You may have dreamt about going to Oxford and Cambridge for years now. But now that application time has actually come around and you have to pick a college, making that decision can be really tricky. If you can't decide on which college to go to, you can make an open application.
When you're filling in your UCAS application form you need to put your college code in. If you want to make an open application, you just put a nine in that box and that will be an open application. You can still only make one application to either Oxford or Cambridge. You can't make a direct application to a specific college and one application which is open. You can still only apply once.
When they get all of the applications in, the open applications are allocated to a college. And they are allocated to a college for whatever reason in that particular year has received less applications for that subject. So, it's going to be a college where there are going to be space for a student.
However, this doesn't mean it's going to be easier for you to get in. Oxford and Cambridge have very high standards and a very large number of applicants. An open application just means you're going to get assigned to a college, not that's it's going to be easy for you to get in. They're not going to accept somebody who doesn't meet up to their standards just to fill up space. If they don't think they have students of the right calibre, they're going to look to the pooled applicants, or the reallocated applicants, instead of taking somebody who's applied direct.
After your application has been allocated to a college, it will be treated exactly the same as if you had applied directly. The college will interview you, the college will decide to take you on, and the college will let you know whether you got in or not. The only thing different about an open application is the fact that you don't have to decide where you go. This can be tricky because you are going to be spending a large amount of your time within the college. You may not like the college or the style of college where you eventually end up.