July has arrived, the sun is shining and after the stress of exams, the summer holiday stretches tantalisingly ahead. October, with its UCAS applications and deadlines, seems very far away. But for those who are planning to apply to Oxford and Cambridge, the most elite and competitive UK universities, the hard work is just beginning. There is much talk about personal statement perfection, interview drilling and the perfect UCAS form, but to truly give yourself the best possible chance of getting into Oxbridge, you need to start your preparation now. Our experts have put together a list of the key steps you need to start taking now if you want to get into Oxbridge when application time comes around in October.

Know Your Oxbridge

It might sound obvious, but one of the most important things to do in advance is to really get to know Oxford and Cambridge, and choose which university feels right for you. As well as geographical location, you need to think about colleges, funding and financial aid, amenities, subjects and courses. One of the most common opening interview questions is ‘Why Oxford?’ or ‘Why Cambridge?’ You don’t want to respond with the same generic answer as everybody else, so make sure you really get to know the place and think hard about why it is right for you. It shouldn’t be just the prestige that attracts you to the university but also something personal that makes you feel you would fit in there.

Sign up for Oxbridge Open Days

One of the best ways to get a real feel for a university is to talk to current students and be shown around by someone who is actually studying there. So talk to any family or friends you know who are already at Oxbridge, or ask your school to put you in touch with any past students who are now studying there. Make sure to sign up in advance to the faculty and college open days, as they are always oversubscribed months in advance, and when you get there, take advantage of the opportunity to ask as many questions as possible.

Know the Oxbridge Course

Finding out well in advance about the specific ins and outs of the academic course you want to study is of the utmost importance to your Oxbridge application. Both universities’ websites contain detailed information about the organisation and content of every academic course on the individual faculty websites. Visit www.cam.ac.uk or www.ox.ac.uk and find your course.

Oxbridge Background Reading

Once you have an idea of the programme of study of your chosen course, you will be able to start a little background reading on any major areas that your A-level subjects have not covered. If, for example, you are planning to study English literature and you discover that medieval literature is a big element of the course, but you haven’t covered it at all at school, it will show great initiative on your part if you read one or two of the set texts from the medieval period over the summer holidays.

There’s no need to cover the whole reading list, but bear in mind that you will be interviewed by supervisors who teach this course and are passionate about it. If you should happen to find that your interviewer is a specialist in the medieval period, you would shine in their eyes for having made an effort to at least investigate an area of the course that you know little about.

TOP OXBRIDGE INSIDER TIP! Once you have chosen your college and course, you will usually be able to find out which fellows of the college teach that subject and what their specialties are, using the college website. You can then tailor your extra-curricular reading to match the special teaching areas of the people who are most likely to be interviewing you!

Oxbridge Extra Research

Interviewers will often ask leading and challenging questions about contemporary events in the field you have chosen to study, such as important legal rulings, scientific discoveries or political developments over the year leading up to your interview. Trying to cram in revision of the past year in the few weeks leading up to your interview will be stressful and ineffective, so start now! There’s no need to go mad; just make sure that over the summer you keep abreast of current events in your subject area. A fun and easy way to do this can be subscribing to a relevant topical magazine or journal, such as the New Scientist, the Economist or the Financial Times.

Oxbridge Extra-Curricular Activities

Competition for Oxbridge places is extremely fierce and admissions tutors will often be choosing between scores of applicants who all have the same set of fantastically high AS-level and GCSE grades. To stand out from the pack, it is essential to have a well-rounded set of extra-curricular achievements to add to your UCAS form. You won’t have time to suddenly cram all these in when October arrives, so make a start now!

Whether it’s the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Ten Tors Challenge, a charity sporting event or a music group or sports team, make sure you get involved over the summer so you have plenty to write about when filling out your Personal Statement. Applying for a school prefect position will show responsibility and maturity, and hobbies outside school show that you are good at organising your time efficiently.

Oxbridge Work Experience

Depending on the degree course you will be applying for, it may also be extremely advantageous to arrange some work experience over the summer holidays. This is especially important for more vocational degrees like medicine and law, where your A-levels may not have given you a full insight into the realities of the course.

Admissions tutors will always be impressed by candidates who have made the extra effort to get involved and really find out what their chosen career entails and it will give you a lot more concrete information to discuss in the interview than simply “I want to help people”!

So get started now on the essential preparation you need to give you the best possible chance of getting into Oxbridge when the October application period arrives.