"Help! How do I Get Into Oxford University?" - The Complete Guide to the Application Process



Do you want to go to one of the top universities in the world?

I get a lot of emails from readers who have a very hearty YES to say to that, with one of the most popular dream uni's being Oxford.

So seeing as many students will be starting their university applications soon, I wanted to create a really detailed guide on how to apply to Oxford to help you guys out.

I've asked 2 successful Oxford applicants to give us the inside scoop on how they applied, plus their advice for future applicants. 

I know that a lot of my readers are humanities enthusiasts (are we secretly long-lost twins?), so I chose a Psychology and English & History student to help us.

So let's meet them!


Robert Blakey:
  • He's just finished his Experimental Psychology degree at Oxford and is starting an MSc in Criminology this September
  • His A-levels were: German (A*), History (A*), Psychology (A*), English Literature AS-level (A), Extended Project (A*)
  • Fun fact: he's written two books on how to do well in exams, which I've linked to below
Mehrunissa:
  • She's currently studying an English & History joint degree at Oxford 
  • Her A-levels were: Economics (A*), Law (A*), World History (A*), English Literature (A), Maths (B)
  • Fun fact: she's the Vice President of the famous Oxford Union debating society

These guys have got specific, actionable tips you future Oxford students can use when creating your application this September. 

They cover everything from how to make a killer personal statement, to how to perform well in those infamously unpredictable interviews. 

(Ps. A lot of these tips can also be applied to other universities.)




Contents of this post broken down:



Step 1: Create a killer personal statement that tells the admissions officer why YOU should be picked over the thousands of other applicants - deadline: 15th October


Step 2: Show off your grades and tell the admissions officer that you're strong academically and will perform well at their university - deadline: 15th October


Step 3: Get glowing references - deadline: 15th October


Step 4: Create amazing school work to submit - deadline: 10th November


Step 5: Prepare for the admissions tests - deadline: 6th November (register by 15th October)


Step 6: Deliver a confident interview - deadline: 7 - 19th December



This is a very in-depth guide (over 4400 words people!) and is the type of article you bookmark to complete parts of it on separate dates, so if you'd like to, that's what I'd recommend.

If you like what you read and fancy getting more tips on topics such as how to boost your performance at school, then I'd love to invite you into my VIP email crew. You'll get an exclusive workbook on how to get A*'s, plus you'll never miss a post from me again. Join us here:



Get In-Depth Guides on How to Become a Super Achiever at School & in Life






Deadlines summary:

15th October 2014:
  • Register for the admissions test
  • You need to send in your UCAS application, which should include:
  • Predicted grades
  • References from teachers
  • Personal statement

November
  • Do your admissions test
  • Send examples of written work (if required)

7th - 19th December
  • Your interview


Ps. I just want to let you know that many of the product links in this post are affiliate ones! That's essentially geek speak for saying that if you choose to click on these links and purchase something (firstly, thank you!), then I'll get a small commission to keep the site running (at no extra cost to you), but not enough for a pony *cue violins*. 

So if you fancy buying any of these and want to support the site, then you can use these links. :)



Step 1: Create a killer personal statement that tells the admissions officer why YOU should be picked over the thousands of other applicants - Deadline: 15th October



Find out what qualities Oxford tutors are looking for in a student:

Here's a list taken from Oxford's website (for additional ideas, Kings College London and Harvard have similar guides):

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Conceptual clarity
  • Flexibility - the capacity to engage with alternative perspectives and/or new information
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Critical engagement
  • Capacity for hard work
  • Enthusiasm for the subject
  • Evidence of imagination and understanding, in particular, the ability to speculate and compare, alongside the possession of appropriate knowledge and the capacity to deploy it.
Now that you know what they want in a student, make sure you can demonstrate these qualities throughout your personal statement.


Tips on writing a killer personal statement from current Oxford students:

Robert (Psychology degree):

Q: What 3 ‘holy grail’ pieces of advice would you give on how to stand out as an impressive candidate in a personal statement?

1) Actions speak louder than words...so it’s a shame that the personal statement is all words – you might be thinking. 

Well don’t worry, this old saying is still relevant: everyone in contact with personal statements knows that exaggeration is their middle name. Uni tutors reading personal statements take into account this use of exaggeration when trying to identify genuine interest and ability beneath the make-up. When tackled with this challenge, tutors will be more convinced by specific demonstrations of your interest and ability in their subject than by obviously far-fetched, vague and unsupported claims. 

