Oxford Demystified - making a successful reapplication

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9dobbo1
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Hi TSRians,

You may or may not know that I applied to Oxford five times before getting an offer. As such I know quite a bit about reapplying, gap years, and the determination it takes to give an already daunting process another go.

This thread serves as a place for successful and potential reapplicants to discuss their plans, fears, and triumphs.

Many thanks to Oxford Mum for the idea of setting up this thread.

To start things off, here's some of my advice on reapplying.


***

Why Reapply?

Your Oxford journey doesn't have to end with that first rejection email/letter. To some, the rejection is personal, and would rather not deal with the University ever again in their lives. I feel, however, that as the application process is so competitive, you have to understand that many bright candidates are squeezed out of a place, and if Oxford's walls were flexible you would have gotten a place.

Something I hear a lot is "you can always do a masters there"... well, this isn't quite the same. The Oxford Undergraduate experience is so particularly special, with its weekly tutorials and unrivalled teaching resources. Also, to get do a masters at Oxford you have to get a First at your current Uni, which can be a particularly demanding task (certainly more so than getting excellent GCSEs or A Levels).

A great reason to reapply is the chance to take a Gap Year. A Gap Year can, if done right, be a life changing experience. Travel, work, study, intern, relax - the possibilities are endless, and I suggest you get some variety in what you plan on doing. There's many interesting opportunities out there. I took the John Locke Institute's Gap Year Courses in Princeton and Oxford and was able to immerse myself in the tutorial method, travel to exciting new places and meet life-long friends all in one programme. I also did quite a lot of independent travelling - much of Europe, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Japan and the US, coast to coast. My tales and experiences from these adventures are not just great dinner party conversation, but actually changed and grew me as an individual. The rest of my Gap Years were less interesting in part due to a skiing accident I suffered, though I won't dwell on that here. That being said, don't be afraid to take time away from education if you are suffering from any particular illness - mental or physical.

Reapply because Oxford is worth it. The value of an Oxbridge education may be overestimated by some, but I actually think it is under appreciated how particularly unique it is. The weekly tutorial is a fundamentally unique method of teaching that demarcates Oxbridge and the rest. It's also worth saying that Oxford is like an Academic Disneyland - it is beautiful, sprawling, lively and has a society for any hobby or interest you could name.

Ultimately reapplying can be a fun and rewarding experience, even if you aren't successful. Oxford is something worth fighting for (or at least it likely is for you if you're reading this), so why not fight for it?
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9dobbo1
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How to make a reapplication successful

Something has to change between your first and second application in order for it be successful. It's not like buying a lottery ticket where the odds are the same and you hope for the best - you can make your own odds, if you play your cards right. Be it your personal statement (less important) or your admissions test score (very important), there are material differences you can make that'll make you a better applicant. One of these is done for you, in that you'll have received your A Level grades if you reapply. This removes any fears the tutors may have about you not meeting the standard offer, especially if your GCSE grades aren't quite at 'Oxford standard'. Make sure you smash your exams (or demonstrate your worth to your teachers, if you are reading this in COVID-times) - a nice set of achieved A*s at A Level will really make your application shine.

Should I apply to a different college?

Yes. I'm sorry if you've already fallen in love with a particular college, but it is a bit harder to impress the same tutors (if applying for the same subject) if they've already seen you before. Find another college - I'm sure you'll find a special one.

Should I apply for a different subject?

Quite possibly. It may be that the particular subject you applied for first time has a lot of prestige (think PPE) but there are other, less competitive subjects out there that may be worth considering. Read the course listing carefully, look at the admissions stats closely, and you may find a subject you love that will give you a better shot of getting in. Personally, I shifted from PPE (very competitive) to Theology and Religion (not very competitive) on my final (successful) try, and I think that certainly played a roll in my success. In the last year I applied for PPE, I was told that my interview scores were in the top 40% of those shortlisted, but that they took the top 35%. For Theology, they take the top 65% of those interviewed, so even though my performance at interview may not have changed very much, applying for a different course meant that I was able to get the place I deserved without having to dramatically improve my technique.
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Oxford Mum
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Successful reapplicants, please post your insider secrets on this thread

What did you do differently, that made the difference second time around?

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Oxford Mum
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azby1098
This is a must read
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9dobbo1
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How do I stay sane throughout this process?

Reapplying requires jumping over some significant emotional hurdles. You need a cool head, and need to be reapplying for the right reasons. Apply because you want to be an Oxford Undergraduate, not because you think that success in life is defined by an Oxbridge degree.

Make sure you still apply to other great Unis when reapplying, as you don't want to put all your eggs into one basket. You should find that other good Russel Group institutions will be keen to accept you with a set of great A Levels, so don't worry too much about saying goodbye to any offers you got in your first application.

