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How to apply to the best universities in the world?

How to create a good student profile beyond grades

Tima Batstone, editor at INÈDIT EDUCACIÓN and student advisor for access to highly competitive universities, explains in this article which universities are the most demanding in their admissions and what student profile universities in the United Kingdom are looking for.

What university is the most demanding in its admissions, currently?

The best universities in the UK, in terms of worldwide reputation, are Oxford, Cambridge (often known as Oxbridge) Imperial, University College London (UCL) and London School of Economics (LSE). Other universities, including Durham, St Andrews and Edinburgh are also near the top and belong to the Russell Group of recognized UK universities. In recent years, these universities, especially Oxbridge and Imperial, have gained premium global brand status compared to other Russell Group universities, supported by international demand.

Oxford tops the ranking of the best universities in the world for the seventh consecutive year

Oxbridge are the most demanding universities in admissions terms, followed closely by Imperial, UCL and Durham. Along with their list of famous alumni, Oxbridge has a reputation for exclusivity: their admissions process involves both testing and interview. Other top universities mentioned above, example Imperial, also have some interviews depending on the course, but not as consistently as Oxbridge. Over the years the Oxbridge entrance has become even more specialized. The most prestigious ranking in the university classification, Times Higher Education, analyzes 13 performance indicators in the areas of teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international perspective, and the University of Oxford has led this ranking for the last seven consecutive years, in United Kingdom.

What student profile is sought by the best universities in the United Kingdom?

The profile for a successful Oxbridge student reflects this trend. In addition to top grades,  predicted grades and excellent school references, today´s student has to demonstrate aptitude and a real enthusiasm for their subject through a willingness to engage academically with that subject. They also need to be very applied and organized.

Oxbridge entry can be viewed as a puzzle. The successful applicant´s profile reflects their ability to deliver the 4 key related challenges within this puzzle, detailed below.

  • Demonstrate clear passion as well as skill for their chosen subject through intense supercurricular activity and study. This means explore beyond their school syllabus to cultivate their interest in that area. Examples are podcasts, reading, doing online courses, shadowing professionals in the field or working in a laboratory over the summer.
  • Score highly in the entrance test:  this is an important part of the puzzle and the student will need to do timed practice consistently with past papers, available online.
  • Deliver a compelling Personal Statement. This is possibly the least important element now: it is basically an essay and may be phased out after 2024, to be replaced by a course content questionnaire. The student shows why they have chosen this course and what motivates them.
  • Interview: this mimics the tutorial/supervision system that Oxbridge are famous for. Besides lectures, students meet with professors in small groups (usually 3-5 students). The interviews will definitely challenge students, as the professor, an expert in their field, will try and take the student to the edge of their current knowledge and beyond, using unfamiliar material. They aim is to assess if the student is willing and able to apply what they already know to what they do not know. This  can be stressful for students who are aiming for the correct answer and not enjoying the important part, the process.

Applying any demanding university requires effort and time

Any student aiming for the other top universities mentioned above would also benefit greatly from aiming to fulfil these four  criteria by preparing early, at least a year before applying.

One piece of advice for students who wish to apply for these universities, especially Oxbridge, but also Imperial and UCL is:  start research and preparation early, aiming to fulfill the above 4 criteria, but also be honest with yourselves as you progress.  This is to make sure you are genuinely academically curious and organized enough to invest the time, sacrifice and effort needed to address the 4 challenges of this puzzle, especially the ultimate challenge of handling the completely unpredictable unknown!

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