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How to enter Oxbridge



The beginning of summer is a nervous time for applicants. Thousands go to St. Petersburg universities, dozens go to foreign universities, and only a few go to Oxford and Cambridge. "City 812" understood what to do there and what it was like to study there.

ABOUT Xford and Cambridge (collectively called Oxbridge) are among the most prestigious educational institutions in the world. Despite years of confrontation, Oxford and Cambridge are very similar in many ways. Oxford is better known for the humanities, Cambridge - for the exact and natural, but many believe that this division is conditional now.

Going to Oxbridge is not easy. But some are trying. And after graduation, and after graduating from a Russian university. For example, Evgeny Zatulovsky graduated from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, and then Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge: “I managed to feel the organizational and bureaucratic barriers that put in the way of science, and the purely financial aspects that did not allow the young scientist in Russia to be surrendered to all thoughts of scientific work, and see the inefficiency of most Russian laboratories. Therefore, I decided that inevitably I would have to either leave science or try to integrate into the global scientific environment. ”

In addition to high academic performance and good knowledge of English, one of the serious obstacles to Oxford or Cambridge can be a high tuition fee - now it is from 10 to 12 thousand pounds per year. If own funds are not enough, various international funds that provide grants and scholarships can help. But no one will guarantee whether they will approve your grant application or not. It is necessary to try as much as possible to fit the required qualities - in academic performance, scientific activity and social activity. In Russia, there are no funds that pay for studying abroad for the best students, although they spoke of the need to develop such a system.

But even if progressive obstacles are overcome, students from Russia have to adapt to actually study at Oxbridge - university life there is arranged differently than ours. For example, there is one session (in Russia there are usually two) in the UK, there are no intermediate exams, but only final exams at the end of the year. Maxim Buev, Dean of the Faculty of Economics at the European University in St. Petersburg, a graduate of St. Petersburg State University and EU and St Antony's College at Oxford University, recalls: “In England there is one big session at the end of the year. At the same time, many exams are put on one day: sometimes there are three exams per day - in the morning, afternoon and evening. Of course, the tactics of preparing for such sessions are completely different. We have to prepare for all exams at the same time. It is very difficult to switch, for example, from macroeconomics at 9 a.m. to advanced econometrics at 13:00. On the exam itself (they are all written) there is only time to immediately answer the question, i.e. to think, to remember - there is no time. "

The same system in Cambridge. “The student’s own business is to study for a semester or to enjoy freedom,” says Yevgeny Zatulovsky. - It’s unlikely that it will be possible to prepare for the exam during the session in a couple of sleepless nights, as many of us do in Russia - they can take several exams at once, and a couple more in a day. And the possibilities of retake are very limited. ” However, even without a session, every week during the school year you need to take a large amount of written work - an essay.

Along with this, there is freedom in Oxbridge - much needs to be comprehended independently. There are few lectures in comparison with Russian universities - and not all of them are required to attend. The tutoring system partly helps to cope with study. A tutor is a mentor (usually a senior student), with whom the turnet meets 1-2 times a week.

In addition to academic achievement, Oxbridge students must participate in social life. According to Ksenia Pospelova, who graduated from the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg and St 'Catherine College of Oxford, “it is difficult to be a student at Oxbridge and not belong to at least one society - from the Dickens Society to Bangladesh. I was a member of the Russian and German societies, as well as the Oxford International Debate Society. ”

“Among the students, graduate students and scientists in Cambridge there are quite a lot of Russians, or rather Russian-speaking people,” says Yevgeny Zatulovsky. - We have the Russian Society of the University of Cambridge, it organizes many cultural, recreational and educational events for both Russian people and foreigners. "I was the president of this Society in 2011-2012, I still belong to its executive committee and I can say that interest in Russian culture and in the Russian language is quite high among the British and other citizens."

Relations with the English are described in different ways, but in the main they all agree: the most unusual is the closed or conservative English. They may not greet you (even when studying in the same group) if you were not introduced to each other.