Dish out hard evidence and you will succeed. 

Dish out cheese after cheese in the form of ‘My childhood dream was to study classics at the age of three’ and you will leave the tutors feeling bloated.

2) Weave extra-curricular activities into the course, or else they might not count. 

Do as many extra-curricular activities as possible and you will be rewarded with UCAS brownies. 

This was the big myth during my sixth form days. 

In fact, I even remember being taken out of class to be told off for not doing enough extra-curricular activities. 

In contrast, after arriving at uni, I started to think differently: Trekking in gale force winds and making music are super ways to have fun and develop incredible skills but these will not solve all your UCAS problems. 

Why? 

Because who will be reading your personal statement: the Duke of Edinburgh? Sadly not. David Guetta? 
Sadly not. Academic researchers? Happily yes. 

Academic researchers have devoted their careers to reading, writing and thinking about their subject. They are not that interested in how you climbed every rock face in the Lake District and remixed Example’s latest album for their own sake. 


However, they are (or should be!) really interested in how climbing and mixing music developed or demonstrates your interest in the subject and the skills it requires. 

So when writing my personal statement, I tried to spell out the links between my extra-curricular activities and the curriculum I wanted to study. 

The middle section of my personal statement is where I bounced the ball back and forth between psychology on one side and extra-curricular activities on the other. 

For an example of where I failed to make these links, see the last section ;)

3) Tailor it to the concerns of that subject

"I didn’t realise there would be so much biology and stats”. In my subject, this line is the standard first-year groan about psychology. 


Psychology tutors worry that uni applicants think the course is all about touchy-feely counselling and wishy-washy explanations of awkward moments at house parties, when actually it’s about the brain, experiments and statistics. 

Computer science tutors worry that applicants think the course is about the tool bar on Microsoft Word and whether Windows 8 is the new sliced bread, when actually it’s about maths, logic and programming. 

So when writing my personal statement, I tried to identify and overcome their concerns by throwing in a few words that screamed “scientific”, “biological” and “hard”: ‘falsifiable’, ‘brain’, ‘biological’, ‘brain’ again and ‘neuroscience’.

Q: What was involved in creating your personal statement? Can you break down the main stages of the process?

We had to hand in a very rough draft of our personal statements before the end of the first year of sixth form, which I agree sounds scarily early. 

In creating it, I followed these main stages:

a) Make a list of every single one of your curricular and extra-curricular activities and achievements, no matter how big or insignificant they sound

b) If it’s the summer between A/S and A2-level or earlier, work out how you could add to that list. Could you visit a relevant museum, event or lecture? Could you read a relevant book, newspaper or blog? Could you write for a student magazine, blog or essay competition? Could you join a relevant club, summer school or course?


c) List your activities and achievements in order of their relevance to the course you’re applying for and the skills it requires

d) Start writing without hesitation. Anything is better than nothing. There’s plenty of time for editing and rewording later


e) Prioritise mentioning activities and achievements at the top of your list


f) Ask your parents to provide feedback on a draft version and make changes


g) Ask your teachers, especially one with the same subject interest as you, to provide feedback on the new draft and make changes

All along, I kept saving a new version of the document each time I changed it so that I could refer back to deleted parts.

If you want to see an example of a personal statement that's good enough to get into Oxford with, here's Roberts:







Mehrunissa (English & History degree):


1. What 3 'holy grail' pieces of advice would you give on how to stand out as an impressive candidate in a personal statement?

1. Firstly, demonstrate passion for the subject you've applied for. 

2. Secondly, show that you have gone beyond the requirements of your A Level curriculum to read about that subject. 

3. Thirdly, link your extra-curricular activities by showing how they provided you with skills that are necessary for that subject.

2. What was involved in creating your personal statement? Can you break down the main stages of the process?

Well, for me writing my personal statement was a bit of a chaotic process, and I changed it about a million times. 

My advice would be to sit down and think hard about why you're applying for that particular subject, then think about why you're the best candidate - this involves listing out your strengths in that area, things you've done in the past that may help you in university, and things you've read about the subject that weren't taught in school. 

After this, make a first draft and then show it to people whose opinions you value and try to incorporate criticism that you think is helpful. 

But remember - it is important for YOU to be happy with your final personal statement, so make sure you do not get carried away by trying to make it into something that appeals to everyone, because that is impossible. 

Make sure it is reflective of you, and make sure it is truthful, because if you make it to the interview stage, you will be quizzed about everything you mention.

