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Ella is a third year Historian at Oxford University who took part in the Oxford University Micro Internship Opportunity with Oxbridge Applications in June 2023.

Hi, I'm Ella and I’m a third year History student at Oxford. I've been working as a digital marketing intern at Oxbridge Applications – one of the many opportunities available on the Oxford Careers Service. I’m here to share my experience of applying to Oxbridge and some of the ways that I prepared for each stage. I hope anyone considering Oxbridge will find this useful!

The Application Process


I began to think about Oxford at the end of Y12, as my teachers started asking questions about what I was going to do after I left school. I decided quite quickly that I wanted to go to university to read History but it took me a little longer to work out where I wanted to study. Thankfully my teachers stepped in, helping me to research different universities and work out what I was actually looking for. I realised that doing an Oxbridge degree would be a unique experience but the oft-mentioned 'academic rigour', the small class sizes, and the social dimension of the collegiate system appealed to me. I particularly liked the look of the course at Oxford and decided to visit the city on an open day. Seeing it in person and chatting to students suddenly made it feel real and I decided I had to apply.

I handed in the first draft of my personal statement just before we broke up for the Summer holiday. I know from talking with other Oxbridge students that many started much later than this and still secured a place, however, I found that having such a long time to think about my application really helped me to develop my ideas and made the whole process a lot less stressful. Like many people, I had never written a personal statement before and it took time to learn how to do it. Looking at my first draft now, I can see that I didn’t really understand what to do but I had time over the Summer to rectify the situation! I followed up on my teachers' feedback, did a bit of reading, and persuaded a couple of archivists to give me some work experience. When I didn’t want to read I listened to podcasts, visited museums, and watched documentaries. I started to think more about how history was written, the challenges facing historians, and the different ways that sources could be used. Going into Y13 I had a much stronger draft and I continued to fine-tune it throughout the term.

There is a History Admissions Test (HAT) where you are given a source on an obscure historical subject that you probably don’t know anything about and asked to write an essay on it. Initially, this was a little daunting, but I quickly started to enjoy the challenge of discovering something new and it ended up being my favourite part of the application process. I began to prepare in September by going through past papers available on the Oxford website with my history teacher. I wrote a practice exam which he was kind enough to look at and we talked through the mark schemes so I could understand how to do well. On the day, I was given a fascinating source on the development of the colonial relationship and cinnamon trade between Portugal and Ceylon but my overriding memory is of the number of times that I spelt ‘cinnamon’ wrong!

Some Oxbridge courses also require written work. I submitted a recent, handwritten essay that I had completed as homework. It was probably one of my best and had been given a high mark, but I also chose it because I found the topic really interesting and thought it would be good to talk about at interview.

With all the other parts of my application complete, I began thinking about interviews. By this stage of the term I was quite tired (I think everyone was), and I found it harder to motivate myself to prepare, especially because I didn’t even know if I was going to be interviewed yet! I focussed mainly on reading over my personal statement and written work, trying to think about the questions they pointed to and making sure I knew all the content I'd talked about in case I was asked a question on it. I ended up having two interviews and for both I was given an unseen source to read over and discuss, however, I know that other historians had different experiences. Because I was given so many unseen sources, I found that the source analysis skills I had developed doing the HAT were really useful, and I was glad I’d spent time revising for it. I was also really pleased to have spent so much time talking to friends, family, and teachers about history over the past few months. I’d become much better at articulating myself clearly and persuasively, and this really helped me to express myself at interview, and to be flexible with my arguments when the tutors helped me to refine my thinking.

After my interview I had no idea if I’d get in. There were many things I wished I’d done differently, and a large part of me thought I’d blown it. It was really important to me though to put it out of my mind, and over the Christmas holidays I made sure to get lots of rest, and think about my mock exams in January. I was really pleased when I got my offer but I also knew that I would have been happy going to any of the universities I had applied to, all of which had really interesting courses and modules. As I finish my degree I’m still pleased that I applied, and I’m especially glad that put so much effort into my application because it gave me real clarity on why I wanted to be at Oxford, which has helped to remind me to make the most it.

I wish every applicant the best of luck!

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