What if Oxbridge rejects you?

Most students who apply to Oxford or Cambridge are ultimately rejected. If this happens to you, you have a few options including reapplying, postgraduate studies, studying elsewhere, and more.

Go to a different university

This is what most Oxbridge rejects end up doing, and for many people this makes sense.

There is more to life than going to Oxbridge, and there are many other good universities. Other universities might offer courses better suited to what you want, or your desired course might not be offered at Oxbridge at all. The teaching you get at Oxbridge isn’t necessarily the best in the world; although it’s often done by top academics, they are not always the best teachers or course organisers. Oxbridge might not be for you.

The workload at Oxbridge is notorious – some might say five times as intense as A-levels, and that might not be an exaggeration. If you struggled with doing well in three A-level subjects simultaneously, you’ll probably not fare well at Oxbridge.

The main reason Oxbridge is so intense is because the terms are short – 8 weeks, which is significantly less than pretty much all other universities, but with the same or more amount of content to cover. Saturday morning classes are quite standard for STEM students. It’s for this reason that many students at Oxbridge really struggle and consequently suffer from poor mental health, and unfortunately you often hear about Oxbridge students passing away in non-suspicious circumstances.

Therefore, not getting into Oxbridge might be better for you and your mental health, and other universities generally do let you have more time to enjoy yourself and digest content at a more reasonable pace.


A fair number of students decide to take a year out and reapply to Oxford or Cambridge, and many of those choose to apply to the other university.

Before you reapply, you should really ask yourself: why do you want to reapply? If you’re reapplying just because you want to be able to say you studied at Oxbridge or you’re obsessed with the idea of being Oxbridge student, that’s probably not a good reason. If you’re reapplying because you really like the course and think is suits you very well, and think you’ll have a good chance of being accepted, then it might make sense to reapply.

For many students who want to study at Oxbridge, reapplying is a good option because it gives you time to mature (and it means you’ll have finished your studies when you apply again). You will also be more familiar with the admissions process – that might take away a lot of the stress.

Reapplying also means you’ll probably have your A-level/equivalent grades, and if your grades meet the entrance requirements, you might haver a better chance of being accepted. Remember that most applicants have predicted grades, and as an admissions tutor you’ll be more likely to accept the student who has secured top grades than the student who is predicted top grades – most predicted grades at overestimates. Having your grades already also means any offer you receive will likely be unconditional.

If you decide to reapply, you’ll need to take a year out. It’s worth doing at least something useful during the year out – admissions tutors want to see someone passionate about their subject, and who uses their time well. This doesn’t mean you need to be studying throughout your year out, but doing some kind of activity (e.g. work experience, volunteering, internship, or even reading) at some point during the year is likely a good idea. Many gap year students choose to do some paid work and then spend some time travelling using the money they’ve earnt.

If you do reapply, it’s probably a good idea to apply to a different college. The admissions tutors might remember you from the year before and reject you for the same reasons they did last time. There’s probably no need to switch which Oxbridge university to which you apply, though some reapplicants do do this.

Adjustment (Cambridge only, “August Reconsideration Pool”)

Under some circumstances, you might be able to get into Cambridge via adjustment, which they call the August Reconsideration Pool. Check the relevant website for more details, but in summary:

Then you might still be accepted. Oxford does not currently appear to offer adjustment.

  • If you are interviewed and then rejected
  • AND if you end up getting at least the standard offer
  • AND there is space available on your course

Ask to be let in if you missed your offer

You might have missed your offer, in which case you can contact the college and ask if there is still a chance to be let in (see this article for more info). For some courses, like maths at Cambridge, it’s fairly common to be accepted despite missing your offer.

Apply for postgraduate studies

If you’d still like to study at Oxbridge, you can always go for for post-graduate studies (masters or PhD for example).

Oxbridge offers at least hundreds of postgraduate courses, so you’ll likely be able to find something suitable for you. Masters degrees are probably more easy to get into than other degrees. For the university, a masters student is only around for a year usually (therefore a small commitment for the university, unlike for undergraduates or PhD students), and the majority of masters students don’t receive funding (so more money for the universities). Although you won’t have the undergraduate experience at Oxbridge, you will still have the “Oxbridge experience” with the fancy dinners and pretty buildings, and so for many people this is a suitable option.

Ask for application feedback

If you get rejected post-interview, it might be a good idea to ask for some feedback.

You could email the admissions tutor or someone else as the college and ask what went wrong with your application. You might get a helpful response, which might help you with reapplying or other things in life.


The best way to move forward from the rejection will depend on your situation. Whatever happens, the rejection will be a learning experience, and therefore valuable in its own right.