For example although Oxford and Cambridge both state that at least 2.1 is needed for postgraduate study, if you’re within a few percentage points of a 1st and there is still time then now is the moment when you should be working your damnedest to improve it. Oxford and Cambridge are the big leagues - the highest tier of education. To get in you must make sure that they know just what an asset you could be and exactly why some of the not-so-great moments in your academic past aren’t irrelevant.

2. Say goodbye to the limitations of a UCAS personal statement

Graduate applications in the UK tend to be handled by the universities themselves instead of a unified service like UCAS, which means that each university application is wildly different. You can therefore cater your personal statements and research proposals to the specific interests of each university. If Oxford excels in a certain area of microbiology that you are interested in for example, then feel free to go to town on it. Many people struggled with their undergraduate Oxbridge applications because filling in one form for five universities did not suit their style, but with your postgraduate application you will be applying to the individual university directly.

3. Don’t worry about colleges

Unlike at undergraduate level, postgraduates do not apply to specific colleges for postgraduate study. At both Oxford and Cambridge, applicants simply express their preference for a college (if any) and at Oxford a graduate may decide not to choose a preferred college at all. If you do express a preference you may have the added obstacle that not all Oxford colleges accept all students from all subjects, so check before applying.

4. Consider applying to both

Unlike at undergraduate level where you can only apply to either Oxford or Cambridge, at graduate level you can apply to both as each university has a different application system. This is a great option if you feel like you should have applied to Oxford and not Cambridge or vice versa in undergraduate admission, as now you can avoid such regrets by trying for both. Be wary though: both applications involve a lot of work and it would be unwise to submit two sub-par applications instead of one amazing application.

5. Don’t be afraid to try again

The main thing holding back many who failed to gain entrance as undergraduates is confidence. For those who have strong academic credentials, being turned down can have a horrible and long lasting effect on their self-confidence and they may no longer feel like a strong enough candidate to apply. My word of advice is that there is no harm in trying again, even if you’re not successful again. Oxbridge may have the academic hype on their side, but there are other amazing universities with great programs. Oxbridge is a great choice, but it is not the only worthy academic institution in the UK. So have faith in yourself and try it out, you never know where a lot of work and pinch of luck might take you.

Related articles 

Reasons to study your PG program at Oxbridge
Researching programs
What's right for you
Making the choice
Non-study considerations
Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries


Hitesh Sahu April 1, 2018, 7:47 p.m.

I am interested in Master of Surgery(M.Ch or M.Chir) from oxford or Cambridge university.

Charlotte King April 3, 2018, 2:40 p.m.

Here is a list of all the postgraduate courses in Surgery available to study in the UK & Europe:
Good luck with your studies

Fernanda Vallejo Sept. 20, 2018, 6:08 a.m.

Hi, I'm interested in Master's of International Law. Thanks.

Charlotte King Sept. 23, 2018, 6:28 p.m.

Hi Fernanda - our sister site has all the information you need about studying Master of Laws programs and postgraduate law. Good luck!

Daniel G Jan. 15, 2019, 4:07 a.m.

Do you have any information on applying to the Dphil in International Relations at Oxford? Any tips?

Charlotte King Jan. 15, 2019, 12:34 p.m.

Hi Daniel - this article contains useful information on applying to Oxbridge >
Good luck with your application.

sophie Jan. 17, 2019, 10:12 a.m.

what about international students ? I'm interested in teaching and education field .

Charlotte King Jan. 22, 2019, 8:39 a.m.

There is a good international student population at both Cambridge and Oxford. I suggest you find out if either university has a course that interests you and hopefully you will fulfil their entry criteria. Good luck!

Miam April 30, 2019, 3:07 p.m.

What sort of things do Cambridge look for in a "Statement of Interest"?

Charlotte King April 30, 2019, 5:58 p.m.

Hi Miam - Cambridge will be looking at the same qualities in the personal statements as other universities - personality, relevance, honesty, brevity, interest, accuracy, etc.
This blog article has some great tips >
Good luck!

Bea July 9, 2019, 2:47 p.m.

Can I get into Oxbridge without honours? My degree is a BA.

Charlotte King July 11, 2019, 6:06 a.m.

Hi Bea – It probably depends on what you want to study and your other life experience. I advise you to contact the admissions office and ask them directly. Good luck – Charlotte

Anna Oct. 13, 2019, 9:48 p.m.