Advice from Oxford tutors that I noted down during an 'admissions advice event' I went to in September 2013:

I met with Philosophy, English Literature and Language tutors from Oxford (and Cambridge) who said the following about what they want to see in a personal statement:

1. They recommend using the 80-20 rule when writing your statements. So spend 80% of space analysing and being critical of your subject. Then the last 20% should be about your extra-curricular activities, which have helped you somehow in your academic studies.

2. They want to know why you love the subject you're applying for. What parts of it do you enjoy the most? What parts of the course do you find an enjoyable challenge? What do you want to know more about (regarding the course)?

3. In the interview, they'll question you about opinions you've mentioned in your personal statement, so be prepared to explain and defend what you say.

Here's what they don't want to see:

1. They don't care about you being a 'well rounded' person (the Cambridge tutor went as far as to say "we don't care about you being well rounded. You can be as angular as you like"). They don't need to know that you can balance an academic and social life, they're just interested in the academic side.



Step 2: Show off your grades and tell the admissions officer that you're academically strong and will perform well at their university - Deadline: 15th October



How to make your AS grades look better:

In the UCAS form, there's the option to add the number of marks you received in each course, as well as your final grade. 

If you have very high marks (so between 90 to 100%), then definitely take advantage of this. 

If you have low marks and just scraped an A or something, then don't do it. It may come across as evidence that you're not very academic.


How to get high A2 grade predictions:

Most of you will be applying to university just after you do your AS exams, so your teachers will write on your UCAS application what grades they think you'll get overall. 

These are important, because their predictions have to be high enough for you to meet the entry requirements of Oxford (typically AAA or above).

So to encourage your teachers to give you high predictions, do the following as soon as you start school again in September:
  • Score highly in class tests by revising your notes often
  • Hand in extra work to show them you're a hard worker and very driven to get those A's
  • Hand in coursework early
These will all show you're teachers that you're HIGHLY likely to get an A or A* so that they feel confident enough to recommend you for such grades on your official predictions.

Advice from Oxford tutors that I noted down during an 'admissions advice event' I went to in September 2013:

Here are some notes I made about what tutors views are regarding grades:

1. They don't look favourably on exams being retaken.
2. They believe that your AS grades are a good indicator of what grade you'll get in your first year.
3. They want to see that you've done at least 2 strongly academic subjects (Cambridge in particular were very strict about this). So for instance, something like Critical Thinking or General Studies just won't cut it.
4. They want you to be one of the top 2 or 3 students in the school. So basically, they want the best.



Step 3: Get a glowing reference from your teacher - Deadline: 15th October



Speak to a teacher that has seen how hard working you are and ask them to write you a reference at least 1 to 2 months in advance (they do have busy schedules, so give them enough time).

Ask to see the reference once they've done it too so that you can discuss it.



Step 4: Create amazing school work to submit - Deadline: 10th November


For most of the essay-based subjects (English, History...), you'll be asked to send in some of your school work. 

Speak to your teacher about which ones you think you should send in, but most importantly, choose ones that you'd be happy to talk about further. 

This is because in the interview Oxford have said that tutors may ask you about what you wrote in those essays.


The rules regarding what you can and can't send in:

1. It has to be a piece that was completed as part of your normal school work.

2. Your work should be accompanied by a signed certificate stating the circumstances under which the work was written. Click on this link to download the written work cover sheet

3. Your written work should be about 1500 words long, and not longer than 2000 words.

4. If you have a very long essay that you want to show off, but it exceeds the word limit, then you can send in an excerpt of the essay (that's between 1500 to 2000 words) rather than the whole thing. 



Step 5: Prepare for the admissions tests - Deadline: 6th November (but you need to register for it by 15th October)



These tests are designed so that you can't revise any specific material. They want to see how well you can answer unseen and unexpected questions. 

However that doesn't mean you can't prepare for them. You can still sharpen your general analytical and evaluative skills, as Robert did by doing practise papers.

You can find the past papers here.


Tips on preparing for the tests from current Oxford students:

Robert (Psychology degree):

Q: Did you prepare for the test? If so, how?

Yes. I’m obsessed with preparation because I really believe it works. 


You will hear people claim “Well, you can’t prepare for the admissions exam because it’s a test of raw natural intelligence and there’s nothing you can do to change that”. 

But really this line actually translates to mean “I’m a bit lazy, would rather not prepare for the admissions test and have found an intelligent-sounding excuse to avoid any preparation. Bingo”. 

In reality, you can always improve by practice.