At the same time, an atmosphere of equality reigns in Oxbridge. Maxim Buev says this: “Oxford teaches us not to be afraid of authorities. Due to its unique reputation, it attracts a lot of speakers. Every day you are really torn between a lecture by Tony Blair and a seminar by Umberto Eco and dinner with Seva Novgorodtsev. With each of them there is always the opportunity to talk over a glass of wine after the main part of the event. ”

Oxbridge graduates work differently with work. “A diploma does not guarantee that you will quickly find a good well-paid job. Sometimes, oddly enough, this interferes - some people envy, others do not understand, still others are mistrusted, ”says Ksenia Pospelova. But be that as it may, former Oxbridge students are not sitting without work.


Maxim Buev, a graduate of St Antony's College Oxford, Dean of the Faculty of Economics of EU.

- Why did you choose Oxford?
- I planned to leave to study in the West, on a PhD program in economics. I didn’t knowingly submit to America - I thought that you need to study in Europe, this enriches us more culturally. I was taken to Barcelona, ​​Essex and Oxford. But the full money for training was provided only by Oxford. Therefore, everything was decided by itself.

At that time, the Oxford tuition fee was £ 6,500. The cost of living was the same. Where to find that kind of money? I wrote letters to more than 40 charitable foundations in the UK - all to no avail. Many did not answer at all, 5-7 funds sent polite refusals. However, in the fall of 1998, I came across an announcement that the investment bank N M Rothschild & Sons was offering Russian citizens one scholarship to study at the MPhil program in economics at Oxford University. There were more than 300 candidates for the Rothschilds scholarship that year. The first condition for receiving a scholarship was to pass all the requirements of the selection committee at the University of Oxford. In the end, I was the only de facto scholarship applicant.

- What turned out to be the most difficult and unusual while studying?
- I was struck by several things that fundamentally distinguish our education from English. Firstly, the number of lectures, training hours per week. At the master's program, we had a maximum of 10 hours of classes (lectures and seminars) in the class per week. And that’s all. And then it was assumed that you were going to read in the library. Oxford teaches just that - to read, and to read a lot.

Secondly, students at Oxford are constantly writing essays. Even in math. Learn to express your thoughts and ideas in writing. Undergraduate students get up to three essays a week. Each essay is up to 9000 words, i.e. about 15 pages. To write one essay, you need to read about 400 pages of various literature. The arithmetic is simple: 1000 pages of reading per week and 45 pages of essays.

It was difficult to switch from the mode of our approach to teaching to the English mode. In my first year, I didn’t go to the library very much because of Russian habit. I thought - before the session I’ll catch up. Then the nightmare began. I went on my old knowledge (fortunately, before entering Oxford I already had two higher educations).

It was difficult to understand and accept (i.e. not to notice and not be offended) some English habits. For example, professors are not required to say hello to students and in return do not expect “hello” if you run into them on the stairs. At the same time, students themselves may stop greeting each other if you find yourself in different classes in the new semester, although you were greeted in the same semester last semester.

- And how effective is mentoring?
- Mentorship is, of course, the Oxford trump card. The opportunity to discuss problems (not only scientific, but also personal) not in the classroom, but one-on-one - this is guaranteed by the system of tutors and tutorials in each college - it is priceless for the student. But it exists, in fact, only for bachelors. For them, I myself was already a mentor.
- And what kind of entertainment is there?
- I joined, for example, the European Affairs Society (EAS). This is an association of interest in European politics and economics. EAS bought me with its Oxford entertainment “Port and Policy”: this is when everyone gathers in tuxedos, with butterflies, drinks port and talks about politics. And they smoke cigars, of course, if they have money for them (I didn’t have it). Then I joined the Conservative Association - at that time it was not very fashionable, because Labor was in power. It was even more pathos than Port and Policy. From time to time there was a strawberry with champagne - this is an easy option. But at some point I enjoyed the true English gatherings.

There is still such entertainment as balls. They are usually organized in spring and summer. They cost a lot - in my time about 100-150 pounds per person per evening (a usual party is 2-3 pounds), but they can be very funny, because it all boils down to “getting drunk a lot in a good style,” that is . all in evening dresses, drink and kiss a lot.

At the beginning of each year, various university societies advertise themselves among new students at a special fair. However, there are still informal societies or clubs - everyone knows about them, but you can get into them only at the invitation of their members. For example, many representatives of the aristocracy were members of the elite Bullingdon club in Oxford. Its members often arrange dinners somewhere in a restaurant, and then suddenly begin to trash this restaurant, leaving no stone unturned. The task is to have time to escape before the police arrive.

