Oxbridge college admissions ‘complex and intimidating’

The BBC is reporting warnings that the way students are admitted to Oxford and Cambridge universities is complex and intimidating,  putting off bright state school students.

The Sutton Trust says Oxbridge should simplify the process to help those from schools and homes not familiar with it.

The universities accused the trust of making “unjustified criticisms” and perpetuating “common myths”…

The Sutton Trust says would-be undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge have to undergo different interviews, tests and written assessments depending on the course and college to which they are applying.

“Both universities evaluate many different aspects of a prospective student’s application in great detail,” the report, Oxbridge Admissions, says.

“But this means that there is significant complexity in the admissions system to both universities, which can seem off-putting to students unfamiliar with the process who may have little support from their schools.”

It also warns that interviews “can be intimidating for young people, not least to those who have not had significant preparation and support to prepare”.

The Sutton Trust report highlights a number of issues it says make the current admissions procedure complicated. For example: 

  • Students cannot apply to both universities, which, the trust says, “in the UK, is unique to Oxbridge, and is not seen at all at Ivy League universities”
  • They are still required to complete a Ucas admissions form
  • Students have to win a place at a college to study at the university
  • Applications to the colleges must be received by 15 October each year – earlier than other degree courses except medicine, dentistry and veterinary science
  • Applicants must apply to a chosen college or submit an “open” application 
  • Both universities operate a “pool” system, where applicants to colleges over-subscribed with good candidates are considered by other colleges

Responding to the report, a spokesman for Cambridge University said the university had worked closely with the Sutton Trust to widen participation.

“We are therefore disappointed that this report demonstrates a lack of understanding of our admissions process and makes a series of incorrect and unjustified criticisms and recommendations,” he said…

A spokeswoman for Oxford University said: “We are disappointed that one of our longstanding access partners is actively perpetuating some of the most common myths about how the selection process works. 

“These myths are a fundamental barrier to Oxford’s access work, and only reinforce perceptions that deter exactly those candidates we try hardest to encourage to apply…”

Sir Peter Lampl, who chairs the Sutton Trust, said: “Our surveys and experience suggest that many bright state school students are put off by the application process, which is both intimidating and complex. 

“Specifically, we believe that the universities rather than the colleges should control the admissions policies and interviews…”

More at: Oxbridge college admissions ‘complex and intimidating’


The Sutton Trust report isn’t online at the time of writing but you can read a blog post about it from Sir Peter Lampl from the Sutton Trust at: Oxbridge Admissions


Is it a little ironic that, when accused of having an unnecessary complicated admissions system, the Cambridge spokesperson criticises the Sutton Trust for not understanding it properly?

What do you see the fundamental issues being here? Are the systems flawed, are they not explained well enough, or are state schools and state school students not making enough effort to become familiar with them?

And specifically, should Oxbridge switch to university level, rather than college level, admissions? What impact would that have?

Please give us your insights in the comments or via Twitter…

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  1. The report’s summary is here:  http://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/oxbridge-admissions/
    The full report is here: http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Oxbridge-Admissions-01.02.16.pdf

  2. TW

    Busy Mum  Maybe bright students understand all too well that the application process is a way of saying that only people from the right private schools are really wanted.

  3. Busy Mum

    @TW Busy Mum True – so bright state school students are proactively choosing not to go to Oxbridge – in which case why is anybody getting hung up about it?

  4. pompeygeorge

    SchoolsImprove As a working class kid I didn’t apply. Why spend 3 years feeling totally out of place? Leicester much more me!

  5. TW

    Busy Mum  Because it maintains and intensifies the Norman class system we enjoy and, in general, limits what the non-Normans can achieve while conferring undeserved privilege and rewards to the tiny, not necessarily particularly bright but well-trained, minority who profit from it.

  6. Amanda

    The application process can be much less complicated for you, and not at all intimidating, if you ask for help from professionals in your field. Here: https://www.essayedge.com/
    you will be helped not only with writing an essay, but also do it really well. You will get a concise history, without unnecessary information and errors. This will definitely help you stand out significantly among all the students.

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