Applying to Oxford: a Guide

It’s mid-september and we all know what that means: Oxbridge applicants are wrapping up their personal statements and ready to click that “send” button on UCAS. Being a student at the University of Oxford, I thought I could share a little bit about my experience when applying to that university.


  1. Choosing a subjectI can’t stress enough how important the choice of your subject is… Getting into Oxford is hard but studying there is also very difficult: they want to take people who enjoy working because studying and being in the library will take an important part of your time there… And although studying hard can be a real pain in the *ss, enjoying what your subject can make it a whole lot easier.
    I’ve sometimes told myself in the middle of an “essay crisis” that maybe I should drop out because I can’t be bothered anymore… But a little voice inside me reminds me how fascinated I am by the essay title and I just keep going: I finish the essay and I get so much satisfaction from presenting it to my tutor and discussing in depth the issues it raises with a world expert.( I have friends who have had to leave Oxford because they realised they didn’t enjoy their subject and thus didn’t want to spend 3 to 4 years hating what they did.) So please, be 100% sure that you’re picking the right subject for you._
  2. Writing your personal statementAh the personal statement… that 2/3 of a page mini essay in which you’re meant to sell yourself… How to tackle it? Remember that it is a personal statement, so firstly, make sure to talk about yourself first.There is absolutely no point describing the subject as whichever professor will be reading it will know what they’re teaching and will assume you know what you’re applying for. Moreover, you don’t have a lot of words to waste so I suggest writing a little introductive sentence which throws you into the subject straight away.
    There is no exact formula to write the personal statement: I won’t tell you “write this in paragraph 1, then this in paragraph 2”. However, I will recommend that whatever you say about you, make sure to make it relevant for your interest in the subject and that also applies to extra-curricular activities: although Oxford (and Cambridge) are mainly interested in your academic abilities, they will also find interesting the things that make you unique, especially if you can make it an interest for them.
    For instance, writing for your school newspapers on a regular basis has made you used to writing concisely and to the point while sticking to deadlines (you could even mention an article you’re especially proud of!); or if you’re on a sports team, you can talk about how it has made you hardworking, and comfortable with working with others while also taking leadership initiatives. Make a list of all the things you think are special about you, and how you can make them relevant to your subject.

    By the end of reading your personal statement, the reader should really feel like they KNOW you and that you are THE person they want to study the subject.Warning: do NOT say anything that isn’t true… You can exaggerate things a little, but do not say you read something you didn’t as they will find that out at the interview…


  3. Choosing a collegeSomething applicants sometimes neglect, but you have to realise how important the choice of your college will affect your experience at Oxford. I can’t stress that enough.Each college has a different spirit, atmosphere, traditions, ups and downs. I really recommend visiting a few colleges on open days and asking questions to students – if you can’t, look at a list of colleges and check out their individual websites.
    The college where you go will become your new home: you will eat there, sleep there, study there, and make friends through sports teams and societies. Some colleges are more old school, others more liberal. Hipsters are at Wadham, party people at St Peter’s.
    By ticking “open application”, you take the risk of ending up in a not so nice college, which might present disadvantages you never though of (for instance, if you’re a guy you could end  up at St Benet’s, an all boys college)Ask yourselves the following questions:
    -do I want really old buildings which will be very “Oxford” but at the same time might not have great accommodation?
    -do I want to live in college during my entire degree (some colleges can’t offer a room on campus for every student so some have to live out)?
    -do I want to work with the tutor of this college? (they will be the one interviewing you and working with you during your degree)
    -do I want to live in the town centre, the risk being that there will be many tourists, or do I prefer living a little bit outside where it’s more calm?
    -do I mind walking or cycling for a long time to my faculty? (faculties are scattered around Oxford and can be far apart from certain colleges so look at a map to make sure you don’t apply to a college which will force you to walk for 45 minutes to lectures every morning)


  4. The interviewFor most subjects, you are 80% sure to get an interview. Unless your predicted grades aren’t good enough, or you really messed up one of the tests required, they interview almost everyone (except for some subjects).The good thing about interviewing at Oxford (unlike at Cambridge) is that you are invited to stay there for a few days. This means you get to have a glimpse of what your future life might be: staying in a student accommodation, eating at the dining hall, hanging out with other interviewees in the JCR (common room). And it’s all free! You also get to meet students who volunteer to help around that time, who might be your future friends!Obviously, come prepared for the interview. That means:
    knowing your personal statement and being able to back up everything you say and also defend it. One of my interviews involved having to defend everything I had written as the interviewers took down every single of my argument or example.
    -be able to think on your feet: interviewers will put you on the spot and challenge you, not to put you in a horrible position, but to see how you react and how you think. Don’t hesitate to express your train of thought out loud.
    -they will ask you “why Oxford”: come up with a personal and original answer (they already know it’s a prestigious university)
    -make sure you have a question: not everyone has the chance to meet a world expert in the subject, and as someone who wants to study the subject you should embrace the opportunity of asking them something. I guarantee they will ask you “any questions?” at the end of the interview and I think it can really impress them that you arrived with an intelligent question, which could potentially lead to an interesting discussion.
    -finally, remember that the people interviewing you could be your tutors for the next 3-4 years: what they mostly want to know is if you’re someone they want to work with! Being engaged, polite, friendly and interested will definitely help impress them.


On top of that: I had this guide which I though was extremely useful for my application in terms of choosing a subject, choosing a college and preparing for the interview.

I hope this was useful! Leave any question in the comment and I will make sure to answer them. I’m a student in Humanities and I’m mostly referring to my personal experience, but I most certainly can put you in touch with someone I know studying the subject you’re applying for, so don’t hesitate! And most importantly: good luck!