Getting into Oxford University - A Guide. Image courtesy of Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr Commons.

Home > Articles > The University & Its Traditions

How Do You Get Into Oxford University? Is It Hard? What Grades Do You Need?

Getting into Oxford University - A Guide. Image courtesy of Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr Commons.

If you’ve finished secondary school, you might be wondering how hard it is to get into Oxford. There is no simple answer, as it truly depends on a lot of different things you will need to consider before applying, but at this point, let’s just say: It’s not easy. But it’s also not as complicated as you might think.

We have prepared this detailed guide to answer all your questions about getting into Oxford University. In this article, we will help you understand what grades you need to get into Oxford, how much time you really need to spend preparing, and what you can expect if you do get admitted to a college. We got a few things to cover, so let’s get started, shall we? 

How do People Get Into Oxford?

First things first. How do people actually get admitted into Oxford University?

Most students that currently attend a college will tell you that they achieved their required grades (A-Levels, usually) and applied through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. Many current students also had to take an entrance test and submit written work, attend an interview, and wait patiently for a call letting them know if they had been admitted. This is similar regardless of what school you’re interested in, be it Oxford, Cambridge, or another.

It’s important to remember that different courses have different requirements, too. It’s not the same if you pick medicine or want to study literature. For example, if you’re going to study maths at the University of Oxford, you will have to pass the MAT, a subject-specific admissions test. And there are a lot of other specific steps you will need to take depending on your subject (we’ll cover these soon). 

So, how do people get into Oxford? Pretty much like they do to other universities… with a few twists that are specific to your course.

Is it Hard to Get Into Oxford?

Let’s dive right into the important question and the reason you’re probably reading this. As I mentioned above, getting into Oxford is not easy, but it’s probably not as hard as you think either.

It can be helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the university(‘s admission office!) and try to think about what you would want to see in your potential students. The thing that colleges look for the most in new students is not necessarily academic brilliance – but an honest and demonstrable interest in a subject.

A vital component of a successful Oxford University application is confidence. Well, confidence and a genuine passion for what you want to study, as well as a willingness to debate and learn. 

Oxford classes are small and have a sort of adversarial style of discussion. Students are encouraged to argue to justify their positions. It’s, of course, not about inflexibility. Rather, it has to do with being able to address an issue in a logical way, reason a conclusion, and stand up for your own ideas.

Extra-curricular activities are not as important as many think to get into Oxford. In fact, Oxford appreciates intelligence and enthusiasm, not whether you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro! So, to close this section, I would say: If you love a subject, it is not that hard to get into Oxford.

Rowing in Oxford: Where to Learn
Harry Potter filming locaitons in Christ Church Oxford

What Grades do you Need to Get Into Oxford?

In order to apply to Oxford University courses, you will need to meet certain qualification requirements. A-levels are recommended although not mandatory.

The subject will, again, depend on what you want to pursue. If you’re planning on studying science, for example, you will need some A-level standards or their equivalent. Offers for students studying A-levels range between A*A*A and AAA, depending on the course. GCSEs will be taken into account too, but more as an additional aspect of your Oxford application. 

The Process of Getting Into Oxford - How to Apply, Step by Step

The Oxford Admissions Tests

Many Oxford courses will require you to take an admission test (not all do, however. For example, “Archaeology and Anthropology” doesn’t require you to take one). You should always research and practise for your test. You can find the correct ones for your subject and use the test pages listed here to practise. All of Oxford University’s tests are administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (or CAAT). Keep in mind that you need to follow a few steps to sign up for the tests; registering to the CAAT portal is NOT enough. 

> Read more about Oxford Admission Tests here

Getting UCAS Support

The UCAS is an independent charity that supports young people apply for undergraduate (and graduate) courses. They provide advice, and information, and can help you with your University admission process. In 2019, the charity handled over 2.79 million applications! Many of the students they assisted were accepted at Oxford University. Their website can help you choose what and where to study, meet with other students (that have been admitted or are trying to as well) and give you tips for your Oxford interview or audition. You should complete a UCAS application form a year before the start date of your course. Applications open in May.

Written Work

Many Oxford courses will require you to present a sample of your written work. The goal of this exercise is to demonstrate your reasoning, analytical ability, language, and writing skills – of course always related t the course you have chosen. It’s common for your written work to be mentioned in your interview, so you should always keep a copy of it (and make sure you’re familiar with what you said!) for your own reference. 

The Interview

The admission test and the interview are probably the two biggest things to prepare for when you are preparing to apply to Oxford University courses. You will normally be interviewed by two tutors, who will assess your academic potential and your ability to study, think, and learn in a certain way (Oxford has small classes and tutorials). Tutors are looking for two things during your Oxford interview: Enthusiasm and self-motivation, Your appearance, background, or manners do not matter. Only your ability to engage with new ideas and think independently will count. Lots of people get very stressed thinking about the interview, but you should see it as an opportunity to learn more about the college, your tutors, and other potential students. You’re likely to have more than one interview or to be interviewed by more than one college.

The Offer

If you do well in your interview, Oxford University will make you an offer to start your course. Decisions are released via UCAS Track early in the morning, and you will then get direct communication from the college. You can also request feedback on admission decisions by sending an email to the college that considered your application. 

So, Is It Hard to Get Into Oxford?

If you have the right grades (for example, A-Levels ranging between A*A*A and AAA or the equivalent where you studied) and you’re genuinely interested in a subject, getting into Oxford will not be hard. The process of applying, though, can be rather time-consuming. In many cases, you’ll have to present written work, attend an interview, and might need also to sit admissions tests. 

All of this is worth it, though, for the University of Oxford is a truly wonderful academic institution!

Explore the university traditions, learn more about the different academic terms, the halls, common rooms, and beautiful medieval quadrangles. Browse All >

Our collection of articles with ideas for things to do and see, the history of this incredible city, the University, its museums, literature and movie inspirations, filming locations, and much more.