... 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. Without that handicap, there is no reason why the written elements of your application should be standouts.
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 vise 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.