“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

University Applications

University and Destination Data

As a school we have been focusing on providing support to our students in their applications for university since the establishment of the Sixth Form in 2009. As the table below shows Archbishop Holgate’s School has a strong record of students achieving their first choice or competitive university entry place.

No of Students2019201820172016
First Choice76/9184%94%76%95%
Russell Group31/9134%43%28%27%


UCAS is the central organisation through which applications are processed for entry to full-time higher education courses in the UK. It handles applications for all British First Degree Courses. Applications MUST be made through UCAS – students cannot apply direct to a University.

It can be quite a daunting process as students need to choose just 5 courses to apply for out of the 50,000+ on offer through the UCAS system. The key to success is identifying subjects students want to study intensively for three years at least, and making sure that they can realistically achieve the required grades. After that they will boost their chances by producing a top-rate Personal Statement.

The first step in this process is to register for UCAS on their website www.ucas.ac.uk. There are a great range of tutorials and videos which will ensure students have a full understanding of what is expected of them, and you. The UCAS website has a section specifically for Parents which you may want to read www.ucas.ac.uk/parents.

As a school we fully support students through their application process including the writing of personal statements.

Archbishop Holgate’s School Competitive Entry Success

As a school we have an excellent record in supporting students who want to achieve a competitive entry place. This can include a degree course at Oxford or Cambridge, medicine or Veterinary Medicine. Last year we saw 8 students achieve a competitive university placement.

StudentPost 16University
Student 1English Language A
French A
History A
Core Maths A
University of Cambridge
Student 2Chemistry A*
Further Maths*
University of Cambridge
Student 3Biology A
Chemistry A
Psychology A
University of Newcastle
Student 4History A*
Maths A*
Politics A*
Psychology A*
University of Oxford
Student 5Further Maths A*
Maths A*
Physics A*
Engineering D*
University of Cambridge
Student 6Biology A*
Chemistry A*
Maths A*
University of Sheffield
Student 7Biology A*
Chemistry A*
Maths A*
Natural Sciences
University of Cambridge
Student 8Biology A
Chemistry A
Psychology A
University of Liverpool

General Information about Oxbridge Applications

Why Oxbridge?

The clearest reason for Oxford and Cambridge standing out from the other UK universities is that they are repeatedly ranked top of academic league tables worldwide. It is generally accepted that whilst the UK boasts a great number of excellent and highly selective higher education institutions, Oxford and Cambridge Universities offer a standard of academic excellence that is unmatched by any of its British rivals. This is not only confirmed by their position at the head of the leader-board for graduate results, but also by their excellence in the areas of academic study and research.

Applications to UK universities for full-time courses are made through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. UCAS works closely with the school to ensure that all applicants have access to this system. Students apply online through the UCAS website, which means they can access their application from any computer, whether at home or at school.

Whilst attending Archbishop Holgate’s School Sixth Form, students will receive support in their application to Oxbridge, including a trip to see the different colleges, support with writing their personal statements, support from subject teachers to prepare for their entry exam and a full mock interview with feedback from experienced teaching staff.

Things you must consider about your Oxbridge application:

You cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year, unless you are applying for a choral or organ scholarship.

  • It should be the course that interests you and not just the thought of being at Oxbridge.
  • The ratio of places to applicants is 1:3 or 1:4, although it may vary according to subjects.
  • Admissions Tutors will always expect you to be passionate about your subject. Make sure you know exactly what the course involves and be prepared to talk about it at interview.
  • You will need to undertake significant additional reading and have additional knowledge in your chosen subject (beyond that which is required for the A level course syllabus).
  • Extra-curricular activities (sports, hobbies, projects etc.) or relevant work experience are important to support your application.
  • You should work on your personal statement during the summer holidays between Year 12 and Year 13 and return to school in September with a completed draft.
  • You will need to demonstrate enthusiasm and self-motivation and your referees will need to be able to give evidence of this also – bear this is mind!
  • It is likely you will have to undertake additional tests as part of the application process. More detail is given about these in the Admissions Tests section.
  • Every year there are 10,000 unsuccessful applications to Oxbridge – don’t be put off from applying, but make sure you have a plan B.

What are they looking for?