- Is it easy to find a job in the UK with an Oxford diploma?
“When I left for Oxford, a friend of the Englishman said:“ Oh, Oxford is a completely different fate. ” He was right. Oxford opens many doors - not only due to the quality of knowledge, but also to the brand. The British have a large complex in front of Oxford. A foreigner with an Oxford diploma in England becomes, as it were, not his own, but his own. And so his own, which is open more doors.
- Is the English training system better than ours?
- Russian universities - they are different. Our roots are in the German model of education. Where they teach in large groups. It is neither better nor worse. Just different.

Nina Kruglikova,Founder of the Oxford University Alumni Society in St. Petersburg:

“I was trained in an environmental management program for a Master of Science degree at Lincoln College, Oxford.” Many of those who return to Russia after studying in England move to Moscow almost immediately, since there are more opportunities and prospects for work and growth.

Oxford, in local terms, is not part of the real world, i.e. not part of the real world. Therefore, it is important to know not only the formal features of training, but also some behavioral features that will be useful to future students. In addition to numerous traditions dating back centuries, there is a certain code language of communication between the student and the supervisor. The British manner of communication is largely based on allegory, and the inherent straightforwardness of Russians can be perceived as rudeness. Therefore, if a British scientist tells you: “This is interesting,” you probably should not deceive yourself, in most cases it translates as follows: “It will probably be interesting to someone, but not to me, at least not now.”

Evgeny Zatulovskygraduate of Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge:

- Between Cambridge and Oxford, I leaned toward Cambridge - he specializes more in the natural sciences, chose the scientific department of the university in which he would like to work - the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, sent an application for admission. Before that, for about a year I had to work on improving my CV resume in order to increase my chance of applying, participated in scientific competitions and international conferences, wrote articles. Some time after the filing of the documents, I was invited to the laboratory for an interview. For the whole day I answered the questions of various commissions and potential scientific advisers in English. A few months later I was informed that I managed to earn a scholarship to study at the university and I was enrolled in the laboratory and at Gonville and Caius College.

Arriving to study in Cambridge, a student or graduate student is actually enrolled in one of these 31 colleges. The college is no less a social institution for the student than an educational institution: the student lives in college, there are many sports sections and circles at colleges, concerts, parties and balls are held on the college grounds for students. Colleges in every way stimulate communication between their students: almost every day, dinners are held in the old hall, where a physicist, a specialist in medieval literature, a lawyer, and a physician can be at the same table - it is believed that such an interaction can enrich everyone. What is absolutely surprising for a Russian student, each college has its own bar where students can drink inexpensive good beer, wine or port and have fun chatting.

Despite the fact that the British are more closed people than the Russians. With all the outward politeness, they are rather reluctant to talk on personal and universal topics. This, it seems to me, is connected with their tradition of meeting friends and colleagues in a pub after work: firstly, a little alcohol helps easy communication, and secondly, in England it is not very customary to invite people to their house to visit. As one Russian-speaking friend told his English colleague: “Do you know what the difference is between us? Exactly two pints! After two pints, you begin to communicate as we usually communicate. ”

Admission to Oxford and Cambridge is a long process that can take a year. You won’t be able to do it right after school - they study in a Russian school a year less than in a British one. This year it is better to study at a Russian university, or to graduate from school under the International Baccalaureate program, or special preparatory courses in the UK. When submitting documents, you must have an international certificate confirming knowledge of the English language, write a motivation letter, have good grades, pass at least two interviews, suitability tests in many subjects, write a written work in some subjects, provide grades at the end of school and characteristics. Then you have to go through more tests in the chosen direction. And attend to the search for a grant.

For those who enter the magistracy, the rules are similar: you need a diploma, knowledge of the language, grades, confirmation of the ability to pay for education plus tests and interviews .

Are you fit for Oxbridge?

The standards of Oxford and Cambridge are high, but this does not mean that a mere mortal cannot go there. However, if you want to become a student of one of these prestigious universities, you should first imagine the upcoming path.

Right after graduation, applicants from the republics of the former USSR cannot enter the undergraduate programs of British universities, especially Oxford or Cambridge.

