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What I Wish I Knew Before Applying to Oxford

By Kalina Hagen

Applying to Oxford can feel all consuming. For many of us, it’s a very contradictory process, imbued with both confidence and self doubt, excitement and apprehension. I applied for Law this year, and I was lucky enough to receive an offer. I’m so excited to be joining St Hilda’s College in October (providing I meet the offer, of course). I was very apprehensive about the entire application process - it seemed intense and shrouded in mystery. Looking back, there are several things that I wish I could have told myself at the very start of the application process. So many of us have a toxic mindset when it comes to Oxford admissions, I hope that my advice will help you think differently.

1. Oxford wants you to apply

It’s no secret that Oxford admissions are incredibly competitive. Getting an interview is incredibly difficult, and getting an offer is even harder. The competitive nature of the admissions is partly due to the fact that the vast majority of people who apply to Oxford are well qualified - they have high grades and have read lots of books for their personal statement. When I applied, I felt overwhelmed by this - was I really that much better than the hundreds of other people applying? I wish that I had, had a different mindset. Think of it like this: Oxford wants strong people to apply. Each department is on a treasure hunt to find what they consider to be the best and the brightest every year. In order to do this effectively, they need a large pool of applicants. If you meet or exceed the entry requirements, are genuinely interested in the subject, and have good time management skills - apply!

Oxford wants you to apply - they want to see as many excellent candidates as possible. Try to think of the university as excited to see what you - yes, you - have to offer. Chances are, you offer a lot. I definitely thought of myself as a lowly, wormy applicant begging a large, prestigious university to let me in. I wish that I had given the power back to myself- I was a well qualified applicant. I exceeded the entry requirements and did my best to demonstrate a strong, clear interest in my subject. The truth is that the admissions tutors are excited to find next year’s students, and they want you to apply just as much as you want them to let you in.

2. The admissions process is for you too

This advice might be controversial, but I think that it’s essential to keep in mind. It all comes down to giving yourself some of the power back. It is of course true that the Oxford admissions process is mostly about the university picking out the strongest applicants. However, you can still reframe it as more of a two-way process instead. The admissions process is involved and difficult because an Oxford degree is involved and difficult. It is as much about you finding out whether you would actually enjoy and excel at an Oxford degree as it is about the university finding that out.

Think of it more as a matching process rather than a culling process. Oxford is looking for candidates who have a specific skill set that matches the Oxford degree process. You should also be considering if Oxford matches your specific skill set. There are lots of different degrees and courses in the world for a reason- everyone is slightly different and will find something that aligns with their skills. As an applicant, you are being scrutinised and questioned. Empower yourself to do the same to Oxford - ask yourself, ‘will they give me what I want from my degree? Will the teaching be well suited to my specific skills and aspirations?’

3. Remember that you are more than just your academics

I’m sure you have at least one hobby- something you enjoy doing that is unrelated to your academics. Or maybe you have a job, or a thriving social life. It might seem counterintuitive, but the Oxford admissions season is the perfect opportunity to spend more time pursuing your non-academic interests. Don’t get me wrong - you need to continue to focus on your schoolwork. If you’re applying to Oxford, however, I’m sure that you tend to be an overachiever who places a lot of their self worth on academics. Oxford admissions season tends to exacerbate this - I know it did for me.

I found that spending time on my hobbies was more important than ever. In my case, sport is a massive part of my life. Practising and improving my sports reminded me that I am more than predicted grades and LNAT scores. It also helped to get my mind focused on something other than Oxford. It doesn’t have to be exercise - just make sure you do something regularly that forces you to think about something else. You could even take up a new hobby!


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