How do you know Oxford is for you? You can collect loads of information about the place on the internet, but nothing matches the experience of actually being there.
There will be no physical open days in 2021. The pandemic has made it difficult for prospective students to get that all-important sense of the place. That’s why I’ve designed a tour of the city to meet your needs.
I will take you on a walk though this magical city, showing you the buildings, the spaces, the hidden passages and the extraordinary beauty that forms the heart of university life.
More than that, I can offer you a personal, insider’s perspective on what it’s like going through the application process, what it’s like studying here, and answer any questions that might come to mind as we walk through the city.
I am an Oxford University graduate. I studied at Jesus College as an undergraduate, then returned to Wolfson College for a Masters. I am also an official Oxford City tour guide, and the mother of three children each of whom successfully gained places at Cambridge University
While working as a tour guide I found that there were always a small number of visitors who wanted more than just the stories of this enchanting city as they were shown round. They wanted to hear my perspective on their Oxford journey. It was something they found surprisingly valuable.
The basic set is a two-hour private walking tour of the city. Covid restrictions mean that the colleges are not open to visitors. Nevertheless there is enough you can see from the public spaces to bring the university to life. During the tour I will aim to:
Explain how the university works, what makes it different from other universities and what makes it so special
Show you some of the hidden places and stories behind them that make Oxford such a magical city
Give you my perspective on the applications process and what it takes to be successful.
Answer any questions about the place that you might have as we walk around the city. If I don’t have an immediate answer, I will always know where you can find one.
When Covid restrictions are lifted I can liaise with college admissions tutors to ensure access to selected college facilities.
Please note there are some restrictions currently in place in Oxford due to the pandemic - including the closure of university buildings and colleges. To make up for this, you'll get to see a larger area of Oxford than we can usually cover on a tour, for instance down towards Christ Church and the River Thames.
WHO IS THE TOUR FOR?
I will adapt the content of the tour to suit the needs of the party. In my experience there are four main groups of people who are interested in the tours:
Family groups with children who may be two or more years away from applying to university and want a tour which will inspire the determination to make Oxford their goal. These groups typically want to be inspired by Oxford, while also understanding the practical steps they will need to follow to make it a reality.
Potential graduate students who want to see what they will be getting before they decide whether it is the best option for them, either for a taught masters or a research degree. They typically want to understand what graduate student life is like, and the facilities the university offers to graduates.
Sixth form students, either alone or with their teachers or parents, about to begin the UCAS process and wanting to make a connection with the city before committing to applying. These groups tend to be very information hungry needing a lot of detail on the specifics of university life and the applications process.
International students and their families who are attracted by Oxford, but are approaching it from a very different schools system. These groups often need an understanding of British educational culture as well as a lot of practical information about how overseas applications work in practice.
If you like the sound of this, send me an email at Lucy@gasson.org telling me the time and date of your proposed visit, who is in your party and whether you have any special interests. Alternatively use the contact form below. I will reply to your message within 24 hours.
Here are 10 things that anyone applying to study at Oxford University should know:
There is no secret back door: colleges are looking for the best candidates as judged by their brilliance, their intellectual curiosity and their passion for the subject. Getting in is about showing that you meet these criteria. There are no places reserved for alumni, athletes, princes or plutocratic donors.
Supra-curricular matters more than extra curricular: Oxford attracts over-achievers, some of whom have shown extraordinary success in a variety of fields, but that does not mean the university is interested in all-rounders. Its admissions process is remarkably narrow minded (compared to Harvard’s for example), looking for the potential for excellence in the subject you propose to study and nothing else.
They want you to do well: there are plenty of urban myths about fatuous questions which have allegedly been asked by tutors during interviews. The reality is very different. Tutors behave professionally, they tend to ask a few questions to get you to relax, then move on to more questions or problems which will give you the chance to perform. They are happiest of all when they see a glimmer of originality, excitement, and the ability to grasp something quickly and turn it into something new.
The personal statement is a talking point not an extra A level: People put a lot of effort into their personal statements on their UCAS forms, but the reality is that it tends to be used, if at all, as a touch point for getting you to relax at the beginning of an interview.
Passion is a killer: Admissions tutors complain that nine out of ten personal statements include the claim “I am passionate about [the subject]”. It is a killer. If you are going to stand out, you need to find a way of showing that passion and not telling it.
Beware of over preparation: People understandably worry a lot about whether they have done enough to prepare. My experience is that you shouldn't overdo it. Although you should be reading books and thinking about thought provoking questions, these things should grow out of your own curiosity. If you prepare too much it is difficult for your enthusiasm to seem authentic and there is a real risk that you will be so conscious of the clever things you ought to be saying that you come across as an idiot.
Oxford University is actually three universities: there is the undergraduate school based around tutorials in colleges, the research institution which works in laboratories, libraries, and faculty buildings, and a new classroom-based school which has grown up over the past 20 years to offer a multitude of one or two year master's programmes. All are competitive to get into but the nature of the competition is different. For undergraduate applicants it is about showing promise on the basis of a limited academic record. For DPhil students it is about finding the right supervisor and securing funding as much as past academic performance. The experience of one and two year master’s students is more variable. Students are typically self-funded, and a large proportion of them international so there is a high overall ratio of applicants to places, but some courses have yet to establish a consistent level of demand.
Choice of college is not that important: You can pore over the application statistics, read up about the interests of the tutors or judge them based on their looks, but the thing is not to get waylaid by the choice of college. There are too many variables that will be unknown to you for your choice to have much impact on your chances of success, and 30% of people get pooled to a different college anyway.
Oxford vs Cambridge is a matter of course: The student experience is pretty similar. What differs is the detail of the courses. For example Cambridge’s largest course is Natural Science which gives scientists the chance to find the subject that inspires them most before specialising. At Oxford, each science subject is a separate degree subject which might appeal to those who want to specialise early. Meanwhile Oxford’s largest course is Politics, Philosophy and Economics which is a combination of subjects you can’t study in Cambridge.
Ultimately getting in is a lottery: There is no applicant who is so brilliant that they have a 100% chance of success. Furthermore the more you feel that the applications process represents the ultimate judgement of your character, the less relaxed you will be about it. And you shouldn’t forget there are always second chances: reapplying after A Levels or returning as a post graduate student.
If you book a tour I am sure I can give you some more insightful perspectives more directly relevant to your position.
Hello! I'm Lucy and I look forward to meeting you. For me, it was a visit to the city one gorgeous summer day many years ago that started me off on my own Oxford journey. I was lucky enough to get a glimpse inside one of the colleges (it was LMH), and that was the beginning of my dream of one day coming to study at Oxford. Though it was still hard to imagine actually being there myself, I determined to apply. I didn't get in to my first choice of college - but I was thrilled nevertheless to win a place at Jesus College to read Classics. I ended up with a scholarship and a double first. A lot later I returned to the University as a mature student for a one year Master's at Wolfson College. For the last ten years, I've been lucky enough to work as a guide in three of Oxford's wonderful museums, and in 2017 I qualified as an official Green Badge guide for the whole city. Besides running the Oxford Aspirations tour, I also run a tour called Curiouser and Curiouser which combines an introduction to the city with a look at some of its most extraordinary curiosities and the stories behind them.