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.

Applying to Oxford University to read English as a non-native English speaker

Applying to Oxford University to read English as a non-native English speaker

I get asked the question ‘Why Oxford University?’ on a regular basis when people find out that English is not my native language and that I study English Language and Literature here. My immediate response is always one of amazement to be honest. I don’t really know if the person asking me is coming from a place of genuine curiosity or of a condescending one. ‘Why Oxford?’ Maybe because it is a university with a high academic profile, and that it will open up doors for me that wouldn’t have been possible if I were to study the same degree in my home country. It seems like such an unnecessary question to ask given the fact that if I came from an English-speaking country, it wouldn’t even have been asked. It can get quite tiresome having people doubt your abilities when they hear your accent or find out that English is your second/ third/ fourth/ etc. language. Yet at the end of the day, I still get to have the satisfaction that I have succeeded in getting a place at a prestigious university despite (and to a large degree because of) the fact that English is not my native language. There is something so empowering in using linguistic skills that a lot of the students at Oxford do not have.

During my application process, I made the decision to not shy away from the fact that English is not my mother-tongue. Instead, I decided to use this fact about me to my advantage, both to show the growth that I’ve experienced throughout my academic journey and to accentuate many of the skills that I use in my day-to-day life. What I mean is that people who are non-native English speakers have a different and unique skillset when it comes to approaching the language that can enhance the way they study it and its literature. I decided to highlight those skills in my personal statement, showing the universities that I applied to that I have skills that not only make me a good prospective student, but that will also bring in a new perspective to the course.

It has been two years since I submitted my application, and I’d say with confidence that my decision to highlight rather than diminish the fact that I’m not a native English speaker was definitely the right one for me. Now that I’m studying English at university, I can also say that I do apply my unique skillset whilst studying my degree, primarily because I approach texts differently from some of my peers due to cultural differences (for example I have only just began to realise the immensity of Shakespeare’s cult following in Britain). I also approach the language differently, seeing influences from the other languages I speak seeping into English. I have definitely had a few bizarre comments from others about my ‘amazing grasp of the English language’, but I have also loved doing my degree so I choose to ignore some occasional comments.

Speaking from experience, I’d definitely encourage any prospective non-native English speaking student to apply to the Oxbridge universities – especially if you want to study

English – because the insight you have is great in widening discussions about literature and academia as a whole. Remember to back yourself, and do not sell yourself short! There are so many people that are envious of your linguistic abilities, so do not let them be the reason that you doubt yourself or undermine your knowledge.