This blogpost is pitched at Oxbridge candidates who are thinking about making a second application after having an initial one rejected. However, the plan it sets out is equally relevant to candidates who know that they will not make an application until after leaving school.
For some applicants, getting in to Oxbridge feels like everything. Ambitious candidates put a lot of pressure on themselves which can be compounded by expectation, in schools that draw up Oxbridge lists of pupils, or among peers vying for the same prize. But sometimes strong candidates slip through the net. If that happens to you, you have two options: accept a place at a different university (if youve been accepted to another great university this is by no means a bad option), or take a gap year and try again to fulfil your ambition. A previously unplanned gap year can be a daunting prospect, but reapplying might prove to be one of the best decisions you ever make. This blogpost sets out a 7-point plan about what you can do to maximize your chances the second time around if you choose to have another shot at it.
Step 1: Get as much feedback on your first application as possible from the university. When you are not offered a place, the natural reaction is to wonder why you werent. The answer in the case of Oxbridge is that you will always be up against strong candidates who just had a slight edge. But you must not be satisfied with this: find out any specific weaknesses that you can glean from the college to which you applied, because you need to eliminate them ahead of a second application. These weaknesses may lie in your interview technique, for example, or your pre-entrance tests such as the HAT History test, the LNAT for Law or the Languages grammar and aptitude tests. This is particularly true in the case of Oxford, where even more emphasis is placed on their own testing mechanisms rather than relying on public exam grades. Its very important to score highly in such tests to make as strong a case for being accepted as possible sometimes a lot rests on them!
Step 2: Go and get the exam grades. Work hard between January and June in school, because not meeting the grade requirements at A-level or equivalent can scupper your chances before you even make a second application. On the other hand, if you can exceed the required As with A*s for example, your application will have an impressive head start. Even just meeting the requirements puts you in a good position grades in hand are always more meaningful than predicted grades.
Step 3: Spend the first few months of your gap year building useful experience. Hopefully you get chance in the early months of the year to apply for gap year jobs or internships starting in the summer. Look to find a position which will help you to build relevant skills which support your application. For example, if you are a candidate in English, try to find an internship with a publishing firm or newspaper. If you are trying to get a place for Modern Languages, any kind of work abroad, for example in a school, will improve your language skills immensely. The experience you acquire will add to your knowledge and can improve your personal statement; it will make you a much stronger candidate. Whatever you choose to do though, make sure you meet all the application and test deadlines and that youre free for the December interview period!
Step 4: Build your academic knowledge by reading. Oxford and Cambridge want inquisitive minds demonstrable interest in your subject is what the tutors want to see. Your gap year will give you the chance to read around your subject without the time pressures of homework and classes that pre A-level candidates have, giving you a clear edge.
Step 5: Revisit your personal statement. As you reach the application season, do not be content to submit the same statement as last year it should be updated with your recent, relevant experience and the new knowledge you have acquired. Once you have done this, get as much feedback on your new statement as you possibly can from teachers, family, friends, relevant contacts you have such as alumni or current students. Remember, the personal statement is your chance to try to steer the interview in a direction which will suit your interests and strengths. Some tutors pay far more attention to it than others: give yourself the best chance by making your new statement watertight, because it could make the difference.
Step 6: Practise, practise! As a second-time applicant, you already know how the interview procedure works and feels. Practice will help you to feel as comfortable with it as possible when the real thing comes around again. Look to people you know with relevant experience such as your teachers, and make use of the range of tutors at your disposal to get as much mock interview practice in as possible. You cant get too much practice at it.
Step 7: Go out and do it. You are a year older and a year wiser than you were last time. You are a better candidate. When practising, think about how you can enjoy the interview experience. If youre passionate about your subject, a 15/20-minute discussion about it is generally a rewarding rather than an unpleasant experience. Dont let any previous failure weigh on your mind: you will be less nervous than the other candidates who have never done this before and you will relax into it more easily than they do. Of course it will be a testing experience. But with good preparation, it can be enjoyable too, whatever has happened in the past.
The competition will always be tough for an Oxbridge place. Give yourself the best possible chance by doing the right things and your application will be much stronger than the first time. If going to Oxford or Cambridge is what you really want to do, then show it by putting together an application which will be difficult for them to turn away. Good luck, and may you get the rewards that your hard work deserves.