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Completing your university application can be a nerve wracking time, and even if you don’t put yourself under copious amounts of pressure, oftentimes your family members certainly will! One way of helping the whole thing run more smoothly, and to reduce your stress levels as much as possible, is to get yourself prepared in plenty of time. Here are a few simple ways in which you can achieve this and hopefully bag yourself a place at the university of your choice:

  • Research your chosen course and university thoroughly

Make sure that you know all there is to know about the university and course of your choice, before you even think about applying. Read the course syllabus, ask around to see if you might be able to talk to anyone else who is studying the same subject there. You will need to show the interview panel that you know all about the course and what it entails, and if you can show them your specific interest in some of the modules, that will go in your favour.

  • Find out as much as you can about the interview and application process

Knowing what to expect in your university interview or admissions tests process will ensure that you’re able to prepare fully for what lies ahead, and if you’re not sure, simply call the university and ask any questions that you might have. The more you know, the less you may worry and staying calm before an interview is important if you’re to perform well on the occasion.

  • Work on your personal statement

Some applicants tend not to put so much effort into their personal statements, believing that their academic ability is all that the interviewers will be interested in. However, this is not true, and in some cases, a personal statement that shines (and is backed up by the applicant when they meet them face to face) can be the deciding factor in whether you are accepted for the course of your choice. So, try to make it truthful and never be ashamed to highlight your talents and abilities. Then read it and reread it and remember what you have written!

  • Sign up for a mock interview

There are some great services out there offering mock university placement interviews for candidates, and in most cases, their teams are made up of previous university attendees who know exactly what will be expected of you. This process may seem unnecessary to some, but rest assured it can really help you get a taste if what is to come and help you to prepare so that you put your best foot forward on the big day.

  • Prepare a list of questions for the interviewing panel

This will help you to stay focused during the interview and not leave you tongue tied, plus it will get any questions that may have been worrying you, cleared up and answered.

The single most sound piece of advice that can ever be given to anyone applying for a course at university, is to do your preparation. Seek professional help with your application if necessary, and you will not see it as money wasted if it helps get you on the course of your choice, at the university of your choice.

Mentors can be incredibly useful tools in many fields, whether it be from a personal or professional perspective, and many people use them to help find a new career, or progress in their current one. While some use the term ‘coach’ in place of mentor, there is in fact, a difference between the two:

Mentoring and coaching, two very different things:

Being someone’s mentor has similarities with being their coach, but mentoring focuses on building a long and lasting relationship that supports the growth and development of the mentee. Mentors are a source of wisdom, teaching and infinite support, but they do not give observational guidance related to certain actions or behavioural changes in daily work or personal circumstances.

Coaches, on the other hand, place an emphasis upon making certain current behaviours stronger, or eradicating them wherever necessary.Usually employed by professionals, they help to correct and strengthen those behaviours that will help the individual progress in their career or improve their performance at work. They are usually taken on for a set period, in which the individual will be expected to reach the targets agreed between the two.

A brief history of mentoring:

Believed by scholars to have been written in the 8th century BC, Homers poem entitled ‘The Odyssey’ is where the term ‘mentor’ is first known to have been featured. The king of Ithaca went to do battle in the Trojan War and left his kingdom in what he believed to be the safe hands of the character, Mentor.

The current dictionary definition of the term mentor, describes it as a ‘trusted counsellor or guide’, or someone who helps you with your career, specific work projects or general life advice based upon their own selfless wishes to help others progress.

Could a mentor help you with your university application?

It is difficult to imagine how a good mentor couldn’t help any one of us, so provided you find a good one, there is every chance that they could go on to help you put forward a successful university application. As mentors are usually experienced professional people who have ‘been there, done that and got the t-shirt’, they are perfectly suited to help give advice and guidance to younger professionals who are just thinking about taking a university course to help give them a worthwhile career. They are of course particularly effective, if they have studied the same course that you will be applying for. While they may not give specific advice on how to complete your application, they will help you to face your fears, embrace your goals, and look at how you challenge yourself professionally and personally. In many cases, mentors go on to help people live their lives to the fullest, and their guidance is often extended far past achieving a place at university, or bagging the job of your dreams.