One great thing about reapplying is that you can invest a lot more time into it (as you won't be at school), and so use that time wisely. Prepare for interviews (with the mindset that you're going to be shortlisted - don't wait until the invitation comes) by reading, practicing talking about your subject with friends, family, or even yourself (I recorded myself answering some potential interview questions and then listened back to them).

If you get rejected again, don't despair. Still feel proud of yourself for having the determination to try again, and if you've crafted a good Gap Year for yourself, then the time wasn't wasted. Crucially, you can, if you really want to, apply yet again, but only if you really think you can further improve one of those key tenants of your application.

Be kind to yourself. Don't make the decision a do-or-die one - let yourself enjoy taking a year off, with the added benefit of being able to give Oxford another shot. Don't make your Gap Year all about getting in this time.
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John Wick11
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Thanks 9dobbo1.

Quick question: if I am reapplying to a subject that uses central admissions and my application never got past central admissions (ie. Likely never sent to a specific college) the first time round, would it still matter if I chose the same college as a reapplicant?
Er... asking for a er.. friend?
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9dobbo1
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(Original post by John Wick11)
Thanks 9dobbo1.

Quick question: if I am reapplying to a subject that uses central admissions and my application never got past central admissions (ie. Likely never sent to a specific college) the first time round, would it still matter if I chose the same college as a reapplicant?
Er... asking for a er.. friend?
I think that should be fine.
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Oxford Mum
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Coming up: I go through all the Oxford Demystified chapters, looking for winning behaviour patterns from successful applicants.
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Oxford Mum
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Famous last words: Quotes from successful applicants:

MD - medicine - my son

A lot of people hear the Oxbridge name and like the idea of going there, but are not interested in the additional learning that comes with all those pretty quads.

During the interview, the focus is on how you solve problems and how much they enjoy you. When you take a step back, it makes sense that when your tutors interview you, they pick the students they most want to teach.

My interview experience was not overwhelmingly positive

Judging how the interviews had gone was insanely difficult. I had made some major gaffes.
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Oxford Mum
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Medecine - rebeckahwd

It's important to do all extra reading with an open mind It is likely it will challenge your own views at times, but that's the power of academic reading, and something I only realised once I got my offer was something Oxford looks for in a candidate.

On talks/lectures: They were all slightly different and sometimes quite challenging to understand, but I'd say if you can get a few thoughts from it when you get home, it's most certainly worth it.

On personal statement: Reflecting what (work experience) taught me

It is important to illustrate your specific areas of intrigue

On interviews: I found it best to just not speak for 5-10 seconds after they asked me the questions, just to give me time to think. I treated it as a conversation, where I just delayed my responses a bit.

Post interview: You can't change anything when the interviews are over, so as long as you've given everything you can there, not much point stressing
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Oxford Mum
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Biomedical Sciences - Oxford University Society of Biomedical Sciences

Looking for work experience when you have no contacts: I remember writing around to all the labs near me

Personal statement: They should highlight what you've done in your academic career that has paved the way towards choosing (BMS) as a subject

The interviewers aren't looking for anything specific, just as long as it doesn't feel superficial or forced, and truly shows that you have gone out of your way to work out what you want to do

Put yourself in the eyes of the interviewers reading it through, make sure there's something that stands out that they can pick up on and ask questions about in the interview

Interviews: The interviews are designed to test how well you work in a tutorial-like environment. It doesn't matter at all if you get things wrong, the tutors are more looking to see how you think about challenging and unexpected questions and the way in which you use the information or knowledge you do have to give a response.

Think aloud and say everything you're thinking, even if you aren't sure, they prefer to see you puzzling over something instead of just saying your answer right off.
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Oxford Mum
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Theology and Religion - 9dobbo1

I used some previous (sample) Theology interview questions and recorded answers to them on my phone and listened back to them and tried again if I wasn't satisfied with the answer.

Interviews: I found the content of the interviews to be far more relaxed, giving me greater opportunity to think and reflect and give well formed answers.

The tutors were all lovely and did their best to put me at ease. I knew I'd enjoy being taught by them if I got an offer.
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Biological Sciences - Oxfossil

My tip would be to try and get experience that links you into a wider programme of research that can be dipped into over several years. That sounds more impressive, and it may help you understand how different roles like public engagement, estate management, policy etc all fit together. And get an idea of what - if anything - you find most attractive.

Oxfossil's daughter mentioned volunteer survey work and supercurricular reading. The framing was to illustrate both her longstanding interest and that she had demonstrated practical commitment beyond the school curriculum.

She highlighted some issue that she claimed to find interesting

Interviews: It's an opportunity for you to see whether they will suit you. So don't treat it as a test, but a conversation.

