UK Admissions FAQs Answered by a Former Oxford Admissions Officer | Part 1

28 MAY 2021

In Part 1 of our UK ‘FAQs Answered by FAOs’ series, Hannah shares her experience working in the admissions office at Oxford and answers common questions about the role of test scores in the admission decision, and what admissions officers look for in an application beyond academic performance.

This blog is the first in a four-part series of Frequently Asked Admissions Questions answered by former University of Oxford admissions officer, Hannah Rowberry. In part one, Hannah answers the following questions:

  1. What exactly was your job as an Admissions Officer? What qualifications did you need?
  2. Is it true that academic performance and admissions test scores act as an early ‘cutting factor’ in the application process?
  3. Beyond academic performance and admissions tests, what else are Admissions Officers looking for?

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. What exactly was your job as an Admissions Officer? What qualifications did you need?

The role of an Admissions Officer in an Oxford college is to oversee the whole undergraduate admissions process — from advising prospective students when they’re considering applying, all the way through to the day they arrive as students at the college. Oxford AOs run admissions operations and support students as they go through it, serving as an applicant’s main point of contact and fighting in their corner to ensure their application is assessed fairly, based on an in-depth understanding of the context of the application. They will liaise with the Tutor for Admissions (a senior academic in the college, with ultimate responsibility for admissions decisions) and interviewers (academics who make decisions on offers for your subject), to advise them on admissions decisions and ensure the process runs smoothly. 

2. Is it true that academic performance and admissions test scores act as an early ‘cutting factor’ in the application process?

When applications are assessed, they are viewed as a whole, and in context. Prior and predicted academic performance form part of this assessment, as do any admissions tests; alongside all the other information in your application (personal statement, reference, contextual information, any submitted written work, and interviews). There is an initial check of viability in the process, where any students not having achieved, or not being predicted, the minimum entry requirements of their chosen course are unlikely to be taken forward. However, this will be thoroughly checked alongside contextual information before any decision is made. 

Applications are also often ranked on their admissions test performance, sometimes in combination with their academic performance. Again this process isn’t quite as brutal as it sounds - there isn’t a direct cut-off point, but rather students above a certain ranking are likely to proceed to interview, students below a certain ranking are less so, and those in the middle will have further scrutiny — and again, the whole application and context will be checked before any decisions are made.

3. Beyond academic performance and admissions tests, what else are Admissions Officers looking for?

In addition to your academic ability, the key selection criteria are: your interest in and commitment to your subject, your ability to think independently, and your academic potential. These can be demonstrated through your personal statement, your reference, your interview, and potentially in admissions tests too. 

For example, you could use supercurriculars (course-relevant extracurriculars, such as reading) in your personal statement to demonstrate that you have developed your interests in your chosen course, and reflect upon your learning from these. Your performance during the interview could also demonstrate your thinking skills and potential, as you will be showing how you respond to an unfamiliar problem, using your existing knowledge and skills, and demonstrating your potential to flourish in an Oxbridge teaching environment (interviews are effectively a mock tutorial). 

There also may be course-specific selection criteria, which you will likewise need to demonstrate in your application. These may be fairly simple, but can be quite extensive, particularly for highly competitive subjects like medicine, where you will need to show strengths in a wide range of relevant skills and qualities.


NEXT WEEK: Read what Hannah has to say about common mistakes students make on their applications, the advantages of applying early, and choosing where to apply!

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