A good mentor can genuinely be the factor that enables you to progress in life in exactly the way you wish to, whether they are supporting you as you apply for a university placement or helping you to cope with personal issues in your life.

Student Profile: Oxford Physicist

How do you typically fill your days?

My typical day usually begins at around seven in the morning when I wake up and go for a short run around the University Parks before having breakfast. During the week, I have lectures before lunch. Typically, I eat my lunch in the college, so that I have a chance to meet my friends even during a busy day. Then there are tutorials in the college during the afternoon. Before the individual study time, I take a short break for coffee and read the news online. I prefer to work in my room, I do however go to the library in case I want to eliminate any possible distractions or simply need to use some books which I do not have at hand. In the evening, I have a rowing training indoors every other day. If I have a particularly busy day, I tend to work quite late, but if I managed to finish all of my work I hang out with my friends afterwards. Before going to bed, I read a book for half an hour to relax

One of our tutors discusses their subject:

I am currently majoring in Cardiovascular, Respiratory and Renal Physiology and minoring in Neuroscience, so have a strong grasp of a broad range of biological topics. I have previously studied aspects of Psychology, developmental biology and Cellular Physiology. For my dissertation I worked in a lab in Oxford on bone marrow adipocytes and the differentiation of stem cells, and will be starting a DPhil
on dietary constituents and their effect on bone health.

A typical 3rd year day consists of a lecture or 2 in the morning, lunch in the college bar, working in the college library in the afternoon. In the evening I’ll go home and cook dinner and finish up work before reading and going to bed.

How did you find your Oxford application?
My application experience was relatively easy. I was actually only in Oxford for 1 day of interviews (compared to some people who were there for 5 days), so I had 3 interviews on the same day which was quite intense. Once I’d received my offer, I was really considering turning it down and accepting an offer from Bristol as I didn’t think Oxford was for me, but now so glad that I didn’t as I love Oxford and I’ve
found I really appreciate being pushed intellectually and working hard.

I only discovered Biomed as a course while looking through course description on university websites. It appealed to me as I enjoyed human biology in school but didn’t want to be a Medic.

Why did you choose to apply to Human Sciences at Oxford?
Whilst applying to university I really struggled to choose a subject. I couldn’t find any one subject that I felt wasn’t too narrow or had enough variation as this is something I have always valued. I chose to do A-levels in Maths, English literature, Philosophy and applied Ethics and Biology which goes some way to demonstrating the difficulty I had in narrowing my options down. I chose these subjects based purely on enjoyment and my aim was to find a degree course that continued this. I undertook an extended project qualification on healing miracles in an attempt to look at the intersection between the biological and cultural aspects of the subjects I was studying- and it was at this point that I found the human sciences course. When I found it, I felt that I had finally discovered a course that satisfied my wish to study a broad range of subjects and the areas of intersection between them. It seemed unique in that it is one of the few truly interdisciplinary subjects available at a degree level.
I am very passionate about the subject I study and during sixth form, I attempted to raise awareness of the course by giving short presentations on it to younger years and discussing with the senior management teams ways in which we could help raise its profile in the school.

A Maths tutor gives us a little insight into their application to study Maths at Oxford:

My experience applying to Oxford, while still very challenging on a personal level, was by no means a solo endeavour. Throughout my mathematical journey there have been many fantastic people- friends, tutors, teachers- to which I owe much of my success today. It is for this reason that I am involved in a tutoring program such as Oxbridge Sciences, so that other people may have the same level of help and opportunities I received, and to help brilliant mathematicians achieve all they are capable of. As for why I chose maths I don’t think any other subject offers the same level of natural beauty and complexity, while at the same time still offering high levels of utility and practicality.

What I find particularly interesting about these two areas of mathematics is that both provide great insight into mathematical problems in the real world, whilst also extending much beyond the scope of applied mathematics and into the more abstract and exciting world of pure maths.


