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19 JUN 2021
This blog is the fourth and final installment in a series of Frequently Asked Admissions Questions answered by former University of Oxford admissions officer, Hannah Rowberry. In part four, Hannah answers the following questions:
After graduating from Cambridge with a degree in Natural Sciences, Hannah worked as a scientist, science teacher and College Outreach Officer for the University of Oxford. She has also been an Academic Registrar and an Admissions Officer there, experiences she now draws upon in supporting Crimson students in preparing for university life.
1. Are extracurricular activities important for UK applications?
UK selection criteria tend to be predominantly academic, with much less emphasis on extracurricular activities than the US. General extracurricular activities tend to be discussed briefly in the personal statement, to demonstrate skills and qualities such as leadership or teamwork. However, ‘supercurricular’ activities — things you do to explore subjects and develop your academic skills beyond your school studies — are very beneficial to UK applications. These include things like reading, podcasts, online courses, research, relevant work experience or volunteering, competitions, writing, projects, debating, and even just enjoying talking about your academic interests with friends and family.
Hopefully, these are things you are naturally doing in pursuit of your interests, and feel excited and motivated by. They can be very helpful in exploring and broadening your academic horizons, and as you explore in more depth, narrowing down your course choices. They enable you to develop academic skills that will help bridge the gap between high school and university, and demonstrate the interests, skills, and qualities universities are looking for. You shouldn’t do them just for the sake of your personal statement, but they will certainly come in handy when you’re writing it!
2. What are Oxbridge interviews really like?
Oxbridge interviews assess your academic potential and “teachability” — they aren’t meant to be some scary test with lots of difficult and bizarre questions, but rather a mock tutorial, seeing if you’re suited to the kind of teaching that takes place in the university. They’ll be looking to see how you approach a problem you’ve not come across before, and whether you can apply existing skills and knowledge to a new scenario. They’ll see how you take onboard new information, prompts, and questions to work towards an answer. Ultimately they’re trying to find out whether you will flourish in the academic environment at Oxbridge. The interviewers are nice people who will be trying to put you at ease, and will be pleased to meet someone who also loves their subject! It’s a wonderful opportunity for you to meet the absolute experts in your field, and talk to them about interesting topics and challenging ideas — this will probably be the most exciting interview you’ll ever have!
3. When should I get started on my UK university application?
It’s never too early to start preparing your application. There are strategic decisions that are important several years in advance, such as choosing your high school qualifications and subjects, to ensure you’re able to meet the university and course entry requirements and can build an impressive academic profile. It’s also great to have time to explore your academic interests and broaden your horizons!
Supercurriculars take time to develop too, and for the most competitive courses such as medicine, universities would like to see a long term commitment to exploring relevant experiences. It is also advantageous to familiarise yourself with the admissions process early on, so that you feel comfortable and confident with it when the time comes. I was seven years old when I first visited the Cambridge college I would eventually apply to — you don’t have to start quite so young of course, but early inspiration and aspiration is key!
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