Deciding whether to take up your Oxford offer or not: Oxford isn't a golden key to life. Don't go if it feels wrong for you.
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Axispower1
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Can I ask about postgraduate reapplications?
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Oxford Mum
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Materials Science - matscigal

personal statement- As a conclusion, I wrote about what I wanted to do with my degree and I found that was a great way to end

Interviews: I said a lot of stupid things but I kept going and I felt like, although I didn't know everything, I gave it my best shot.

Don't let one bad question put you down

It's easy to think Oxford students just ace their interview, when in fact a lot of us have had some crying post interview experiences.

They (tutors) probably thought look here's a student that managed to go from being completely stumped to the answer without giving up in a high-pressure environment to hold it together, which is what we do now, in tutorials.

Go into your interview looking to be taught.,
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Oxford Mum
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Fine Art - millsinapiccle

I think that it’s important to provide context in your application/interview so that they can see that you want to learn and take your artistic practice to a new level above school directed study. However, my advice would be don’t get stuck on the idea that you have to read loads, after all I only ever mentioned one book and I got a place. Solidify what you already know whilst showing your curiosity.

I just told myself they want to see my personality in my work and if my work was influenced by other people’s it wouldn’t seem genuine and I wouldn’t feel a connection to it, meaning that when I would go talk about it, it wouldn’t seem passionate or personal. Basically, show off your best skills, have fun with it, and be yourself, they want to see you’re curious and will try out different things.

Personal statement: I started with an introduction on what art meant to me and why I wanted to study it. I then spoke about my Foundation, how I grew and what I learnt over the course.

I felt very intimidated writing my personal statement because of the other one’s I had read where people have loads of books, work experience or gallery visits that they talk about, but I focused on what I did know and my strong points, and most importantly (even though it’s cliché) passion and personality. You shouldn’t be trying too hard, be honest, be yourself and believe that you are enough. I wanted to get in knowing that I got in being myself, and if they didn’t like it, screw them, it’s obviously not where I was supposed to go.

Interviews: t helped to keep telling myself that if I got rejected it was because it wasn’t the right place for me. It may sound like I was sure of myself, but I honestly thought I would go in and my brain would collapse and I would be unable to answer any questions, or even worse, that they wouldn't like my art (which was stupid looking back because they must have liked something about my art for me to get to the interview stage). Once again in my life I had to remind myself that my art is for me and if other people like it too, that’s a bonus. Another part of me was actually excited that I was getting an opportunity to talk to serious artists and they were asking about my work! As scared as I was, I was still amazed that I even got that far.

I realised that they were asking exactly the type of questions that I needed to consider in order to push my art further, and that was why I wanted to go to university in the first place. They wanted to see that I would work well in a tutorial environment where I would be asked those kind of questions and develop my work from them. The fact that I got an interview showed that they were seriously considering me as a student there; they already liked my work and what I spoke about in my personal statement, so all I had to do was continue being myself and let them make their decision. The tutors don’t expect you to be perfect, they're looking for breadth of engagement and curiosity. Just make it easier on yourself and prepare what you want to talk about beforehand.

Don’t try and force anything to seem intelligent, for example talking about an artist or a book if you don’t know much about it. You shouldn’t have to memorise something to be able to talk about it, it should be natural because that’s what truly interests you or is truly what your art is about. This goes for trying to make a piece of work really deep when it isn’t.

-Don’t feel pressured to ask questions. You should think of questions that you want to ask beforehand, but they should be questions that you wouldn’t be able to find the answer to on their website, otherwise it shows that you haven’t done the basic research of the course, college, or uni that is expected of you when you apply. For example, don’t ask about the structure of the course, instead ask how a particular aspect of the course would benefit you.
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Law and Spanish Law - Holly (friend of Azby1098)

On interviews: it seemed like it was more interesting and I actually felt passionate even when discussing matters that aren’t really my favourite.

Explain your thoughts - it doesn’t matter whether your ideas sound completely pathetic or irrelevant, just say it. Where possible try and consider multiple angles to a question rather than being focused on one set view, because the whole point of critical thinking is to understand and work with other’s ideas to shape your own. Also just remember it’s not the be all and end all - it’s an opportunity to learn whether you get an offer or not, and essentially just a good experience too.
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Oxford Mum
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German - adoody28 (my elder son)

Regardless of which language you choose, the general apathy of A-level students works in your favour. Averaged out, modern languages is one of the easiest subjects to get into Oxford for, with a success rate of 31.9%. As with most Oxford degrees, languages can be a path to almost anything.

As you are studying a languages degree, you’ll be expected to be proficient in your chosen language. There are a couple of exceptions – Russian ab initio or Oriental Languages for example – but having a good grasp of the nuts and bolts is expected of you before you even log on to UCAS.

A large part of the course will centre on literature. If you’re not a bookworm, go for Maths instead because your average languages tutor will be expecting someone as mad about literature as they are.


