All You Need to Know About the Oxford Interview

Oxford University holds interviews for its applicants in December. The interview does not need to be a stressful event. If you know what to focus on and what not to worry about, you can be prepared for your interview and even enjoy it.
Student Carrying Files

Portrait Of Male Student Carrying Files Outside University Building In Oxford UK © Daisy Daisy /

December 07, 2023 01:46 EDT

The Oxford interview is not about tricks and mind games. Rather, it is a short, thorough, academically focused exchange. But where mythology prevails, facts are obscured, and there is no place about which this rings truer than the University of Oxford.

Scores of misconceptions surround the nine-century-old university. Sometimes, these misconceptions are merely about appearances — for example, photographs capturing the city’s architectural grandeur abound, to the exclusion of sleek modern buildings. Other misconceptions have to do with matters of real substance, such as the admissions process.

The things you don’t need to worry about

I have been an interviewer for the English course over the years, and I know firsthand that prospective applicants and teachers alike can fall prey to misinformation about the interview. Recently, I went on to create a few short, accessible videos about better and worse ways to prepare for the Oxford interview. In one of them, I spoke about four things that students should not be focusing on as they prepare.

The video received a lot of attention and, naturally, sparked a series of questions. Since social media platforms favor brevity over detail, I will take the space here to expand on these much-discussed pointers: 

1. You don’t need to dress formally.

“What’s wrong with dressing formally?” followers chimed in the comments section of my video. The answer is, nothing. The point of the matter is that there is no expectation that the interviewee should do so, even though this runs against common belief. You might feel that formal dress puts you in a more professional or academic mindset, and in that case, you should follow that instinct. But it is not a requirement, and it should not come as a surprise if an interviewer shows up in a hoodie, either.

2. You don’t need to prepare for questions like, “Why Oxford?” or, “Why this college?”

The interviews are an important part of the admissions process because they help academics appreciate applicants’ enthusiasm and aptitude for a particular subject. Interviewers have no interest in the reasons behind your choice of Oxford University as one of your five university choices. Further, interviewers are often not aware of which Oxford college you put down as first choice on your Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) form, or if you submitted an open application. This makes preparing for such questions entirely superfluous; they will never come up. However, tutors do pay a lot of attention to why a candidate wants to study a particular subject, and in a way, this is the entire point of the Oxford interview.

3. You don’t need to research tutors’ academic interests.

There is nothing wrong with reading up. However, it is unlikely that looking into a tutor’s specific interests will help your interview performance. Firstly, it is impossible to predict who exactly will be conducting your interview. Tutors are often on research leave, and candidates may sit up to five different interviews, each made up of a new interviewing panel. Additionally, the interview materials are agreed upon in advance by tutors working in different areas. Therefore, the problem, piece of work, artifact or dataset that will form part of the interview discussion could be drawn from any area or period.

4. You don’t need a final question.

At the end of an interview, the panel will inquire whether you have any questions for them. This is not part of the assessment, but a gesture of reciprocity. The final question is extended to the interviewee as a reminder that the interview is an academic discussion, not a one-sided interrogation. But you should only take the opportunity if you have a genuine question that you cannot easily answer online. In all other cases, not having a question to ask is perfectly acceptable.

Why did I choose to focus on these four points? During my access work with schools in the West Midlands, I learned that a lack of information could put students at risk of wasting a significant amount of time and energy on things that are not part of the interview assessment. This takes time away from the things that matter.

The things you should focus on

So, what are the things that matter? I made this the topic of a different video.

Here are some tips on how to prepare.

1. Practice expressing your thoughts out loud.

Interviewers are trying to understand how a student thinks, so it is best to avoid being silent.

2. Take advantage of digital resources.

You can find Oxford-produced mock interviews on Youtube. One way to practice is to pause a video and practice responding out loud. Then, you unpause and listen to the answer of the mock interviewee. Notice a difference? Do some research on the topic and take notes.

3. Remember that it is ok to change your mind during the interview.

Interviewers may provide you with new information that could change the way you see a topic. Flexibility of thought is essential. The interview is an exercise in working through a question or problem with an expert in the field, not an inquisition during which students are expected to offer up facts and perfect, preconceived responses.

4. Carefully reread your own personal statement.

Interviewers may use your personal statement to form incisive questions about your prior engagement with the subject you are applying for. So, make sure that you are prepared to discuss anything you have mentioned there. Remember, however, that these questions will be academic. Any non-academic questions asked at the beginning of an interview are merely ice-breakers and do not form part of the assessment.

5. Remember that your interviewer is a person, too.

Tutors at Oxford are people who spend their time teaching and researching a subject. Their prime concern is that students thrive in their courses and enjoy their time at Oxford. This is the only thing they are looking for during the interview.

Remember that the interview is only one part of the admissions process. It is always evaluated alongside other admissions data. My best advice to all those preparing for the interview, now or in the future, is this: Think critically and in-depth about your chosen field of study and engage with it as much as you can outside school.

Finally, try to enjoy the interview itself — it is a unique opportunity to talk about something you are passionate about with experts who share the same passion.

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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