A decision to apply to Oxbridge should not be taken lightly; it is a competitive process, which requires a great deal of dedication and hard work. Both pupils and parents must be aware of the level of commitment that is expected.

Admissions Tutors want to see that you are genuinely interested in your subject and that you have the motivation to pursue this interest beyond the A level syllabus. The process requires a willingness to undertake wider reading relating to your subject and to attend additional sessions to develop your knowledge and skills. You will also need the drive to achieve highly in your exams and to grasp any other opportunities on offer, for example the EPQ, societies, seminars and work experience. Though you will receive support from a variety of people, at home and at school, you must also realise that ultimately you are responsible for your own application; you are the one who can improve your chances of receiving an offer through acting on the advice and help you are given.

Academic success: Both universities are looking for students with a very strong academic record. You must ensure that you achieve the best GCSE and A level grades that you can. If you are considering applying to Cambridge or Oxford University, you should have a strong record of A/A* grades at GCSE.

Who are the Russell Group?

The Russell Group was formed as a group of universities who are committed to research. The group includes many, but not all, of the universities that tend to come high up in league tables. Both Oxford and Cambridge University are part of the Russell Group. For more information visit www.russellgroup.ac.uk.

What is CUKAS?

CUKAS is the Conservatoires UK Admissions Service, not to be mistaken for UCAS, but with a very similar application process. Full details can be found at www.ucas.com/ucas/conservatoires. This is a service designed to provide the facilities to research and apply for practice-based music, dance and drama courses.

Admissions Tests

For many courses, applicants are required to undertake admissions tests to help decide your suitability for the course. As soon as you know which university, which college and which course you are applying to, you must check with individual subject departmental websites for information about admissions requirements and tests. Some of the tests which you might have to take are:

The Law National Test (LNAT)

The LNAT is a test to be taken by candidates applying to study undergraduate Law. The test is taken on-line and involves multiple choice and essay questions. Information about the test is available on the general undergraduate admissions websites. More information is available on the LNAT website www.lnat.ac.uk.

Cambridge Law Test

Most colleges will be using the Cambridge Law Test, which is paper based and will be taken during the interview process. More information is available at: www.law.cam.ac.uk/admissions.

Mathematics – Sixth Term Examination Papers in Mathematics (STEP)

Students applying to study at Cambridge University may be required to sit STEP papers which are used to supplement A Level in assessing applicant’s aptitude for university study in Mathematics.

Mathematics/Physics/Computer Science Aptitude Test

All students applying to study Mathematics/Physics/Computer Science at Oxford University will need to sit an aptitude test. More information is available from: www.maths.ox.ac.uk, www.physics.ox.ac.uk, www.comlab.ox.ac.uk.

Medicine and Veterinary Science – The Biomedical Test (BMAT)

Students applying to the following courses will be required to sit the BMAT before coming to interview:

  • Medicine and Veterinary Science (Cambridge University)
  • Medicine and Biomedical Sciences(University of Oxford Medical School)

History – History Aptitude Test (HAT)

Students applying to any course involving History at Oxford University will be expected to sit the HAT. The test aims to examine the skills and potentialities required for the study of History at university. It is designed to be challenging in order to differentiate effectively between the most able applicants for university courses including those who may have achieved or can be expected to achieve the highest possible grades in their examination. More information and specimen papers can be seen at: www.history.ox.ac.uk.

Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)

Cambridge and Oxford use the TSA, a non-subject-specific test, as part of the admissions process for a large number of courses. Check faculty websites to see if you are required to sit the TSA.

Modern and Medieval Languages

The Modern and Medieval Languages test (MML) is used by Cambridge University as part of their admissions process. The written test will form part of the interview process. More information is available from http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk.

English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)

Oxford University will be using the ELAT as part of the admissions process for students applying to study:

  • English Language and Literature
  • Classics and English (3 and 4 year courses)
  • English and Modern Languages

Candidates applying for English and History will be required to take the ELAT and HAT. More information about all tests, including dates, practise questions and test centres, is available from Cambridge Assessment Admissions Test website: www.admissionstests.cambridgeassessment.org.uk. Oxford lists its tests on their website: www.ox.ac.uk/admissions.

Useful websites