Ashbourne Oxbridge Programme

The Ashbourne Oxbridge Programme (AOP) is designed to give our students the best possible chance of gaining a place at Oxford or Cambridge University. The year-long Programme is run by Will Stockland.

The AOP comprises twelve monthly set tasks that help Oxbridge applicants to be as prepared and competitive as possible in their applications – these range from making sensible degree choices that clearly correspond to long-term professional ambitions to engagement with super-curricular activities that enhance intellectual abilities and A-level curricular learning.

All participants in the AOP complete a 5000-word Extended Project Qualification in order to gain independent research skills and to deepen their knowledge in a specific subject area that is relevant to their degree choice and personal interests.

The AOP also provides an opportunity for Oxbridge applicants to work closely with their subject tutors in order to develop academic ability and intellectual skills, particularly in relation to preparation for the pre-interview assessments tests, which are designed to stretch and challenge curricular learning and are an essential component of the application process.

The primary aim of the AOP is to help students to make as holistically complete an application as possible, in which the many and diverse aspects of the Oxbridge application process are considered carefully and optimised to the greatest extent.

Ashbourne’s A level courses, taken in conjunction with the Programme, offer outstanding opportunities for ambitious and hardworking students who will benefit from the individual support and choice we offer to help our students reach the highest grades.

Ashbourne’s Oxbridge Programme webinar

Ashbourne’s Oxbridge Programme coordinator Will Stockland takes you through the whole process of applying to these prestigious universities in the webinar below and provides you with an insight into how Ashbourne can help you gain a place.


Apply for a place on Ashbourne’s Oxbridge Programme

For further information or to apply please contact the college on 020 7937 3858 or email our Admissions team.


Oxford and Cambridge Universities are distinct and different from other British universities in a number of ways, and this is the reason that Ashbourne College runs a specific Oxbridge programme.

1. Academic Ranking
The first important aspect of Oxford and Cambridge with regard to other British universities is their academic ranking: in the QS Rankings for 2020 – the principal global academic ranking of universities – Oxford and Cambridge came in the top ten universities in the world for 34 out of 37 degree subjects; furthermore, they came in the top five for 18 degree subjects. While there are some British universities that regularly come in the top ten universities in the world for specific subjects, and occasionally in the top five – for example, UCL is 3rd in the world for Architecture, Imperial College is 5th for Engineering, and LSE is 5th for Economics – no other British universities come close to this level of academic ranking across all their degree subjects. In terms of overall academic quality of undergraduate education, therefore, Oxford and Cambridge offer the highest level in the UK and one of the highest levels in the world.

2. Tutorial System of Undergraduate Education
The second important aspect of Oxford and Cambridge that is distinct from other British universities is the tutorial system of undergraduate education: every student has a tutor (or tutors) at their college with whom they have weekly tutorials on a one-to-one, two-to-one, or three-to-one basis – while most undergraduates at other British universities can expect small-group seminar teaching, particularly in their final year, and very occasionally even smaller-scale tutorials, no other universities predicate their undergraduate-education system on the tutorial model. Tutorial education is the pinnacle of education because it intensively develops academic and intellectual ability through expert dialogic pedagogy. Oxford and Cambridge, therefore, offer students the highest level of pedagogy available to undergraduates in the UK.

3. Competition
The academic and pedagogic distinction of Oxford and Cambridge inevitably results in a far higher level of competition for undergraduate places at these universities than at other British universities. The average rate of success for Oxbridge applicants is 21% i.e. approximately 1 in 5 applicants will succeed in their application – to put this in perspective, the average success rate of applicants to other high-ranking British universities is somewhere between 50 – 60%. This means that the competition for places and the quality of applicants is significantly greater than at other British universities – and it is no exaggeration to say that the best students in the world apply to study at Oxford and Cambridge.  While the standard offer for Oxford and Cambridge ranges from AAA – A*A*A* the average number of A*s at A-level of students at these universities is 2.5 A*s, so in order to make a competitive application, applicants must have predicted grades of A*A*A* if they are to have a realistic chance of success.

