In this post, Karen shares her experience of applying for university overseas.
Are you considering attending university overseas? Matrix Scholarship student, Karen Zhang recently graduated from Pymble Ladies’ College and has received an early conditional offer for enrolment at the world’s No. 2 university, the University of Oxford. She shares her experience of applying for a university overseas.
Karen’s HSC subjects are English Extension 1, Maths Extension 2, Classical Greek Extension and Chemistry, and her school has estimated her ATAR to be 99.8+. Karen aspires to become a lawyer.
Last year, I applied for the BA in Jurisprudence degree program at Oxford University. I’ve always wanted to study overseas because I’ve lived in Sydney my whole life and I want to gain independence, see the world, and meet people from around the globe. I specifically only applied to the University of Oxford because my sister currently attends and she has had a positive experience of the university and its college life. I also knew that her presence would be a source of great support to me if I were to get in. I applied to study a law degree because I enjoyed participating in debating competitions at school and I feel Law is most suited to my interests.
Online application form
In Year 11, when my school’s Tertiary Advisor made an announcement to my grade to advise us about overseas university opportunities, I was very interested and sought my school’s help in applying for Oxford University. To apply for a UK university, you firstly need to complete the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) application form online. The UCAS is the UK’s equivalent of the Universities Admissions Centre in Australia, in that it is the main body that processes applications for admission to all universities in the UK. At Oxford University, admissions are screened by the tutors/lecturers, the ones who will be instructing you if you are admitted. The application form consists of several components including personal details, course choices (up to five courses), education history, employment history, a personal statement and an academic reference.
The personal statement is your chance to tell the university why you want to study the course of your choice and why they should make you an offer, and you are given 4000 characters to do so. The UCAS website is extremely helpful in providing informative videos and resources to help you plan and write your personal statement. Based on the website’s suggestions, I wrote about why I was applying for a university overseas and Oxford University in particular, as well as what makes me suitable for the course. In particular, I detailed my relevant interests and achievements, extracurricular activities, and hobbies. As I was applying through my school and not as an individual, I had to pay the UCAS application fee of 12 pounds (the fee to apply for one course) before the school arranged my academic reference.
The reference is a written recommendation from a professional who knows you in an academic capacity, and can attest to your work ethic, interaction with peers, and suitability for tertiary education. I asked my Maths teacher to write my reference because I felt she knew me best out of all my teachers, having taught me for 4 years. In the reference, she wrote about my career goals, work experience, and academic performance. The online application, including the personal statement and reference, were due in mid-October, around the time I started Year 12.
Additional assessment criteria
Many courses also require you to sit a test and/or send in written work as part of your application, and it is the students’ sole responsibility to organise this. For my degree program of choice, I had to register for and sit the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT). The LNAT is an online test used by many leading UK law schools to make a fair comparison between prospective applicants. Oxford University is closely involved in the development and administration of LNAT and is a member of the Consortium that owns and supervises the test. The LNAT consists of 2 major components and is designed to test a candidate’s aptitude for the skills necessary for a law degree. The first component is a 30-question multiple choice comprehension test intended to assess your reasoning and analytical ability based on content from several articles. You are given 80 minutes to complete this section and your answers are checked by a computer. The mark out of 42 that is generated is known as your LNAT score. The second component asks you to write a short essay from a list of 3 topics to assess your written communication skills, and you are given 40 minutes to complete this. This section is not marked by the test centre, but by the Oxford tutors and does not contribute to your LNAT score. In 2014, the average LNAT score achieved students who were offered an interview at Oxford University was 26.68. I did not need to separately send in any written work for the degree program I applied for, as the short essay written for the LNAT was to be considered instead. There are past papers available on the LNAT website to assist with preparation for the test.
Based on the online application submissions and LNAT essays, Oxford University drafts a shortlist of the strongest candidates and invites them to an academic interview to be held in December. I was notified by email in November that I had successfully progressed to the interview stage. As I am an international student, I was offered two options – either a Skype or face-to-face interview. The email advised that if I chose to attend a face-to-face interview, I would have to pay for my flight, but the university would provide complimentary accommodation and meals for several days around my interview period. I chose to do the face-to-face interview as I wanted to visit the campus, see my sister, and travel around the UK.
My interview was very short, lasting only 30 minutes, and I was interviewed by two Law tutors. The types of questions you will be asked in the interview depend on the course for which you have applied to. Law interviews can include legal questions (e.g. case studies) and intellectual puzzles to examine your reasoning and analytical ability. I was also asked general questions, such as why I wanted to be in that course, why I wanted to study at Oxford University, and why I feel I am suited to the degree I selected.
At the start of January this year, I received a conditional offer for enrolment at Oxford University in 2016 via email. A conditional offer means that I still need to complete my HSC and achieve an ATAR of at least 99 to be guaranteed a place.
To summarise, the application process is as follows:
I would like to provide 3 tips to help those of you considering applying for a university overseas.
Firstly, make sure you dedicate plenty of time to perfecting your personal statement as this is the first chance you have to sell yourself and highlight your successes. I recommend including your interests and hobbies so the admissions tutors get to know who you are as a person. Try to talk about activities that align with the course for which you are applying. For example, I wrote about my debating extracurricular involvements as I was applying for Law.
Secondly, try to envision the interview as a chat between friends and remember to be confident and relaxed. I recommend referring to examples or case studies specific to the course, in order to demonstrate your interest. For example, at the time I applied, the Ferguson case was quite prominent so I discussed this in my interview. If you are applying for Law, I also advise that you follow the news in the lead up to your interview, in case you are asked questions relating to current affairs, or if you need a case study to support your answers.
Thirdly, research the university you wish to attend and try to visit it before you apply. Consider factors such as student life, accommodation and meals, distance from the city, and any other aspects that may be important to you as a university student.
For the most up-to-date timeline of the application process, please visit the university website.