I am interested in MPhil Economics in Oxford. Do you have any info on that?

Charlotte King Oct. 15, 2019, 1:52 p.m.

Hi Anna – Here is a link to the University of Oxford page with all of the details about their MPhil in Economics >
Please note that the first deadline for applications is January 2020 and the admissions team strongly recommend applicants to try and meet this deadline.
Good luck!

Anwita Roy Oct. 22, 2019, 9:44 p.m.

Are outstanding grades, sample of written work, a strong personal statement and recommendation letters enough to ensure admission for an English Masters programme in Oxford? Or evidence of research publications, writing awards, internship are necessary?

Charlotte Oct. 29, 2019, 8:59 a.m.

Hi Anwita – Outstanding grades and an excellently crafted personal statement should be enough to secure a place at Oxford – although competition is always going to be tough at such a prestigious university so any other extra curricular achievements will certainly help and writing awards would no doubt serve to support a personal statement very well. If you have the necessary grades to pursue this masters course I suggest you contact the admissions department directly and ask them the best way to proceed. Good luck.

Kiru Oct. 30, 2019, 10:14 p.m.

Does Oxford (and Cambridge as well) consider your masters degree if you have already another masters but apply for a related masters at Oxford? I wanted to apply for the MSc in Medical Anthropology but I am a bit uncertain if my undergrad grade is good enough (I have 3.57 out of 4.0 but they require minimum 3.7 I think). So I am wondering if they consider my masters and my papers (i have a couple of upcoming publications).

Btw, I contacted the course coordinators but they dont reply. I would be happy to hear if you know anything about this.

Charlotte King Nov. 10, 2019, 6:20 p.m.

Hi Kiru - I think the best thing for you to do is contact the admissions officer of the course that you are interested in and ask them what their entry requirements are for the program. I think they would take your masters degree into consideration. Good luck.

Timothy Nov. 18, 2019, 5:53 a.m.

Hello, Charlotte

Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions above so thoughtfully, and with such helpful links.

Can you say something about applying to postgraduate theology programs at Oxbridge?

Again - many thanks!


Charlotte King Nov. 19, 2019, 8:52 p.m.

Hi Tim – this link has all the information you need about studying theology at postgraduate level at the university of Oxford >

Good luck.

Nisa Jan. 3, 2020, 4 a.m.


For postgraduate application to Oxford & Cambridge, do I apply through UCAS or through each university application sites? Please advise.

Thanks & regards,

Charlotte King Jan. 3, 2020, 4:23 p.m.

Hi Nisa – applications for postgraduate programs should be made directly to Oxford or Cambridge. This article has some more information on the Oxbridge application porcess >
Good luck!

DUANE D STONE Feb. 15, 2020, 2:21 p.m.

In the United States a post graduate student can create their own specialized advanced degree / certificate program. I am business owner and see the need to have a good understanding in the areas of Finance, Engineering, Accounting, Law ( F. E. A. L), and wanted to earn a distant studies post graduate degree /certificate in these areas from either Oxford or Cambridge. Is this possible? If so, how?

Charlotte King Feb. 17, 2020, 7:45 a.m.

Hi Duane,
At present Cambridge has no online postgraduate courses available.
Here are the online offerings at Oxford >
If you get offered a place to study at Oxford you will be eligible to apply for one of our Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries worth £500 >
Good luck!

Mark M May 25, 2020, 11:17 p.m.


I am planning to apply for a MPhil at Oxbridge in Political Theory. Could a 74% 2nd-year average in History in a top London university plus two research internships as well as two academic publications in a related-field to my postgraduate interests be a good asset for securing a place in your opinion?

Thank you!

Charlotte King May 27, 2020, 9:49 p.m.

Hi Mark – I think that should be strong enough qualifications if you write a strong personal statement. This blog article has some helpful advice >
Good luck!

Rosie June 3, 2020, 1:04 a.m.

Hi, I have a wide range of extra curriculars, volunteering and internships related to the masters degree I wish to apply for as well as a good personal statement but I achieved a 2.1 at university. Since this is the minimum requirement is there any point in applying since other applicants may have all my strengths as well as better grades?

Charlotte King June 4, 2020, 12:35 a.m.

Hi Rosie – it's always a good idea to have plenty of extra curricular activities on your masters degree application. This blog article has some other good advices on crafting the perfect personal statement >
Good luck!

Enkay July 26, 2020, 3:28 p.m.


