Physics & Philosophy application #oxforduniversity #oxbridge #universityapplications

I have just finished studying Physics and Philosophy at Brasenose College, Oxford. For those of you thinking of applying for this course, I should warn you that it’s tough, but that it definitely pays off! I wanted to study the degree course which would teach me the most about the world, how it works and what’s in it – and I reckon I made the right choice.

In terms of university and college choice: Cambridge doesn’t offer Physics and Philosophy, so that one was straightforward and I went for Balliol which has the biggest intake for the course. However, I got reassigned pre-interview to Brasenose, as it turns out all the Physics and Philosophy applicants apply to Balliol and they don’t have space for everyone. Which college you go for doesn’t affect your chances of getting in, but I loved Brasenose because it was relatively small, friendly and has a great Philosophy of Physics tutor.
The application involves a test in Physics and Maths called the Physics aptitude test (PAT) details of which can be found here It is worth making sure you understand all the Physics and Maths you have done up to and including AS level and practising using the sample paper on the website.
It is often said that personal statement isn’t that important for Oxford, however you should make sure it reads well, demonstrates your interest in the subject, what extra reading you have done, and has no grammatical or spelling mistakes. My personal statement was primarily a list of different books I had read – a really good place to find out what type of philosophy interests you, and to get some reading done on relevant topics is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Just Google it and browse. The bibliographies have a lot of suggestions for interesting books or articles to look at. For the Physics reading I looked at a few copies of the New Scientist, though you should be slightly sceptical about some of their claims.
I had a total of five interviews: three in Brasenose in Physics, Maths and Philosophy and two further ones in Balliol in Physics and Philosophy. The Philosophy interviews were for the most part enjoyable; I was asked questions like ‘is the mind physical?’ and ‘can one change the past?’ and each answer I gave was challenged until I ran out of arguments. It worked much like a tutorial, and I learnt quite a fair bit about a philosophy in the process. My most important piece of advice would be not to speak until you have worked out what to say. It is far better to be silent than to babble. For the Physics and Maths interviews I was asked some questions I didn’t know how to answer, the point was to see how quickly I learnt. I felt that those ones went awfully, but I got in so they can’t have been that bad!
Overall the whole process is really nerve-racking, and kind of exhausting, but it’s worth it. And you should remember that no-one finds it easy.

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