💼 PhD student
⏳ Oct 2021 — Oct 2024
✅ Student Visa
University of Cambridge
💰 100% Financial Need Met
🌏 40% International
Applying to university for the first time can be a daunting experience. Applying to two of the highest ranking and UK’s famous universities, Oxford and Cambridge (‘Oxbridge’), can be even more daunting because of the myths surrounding the process. A couple of years ago, I applied to Oxford for the first time for my undergraduate study, and just over a year ago, I applied to my doctorate programme at Cambridge. I can therefore say that despite the great myths accumulated throughout the years, there is no great mystery about the application process at Oxbridge.
In this article, I hope to break down the application process at the postgraduate level for prospective international students, whether that be a master's or a PhD/DPhil at Cambridge or Oxford.
Oxford or Cambridge?
If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked which university I prefer between Oxford and Cambridge, I think I would have been rich enough to travel around Europe. Truthfully, it really is a personal preference, as much of the academic system and standard is the same. For example, much of the collegiate system is the same for both universities. Oxbridge is based on several independent colleges, and you can make a personal preference of the college of your choice when making an official application to the university. Personally, my research interest and project ultimately helped me decide between the two universities in the end.
It goes without saying that Oxbridge attracts the best of the best applicants from all parts of the world and therefore requires a high academic standard; it requires a certain academic prowess and achievement. However, at the postgraduate level, this is not the only requirement. All applications are made electronically (through an applicant portal), and it is worth knowing that you have to pay a 65-pound fee for an application to Cambridge and 75-pounds for an Oxford application. I am aware that this is a lot of money, and I would not have been able to afford it if it had not been for my side job and savings. However, if you are in a financially difficult position, there are circumstances where you can apply for a fee waiver. Nevertheless, from the 2022/2023 application cycle onwards, postgraduate students applying to undertake a doctoral degree at Cambridge will no longer have to pay a fee to submit their application to study at Cambridge.
Next, I had to submit a personal statement, academic history/manuscripts, CV, research proposal, and recommendation letters (2 or 3 depending on the course you are applying for). The research proposal is central to the application when it is required; not only does it have to be feasible and bear scrutiny, but as you are committing yourself for up to three years, it needs to be a topic that you love so much you are prepared to devote yourself to it.
Depending on your master’s course, you might need to submit essays of 2,000 words. You do not have to write a new one specifically. The aim of the essays is to enable the admissions tutors to gauge your level of presenting arguments, hence you can submit one of the best essays you have written from your undergrad.
Your personal statement needs to be tailored to your research interest, course, and institution. Moreover, you must show your interests and experiences and how this complements your course/research. Overall, the personal statement is where you show off how the chosen Oxbridge faculty complements your research interests and why you would be an asset to the course, department, and university.
The deadlines for Oxbridge vary considerably and it is worth knowing the specific dates from the start, so you do not inadvertently miss it. For the academic year starting in October in 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 are going for. It is also possible to begin your course in January or April, and the deadlines for then are September and December, respectively. There are several scholarships offered at Oxbridge, and I had to research this to find the most fitting funding for me. Some doctorate programmes have enlisted funding which you can apply for directly when you are applying to the programme.
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 start your application as early as possible.
Interviews and selection
If you have made it through the first stage of the application process, you will be shortlisted for an interview or multiple interviews by most departments/faculties. Some scholarships and studentships will also invite shortlisted candidates for interviews and are quite competitive. As an international student, my interview was conducted via video conferencing. The interview is where you will present your background and your research interest and will be a more in-depth discussion of your research projects based on your research proposal. Scholarship interviews are often more broadly based and not solely on your research. Depending on the specific scholarship you are going for, admissions tutors might ask you about any volunteer work or previous work that shows your commitment to contributing to society (e.g., the Gates scholarship offered at Cambridge).
Finally, what I would say to prospective students considering applying to Oxbridge, is that though the Oxbridge application process is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort, it is doable! At the postgraduate level, the application asks as much as most other universities and certainly does not demand superhero deeds of its prospective students. If you see a course that entices you, go for it. I never thought that, as a first-gen student from a small town in Norway, I would end up being here. You never know, you might just get in...