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Applying to Oxford University as an International Student - What I Wish I'd Known Then

Applying to Oxford University as an International Student - What I Wish I'd Known Then

Applying to any university can be extremely stressful, what with having to decide what course you want to take or what type of atmosphere you are looking for, but applying to Oxbridge amps up the stress levels by a lot. Having to do research on every college (Oxford for example has 39 colleges to choose from) can be daunting, especially with the amount of information that is available online. There is such a thing as information overload, and I definitely reached it when I was applying to Oxford in 2020. Throw into the mix the fact that international students do not have access to open days nor a geographical or cultural touch to these colleges, and you have the recipe for a very stressed prospective student. I certainly wished Optimal Oxbridge had been around then to guide me; it would have saved me weeks of work when I was already at my busiest.

I applied as an EU national, and I really didn’t have a clue about the difference between colleges and what that meant for my application. Deciding to let fate take the wheel, I opted to do an open application which basically means that if your application is successful, you get allocated a college from the university rather than choosing one yourself. I ended up receiving my offer to study English from the same college that I got allocated to, and I have loved my time here in Oxford University ever since. I didn’t hugely enjoy the application process, as I was navigating the bizarrely unique system of Oxbridge without any real knowledge on what was going on. I think that if I had a better understanding of the collegiate system, I would have found the entire application process completely different. It’s one thing going in blind and hoping for the best, and it is another one to go in with transparency. I know that it is clichéd, but knowledge really is power, especially when it comes to building confidence and alleviating stress.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted – I was looking for a friendly and inviting community – but rather, it was that I didn’t have the time or patience to read dozens and dozens of articles to get a feel for each college. It is always easier said than done to expect students to do their personal research before their application process, but when you live in a different country to your prospective university; you do not have any family that has ever attended; and you have loads of school work to do in order to achieve the grades that these universities expect, this research can definitely become overwhelming.

Looking back at my own experience, I wish I had known more about Oxford University before applying. I’m not just referring to the course that I wanted to study – there was plenty of concise and clear information on the university’s website about the structure of the degree. I’m referring to the traditions and societies of the university, and most importantly, its collegiate system. This is why I wish that sites like Optimal Oxbridge existed then, guiding you through the admissions process and helping to demystify the process of choosing a college. I also wish that I had taken a step back from stressing about not being prepared enough or not being ‘in the know’.

Any moment of transition comes with its uncertainties, but it is important to prioritise and envision your goals rather than focus on your shortcomings. Take a deep breath, exhale, and create a vision for what you are looking for going into your application process. This vision can take any form really: anything from a post-it note of a few bullet points to an aesthetic mind-map will do. It is not just the university that is choosing whether or not you’ll be a right fit for them, it is also you who is choosing whether the university (or a specific college in the case of Oxbridge) will be the right fit for you too. Knowing what you want and why you want it – especially as an international student who will have to leave behind quite a few possibilities – will not only make you feel more confident, but it will also show your passion and enthusiasm to the university.

My number one tip for prospective students – and the thing that I wish I had known the most throughout my own application process – is that you have to take the leap and apply. It may feel daunting, but if you know that you want to pursue a chance to get into Oxbridge, then apply! Don’t let external pressure, whether that be from friends, family or teachers, deter you from applying if that is truly what you want. And remember to back yourself whilst you do it. You have unique experiences, talents and insights as an international student, so highlight them and use them to your advantage during your application process. Wishing you the best of luck! Remember to take a deep breath.

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