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Studying in Oxford as an International Student

Ever thought about studying in the UK? Thinking about applying to Oxbridge? When I applied to Oxford one of the things I would have found extremely helpful is an overview of all you need to know before, during, and after applying. I am Wiesje. I just finished my first year at Oxford and here I will tell you all you want to know. Because of course studying in the UK will practically be more complicated than staying close to home. But belief me, it is worth it!

Oxford, some facts:
33% of the students are internationals
17% of the undergraduates are internationals
Oxford houses students from 138 different countries

What and where?
Let’s start at the beginning: what course do you want to do and where? Oxford and Cambridge (Oxbridge) are the universities in England ranked highest. They are currently number 3 and 6 on the World University Ranking. University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London closely follow them. If you are sure you want to try get into a certain place, but are not sure yet what course you want to apply for, just ask for a prospectus and mark all courses that seem interesting to you. When I did this, I ended up with about 12 potential courses, but you can only apply for one. Luckily I started doing this well before my penultimate year of High School, which gave me a good year and a halve to narrow down my selection to the course I’m studying now.

Start on time (about 2 years before you would like to start studying)

Your application
Applying to English universities is done through a website called UCAS (www.ucas.com). This might seem complicated at first, but the site is very clear and has video instructions for every part of the application procedure.

Key features:

  • You can apply for Cambridge OR Oxford, but not for both
  • You can apply for up to 5 universities in the UK (just not both Cambridge and oxford)
  • The deadline for your application October 15.

If you see this deadline and don’t think “What? But that’s so early!” then read it again and tak our your diary. Because indeed, this means that your application needs to be completely finished just after the beginning of your last year of High School (If your academic year is similar to that in the EU/UK). I just cannot stress enough how important it is to start on time with arranging all the paperwork you need.

What you need before applying in UCAS:

  • CV
  • Personal Statement
  • Reference letter from a teacher
  • Your expected grades

Your personal statement has a maximum of 4000 characters, is of course written in English, and is the most important part of your application. In your personal statement you show who you are, why you have what it takes to excel in Oxford, and that you are passionate about the subject of the course. Take the time to write, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite your personal statement until it’s perfect. Ask your English teacher, parents and friends to read it and give you feedback. There is a lot of information available on the web on how to write the perfect personal statement. See the links in the box for some good resources.

About personal statements

General tips:
For specific courses:
Law: https://tavistocktutors.com/blog/writing-a-personal-statement-for-law
History: https://tavistocktutors.com/blog/personal-statement-for-history-at-oxford
Economics: https://tavistocktutors.com/blog/economics-personal-statement
Medicine: https://tavistocktutors.com/blog/golden-rules-for-medical-school-personal-statement
Modern Languages: https://tavistocktutors.com/blog/modern-languages-at-oxford

If you need help with your personal statement, click here.


Also, it is a good thing to get an internationally acknowledged certificate stating your English proficiency (IELTS/TOEFL/PTE/CAE/CPE). I sat a CAE exam in my penultimate year of High School, and an A in that exam is enough to be seen as proficient. Don’t worry if you did not get your A or did not start early enough to plan an exam before the application deadline. You can still apply for your course, but Oxford will probably ask you to sit an exam to test your proficiency. On the basis of this the university might advise you to take extra language classes during your course.

For some subjects, the university will ask you to sit one or two exams. For my course, PPL (Psychology, Philosophy & Linguistics), I sat two exams: the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) and the Modern Languages Admission Test (MLAT). These exams take place at the British Council in your country. Don’t worry too much about the exams, for they are not the only thing you will be selected on, but do take care to do the best you can. Practice papers and papers of previous years are online.

Once you’ve finished your application the waiting begins. Between 4 and 16 December interviews take place in Oxford, where the tutors decide who they deem worthy of becoming their pupils. If you live too far away to fly over, you can request a Skype interview. If you get an invitation for an interview you’ve already done a pretty amazing job, for only 20-60 percent of the applicants gets invited. If you’re coming to Oxford for your interview, don’t worry too much. The college that invited you will provide you with a room and meals. Friendly “student runners” will be running around, wearing brightly coloured t-shirts, ready to answer all your questions and take you to the right place at the right time. During the interview, just make sure you present yourself as the intelligent person you are and don’t hide your passion for the course. Think out loud so that the tutors can follow your line of thought. Most of the time, there are no wrong or right answers (or the question is way to hard to be solved without help), but the tutors just want to see how you think. Oh, and if you said you read a book in your personal statement, make sure you’ve read it before the interview.

If you need more help with preparing for your interview, click here.

And then…
On the 11th of January, Oxford will send out results. You will receive a letter/email from the college where you had your interview (or a different college, if you did wel enough in your interview, but the college did not have enough open spaces) that states whether you are accepted or rejected. Did you get an offer? Congratulations! Just make sure that if it is a conditional offer, you actually get the marks that Oxford asks for. Done that? Now enjoy your summer holiday and, if you can, start working your way down the reading list that your tutors will undoubtedly send you.

The academic year in Oxford consists of 3 terms each lasting 8 weeks and does not start until October. The academic year of 2016-2017 consists of Michaelmas term from the 9th of October till the 3rd of December, Hilary term from the 15th of January till the 11th of March and Trinity term from the 23rd of April till the 17th of June. You can come to your college in the week before term starts (noughth week), but between the terms you and all of your stuff will have to leave college. Almost all colleges provide storage rooms for international students to leave your stuff over the break.

So once you’ve been through all this and you’ve made it till the end: congratulations! Now prepare for three (or four) years of extremely hard work, interesting talks, never-ending streams of deadlines, lots of fun, all-nighters to finish your work, deep discussions with you floor-mates, playing croquet for the first time, and the general atmosphere of intelligent minds buzzing about. Enjoy!


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