To apply for Experimental Psychology at Oxford, I had to take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA). 

To prepare, I did the specimen and past papers available online and bought a very helpful book called ‘Thinking Skills': 




This book specifically aims to improve thinking skills required in the TSA, contains many practice TSA-style questions and explains the reasoning behind the correct answer.

Whilst doing this practice, I gradually identified and wrote down recurrent themes in the mistakes I made and the ways in which I could overcome these. 


So essentially, I created a list of personalised advice to deal with bad old habits in my approach to TSA questions, which I could then read over before the test.


Mehrunissa (English & History degree):

Did you prepare for the test? If so, how?

I applied for History and English Literature so had to take the History Aptitude Test, which is an essay based exam. 

For this, I just revised my History notes from school - it is a very general test that basically tests analytical skills so it wasn't necessary to memorise lots of facts or dates.


Step 6: Deliver confident interviews (you'll normally have 2) - Deadline: 7th - 19th December



Tips on preparing for the interview from Oxford:

Here's a list of recommendations taken from their website, on the Interviews at Oxford page:

1. Think about some basic questions that may be asked at the beginning of an interview and how you might answer them. For example, tutors may ask why you have chosen this particular subject, and why you want to study it at Oxford.

2. Read widely around your chosen subject, including newspaper articles, websites, journals, magazines and other publications.

3. Take a critical view of ideas and arguments that you encounter at school or college, or in the media – think about all sides of any debate.

4. Be prepared to show some background knowledge of the subject, if you are applying for a course not normally studied at school or college, such as Medicine, Law, Biochemistry or Oriental Studies. However, you will not be expected to have a detailed understanding of specific or technical topics. For example, you may be asked what role your subject plays in society. 

5. Re-read your personal statement, and any written work that you have submitted, thinking about how you might expand on what you wrote.

6. Organise a practice interview for yourself. This could be with a teacher or someone else who is familiar with your subject, but preferably not someone you know very well. This will help you to get some more experience of talking about yourself and your work in an unfamiliar environment.



Examples of Oxford interviews:

How interviews may start (the tutors introduce themselves and tell the student what to expect):




They might ask a few general questions about you, just to ease you in. 



They'll then move on to questions about your subject (they might give you something to discuss, like in the video below a statement is given. For English, however, this happens before the interview, where you're given a poem to read on your own for around 10 minutes, and then the tutors will ask you about your thoughts on the poem once the interview begins).




They'll ask you questions about things you've written on your personal statement (this video also serves the purpose of letting you know that it's OK to answer things wrong in the interview. They're interested in how you think, not what you think).



Practical tips from psychological research on how to boost your confidence before an interview in 2 minutes (I absolutely love this TED talk):




Tips on preparing for the interview from current Oxford students:

Robert (Psychology degree):

Q: How did you prepare for the interview?

In my head, I split the interview down into two parts: the predictable and the unpredictable. 

The predictable questions were those which would be based on my personal statement. To prepare for these, I re-read my statement and thought about the questions it prompted in my own head. 

For example, looking at it now from the top, the interviewer might ask “When have you studied behaviour through history and literature?”, “Why do you think scientific rigour is valuable?” and “What did the article on ‘The Science of Fear’ argue?”. 

So at the time, I wrote down these questions and idea answers, which helps you practise responding to likely questions.

However, limit what you do: if you rote memorise answers like you’re about to retake your GCSE French oral (a scary prospect I know), the tutor won’t take a personal liking to you. 

It is important to answer spontaneously because it will influence whether the tutor thinks he/she could teach you as a student, which is very important for the tutorial system.
To prepare for unpredictable questions, I practised spontaneously analysing research studies. 

I knew that in an interview for psychology, it was very likely that I would be told or given a graph or article about an experiment and then asked questions about its results, inferences, validity and reliability. 

This was exactly the basis of two of the three Oxford interviews I had. 

I could not predict the study which I would be told to analyse. 

However, I could develop the skill of quickly generating criticisms, strengths and interpretations of studies I read about in newspapers, blogs and textbooks.

Q: Did you face any challenges in the interview?

Yes, I had three interviews: one went well (at the college I got into), one went fine and one went badly. 

The biggest challenge in this last one was that it wasn’t very specific to psychology: the two interviewers asked me some mental arithmetic questions and gave me a difficult puzzle, which I’m now familiar with because it’s a well-known psychological test! 

With two pairs of strict eyes watching me, I found it extra hard to stay calm, concentrate and reason quickly yet logically. 

