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Applying to Oxbridge

Applying to Oxbridge Oxford

No hub of postgraduate information would be complete without an attempt to decode the Oxbridge application process, though despite what the myths accumulated over hundreds of years would have you believe, there’s no great mystery about it. Whether you’re interested in applying for a masters degree or a PhD (or DPhil in the case of Oxford, no particular reason behind it!) at Cambridge or Oxford, the whole thing is straightforward and there are no nasty twists and turns just waiting to trip you up. Needless to say, applying to Oxbridge requires a certain level of academic prowess and achievement, as well as putting in the effort to make the application worthwhile, but at postgraduate level this is universally true and is no reason to be put off!

Our guide to the Oxbridge application process will fill you in on the most important things to know about master’s/PhD/DPhil applications and hopefully in doing so encourage you to have a go. Hey, why not?

Oxbridge Applications

The Oxbridge application process is relatively straightforward. All applications are made electronically and as per usual require your personal details, academic history plus transcripts, CV and either two or three referees. Depending on the masters course you are applying for you may need to submit one or two essays of 2,000 words. You’re not asked to write new ones specifically for the application, the admissions tutors just want to get a sense of your writing style and how well you present your arguments so a couple of your best from undergrad will fit the bill just fine.

Applying to Oxbridge Cambridge Those applying to Oxbridge for a taught masters get to revisit everyone’s favourite part of UCAS; the personal statement! From experience it doesn’t get any easier trying to big yourself up without crossing your extreme pretentiousness threshold, however the personal statement is a marginally less painful experience second time round. There are two primary reasons for this. Firstly, postgraduate applications are handled by the universities themselves rather than a centralised organisation like UCAS, and this includes the Oxbridge application process. Secondly, masters degrees and PhD/DPhils are by their very nature much more specific than undergraduate degrees. Both these factors allow you to tailor your personal statement to the course and institution and hone in on particular details that explain your choice rather than having to keep it general. Also you can show off your individual interests and experiences to your heart’s content, the more niche the better if it complements your course. The personal statement is the place to show how the work of your chosen Oxbridge faculty complements your interests and why you would be an asset to the course, department and university.

Prospective students applying to Oxbridge for a research masters have to write a research proposal of roughly 750-1,000 words. The research proposal is the lynchpin of the application when it’s required; not only does it have to feasible and bear close scrutiny but as you’re committing yourself for up to three years it needs to be a topic that you love so much you’re prepared to devote yourself to it.


Kathryn Smoraczewska, who is studying for an MPhil in Gender Studies at Cambridge also has a very useful point to bear in mind, “ There is some scope to adapt the research proposal when you get there but because they need to find you a supervisor it’s pretty hard to move away from the general discipline/field you’ve proposed to work in.”

For PhD/DPhil candidates the format is an extended version of that of research master’s courses, namely a longer research proposal and at least a 5,000-7,000 sample of your writing, the latter of which is ‘not compulsory but helpful’ for Oxford according to the website.

Unlike other universities Oxford does not necessarily expect prospective candidates to find their own supervisor for their thesis. However there is nothing to stop you from looking up Oxbridge academics with similar research interests to you and using them as a sounding board for your application.


First year English DPhil student Claire Johnstone remembers her application, “ I noticed that Oxford discouraged you from personally selecting/contacting potential supervisors, though it is necessary for other institution.”

Oxbridge Application Deadlines

The deadlines for Oxbridge applications are all over the place and it’s worth knowing what’s in when right at the start so you don’t inadvertently miss the boat. To start at the beginning of the academic year in October at Cambridge the application process is open until July, however if you require funding you need to apply by either December or January depending on which scholarship you’re going for. It is also possible to begin your course in January or April, and the deadlines for then are September and December respectively.

For Oxford the crucial dates are different. There are three rounds of deadlines for postgraduate courses (all starting in October): November, January and March. Those who want funding must apply by the January deadline and though it is possible to secure a place as late as March the university starts accepting people from the November deadline. With this in mind it is advisable to get on it ASAP to maximise your chance of success.

The Oxbridge application process is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort, but it’s doable!  At postgrad level the application asks as much as most other universities and certainly doesn’t demand superhero deeds of its prospective students. If you see a course that grabs you, go for it. You never know, you might just get in...


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