Discover Studying Abroad

How to get into Oxford, Cambridge, or the Ivy Leagues

Is getting admission into Oxbridge or an Ivy League university one of your goals this admissions season? Fear not, brings you tried and tested advice from those in the know.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   15-05-2014
Kavita Singh, CEO, FutureWorks Consulting.
Oxbridge = University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge

Ivy Leagues = Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, Brown University

The Advisors:

Kavita Singh: Founder & CEO of FutureWorks Consulting (FWC); BA (Hons) Oxford University; MBA Columbia Business School; Columbia Business School Ambassador & Alumni Advisor

Akanksha Bapna: Founder & CEO of EvalDesign; BA National University of Singapore (NUS); PhD Biochemistry University of Cambridge; MA International Education Policy Harvard University; Visiting Fellow at Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Don’t just apply to Oxbridge or Ivy League institutions, always have a backup.

The importance of the interview  

For admissions to Oxford or Cambridge the interview is the most important aspect of the application. It essentially takes the form of a debate going back and forth – they’ll ask you a question and expect you to answer, then they’ll question your answer. Why do they do it? Because both institutions run a tutorial system. When you get to campus, they’ll give you a question and a reading list - your reading list could be 20-30 books, and you’ll write a paper and present it to your tutor - and again you’re debating back and forth on how you formed the argument, and how you changed it. That's what they’re testing in the interview process.

It is important to understand it is a different process and you have to prepare differently. When you’re there you have to spend enough time to do your reading and be able to discuss it with your professor who is probably going to be a known expert in that field.

U.S. University interviews

(L to R) Kavita Singh, CEO, FutureWorks Consulting; Ambika Behal, Managing Editor, BrainGain Magazine and Akanksha Bapna, CEO, Evaldesign.

Many Ivy leagues will ask for face-to-face interviews, either with an admissions officer or alumni. These are much more behavioural type questions – they’ll ask you to tell them about a time when you failed. They want to understand what makes you different. Was there a crisis? Were you able to manage that crisis really well? How has failure shaped you going forward? They want to know that you’ve learned from your experiences. What really sets you apart? How are you going to communicate in a classroom?

When you’re practicing for your interviews, get down to the specifics – you really have to give details, and indicate that you understand what you’re talking about.

The U.S. and Oxbridge have very different interview processes. Oxbridge is more intellectual; the U.S. institutions focus on the behavioural.

Test Scores

For business school you’ll have to take the GMAT. You really would prefer to be above the average – they’re used to very high scores from Indian students. It is more important to stand apart, so if you have esoteric interests, enhance them – scores aren’t as important as you think they may be - because they don’t want a classroom of people who are just like each other.


“In my first round of university applications, I was rejected from 14 universities; got a scholarship from NUS in Singapore, and decided to go there. The second time, I didn’t get into any U.S. universities and landed in Cambridge – got through admissions but didn’t get financial aid. I deferred for a year and reapplied for scholarships – ended up with a commonwealth scholarship. My third time, at the end of my PhD programme, I applied to Harvard and got through...If you have a dream, hold onto it and don’t give up.”

Graduate Admissions – Statement of Purpose

Students at the BGM sessions.

By the time you reach the graduate school application, admissions are not interview based – they’re based more on what your application says in terms of your research. Your statement of purpose requires you to write from a more ‘Utopian – change the world’ perspective – but it also needs to be very grounded. You need to have done your background research and applied it to the statement. For example if you say you want to find the cure to cancer – dig deeper – what kind of cancer would you want to work on, which gene of cancer would you want to work on? You also need to indicate you have done internships, work experience.

You need to be confident, not arrogant, but you do need to have done your background work.

Test Scores

Test scores don’t stamp or brand you whether you’re going to get into an Ivy League or not. You want to be above the average for sure.

How to get into Oxford, Cambridge & the Ivy Leagues: Student Session


Can't Read  
Enter Above Code:

At the undergrad level they want people who have represented their country at the national level, either at the Olympiads (or equivalent) and who are accomplished national level athletes. Anything at the school, district, or even state level counts for a LOT less (if at all). Unless you fit this description, it is unlikely they will bother really reading your SOP/essays cause they only care about those from people who fit these criteria first. Save your application fee and apply elsewhere. Maybe use the money to buy a lottery cause you have a better shot at winning the lottery than getting into a top 5 schools.
03 January 2015

At the MBA level, all they are looking for is education and job pedigree. Are you from an IIT (or a top regional institute with excellent grades) and do you have the kind of job that you would normally get out of such institute - eg - Analyst at McKinsey/BCG/Bain or Goldman’s/JPM/MS etc- Mgmt trainee at HLL/ITC. For women, the bare minimum they want is a CA at a big 4 with some strong extras/volunteer work. Guys have to be more accomplished than that. On the GMAT side, all you need is a 710+. If you can cross 780 (NOT 76) or more then that will make up for some of your shortcomings, especially at schools outside the top 7. At the undergrad level they want people who have represented their country at the national level, either at the Olympiads (or equivalent) and who are accomplished na
03 January 2015

Sign Up for our newsletter

Sign Up for latest updates and Newsletter