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Moritz-Heyman Scholarships press pack 5: Oxford University's admissions system
11 July 2012
The Oxford admissions system
Moritz-Heyman Scholarships will be awarded only once someone has already been selected for an Oxford place. They will play no part in the admissions system itself: household income is not even known during admissions.
For background, however, below is more information about the Oxford admissions system and how it operates.
- Oxford spends more time considering applicants than any other UK university and probably any in the world (with the possible exception of Cambridge).
- Selection for undergraduate places at Oxford is purely meritocratic. The system is designed to look at the whole field of applicants for any given subject and identify those best able to excel in their subject.
- Getting a place at Oxford gets more competitive every year. Applications for undergraduate places have risen by 55% over the last 10 years. The number of places available has remained roughly the same. UK applicants are extremely self-selecting: all are predicted top grades.
- For entry 2012, over 17,200 people applied for around 3,000 places.
The selection process
- Selection is based purely on subject-specific academic ability and potential, laid down in published selection criteria for each subject. No other factors are considered. Note that:
(i) Success in sports, music, or any other extracurricular activities is irrelevant to the chances of selection.
(ii) Personality is irrelevant to the chances of selection except insofar as it will affect academic success. A shy, awkward person who is brilliant at maths will always get a place over a friendly, polished, outgoing charity volunteer who is good at maths.
(iii) Oxford gathers contextual information on candidates only to aid the assessment of subject-specific academic ability and potential; NOT to socially engineer or to set different standards for people from different backgrounds.
- Academic ability and potential is assessed through a range of different measures, including:
- Predicted grades such as A levels;
- Achieved grades (usually GCSEs);
- Teachers’ references;
- Subject-specific aptitude tests (required for 85% of Oxford courses);
- At least two academic interviews.
- The interviews take the form of an academic conversation in the chosen subject area between the tutors and the candidate. They aim to see how candidates think, not elicit specific answers, and so may start in familiar areas and then move beyond the school curriculum to see how candidates tackle new material and ideas. Interviews are not testing personality or polish, and are not asking about things unrelated to the chosen subject.
- Students may apply to a specific Oxford college, but colleges work co-operatively to try to ensure that all applicants for a particular subject, across all colleges, can be compared against one another, so that the very best people get Oxford places. As a result, around 25% of all students are at a college that was not the preference they named (and all tend to say the college they’re at is the best). Selection methods and requirements for any given subject are the same across all colleges.
Use of contextual data in Oxford admissions
Oxford uses a system of contextual data 'flags' in its admissions process to take into account, at interview shortlisting stage only, the background circumstances of some candidates. This does not confer any additional advantage in deciding who gets an offer from Oxford, but allows the University to flag up a small number of extra candidates to interview who have potentially experienced educational or socioeconomic disadvantage.
- We are committed to giving all applicants a chance to show their full potential at interview. The aim is to help identify genuine aptitude.
- All applicants must still meet stringent academic requirements in order to get an interview, including at least an AAA prediction at A-level.
- The flagging process applies to shortlisting for interview only. Admission to Oxford is, and will remain, on merit.
- The reason that flagging may help 'catch' some candidates who would not otherwise have secured an interview is that AAA is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for an interview. Over 46,000 students a year get AAA nationally, and most of our 17,000 applicants will be predicted AAA or more. Many 'flagged' candidates will be up against people who are not only predicted AAA or more but also have straight A* grades at GCSE, or who scored top marks in the subject-specific aptitude tests.
How the system works:
The Undergraduate Admissions Office collates contextual information centrally for all UK Oxford applicants. The aspects of data looked at are:
-A candidate gets a 'flag' if their school performs below the national average at GCSE and/or A-levelSocio-economic circumstance-A candidate gets a ‘flag’ if their postcode is in ACORN groups 4 or 5, the least advantaged areas
-A candidate will get a 'flag' if their postcode is in POLAR quintiles 1 and 2, the areas with least progression to higher education
-A candidate gets a 'flag' if they have been in care for more than three months
One flag is not enough: A candidate is strongly recommended for interview if the contextual information for both prior education and socio-economic circumstance is flagged, or in care is flagged, and that candidate meets academic requirements including an AAA (or in some courses even higher) prediction.
If those criteria are met the candidate is strongly recommended for interview. At interview they are on a level playing field with everyone else.
Key differences between Oxford admissions and its US peers
Oxford and American institutions such as the Ivy League offer very different educational models, which affect the nature of their selection activity.
US Ivy League universities offer a four-year, liberal arts education in which students are expected to complete a broad range of academic courses. Students typically spend the first two years of their degree satisfying a range of general requirements across a range of subjects, and specialise in the final two years of their course. In contrast, Oxford offers a mainly three-year, intensely subject-specific education in which students study one discipline in great depth for their entire undergraduate degree.
Ivy League universities accept students with wide-ranging qualities – nobody knows for certain what they are going to major in when they apply, so looking for a single subject-specific aptitude is largely irrelevant, and candidates are admitted based on many different factors, including – but not limited to – academic talent. At Oxford, aptitude in the specific chosen subject is the first and only criterion determining admission.
Note that for Oxford, none of the following would ever play a part in the selection of students: donations by family members; whether one’s parents are alumni; celebrity; success in any non-academic field.