A lot of reading will need to be done in your own time. Goethe asks in “Werther” that you make his book “your little friend”, and I would say the same thing. Take him with you to work for your lunch break. Take him on holiday. Take him home for a lazy weekend or on long journeys. Take him to the beach. The more confident you get, the more you’ll enjoy even the most complicated literature in any language.

Languages at Oxford are so literature heavy that it is more like studying English Literature, but in a foreign language. It also means that any techniques you learnt in English Literature can be transferred across. In a literature class you learn what to look for and discuss in a text, which you will need to be able to do when applying to Oxford.

Personal statement: When writing a personal statement, start by thinking about why you were so keen to start learning a language in the first place. Trace your passion back and start from there. A personal statement is a good way of summarising what you’ve done to show an interest in your subject and what you’ve read. Don’t just list everything though – no Oxford languages tutor wants to teach a robot. Can you think of any texts that had an impact on you personally? Why? What did they make you feel? Your personal statement is the first time your prospective tutor will meet you, so it’s important to make a good impression and convey your enthusiasm.

Interviews: it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But remember, someone has to get in and it may as well be you. Don’t worry about feeling intimidated. Everyone will probably be feeling the same way. Even your prospective tutor probably felt the same all those years ago when he or she was just eighteen.

What mattered is that I was able to debate and reason critically. Don’t get too defensive if you made a wrong answer, but make sure that everything you say is backed up by evidence. Oxford tutors love creativity and thinking outside the box, but with evidence. Maybe the poem is about love, but what makes you think that? Maybe the text is political, but why? You’ll be asked “why?” a lot and expected to come up with an answer. If you have been chased down a rabbit hole and can’t go any further, it’s best to admit it than to make up increasingly false and tenuous claims. You have to show that even if you don’t know an answer, you are keen to learn.

They also want to see if you respond well to the Oxford tutorial format and approach. They’re looking for someone to have an engaging conversation with, not just small talk. Tutors are looking for strong and flowing conversation where you bring up points you found interesting. It’s not necessarily important to blurt out the first answer that pops into your head, but to take a moment to consider your words. When I was asked something, I would look at a map of Germany on the wall whilst thinking of what to say. Also it is important to think out loud, so the interviewers know your thought processes.
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Oxford Mum
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Persian (ab initio language) Wanirre

personal statement: I thought it was quite necessary to show some sort of engagement with the language. And it is really impressive to do anything in that regard. After all, you’ll be starting a completely new language out of scratch. You must show your personal, individual engagement as well as motivation.

I have this strange habit of taking notes of literally everything I read, do, schedule with pencil on blank a4 sheet (It helps me with my anxieties and other issues). So, I just went through these notes about the original texts.

Do read as much as you can and take at least some notes, coz you won’t have much time before interviews.
Read the written work you have sent as well as you PS. And underline all the bits you have claimed to have done and remember there will definitely be questions about it.
Relax, I was quite tense and I think that’s quite normal. But the interviews were much less haunting than I had imagined
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English - rachaellouwhite

Personal statement: My recommendation is to read widely. Not just novels, but also consider how language and literature is affected by its various forms; poetry, plays, medieval epics, etc. When writing your personal statement, don’t just say “I’ve read X”, say “When Reading X, this made me consider…”. Take it a step further!

My personal statement was focussed on medieval poetry, as well as Shakespeare. Throughout my PS, I considered the overarching theme of the human condition, and how it has been approached throughout the history of Literature. I also analysed my own points in my statement by using examples from the text, and relating it back to the point I was trying to make, therefore highlighting my own engagement with the topic.

Example:

❌ I read Beowulf, which questions the human condition.
✔️ For example, the human condition is explored through Beowulf’s increasingly grey morality. Whilst Beowulf successfully operates by the noble chivalric code, Grendel is abhorred for the same ideas. Therefore this suggests… which is similar to...


Interviews: Sitting in the collection room was probably more nerve wracking than the interview itself! It was very informal, and we sat on some squishy sofas whilst we chatted. I even came out laughing.

For my second interview, I had to sit by myself for ten minutes before the interview, so that I could annotate a poem to discuss with the interviews. Similarly to my first interview, it was very informal, and the interviewers were both very chatty.

The interviewers are humans too, try and remember this! They know that you’re probably very nervous, and will take that into consideration.
Wear whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. In the first interview, the professor was wearing a Christmas jumper!
Keep your phone with you and on loud. On the day I had my interviews, they were initially scheduled for 10am and 5pm. My second interview was then changed to 3pm at the last minute. It is so important that the runners can get in contact with you during your stay at the college!
The interview is designed to replicate their tutorial system, and gives both you and the interviewer an insight into whether you are suited to Oxford’s style of teaching. It isn’t designed to outsmart you, although you most certainly will feel flummoxed at times.
Try to say what you’re thinking out loud, as this gives the interviewers an insight into your thought process.
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