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Should you reapply to Oxbridge if you didn’t get in?

Didn’t get the result you were hoping for from your Oxbridge application? This Cambridge admissions advisor explains the best steps to take, including whether it is worth reapplying

  • Admissions
  • Elite universities
Catherine Walker 's avatar

Catherine Walker

Admissions Assistant at Peterhouse College, Cambridge
February 8 2021
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The day arrives when you finally receive news about your application to the University of Cambridge, but sadly it’s not the answer you were hoping for. First of all, don’t beat yourself up over not getting an offer.

Take some reassurance in the fact that these two institutions are among the most competitive universities in the world, and that there is an average of five applicants per place. It’s best for you and your mental health to try not to dwell on or overanalyse the result.

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If you are upset about the decision, one thing that can help is application feedback from the college you applied to. This could shed light on where your application wasn’t quite as strong as the other candidates’. Internal deadlines for feedback requests can be short, so email your college admissions office sooner rather than later. The level of detail you receive will vary from college to college, with some providing specific feedback to each candidate, and others a general statement on the quality of this year’s applicants.

If your feedback highlighted a specific, fixable weakness in your application, or weeks later you still feel a burning desire to have another stab at it, you might decide to reapply to Oxford or Cambridge. The first thing to consider here is whether you want to put your life on hold for a year in pursuit of one university?

With job and travel prospects diminished because of the pandemic, this question deserves more consideration than ever. In practical terms, reapplying means withdrawing your other university offers on Ucas. You’re welcome to reapply to them in the next round, but you can’t hold on to a university offer from one year while applying for others in the next. It’s important to carefully think about whether you would be happy with your other university choices, because there’s a chance they will not be re-offered to you.

If you take a gap year to reapply, you will probably be making your reapplication as a post-qualifications candidate. If you have already achieved qualifications that meet or exceed the standard offer for your course, your application may then be seen as more competitive than the year before. A post-qualification offer may be unconditional or might include, where applicable, taking an English-language qualification such as the IELTS Academic or TOEFL, or sitting STEP, a mathematics exam used by the University of Cambridge.

If you are taking a year out to reapply, colleges like to see that you’re doing something useful with it. Whether it’s for work – for relevant work experience or to save money – or play, spend some of the year furthering your studies. Try a Mooc or a similar online course. Read more around your subject.

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One final consideration is whether to reapply to the same college. You won’t be at a disadvantage if you do apply to the same college twice. In line with data protection policies, colleges shred the files of all unsuccessful candidates at the end of each admissions round, so details of your previous application will have been destroyed before you submit your next one.

A key reason candidates choose to reapply, to a different college, is to have a new set of interviewers. It might throw you off if you are interviewed by the same people who rejected you, but the number of applications an academic sees each year makes it unlikely that they will remember your past interview in detail a year later. If your heart is set on one college, reapply there. If you want an entirely fresh start to your second application, try a new one.

The choice to reapply is personal, not to be taken lightly or made quickly. For some students, the decision to reapply will be a gut reaction, especially if they’ve been set on Oxbridge for a long time. However, it’s important to remember that these two universities are not the be-all and end-all of higher education.

Ultimately, the vast majority of students will be happy wherever they end up. The opportunity to meet new people and gain independence is just as important for a good university experience as academic study.

If you do decide to take a gap year, though, don’t do it just to reapply to one university. Use this time to develop yourself intellectually, to gain real-life experience and to enjoy the freedom of having left school. Then, regardless of which university you end up at, you’ll come to it as a more rounded person, better prepared to face whatever challenges it may bring.

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