4. Application Process
Another important aspect of Oxford and Cambridge that distinguishes it from other British universities is the application process. This is distinct in a number of ways.

a) Exclusive Choice
Firstly, an applicant cannot apply to both universities – they must choose either Oxford or Cambridge. This means that applicants must have a very good knowledge of course structure and content, in order to make a very informed decision as to which course at which university is best suited to their interests and long-term goals. This process is made slightly more complex by the fact that each university offers different courses, sometimes with very subtle differences.

b) College Choice
Secondly, applicants must select a college to which to apply, as the admissions assessment process is handled by the colleges. While applicants can make an ‘open’ application, whereby they are randomly allocated a college, most applicants will want to take the time to select a college, which will involve preliminary research of several colleges, and their resources and facilities, and attending college open days in addition to university, faculty, or department open days. 

c) Pre-Interview Assessment Test
Thirdly, a significant and distinct part of the application process for most degree subjects at Oxford and Cambridge is the pre-interview assessment test: a test that is taken under the same formal conditions as an A-level and that is intended to stretch and test the academic and intellectual skills of applicants beyond the A-level curriculum. While some other leading British universities, such as Imperial College and UCL, operate pre-interview assessment tests for certain subjects, they tend to be on a smaller and less formal scale. The pre-interview assessment tests at Oxford and Cambridge have acquired greater significance in recent years since the transition to the A-level linear system: AS-level results can no longer be used as a standardised form of assessment and therefore pre-interview assessment tests have become one of the primary standardised indicators of academic ability. Pre-interview assessment tests take place approximately two weeks after the application has been submitted.

d) Interview
Fourthly, those applicants whose applications are considered to be worthy of consideration for an offer are put forward for interview. The interview process is designed to model the tutorial process: a dialogue between the applicant and academic/s that allows the assessors to evaluate how well the applicant performs academically and intellectually in the context of a pedagogic dialogue – applicants are often, though not always, also interviewed on a more general basis by the admissions tutor of the college. Interviews take place approximately two months after the application has been submitted.

e) Early Application Deadline
In addition to all the above highly distinct aspects of making an Oxbridge application, the application deadline for Oxbridge applications is three months earlier than the normal UCAS deadline: mid-October as opposed to mid-January.  This means that applicants have to have their UCAS application, and all the decisions for their remaining four universities, ready by the beginning of the autumn term, and that any other supporting information – such as Year 11 grade transcripts for international students – is ready to be provided along with the application. Applicants are notified of the outcome of their applications generally around 15th January.


As applicants cannot apply to both universities, an informed decision must be made regarding which of the two universities offers the most suitable course. This requires the applicant to think carefully about their personal interests and long-term goals, and to study the course structure and content of potential courses at both universities, in order to arrive at a decision that is well informed and considered.  Here is a complete list of the undergraduate courses provided by each university.


  • Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic
  • Archaeology
  • Architecture
  • Asian and Middle-Eastern Studies
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Classics
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • English
  • Geography
  • History 
  • History and Modern Languages
  • History and Politics
  • History of Art
  • Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS)
  • Land Economy
  • Law 
  • Linguistics
  • Management Studies (Part II course)
  • Manufacturing Engineering (Part II course)
  • Mathematics
  • Medicine
  • Medicine (Graduate Course)
  • Modern and Medieval Languages
  • Music
  • Natural Sciences
  • Philosophy
  • Psychological and Behavioural Sciences
  • Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion
  • Veterinary Medicine


  • Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular)
  • Biology
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
  • Classics
  • Classics and English
  • Classics and Modern Languages
  • Classics and Oriental Studies
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Science and Philosophy
  • Earth Sciences (Geology)
  • Economics and Management
  • Engineering Science
  • English Language and Literature
  • English and Modern Languages
  • European and Middle-Eastern Languages
  • Fine Art
  • Geography
  • History
  • History (Ancient and Modern)
  • History and Economics
  • History and English
  • History and Modern Languages
  • History and Politics
  • History of Art
  • Human Sciences
  • Law (Jurisprudence)
  • Materials Science
  • Mathematics
  • Mathematics and Computer Science
  • Mathematics and Philosophy
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Medicine
  • Medicine (graduate entry)
  • Modern Languages
  • Modern Languages and Linguistics
  • Music
  • Oriental Studies
  • Philosophy and Modern Languages
  • Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)
  • Philosophy and Theology
  • Physics
  • Physics and Philosophy
  • Psychology (Experimental)
  • Psychology, Philosophy, and Linguistics 
  • Religion and Oriental Studies
  • Theology and Religion



In many ways, the choice of college is unimportant as there are no differences between the colleges in terms of academic and pedagogic qualities. However, there are some differences between the colleges that may affect the day-to-day experience of living and studying in that college on an individual basis, and therefore certain factors may need to be considered by applicants. For example, Cambridge has two all-female undergraduate colleges, Newnham College and Murray Edwards College, and some colleges are geographically closer to the centre than others – equally, some colleges may have specific resources that appeal to applicants on an individual basis, such as specific sports facilities. 

Perhaps the most important consideration when choosing a college, however, is to determine whether it supports the course under application – some colleges do not have tutors for certain subjects. Likewise, colleges may differ in the facilitating A-level subjects that they prioritise for certain degrees, and they may also differ with regard to assessment testing and other application requirements. 

Often, therefore, college choice is a fairly objective and pragmatic process – a thorough analysis of the information provided by a college on its website and a visit to a college on an open day are both essential parts of coming to a well-informed decision about a college.


The assessment process at both universities centres on clear evidence of outstanding academic ability and a very strong personal interest in the subject for which an applicant has applied. This results in a multi-factorial assessment process that consists of a number of key components.

1. Academic Ability and Achievement.
Assessors will be looking for clear evidence of consistent and sustained academic excellence across all the subjects that an applicant has been studying. GCSE grades are clearly a useful indicator of academic ability but achievement in Year 12 is equally, if not more, important as the academic demands of AS- and A-level studies are far higher than at GCSE. Assessors will be looking for clear evidence of achievement in Year 12, such as AS-level / Year 12 internal-examination results and the ranking of the applicant within their class / year / school cohort.

However, perhaps the most significant indicator of academic ability is the pre-interview assessment test. These tests are specifically designed by the universities to test the knowledge, understanding, aptitude and thinking skills of applicants in relation to the subject for which they are applying. While these tests are based on the A-level curriculum, they will often contain questions and problems that demand that the applicant go beyond their curricular learning, in order to show the extent to which the applicant can manipulate and apply their curricular learning to tackle questions and problems that they have not previously encountered. As such, the methods and approaches by which applicants tackle problems and questions can often be an important indicator of academic ability. Likewise, preparation for these tests is more a matter of ensuring a thorough understanding of the scope and extent of the assessment, which may be gained through a thorough analysis of the specification and past papers provided by the universities, rather than preparing rehearsed answers. 

2. Predicted Grades 
Predicted grades are important in the assessment process, particularly in combination with evidence of academic achievement in Year 12 that confirms them. The majority of applicants will have predicted grades that are considerably higher than the entry requirements of the course for which they are applying.

3. Intellectual Ability
While academic ability is the keystone of assessment, the ability of applicants to think analytically, critically, and independently is a key factor in assessment. This will be evidenced in the methods and approaches that applicants use in the pre-interview assessment test, but it is also a key factor in the interview: not only will some applicants receive a test at interview that is alternative or additional to the pre-interview test but the interview context itself allows assessors to gauge the facility with which applicants respond to the intellectual dialogue that characterises the tutorial form of education. Both universities make it abundantly clear that the interview is important and useful because it gives the assessors such a tangible experience of seeing how the applicant thinks.

