What are Oxbridge admissions tutors really looking for? | Varsity Education

What are Oxbridge admissions tutors really looking for?

Proving passionate about your subject with ‘supra-curricular’ activities is the key to success

You’ve probably already participated in extracurricular activities (things that you do outside of your school curriculum, such as sport, music and, very commonly, The Duke of Edinburgh Award) which are unrelated to your academic studies.

Varsity Education students visiting a museum

But what about supra-curricular activities – those which go above and beyond your school curriculum, purely to extend and deepen your knowledge – usually for academic subjects that you wish to explore further at university?

So why are they important? Firstly, if you’re applying to Oxbridge, supra-curricular activities can be key in demonstrating to admissions tutors your passion and commitment to your chosen subject. It means you’ll write with more depth and authority in your UCAS Personal Statement, have a clearer idea of which aspects of your subject particularly interest you, and speak about those interests with greater confidence in your interview. Secondly, the more you learn about a particular subject, the more you’ll hopefully fall in love with it as your understanding deepens.

Five examples of supra-curricular activities that will impress:

  • Reading well-respected journals – such as The Economist for those interested in subjects like Economics or International Relations
  • Visiting museums, exhibitions or plays – for History or Literature degrees
  • Undertaking practical work experience (especially important for Law or Medicine)
  • Following media stories that concern developments in a specific subject
  • Watching TED talks or Open University lectures about relevant topics

Unique opportunities
Of course, exploring above and beyond the curriculum is one of the main features of our summer programmes here at Varsity Education. With us, students study university-level topics in their two preferred academic fields. Topics will be different to those offered by the A-Level/IB curricula, helping students in their final years of school to achieve a breadth as well as a depth of knowledge in their chosen fields.

Not to mention the opportunities to debate with other highly-motivated students from around the world, work closely with experts in their field, and practice the art of thinking aloud in individual and group tutorials (vital for Oxbridge interviews).

Learning at a high level in two subjects also helps students to make a more informed decision as to which subject they’d prefer to study at university in the future.

Although the traditional extra-curricular activities and hobbies certainly remain important in demonstrating personal interests and allowing students to let off steam between academic commitments, we believe that the increasingly competitive admissions process at Oxbridge now requires evidence of supra-curricular activities too. It’s worth noting that this isn’t only important for your Oxbridge application. Many UK universities care about supra-curricular activities and it is worth mentioning in your Personal Statement, no matter where you choose to apply.

Student reading on a bench outside

As Sam Lucy, director of admissions for Cambridge colleges, recently explained to The Guardian: “We’re looking for people who are extremely enthusiastic about the subject they are applying for, have got the right aptitudes and, if necessary, prior knowledge for it. Everything we do in the process is about trying to identify those things. Are you going to be that person who turns up and has done the work and has really thought about the subject?”

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