We know that to have the best chance in your Oxbridge applications students need to show passion and enthusiasm for their subject. But often we rely on this terminology, and don’t really go into how to actually demonstrate your interest in your subject. In this week’s Telegraph article about the application process, Peter Claus, the new access fellow for Oxford, discussed this idea:
‘Naturally we’re crazy about our subjects as tutors – so we look for people of equal fervour. Demonstrating independent intellectual fervour around your subject is much more important than any Duke of Edinburgh awards. We need to see that students have gone above and beyond, and are aware of the culture of their subject.’
Again, here is lots of talk about showing ‘fervour’ and passion for your subject, but little to actually help students show this.
At several stages of the application process there is the opportunity to show your passion for your subject: in your personal statement, at interview and in an admissions test. Each of these has something of the ‘blank canvas’ element about them. There’s no set syllabus you can follow, there’s no questions you can predict, and although you can prepare through practice for your admissions test and having a practice interview before the real thing, by their nature each stage is hard to predict.
The Oxbridge applications process is your chance to show how committed you are to your subject and why you have the potential and motivation to spend the next three or four years of your life studying it at university. It’s about communicating your passion for what you have chosen to study and demonstrating that you enjoy having the freedom to explore it – away from your normal school work. It’s about individuality, not conformity.
Giving yourself time to think about your subject now will really help you when it comes to completing the hurdles of the admissions process. The application process is challenging and hard, but if these two universities want to find the strongest applicants who they think will thrive in the Oxford tutorial and Cambridge supervision systems then it needs to be. Oxford and Cambridge are challenging universities – the application process is the start of that challenge.
A key way to do this is to ask questions of yourself. What do you find interesting about the subject you are applying for? Where have you gone above and beyond the syllabus to find out new things about your subject. What are the specific things which interest you? What do you know about the theory behind your subject, and how can you understand the underlying foundations of it? Ask yourself the big questions; you’re not meant to know the answers, but you should be able to think critically around the big issues in your subject, and challenge yourself academically.
Tutors are looking for engagement in their subject; they want someone who sounds and looks interested, who won’t back away from the big questions and who is willing to challenge and debate their own assumptions and ideas. When preparing for the application process, be open to new ideas, question your own ideas and the assumptions you make when thinking about your subject.
Evidence is also key here: when you’re writing or reading through your personal statement. Ask yourself ‘how?’ and ‘why?’. How has an event made you more interested in your subject? Why did reading a certain text give you a greater passion for the subject? How has each aspect of your learning added to your interest in your particular subject? You should never make empty statements; always back up what you say with an example or a deeper awareness of your learning in your subject.
Just like any challenge, there are ways to prepare for this experience. And you’re not alone. There’s a wealth of advice out there and we’re on hand to help you, every step of the way. No one can guarantee success, but we can promise lots of succulent pieces of advice and interesting things to read, all put together from a super team of real Oxbridge graduates who have been through the process and succeeded.
For more details about how we can support you in your application, please see our website, or call us on +44 (0)20 7499 2394.