Jack Palmer - Journey towards Oxford University
‘You need to log in to Track as there has been an update to your UCAS application.’
Anyone who had applied to university will recall a sensation of anticipation and excitement upon receipt of this message. It means a university has made a decision on your application- log in to find out if you’ve been successful!
On 10 January 2018, I opened this message with shaking hands to discover that I had received an offer of a place to read Biochemistry at Christ Church, University of Oxford.
I would like to share my experience of applying to Oxford.
The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, known collectively as ‘Oxbridge’, are the oldest universities in the United Kingdom. They are collegiate, which means they consist of a group of colleges and departments which collectively form the wider university. A college is a small community where students live, study, socialise and attend tutorials (classes with a tutor). A student at Oxbridge is a member of a college and will attend lectures and events at departments. The idea of living in a college- a small, supportive community- really appealed to me and was one of the main factors influencing my decision to apply to Oxford. The college from which I received an offer, Christ Church, was founded in the 1500s and is one of the larger colleges. It was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and for the Harry Potter fan, the Great Hall of Hogwarts!
The process of applying to Oxford and Cambridge is very similar; the application has a much earlier deadline than for most courses (October) but preparation for the application should begin much earlier than this!
The idea of applying to Oxbridge first appealed in Year 8 when I attended a session at school run by a Cambridge student. During my time at Kantor King Solomon, I visited the two cities on several occasions. These earlier interactions with the universities helped me to understand that Oxbridge isn’t an ‘exclusive club’, but an academic environment open to anyone who is passionate about learning. A long way from actually applying to university at this stage, I always kept the idea at the back of my mind.
Upon starting sixth form, I decided that I want to study Biochemistry. With the application process looming, I wanted to learn about the mechanics of the Oxbridge application. To assist me, the school arranged informative events and this clearly highlighted the importance of the personal statement.
The personal statement is a short ‘essay’ about yourself and your ‘passion’ for the subject you wish to study. It must not directly state: ‘I am very passionate about X…’ or ‘I have had a flair for Y since I was three years old’, but rather communicate enthusiasm through ‘super-curricular’ activities- exercises completed outside the classroom, out of school and beyond any exam syllabus. Anything from reading subject specific books and accessing online resources (videos, podcasts) to attending lectures at universities specifically for prospective applicants can naturally reflect motivation to study and enthusiasm for a subject.
I believe that there were two key ‘super-curricular’ activities that I attended to develop my subject knowledge and enhance my personal statement to the greatest extent. The first was the ‘Oxford Pathways Programme’, an outreach event for state school students; I spent the night in Lincoln College and learnt about my subject and Oxford admissions. During the summer, I attended the ‘Centre of the Cell Summer School’ at QMUL. I spent a week about learning cell biology and taking part in lots engaging practicals! The knowledge gained provided much inspiration for my personal statement.
In November, having submitted my application, I received an email from Oxford inviting me to interview. During the interview process at Oxford, applicants stay in college and interview over a period of several days. Although they were very challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed my interviews! The basic format was a discussion about my subject with some questions designed to test problem solving ability and others to demonstrate subject knowledge and enthusiasm. Each interview lasted for an intense half an hour, but I found the experience to be truly academic and rewarding. Consider it as an opportunity to meet and discuss interests with academics at the top of their field! Outside of interview, I soaked up the Oxford experience, ate dinner in hall, had a movie night and met fellow applicants from Islington and Yorkshire… to Canada and Indonesia!
To prepare for interview, I spent a lot time reading and carrying out research. The school helped to arrange activities (mock interviews and a visit to an Emeritus Professor at the University of London) which encouraged me to defend my personal statement and developed my interview technique.
If you ever considered applying to Oxbridge, there are a myriad of activities to get involved with to learn about the universities and explore your subject. Visit the universities and their cities (they’re not far from London!) and participate in their outreach events (look up: , a team who run events for state school students in Year 10 - 13, and ‘Subject Masterclasses’ at Cambridge). Activities don’t have to be organised by Oxbridge- my summer school was at QMUL. Get involved with activities at school and read around your subject. When it comes to writing the personal statement, you’ll have plenty to talk about. The earlier you begin preparation, the better.
I have really enjoyed the experience of applying to Oxford. Hopefully I’ll make the grade this summer…
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