Lots of our A Level students who have just confirmed their Oxford offers have been writing up their application journeys for you guys! Here is Alice's journey:
Hello! If you are reading this, you are probably considering applying to Oxford, even if you don’t dare believe you can get in yet. I’m thrilled for you, and I hope I can help nudge you towards having a go!
If you’re anything like I was a year ago, I was all-over-the-place. I hadn’t read enough, I hadn’t written my personal statement and I’d never yet practiced an ELAT paper (the entrance exam to study English.) Not a great place to find yourself when the application deadline was in two months! But fear not. All is not lost.
What I would encourage you to do is to first be gentle with yourself - but be equal parts fierce. There is time enough to put together a brilliant application, if you are willing to work hard.
Here is what I did as an extremely anxious, last-minute applicant!
I hadn’t really read all that many books. But those I had read, I genuinely loved and was very happy to sit down with those books and annotate them. I was looking for interesting (sorry - it’s the most vague of words, though hopefully you know what I mean) points that I could make about the texts within the confines of a personal statement’s character limit. I mentioned six or seven texts (including poems) with about two sentences of discussion about each of them, and maybe five more texts I mentioned only in passing.
It seems better to properly discuss a few books in your personal statement that interested you, and raised questions and challenged you, rather than blithely name-dropping twenty different texts you speed-read, just to say you’d read them. I tried to have something to say about each text and how they had piqued my curiosity and encouraged me to interrogate my subject further.
It was important to familiarise myself with what a strong personal statement should contain, there are plenty of examples online if you scrounge around! I tried to make sure my personal statement focussed on my interests within my subject (for example, for me this was Victorian and Romantic literature, but I also talked about two texts from different time periods.)
I wrote about ten drafts of my personal statement, you will learn what to prioritise with each one you write. I wrote my first draft a few weeks before the deadline, and basically pumped out a reworked version of the draft every day until I sent off the application. I got these checked by 2 teachers. It is best if the people you ask are constructively critical, instead of them just saying ‘Yeah, it’s great!’
Of course, be formal in your personal statement, but I tried to keep my own writing style palpable. This is an opportunity for you to unabashedly show off. Every applicant’s personal statement need not be identical.
I practiced about 8 different ELAT (English entrance exam) papers in the two weeks running up to the date of the exam, give or take, but you may need more time to get your head round the exam. It is definitely worth practicing in timed conditions! Your school might be able to mark yours for you.
Honestly, I left it all rather late and worked extra hard as the deadline neared. Sometimes, it’s okay to knuckle down and let adrenaline, determination, and a primal type of sheer passion for your subject take over! However, I will caveat that by saying there is no time like the present, so if you haven’t already, now would be a great time to start planning and executing your application!
Please be kind to yourself and abandon the pursuit of the ‘perfect application’ - it’s a misnomer! You can apply imperfectly. You will most likely never feel entirely satisfied with your application, but it is this same introspection and activity of mind that makes you a great candidate. You are not in this alone, and whilst Oxford is not everything, nor does an offer from there quantify your excellence and talent, it is indeed worth a try from you.