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An attempt to bust the myth of Oxford application
I am a current undergraduate studying at Oxford doing my first year and the admissions process is still very fresh in my mind. I have collated my thoughts and about my experience of Oxford application, choices and interview process that I went through. I am making a fair assumption that the prospective applicants have already chosen a course which he/she wishes to study and have decided to choose to make Oxford one of the 5 choices allowed. I should add that I am not an expert on the topic and I am just a student who was successful in my application and feel that my experience may help others on their journey to Oxford.
Research & First Visit
Before the application even begins, research is a crucial aspect of getting a place. I would highly recommend a visit to Oxford to get a feel of the atmosphere of the city and looking at the colleges and the department of your chosen subject. It helped me considerably to become more comfortable with the place and so I was less nervous when I arrived for interviews later. It is also important to study the prospectus as it will give you a brief introduction to the course content so that you know what to look forward to studying for the next three to four years. The prospectus also contains a lot of information on applying and a guide through the application process. A list of all the colleges is also included so that you can compare them extensively.
All applications have to be made before the 15th of October which is much earlier than the general deadline of mid-January of other universities. Unlike Cambridge, Oxford does not ask for module specific marks but only the overall predictions. This can be an advantage if you have not so good module score but overall solid results. However this proves to be somewhat disadvantageous if you can’t show them your flawless report card. Despair not budding genius, in your teacher report you can get in that you have achieved spectacular results in so and so module. It is very important however that your predicted grades at least match the requirements for the course; otherwise your application will go straight into the bin.
A decision as to which college to apply to must be made at the time of application. You can also choose to enter an open application so you will be interviewed by the colleges with fewer applicants. I personally decided to choose a college as there are huge variations in the architecture and feel of a college. As I have found out your experience of Oxford is hugely affected by which college you attend, do choose wisely! The bigger colleges tend to be far grander but can be intimidating, the smaller ones are less so, they feel more personal but small year groups can feel suffocating. In the end whichever college you study at you will think is the best!
Writing your personal statement (PS) is a very important part of the application. It is a chance to sell yourself; it has a significant impact on your chances of being called for an interview. There are many guides on the internet about what to write in your PS but especially for Oxford most of it should consist of academic information with a maximum of one paragraph for extra-curricular activities. Other than that, it is important to convey an interest in the subject beyond school work. It can also be good to give reasons for why you have chosen this subject and how it inspires you. This can be difficult for subjects which are not studied at school such as medicine. However, you can include work experience and any other experiences you have had which will hold you in good stead during the degree and your subsequent career. Your personal statement should be original and do not take sentences/ phrases from internet.
A select few subjects have admissions tests as another method of short listing for interviews. You can find out if you need to sit one in the prospectus. It is important that you book for this test and this is your responsibility. This link has an exhaustive list of the tests you need to take: http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate_courses/how_to_apply/tests/
I have found first hand and also been told that tests are challenging and will be a step-up from the A level or IB exams you will be sitting. I would say that preparation is a must and this could involve making sure you have learnt the core syllabus you are assumed to have in science tests. For arts, it would be very helpful to practice timed essays on challenging topics. You can find a large amount of past paper material to practice before taking the real one.
So you have received the letter saying you have been invited to attend interviews in mid-December. Before packing your bags saying goodbye to your mum, there are a couple of things you need to do to increase your chances of securing a place. There is no way of knowing what questions you will be thrown; however you can prepare by conducting mock interviews. This can be done by family but I find it is better if it is done by someone you don’t know well. It will make you more comfortable in a new situation. If you can get an ex-Oxford student to interview you that is the best preparation you can get as they will be familiar with the style and format (this varies hugely with subject and specific tutor). It can also pay-off to do some searching for past interview questions and drawing up answers you would have said to them. All of these techniques can get you into the right mind set to answer the challenging questions that you will be posed.
For most subjects you will spend a few days on Oxford, being interviewed by at least two different colleges. It is usually quite a fun experience with the Junior Common Room or famously known as JCR among Oxonians, organising events to keep you occupied between interviews. My best piece of advice is that the tutors are looking for someone who will keep thinking when the level is raised so the most important thing is to not give up at any stage and to keep trying. At the same time, you should be honest and try not to guess for yes/ no type of answers. Specifically in science based interviews, you will be asked to solve problems. Do not be afraid to ask for help as the problems are not designed to be easily solved without guidance.
For arts students, remember to be polite but hold your ground and explain what has led you to said conclusion. Don’t simply agree with everything that the tutors say blindly. It is very normal to be nervous, sitting outside waiting to be called into the room and being able to hear the previous candidate struggling with the questions. It is probably the most nerve wreaking experiences of my life. However it is important to remember that the tutors are human and they want you to do well. Remember all of the preparation you have done for this moment and look at it as an opportunity to show them what you are capable of.
You should receive a letter in the week before Easter which will either be an early Christmas present or an unpleasant letter. If you have received an offer, go celebrate. If you haven’t then it is not the end of the world and you still have a number of options. You will more than likely to have received offers from other equally amazing universities which you can take or if you really must study in Oxford there is always next year.
Looking back, I should say that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process although at times it was a bit nerve-wrecking experience. I am sure you also will enjoy the process and best of luck to you!