I recently applied to Oxford for a post graduate degree. However, I did this when the portal reopened for application; which means I did not apply at the scholarship deadline. I would like to know if I still stand a chance to receive scholarship from the institution.

Charlotte King July 27, 2020, 7:14 p.m.

Hi Enkay – it is worth checking with the Oxford just in case you can apply for any other funding they have on offer. You are also eligible to apply for one of our Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries worth £500 >
Good luck!

E. Nikhila Nov. 7, 2020, 10:37 a.m.

Hi,I'm Interested in Masters in computer Science....could you please guide me through how to apply and all ?

Charlotte King Nov. 12, 2020, 4:36 p.m.

This URL gives a list of all the PG Computer Science courses that you could choose from in the UK and Europe >
If you specifically want to study at Oxford or Cambridge – here is the link to the Computer Science department at Cambridge >
and at Oxford >
Good luck!

Yashaswini R Nov. 13, 2020, 9:16 a.m.

hi, i am interested to study neuroscience for undergraduate program in any of these two college

Charlotte King Nov. 18, 2020, 1:51 p.m.

We only provide information for postgraduate study I'm afraid. You should contact the universities directly to see what their undergraduate neuroscience offerings are.
Good luck with your studies!

Salvatore Dec. 15, 2020, 12:25 a.m.

Hi Charlotte,
I would like to ask you whether a student with a First such as 80% in Accounting from a non top unis, but with relevant work experience could get a place in the MSC in Taxation.

Many thanks for your opinions.

Charlotte King Dec. 16, 2020, 5:59 p.m.

Hi Salvatore,
As long as you have a good grade (2.1 or above) from any recognised university you should be eligible to study an MSc in Taxation. Here is a link to our database of masters programs in Taxation currently available to study in the UK and Europe:
Good luck!

Salvatore Jan. 11, 2021, 3:12 p.m.

Hi Charlotte,
So, if someone has got good grades from a non-target university can still be considered for studying an MSc in Taxation in Oxford. Is it what you mean?
Thank you again for your availability.

Ali Jan. 13, 2021, 8:59 p.m.

Hi Charlotte,

If one fails to be accepted onto a postgraduate PhD course can they reapply? And assuming that you can reapply what are the chances that after having been rejected first time you will be accepted the second time. Will the initial application failure having any bearing on the resubmission.



Charlotte King Jan. 13, 2021, 10:07 p.m.

Hi Salvatore – here is a link to the eligibility requirements to study on the MSc Taxation at the University of Oxford >
As long as you have good grades in your undergraduate degree you stand a chance of success in applying for a PG program. Good luck.

Charlotte King Jan. 13, 2021, 10:12 p.m.

Hi Ali – I think if you have already applied to Oxbridge to study a PhD and had your application rejected it would be unlikely that it would be accepted a second time, however it's not impossible. It would depend on a number of things, for example the reason for the rejection – poor interview or weak personal statement. Also if a new faculty member was appointed who specialised in your field of research this could improve your chances of success. Good luck.

James March 26, 2021, 12:28 p.m.

Hi everyone!

I completed my bachelor from a recognised uni with a high 2.1 and achieved 89% distinction on my thesis. I am now undertaking an MSc at the University of Bristol in Data Science with a so-far grade of a first, distinction on all units.

If I want to do a second Masters at Oxford in a relevant area (software), should I bother applying at all or do I have no chance to get in? My question is because I fear on several programs they say a first class undergrad degree, so even if I achieve a first on my masters I fear they will disregard it even if it is from a prestigious uni such as the uni of Bristol?

I will contact the admission's team too. I'd really appreciate any word of advice though!

Thank you.

Charlotte King March 31, 2021, 12:34 p.m.

Hi James – I think Oxbridge would welcome your application if you achieve highly in your current masters degree. Good luck with your application!

Omar Ibrahim Aug. 16, 2021, 3:47 a.m.

Hi Charlotte,

I am considering applying to the African Studies MPhil at Cambridge and wanted to ask if you think it's a good idea to email a member of faculty about my research interests and proposal as a friend of mine who was successful mentioned that he had done the same.

Kind regards,

Harry Tan Aug. 16, 2021, 3:27 p.m.

Hi. My daughter graduated from New York University with a 3.87 (out of 4.0 max) GPA. Does that make her a 2:1 in your grading system? Does she stand a chance to get acceptance into Oxbridge for a masters program? She has been accepted for a M.A. degree course at Columbia University in New York but I wish for her to go to Oxbridge instead.