4. Subject Interest and Super-Curricular Development
Extensive evidence of personal interest in the subject for which an applicant is applying is of fundamental importance in the assessment process – often this is most evident in the super-curricular development of the applicant i.e. the extent to which the applicant has studied beyond the A-level curriculum. Evidence of super-curricular development can come in many forms but is perhaps most commonly and readily apparent in the reading that an applicant has undertaken over and above the requirements of the A-level syllabus. Additionally, the attendance of academic lectures, seminars, and events in the subject under application, and even subject-specific work experience, can provide good evidence of super-curricular development. Discussion of super-curricular reading and experience can often form a substantial part of the Personal Statement, which can then, in turn, be used for discussion at interview. 

Equally, the undertaking of an independent research project in a subject area that is relevant to the degree for which the applicant is applying is a very tangible form of evidence of super-curricular learning. Likewise, a discussion of such independent research can form part of the Personal Statement and may also form part of discussion at interview.


Application deadline 15th October
Pre-interview assessment test Last week of October
Interview Early to mid-December
Notification of outcome Mid-January



The Oxbridge Programme at Ashbourne is a 12-month programme that runs from January to January each year to support students that are currently enrolled in their applications to Cambridge or Oxford. There is a meeting every month in which specific aspects of the application process are considered along with relevant task-sets for completion by the next meeting. The year-long schedule proceeds according to the following basic schedule covering the key areas of the application process:

Spring Term

  • university and degree choice
  • college choice  
  • additional university choices
  • choice of independent research project

Summer Term

  • resources for pre-interview assessment test
  • supplementary application requirements
  • introduction to UCAS application
  • introduction to UCAS Personal Statement
  • resources for super-curricular development

Summer Vacation

  • completion of Personal Statement
  • completion of independent research project
  • completion of UCAS application
  • pre-interview assessment preparation
  • super-curricular development
  • work experience

Autumn Term

  • submission of application
  • submission of supplementary application material
  • pre-interview assessment test support
  • interview practice

Support is also provided after the autumn term, in January when applicants receive the outcome of their application.


The Ashbourne Oxbridge Programme has been running since 2015 and over that five-year period the average success rate has been 34% i.e. approximately one in three applicants that have participated in the programme have been successful in their applications. We were delighted that in the most recent cycle of applications (2019-20) the success rate was 50%.

Ashbourne Oxbridge Programme success

Sam Bottomley

Economics, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University

Christina Childs

History of Art, Churchill College, Cambridge University 

Mathilda Mould

Classics, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University

Olivia Nelson

History of Art, Emmanuel College, Cambridge University

Sashika Vockrodt

Land Economy, Newnham College, Cambridge University 

Why Choose Ashbourne College?
What I like about Ashbourne is that everyone is enveloped into the really close-knit family, regardless of race or background. The teaching goes beyond simply imparting skills and knowledge, but also extends to encouraging and inspiring students, which makes learning a lot more enjoyable. The amount of passion that everyone has and the amount of individual attention the college gives to every student creates a pleasant and stimulating environment. Ashbourne has exceeded my expectations in so many ways, and I have really enjoyed my time here in the college
Enn Nee PinkyArts and Sciences with a Year Abroad at UCL - University College London (University of London)
Has been given the opportunity to study in a focused and mature way and has thrived in that environment
I see Ashbourne as a place which I feel comfortable to express myself and it creates an environment that encourages me to develop as a leader. I am constantly looking for ways to improve. I am determined to continue to develop myself and I know that this is made more attainable with Ashbourne’s fantastic support and encouragement. I am very lucky to find myself at Ashbourne. It is a truly remarkable place to work.
Dennis FulcherHead of Multi-Media and Social Science Faculty