By Katie Bacon
The current situation, wherever you are in the world, can feel pretty bleak so it’s important to find things that can bring you hope, positivity and drive. As difficult as social distancing/lockdown can be, it does provide an interesting opportunity to reflect, reset and look to the future. Hopefully for you this will involve getting ready to apply to Oxford! (Go for it!)
The prospect of the application process can feel quite daunting so hopefully this simple guide will break it down into manageable steps. An Oxford application can be confusing for parents and carers too so this guide is for you as well!
Step 1: Choose a Course
This is the most important choice as it determines the rest of your application experience. Choosing a course is a really personal decision and there lots of different things to consider such as where your strengths lie and what kind of career you’re interested in. But (and that’s a big but!) the most important factor to weigh up is what you enjoy! An Oxford degree is amazing but also really hard so it’s vital to enjoy your course! It can be hard to know if you’ll enjoy a subject you haven’t studied before so try to do some reading and get a feel for whether it interests you - this will come in handy later too!
Step 2: Choose a College
Oxford is broken down into different colleges where you eat, sleep, socialise and study! Most of your uni life is shaped by college so it’s worth spending some time to familiarise yourself with the colleges and what they offer. Colleges don’t offer every subject - so before you start researching make sure to find out which ones offer your course (this is on the uni website)! Again, this is a very personal choice but some things to bear in mind are location, size and atmosphere - this sounds strange but once you start reading websites or even visiting (when things are more normal!) you’ll understand what I mean, don’t underestimate the strength of a gut feeling!
Step 3: UCAS Application
All your uni applications will go through UCAS and Oxford is no different! The main part of your UCAS application is your personal statement which should communicate (in not many characters!) your passion for your subject. My advice would be to break it down into 5 mini-sections - why you are interested in the subject, 3 experiences or pieces of reading that demonstrate your interest and a summary of your extra-curricular activities (and how they relate to your subject). Don’t worry, it will take a while to get it right - mine took 7 drafts! Try to think of it as ‘you on a page’ and that might help!
Step 4: Subject Tests
Quite a few subjects will have an admissions test, some are set by Oxford others are national tests by an external body e.g. the Law National Admissions/Aptitude Test. Watch out for the deadlines for these! Every subject is different but I think there are two pieces of advice that will stand you in good stead for whatever test you’re taking - 1) read the news and 2) do as many past papers as you can!!
Step 5: Interviews
Hopefully, once you’ve submitted all of this you’ll be invited to interview! There are lots of subject specific posts on the blog around interview prep/experiences which I would definitely recommend as, again, the interview experience is very different depending on your subject. These will also hopefully dispel a lot of interview myths! A term that comes up a lot around this time is ‘pooling’ which can happen before or after interview. It means that the college you applied to didn’t have the capacity to interview you/make an offer but another college did. Don’t worry if this happens it’s very normal!
Step 6: A-Levels
Often there’s an impression that once you have your offer that’s it, but I think it’s really important not to underestimate A-Levels. I found A-Levels hard and it’s important to remind yourself that that’s ok! Having to work hard to meet your offer is not a sign that you don’t deserve a place or won’t be able to cope when you get there - if anything you’ll be in a better place because you know you can work your socks off (!) and keep going when things are tough. Take a deep breath, keep going and remember you can do it!