This interview summed up the scary stereotype for an Oxford interview, whereas the other two interviews were much friendlier, less intimidating and more focused on talking about psychology.

Q: What advice would you give on how to perform well in interviews?


Prepare well to boost your confidence and to reduce your anxiety – that was my route to performing well. 

Before entering every interview, I knew I had done all that I could do to prepare and so if I still didn’t get in, I would know that I wasn’t suited to Oxford. 

However, hard preparation is by no means the only way to interview success: I know that if current Oxford students read what I have advised you to do above, some would be shocked and say “Really?! You prepared that much! Why? I did hardly any preparation for the admissions test and interview, and still got in.” 

Indeed, preparation is not necessary if you trust ‘natural ability’. 

Instead, I trusted effort more – something which we can all control and something which will improve everyone’s chances.

Mehrunissa (English & History degree):

How did you prepare for the interview?

I just read my personal statement and made sure I was very clear in my head about everything I'd written, and why I loved History and Literature

I wouldn't recommend trying to read new material and showing off about it - it's more beneficial to think about things you already know and ponder over them, and give them a new and original spin.

Did you face any challenges in the interview? (eg. anxiety, trouble answering questions)

I didn't really face any challenges in the interview. 

One of my interviews had to be conducted over the telephone as the Skype connection broke down, and I was a bit nervous about that, but in the end it went fine.

What advice would you give on how to perform well in interviews?

Be confident, and even if you're asked a question for which you need to think for a while, think aloud so the tutors can hear your thought process. I can't emphasise enough the importance of thinking aloud, even if you don't know the answer.



Examples of questions asked by Oxford tutors to practise with:

When I went to an admissions advice event at Oxford, they did an exercise where they handed a sheet of questions to English Literature, Languages and Philosophy students (we were all grouped together), and we were told to tell our answers to the person sitting next to us, who could then give us feedback. 

I kept the sheet, so if you want to apply for any of those subjects, then here are some questions you can ponder (fun word alert!) over:








More advice from Oxford on the application process:

Each subject offered at Oxford has it's own website, which will give you a break down of the application process specifically for that course.


For example, here it is from the History department, and the English one.

To find out more, google the name of the department (or faculty, as they call it) for your subject, and you'll find similar resources.




Meet the Oxford students:

If you fancy speaking to any of the lovely Oxford students who offered advice in this post, then here are some ways to internet stalk them and do just that:

Robert Blakey: 

His first book, designed for GCSE students, is called 'How to Achieve 100% in a GCSE - Guide to GCSE Exam and Revision Technique' and was featured by The Daily Mail.



His second book (which I'm currently reading) is for students of all ages, called 'I Hate Revision: Study Skills and Revision Techniques for GCSE, A-level and Undergraduate Exams'.



His (new) website

Mehrunissa:

Her Twitter: @Mehrunissa92

Her Facebook 




Ps. the image is courtesy of Carolines Mode


If you like what you read and fancy getting more tips on topics such as how to boost your performance at school, then I'd love to invite you into my VIP email crew. You'll get an exclusive workbook on how to get A*'s, plus you'll never miss a post from me again. Join us here:



Want to Join 13,900 Students in Learning How to Crush Procrastination, the Fear of Failure and Fear of What Others Think? 


Get Bi-Monthly Email Updates with Actionable Advice on Overcoming these 3 Mental Barriers to Achievement:

* indicates required






Now I'd love to hear what you think:

  • Are you hoping to apply to Oxford soon?
  • For what subject?

Comments

  1. This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not everyday that I have the possibility to see something like this..

    ReplyDelete
  3. I enjoyed reading your post and found it to be informative and to the topic. Thank you for not rambling on and on just to fill the page. Thanks..

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. Really, I loved to reading your article. Here is some effective personal statement advice for you!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for share this informative post.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for sharing this useful post. A graduate school personal statement could be the key to success that you are looking for! Almost all educational facilities really feel personal phrases additional increase graduate purposes, statement of purpose for mba any probable candidate's personality.

    ReplyDelete
  7. One of my friend United Kingdom was trying to get admission in Oxford University but every time he failed to do it so.bit the facts and figures you have discuss here might help him to achieve his goals and help him to get admission in oxford university. Gratified to author for sharing such informational stuff.
    law essay help

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you most very much

    ReplyDelete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. On my point of view, for that kind of issue, it is better to use a coursework writing service because pro writers may give a lot of useful advices for sure. But also I will try to use your recommendation too. Thanks!!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment