People are often very confused when I tell them I want to apply to Oxford. It’s perhaps not the fact that Oxford is a desirable university – that is a little hard to deny – but rather the extra effort involved that confuses them. It is little understood, I think, the difference between Oxbridge and the Ivy League and the university closest to home; few people think very hard about what separates schools or even which school suits them best. A few years ago, I thought very long and very hard about which university was best for me, and it has changed my life since. The process involved in an Oxford application is undeniably difficult: it’s a lot of work, a lot of time, and you are often misunderstood. Very few people even consider an Oxbridge application, let alone actively pursue one.
What sets the Oxbridge colleges apart for me is not the curriculum. It is not the prestige, although for some the prestige certainly adds to the attraction. Instead, it is the way they teach. Oxford and Cambridge are unique because they use a tutorial system: a few students and a professor in a room discussing a topic. This is, admittedly, not for everyone. Some people hate writing essays, of which Oxbridge demands many; some dislike one-on-one discussion, which is also a must; the vast majority do not want to expend the incredible amount of effort required to even consider applying. The real attraction of this system is the academic freedom it provides. To be able to spend time with some of the greatest minds in your field, and to discuss with them whatever may interest you is an opportunity most people will never get in their lifetime. At Oxbridge, you do so several times a week for the entirety of your degree.
Even if you are attracted to one of these universities, it’s a big step to decide you want to apply. It is a lot of work, and even then the statistics are not overly good – less than 10% of international applicants receive an offer from Oxford. If you do decide to make the commitment, it will most likely entail a significant increase in workload: the Oxbridge colleges look for academics, students who love their subject and are willing to work for it, and your application will need to reflect that. It will undoubtedly take over your life (it has mine) and there are certain inevitable sacrifices that you have to be ready to make. It can be very isolating, too – there are very few people with whom I am able to share my more academic hobbies – but this provides even more motivation to join Oxford’s unashamedly academic student community.
Nevertheless, an application to an Oxbridge school is a truly rewarding process. I love the hours I spend researching, writing and reading. I love sitting at my desk for hours on end reading paper after paper to find the solution to a problem. More than anything, I love the conversations I get to have with like-minded people I have met along the way – if I know anything for certain, it’s that Oxbridge applicants are incredibly passionate people – as well as the incredible support I receive from my team at Crimson. However, I am sure that if I didn’t enjoy it all so much the extra work would make my life hell. An Oxbridge application is an undeniably big deal, and I urge you to treat it as such.
Whether I receive an offer from Oxford or not, I am certain that I will be a far better person for the process. It’s difficult, time-consuming, frustrating at times, but by far the most worthwhile thing I have ever done. When people ask me why I want to go to Oxford I most often just smile and shrug, because it would take far too long to explain. The attraction of the Oxbridge system is not apparent to everyone, and very few international students see it’s charm. Whether I receive an offer from Oxford or not, I am certain that I will be a far better person for the process and as a process I was …. #ACCEPTED!
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