Aaron Aug. 25, 2021, 1:54 a.m.

Hi Charlotte,

I graduated bsc hons in biomedical sciences from Lancaster uni and I am doing masters in Cambridge. Will my low a-level affect or be asked to present my a level even though I have a first class bachelor and if I get distinction in masters when I apply for grad med in Oxford??

Thank you

Charlotte King Aug. 25, 2021, 6:54 p.m.

Hi Harry – to be in with a chance of studying at Oxford University applicants need to have a minimum GPA of 3.7 out of 4.0 – this means your daughter should be eligible to apply.

Charlotte King Aug. 25, 2021, 6:57 p.m.

Hi Aaron – Now that you have graduated with a BSc Hons and are studying a masters degree at Cambridge I think it is highly unlikely that your A level grades will be asked. However it is likely that toy will need to have studied the science subjects to meet the entry requirements. Good luck.

Rajesh Sept. 12, 2021, 10:03 a.m.

I am final year BSc- Business Management student. I wanted to check if I can aspire for MPhil in International Relations from Oxford immediately after my graduation. Thanks

Charlotte King Sept. 12, 2021, 11:42 a.m.

Hi Rajesh – If you obtain a good grade (preferably a First but a 2:1 may also be OK) in your BSc and are studying at a well respected university I think you stand a good chance of continuing your studies at Oxford. I suggest you contact the admissions team there and see what the eligibility requirements are. Good luck!

Tom Sept. 17, 2021, 12:14 p.m.

Hi Charlotte,

I was wondering how much Oxbridge values graduate applicants who have two undergraduate degrees. Currently I am pursuing two bachelor degrees in political science and business administration. For both I am planning to get high grades that will meet the requirements, and I intent to apply for a politics related masters programme at Oxbridge. However, I am worried about whether Oxbridge will see someone with two degrees as too much of a generalist and therefore not (academically) specialised or 'interested' enough in the program (in my case politics) the person is applying for. But I also think that having two degrees can also be a sign of hard work and motivation. And lastly, politics and business can be two reasonably related fields. In short, do you think having two undergraduate degrees is an advantage for an Oxbridge application?

Kind regards,


Charlotte King Sept. 26, 2021, 7:12 p.m.

Hi Tom – as long as you obtain high grades in your undergraduate degrees I think you are definitely at an advantage with having the two qualifications, especially if they are relevant to the postgraduate course you want to study. Good luck with your application.

Sai Shruti Oct. 9, 2021, 4:35 p.m.

I've completed BSc (Hons.) in Physics, and I'm planning to apply for MSt in Philosophy of Physics in Oxford, any advice for that? This seems to be a rare course (I found only one more university offering this combination) and not many student intakes too, and I hardly see people talking about this course. I'm meeting all the entry requirements, and the supporting documents (tips on that too?) are in process. Also, I'm an international candidate. Would love to know if there are any alternatives too because I don't really have safety/backup universities.
Thanks for your time.

Charlotte King Oct. 13, 2021, 9:38 a.m.

Hi Sai – there are some other good options in the UK including courses at the University of Bristol >
and at LSE >
It's probably a good idea to look at these offerings too to see if they're more suitable for you. Our section on Applying for a Masters has some good advice on the application process >
Good luck!

Daria Feb. 26, 2022, 3:46 p.m.

Hi Charlotte,

I really hope that you can help me, since I have not found any relevant information elsewhere.
After discovering that my first undergraduate subject was not for me (law) I switched subjects (now archaeology) and universities without ever finishing my first degree.
I now graduated with a first class degree with honours in my new degree and am thinking about applying to Oxbridge for my masters.
However, I discovered that in the application, one must state "all periods of study at university level" and supply the corresponding documents (which, since my first course really wasn't my thing, show bad marks for my first, unfinished subject).
Do I really have to state my first studies even if they have nothing to do with my current field of study and I never acquired a degree in it?
Do you think it is worth trying to apply even with my history? Will it have an effect on my chances even though the subjects are completely different?

Kindest regards and thank you so much for your reply,

Charlotte King March 8, 2022, 9:55 a.m.

Hi Daria – if the university are requesting that you disclose all of your academic history then you should provide the details of your first degree. The fact that you swapped courses and moved on to successfully complete a degree in a relevant subject should stand you in good stead. Good luck.

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