It may seem many months away, but before you know it, the time will come for you to start writing your personal statement. You’ll have just 4000 characters (including lines, spaces and punctuation) to convey to the Admissions Tutors reading your application just how much you love your subject, how good you are at it, and why you should be offered a place at their university. (Don’t worry – we’ll give you lots of guidance nearer the time!) As anyone well versed in the art of persuasion will tell you, it’s not enough just to say how much you like Astrophysics/the battle of Trafalgar/the structure of the Brooklyn Bridge/Keats’ early poems… you need to back up your claims with something more solid.
One way of doing this is by reading around the subjects that interest you so that you have some forceful examples and meaty academic texts to refer to in your personal statement – just make sure you really do read them, otherwise the interview might not go the way you want it to. We have lots of reading recommendations in our reading room, which you can find in free online resources, and we are very happy to give you some further suggestions specific to your interests if you give us a call or send us a quick email. But what about the more practical experience? This is more relevant for some subjects than others – practical experience is essential for anyone wanting to apply for a medical degree, but not so relevant for those wanting to read English or History. The problem that many students find is that it is relatively difficult for Sixth Formers to find useful work experience in the subject they are interested in: often A level students are just not qualified to do anything but observe and make tea and coffee.
Another common problem is not having any contacts in the field that you want to get experience in: unless you have family friends or acquaintances working as doctors or lawyers, it can be quite difficult for medicine and law applicants to organise shadowing and work experience. A possible solution to both these problems is to attend a summer school, where you can participate in workshops and competitions, but sometimes these can to be quite pricey – not to mention the high living costs if you have to stay away from home. Nevertheless, there are ways of gaining useful practical experience for your course without the price tag: you just need to think outside the box… Below you’ll find a list of our bright ideas as to how you can pick up some interesting work experience over the summer – but do some research yourself and you might pick up an even better opportunity! (If you do, please let us know about it – there’s nothing better than the teacher becoming the pupil…)
Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths
If you’re interested in any of these areas, or more specifically in Medicine, you might want to consider applying for a Nuffield Bursary. This will give you the chance to work with a scientist on a current research project for four – six weeks during your summer and you’ll get a bursary of up to £80 per week to fund you. What’s more the Nuffield Bursary scheme is really well respected and you can even enter for a CREST award, which recognises your achievement and will allow you to go to lots of science fairs all around the country for free. Go to the Nuffield Bursary website to check their application deadlines. They vary according to your region, but many fall in the middle or at the end of March – so get your skates on! If you’re unsuccessful, try contacting your local university to see whether there are any research projects that you might be able to get involved in, be it by assisting a Psychologist in an experiment or helping with tests in a laboratory.
One really good way of getting some Law experience is to attend some court cases at your local Magistrate’s Court. At most trials, the public gallery is open, so you can see the justice system working before your very eyes. You may even find that this gives you better experience than you would get shadowing a solicitor in a local office. One successful applicant actually credits her offer to read Law at Oxford to her experience attending Magistrates Court trials in the summer before her interview, so don’t turn your nose up at it because it’s not as glamorous as the Old Bailey. You can also attend one of the sixth form conferences that the Bar Council offers around the country. This will cover recent developments in Law as well as issues in British, European and International Law (particularly interesting at the moment) and case studies. Check out the website – but be quick as it’s done on a first come, first served basis.
If you are interested in applying for Modern Languages, spending time in the target language country is really helpful. If your school is not organising any exchanges for you to participate in, visit the British Council website and look at the ‘Opportunities for British Students’ page. This has details of lots of scholarships, exchanges and partnerships which will allow you to be funded to undertake a project or an immersion language course in a different European country. I can definitely vouch for this, having won a British Council scholarship to Kiel in Germany based on an essay I wrote. This ended up forming the basis of the German speaking part of my interview, so it’s definitely something worth looking into.
Politics & Economics
If you’re interested in applying for Politics or Economics, a trip to parliament to sit in the public gallery and listen to the debate would be an interesting way to spend the day. You can contact your local MP, who is able to invite members of the public to parliament. Remember, however, that parliament is in recess between 27th July and 3rd September, so make sure you arrange to go before or after the summer holidays. You’ll get much more out of the debate if you know the back ground to what is being discussed, so we’d recommend you do your own research before you go down. If you’re thinking of applying for courses in any other areas, one pretty exciting way of getting involved would be to apply for an unpaid internship at the BBC. You can apply for History, Science and Nature documentaries, work in the BBC drama department if you’re interested in literature, get experience in the World Service if politics is your passion or put your maths and economics skills to the test researching markets for Business and Economics news. Remember that the BBC proms takes place every summer so budding Music applicants would do well to look into how they might be able to get involved here. Competition can be quite stiff for many of these places, but there are plenty of opportunities available. Just make sure you put in the strongest application possible – good practice for your real Oxbridge application – don’t be afraid to be proactive and think outside the box. You’re worth it. Best of luck and do let us know how you get on.