In order to seriously qualify for undergraduate studies at Oxbridge, in most cases you must have at least 6 A marks in the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education), which is the final stage of secondary education in the UK and Northern Ireland, and have all the marks “A” for Advanced Subsidiary (AS) - the first level of the educational program for the preparation of admission to universities in the UK A-Level (General Certificate of Education Advanced Level).

The selection committee will also definitely look at the results for individual exam modules, which should be on average above 90%. If, in addition, you enjoy reading literature on your favorite subject in your free time and do not miss the chance to discuss academic topics with your peers, then Oxbridge is definitely for you.

What is a typical candidate for Oxbridge?

How such a “typical candidate” does not exist. Oxbridge is just interesting for its variety of students. Любой кандидат с высокими академическими достижениями, неподдельным интересом к своему любимому предмету и мотивацией должен рассматривать возможность поступления в Кембриджский или Оксфордский университет.

Как подать документы в Оксбридж?

Документы в бакалавриат Оксфорда и Кембриджа подаются через систему UCAS, как и во все британские университеты. Однако дата подачи отличается: нужно успеть до 15 октября . Можно выбрать несколько колледжей, которые вас интересуют.

Можно их и не указывать. Тогда вас при зачислении распределят в один из колледжей. In one round, you cannot apply for a bachelor's degree at both Oxford and Cambridge University.

However, this rule does not apply if you enter a magistracy or doctoral program. The decision to accept a candidate for undergraduate studies is made at the college level, not the university. College tutors select applicants. Selection Results Become Known December .

The letter of motivation should not directly refer to the University of Oxford or Cambridge, as UCAS will send it to all the universities you choose. At least 80% of the content of the motivation letter should be devoted to highlighting the moments associated with your studies, and only a small paragraph should be dedicated to your interests outside of school.

This is not because the head of Oxbridge students is only full of study. Just a tutor selects applicants from a huge number of well-trained academically prepared candidates, so he must understand how exactly you are ready to cope with a large academic load. Use your motivation letter to convince the tutor of your high academic abilities, intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm and hard work.

Interviewing with applicants is only one of the stages of the selection of candidates, which also includes written exams and essay writing. University of Oxford uses written tests to select candidates for the next phase - interviews. Cambridge University does not require exams before an interview.

To enter some study programs at both universities, you need to pass a critical thinking test (Thinking Skills Asesssment or TSA). The University of Cambridge will also ask you to fill out the Supplementary Application Form.

Oxbridge is shrouded in a cloud of elitist myths. These are truly elite schools, but only in a positive context: Oxford and Cambridge are training the intellectual elite. If you are ready to join the ranks of intellectuals, then go ahead!

An effective A-level system really helps

The British authorities did a great job of democratizing admission to Oxbridge, despite the resistance of the staff of these oldest universities. The introduced A-level preparation system for admission played an important role, making the admission rules simpler and more understandable. In addition, it is really effective: students gain confidence, begin to speak English fluently and show their best abilities and skills by the time they pass the A-level exams.

Only Oxbridge? Are you sure this will suit you?

Most students who successfully pass the A-level exams, fueled by parental ambitions, consider the universities of Oxford and Cambridge the only possible educational institutions that guarantee a brilliant career and high incomes.

This point of view is somewhat untrue. The fact is that some of the study programs at Oxbridge are academic and lagging behind modern times, the selection criteria for students are too strict, and the admission rules narrow down the scope of entry.

In addition, no diploma in the world guarantees a successful career and wealth - it all depends on the graduate. Therefore, it is worth soberly assessing your capabilities: the university duet is still intended only for the best.

Possible options

However, not all 18-year-olds have such determination. Young people want not only to “study, study and study,” but also to enjoy all the privileges of youth. Yes, and a clear understanding of their interests and goals at this age for the majority is not well formed. In this case, it is better to choose a university with more democratic admission rules and a greater degree of freedom, for example, the universities of the Russel group.

How to enter top universities

The best schools in Britain prepare students for admission in two directions: form a portfolio of work and train in behavior at a university interview, organizing special role-plays.

In many schools, preparation for Oxbridge and other universities is introduced as a separate subject, and the curriculum takes into account the characteristics of each educational institution.

No British school can provide guarantees of admission. But if you start training as early as possible in a school with a good academic reputation, the chance of admission to Oxbridge increases significantly.