How to have a Killer University Application

I’ve had a few people asking me how they can put together the ultimate application for university, and in particular for Oxbridge. Much of the advice in this post is relevant for any university applications, but there is also some Oxbridge-specific advice!

1. Work hard and know your stuff

To be honest with you, the only way to have a killer application is to have worked hard and to know your stuff! The simple fact is that universities want to take people who are going to add value to their institutions, so if you aren’t willing to put in the hours preparing for exams, perfecting your personal statement and understanding what the courses you are applying for involve, they are unlikely to offer you a place.

2. Have the exam results to prove it

The simple fact is that exam results are the best indicator universities have of how hard you work and how smart you are. If you can have put together strong performances at GCSE and in your ASs, you are instantly in a pretty strong position.

At Cambridge especially, exam results really are key, so you need to have high marks across most of your papers in order to really stand a chance. Cambridge pretty much assumes that everyone they interview will have similarly good grades, so then it comes down to your personal statement, entrance exam marks and interviews to decide who they take.

3. Pitch-perfect personal statement

Your personal statement is important, regardless of where you are applying! It is your only opportunity to express your interest in the subject you are applying for and to tell the universities you are applying to exactly why you are worth their time and energy.

Focus on your subject!

When you write your personal statement, you need to really focus on your interest in the subject you are applying for, making sure that you point out areas of particular interest, where you have gone above and beyond what you are expected to do at school in order to really stretch your intellectual boundaries.


In general, Oxbridge (and most other universities) recommend that your personal statement is 80% about your subject, so you should really only have a brief final paragraph to outline any other extracurricular stuff you take part in. That said, it is definitely worthwhile including something on your extracurricular activities as this demonstrates an ability to excel academically while still handling the demands of other commitments.

Show an interest in the subject, not its potential future rewards!

When you’re writing your personal statement, definitely bear in mind that you are trying to convince someone that you will be worth their while teaching. As such, admissions will be looking for people who are genuinely interested in their subject! So, avoid writing study like: “I’m interested in studying economics at Cambridge because it provides a great pathway into a range of high-flying careers”… This will really, really annoy anyone who reads your personal statement!

4. Entrance Exam

This one only applies for certain subjects and certain universities. Personally, I didn’t have to take an entrance exam for my subject, but I’ve spoken to a lot of people who did. For example, a lot of my friends study law, and so had to take the LNAT, a UK exam that pretty much anyone wishing to study law has to take.


Having spoken to people who did entrance exams, the single, universal piece of advice was to practice past papers, to spend time looking up tactics and to research the different styles of question you may be asked. These tests are said to be tests of your aptitude to study a certain subject. However, in reality, they are more a test of whether you have been bothered to spend time looking at what you need to do in order to succeed in them!

You may also find it helpful to speak to people you may know who have taken these tests for advice.

5. Interview

So, at some universities, and specifically Oxford and Cambridge, you will have to be interviewed in order to get an offer. If this is the case for you, please check out my blog post Interview like a Boss

Please check out my Exam Grade Booster blog and reblog this post if you found it helpful!

These tips are not my own: I was perusing the web a few days ago and found these rather helpful tips for note taking, nothing groundbreaking but they’re from Cambridge University sooo. I hope they provides some insight. 


Notes taken during lectures, seminars and research will form the basis of your work, helping you to prepare essays and dissertations and revise for exams. Effective note-taking is a very useful skill which can help you to:

  • focus and concentrate
  • organise and record key details
  • gain a fuller understanding of the information and improve your recall
  • save time and energy by working more efficiently.

Tips for effective note-taking

  • be critical about the material - assess its importance to the subject matter, and its credibility
  • don’t copy large amounts of text verbatim
  • always keep detailed notes of any resources used so that you can reference properly later
  • review and summarise your notes afterwards
  • organise and store your notes so that they are easy to retrieve            

The following are examples of note-taking techniques:

  • mind maps (e.g. spider diagram) - help you to visualise key points and the connections and overlaps between them
  • tabular notes - help with making comparisons between points
  • flow charts - help to visualise steps in a process
  • index cards
  • highlighting and annotating.

To get the most out of your lectures, you may find it useful to:

  • find out the subject of the lecture beforehand and read up, so that you’ll be prepared for the key themes and ideas
  • don’t try to write down everything - keep to main points
  • create a wide margin on each page so that there’s room to expand on your notes later.

When note-taking from written material it is helpful to:

  • take reference details down before you start reading
  • reading the introduction and conclusion is useful for ascertaining the main arguments and context
  • read critically.

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