We discuss with one our current tutors, a masters student at Oxford, why they chose to study Biology:

I chose to study biology because I am someone who craves change. As a society, we tend to resist it, but progress is what propels us forward: socially, technologically, and intellectually. Although biology is defined as the study of life, I view it as the study of change. Evolutionary theories and processes form the foundation of biology, because to understand the way our world is living now, we must understand where this great diversity all came from. I hope to work in wildlife conservation, because I believe it is our responsibility, as scientists, academics, and humans, to preserve our great planet. In fact, I am already involved in local wildlife conservation research efforts here in Oxford. To me, to understand biology is to understand the past, present, and hopeful future of the entire tree of life.

We ask one of our tutors why they chose to study engineering at cambridge:

The word engineering derives from ingenuity. Engineering is about applying knowledge of maths and physics in creative ways to solve real problems.

That’s what is on the cover of any university course, but in Y12 I struggled to distinguish engineering from physics. Now I understand that physics, as a science, is about the pursuit of knowledge about how the universe works, whereas engineering takes the useful bits to actually create something that makes people’s lives better. Physics is often the study of the very big or small, whereas engineering usually involves objects that can be seen or touched.

Engineering is also a team sport, a business, and a serious career. Engineering in the real world involves teams cooperating to create something that one person never could, such as an aeroplane. Lastly, the demand for versatile Cambridge engineers, the course being as broad as it is, is enormous.

We ask one of our Oxford Medics about their course:

I’m currently doing the lecture course on cell physiology, which is really broad.  As an illustration, I’ve been doing tutorials on G protein coupled receptors, protein folding and secretion, second messenger signalling, stress, ovulation, and I’ve got acid and oxygen sensing coming up soon.  My research is on cardiac optogenetics – GM mouse hearts and shining light on them to see how it changes.  I started off not explaining that but then doctors started asking me what it actually meant.  I’m also writing a mini review on why cancer patients get weird taste sensations.
I chose medicine because human life is the most important thing we have.  There are very few careers where you are at the frontier of dealing with human health every day.  The amount you have to know in order to practice is immense – and it changes all the time – and I never want to stop learning.  It’s also a very versatile career.  When I graduate I have so many career routes to choose from – and some of them involve practising abroad which would be really exciting.  People talk about how the NHS doesn’t have enough doctors, but if you look at the stats for some other places it’s far worse.

One of our Biomedical Sciences Tutors describes what areas they enjoy most in their degree subject:

My special areas on interest within my degree are Immunology and Microbiology, Pharmacology and Cardiovascular Physiology but I have a good general all round knowledge of most areas of Biomedical Sciences because my first year had to give a flavour of all topics including Neuroscience and Psychology to allow us to pick our options in later years. However, my absolute favourite part of Biomed is Pharmacology and the action of drugs on receptors and the clinical implications this has. This itself is quite broad because it involves cardiovascular drugs, gastrointestinal pharmacology, respiratory pharmacology and neuropharmacology, so I have a basic understanding of lots of pathways and physiology.
What does a typical day at Oxford look like for you?
A typical day for my degree involves 3 hours of lectures and maybe a tutorial in an afternoon (usually 2-3 a week). When I don’t have a tutorial in an afternoon I’m usually reading around for my next tutorial but the depth of reading you do really depends on how interested you are personally in the topic that it’s on. If the tutorial topic is not something you optionally want to read further into you don’t have to. Other than that I play college netball, there’s plenty of time to do any extra-curricular activities or sports you are interested in with Biomed.
How do you describe your Oxbridge interview experience?
With my application to Oxford, I had no help at all before I walked into the interview. I came from a state sixth form College and not many pupils get into Oxbridge universities so there was not a lot of support or interview preparation available at all. Therefore, whilst I had no idea what to expect at all, looking back the interview was definitely something where the tutors tried to push me. They asked questions of increasing difficulty that they did not at all expect me to know the answers to. It was all about how I reasoned and what suggestions I had. I often got the response “No that’s not how it actually works but it could be”. They just wanted to see what I could logically reason and were impressed when I proposed an answer that wasn’t always correct but showed a different perspective or way of thinking.