The majority of parents in the UK want what’s best for the children and, when it comes to their education, what’s best is Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Oxbridge is still the Holy Grail of universities and, whilst these universities might not suit all personalities, when it comes to academia they’re unrivaled.

So, how can you help your child get into one of the most prestigious universities in the UK? Within my role at school, I’ve fostered links with both universities in the hope of raising the aspirations of some of our most academically gifted pupils and, although my boys aren’t even close to their high school years yet so the prospect of them attending university is still a faraway thought for me (thank GOD! I’ll definitely be a crier when that time comes!), I thought I’d put together this article based on the experience and insight I’ve gathered.

The Importance of Top Grades

Make no mistake, when it comes to grades, both universities will only consider the brightest pupils, and this intelligence has to be reflected in their GCSE and, AS and A level performance. Supporting your children at home, encouraging them to do their best, praising them when they do, and ensuring they have a good work/leisure balance is fundamental to their success at school and contributes greatly to shaping a confident child that will do well academically and have the strength to balance those demands with the many other demands of growing up.

However, parents, like children, have to be realistic in their aims. You’ll know if your child is exceptional in one or more subjects because their teachers will be desperate to meet you at Parents’ Evening, and they’ll talk to you about individual pieces of work your child has done – it means your child has stood out in a year group, which means they are likely to be gifted in that subject.

However, many kids do really well in many subjects, but to get into the best universities they have to be getting the top grades across the board. Depending on the size of the school, this can be a tiny number of pupils, or may not even apply to some year groups.

Basically, if you feel your child is academically gifted, getting confirmation from the school should be your first step. The harsh truth is we all feel our kids are special – and they are – but, being realistic, there are only approximately 7000 pupils a year getting into Oxford and Cambridge collectively, so we as parents need to be aware of what a mammoth task it is to apply successfully to these universities before we raise out kids’ hopes.

The Private School Preference: Myth or Reality?

In my current role at school, I have been liaising fairly frequently with both universities and, in my professional opinion, both seem very keen to build relationships with comprehensive schools across the UK. A cynic might say this is so they get the pick of the “best” pupils in the country; an optimist might believe they are opening their doors to the “best” regardless of their socio-economic background (and so they should!). But doesn’t this amount to the same thing? In a nutshell, Oxbridge seems to be taking steps to becoming more “inclusive”.

They have held many workshops, taster sessions and information presentations in my area of the country, inviting as many of the local comprehensive schools as possible.

I recently attended a workshop on the Cambridge application process and one thing struck me as supporting their claim to having no (or, at least, less) preference for private school pupils. Representatives from Cambridge said they place little importance in personal statements (what pupils have to write on their applications to universities) that showcase a pupil’s extra-curricular hobbies, interests and activities that are unrelated to the subject they have applied to study.

I was surprised by this, thinking an eclectic list of extra-curricular activities would show a well-rounded individual. However, Cambridge’s argument for this is that private schools – generally, I’m assuming – provide more extra-curricular opportunities than comprehensive schools, which would give these pupils an advantage over pupils from comprehensive schools, which is why, they claim, to disregard them.

What Are Oxford and Cambridge Looking For?

Besides good grades, they’re both looking for a pupil’s thorough knowledge and ardent passion for the subject they have applied to study. They may not be interested in unrelated extra-curricular activities, but they are definitely interested in anything extra a pupil has done that shows their enthusiasm for the subject.

Need concrete examples?

If you are applying to study English, have you set up and ran a book club or school newspaper? Have you tutored younger pupils in this area? Have you written for any magazines?

If you are applying for law, have you gained work experience with any local lawyers or solicitors? Have you read up on interesting cases or laws that have been recently introduced? Have you attended any public court proceedings?

If your child has expressed an interest in applying to Oxford or Cambridge, I’d suggest they start The universities will be looking for applicants to, in their personal statements, clearly demonstrate their passion for the subject, but they will also be looking for them to be knowledgeable in that area as well. You would be well advised to encourage your child to read up on the specifics of the course they are applying for, and then encourage them to do some research so, when it comes to their interview, they’ll know what they’re talking about!

Check Out Their Websites

Both Oxford and Cambridge offer Open Days, workshops, taster lectures and residential stays regularly throughout the year. This is a great way for your son or daughter to investigate the university before they apply; after all, it’s at least a three year commitment at a young age so they need to be confident in their choice.

Furthermore, attending an event and then applying also shows the university that the pupil is certain in their decision to apply, and shows a degree of commitment to the university.


Please let me know what you think; this article is all based on the advice I have incurred from my profession – it can’t hurt to think about it, but I would advise you to contact your pupil’s school to discuss your child’s potential application! Good luck!

Ella x