Getting into Oxford : Dos and Don'ts
I recently got accepted into the Masters programme in Law at the University of Oxford (i.e. the Oxford BCL) and this post will be sharing major tips for anyone seeking an academic career at the University of Oxford. Essentially, things you should do and things you shouldn't do when applying. The Oxford BCL is short form for Bachelor of Civil Laws, it is the University of Oxford's Masters in Law (LLM) programme. The Oxford BCL is a world-renowned taught graduate course in law, designed to serve outstanding law students from common law backgrounds. It is truly world leading - the best LLM-level course in the world. The only rivals at the moment are Harvard and NYU for all round quality, but the BCL is ahead of those for private law and legal theory. The academic standard for the BCL is significantly higher than that required in a first law degree and it runs for one academic year- from September to July. An average of 550 students apply every year but there are only 90 places available on the course.
"The Oxford BCL has been a pivotal feature of Oxford's law provision since the sixteenth century. This rich history has helped to maintain its status as the most highly regarded taught masters-level qualification in the common law world." -Mindy Chen-Wishart, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies (Oxford)
Ten tips on your Oxford Graduate Application!
1. Believe! I remember telling someone that I wanted to go to Oxford and they found it very funny. But one thing I’ve learnt in life is that, if people don’t laugh at your dreams, they’re not big enough. So please, do not allow people’s sarcasm, negativity or cynicism stop you from chasing your dreams. And the truth is, when people can’t get something for themselves, they try and make you feel like you can’t get it yourself- and that is a big lie. Why? Because you are a child of God and by virtue of that, greatness is your birthright. You were made to do great things. You also deserve very nice things :) (Oxford included)
2. Don’t rush your application, start on time- The Oxford Masters application is one of the longest graduate applications you’d ever come across, and for good reason too- it’s Oxford. It’s really long, so it’s in your best interest to start it on time. Don’t leave it to the last minute. There are a number of requirements such as references, your personal statement and even a 3000 word written essay! So you need to have ample time to complete your application and submit it before the deadline.
3. Stand Out! When applying to Oxford, it is very important to make your application stand out. Why? Everyone that is applying is outstanding! So you need to stand out in some way. Do not be too modest in showing why you're Oxford material. Basically say why you're great and why you're great for each other!
4. Every little detail counts – With Oxford, the application process is so competitive; there are so many people applying for very limited places. For example, with the Masters in law programme (i.e the Oxford BCL), five hundred and fifty people apply every year but there are only ninety places available on the course. In essence, the assessors are pretty much looking for flaws in your application. So don’t take any part of your application for granted. For example, there is a part in your Masters application where you are asked for your future career plans. Only problem is, you have only 150 characters to answer this, essentially two brief sentences. Even if you don’t have enough space, don’t take this for granted. Find a way to say something impressive in as few lines as possible. This is very important because they want to know what your goals are and how the programme will help you achieve them, so make sure you leave a good impression on them.
5. References- With choosing your referees, there are two factors that are important i) Make sure your referee knows you well enough and ii) Have a referee that is of high repute. The first point is to get a referee that knows you quite well; this is because the application decision is very dependant on your academic capabilities. They want to know how outstanding you are, so you need referees that know you well enough to give them a very good indication of your academic performance while you were at university. So I’d advise, someone like your academic tutor or the teacher of a module you scored very high on. For Oxford, you would need three referees for your application.
My second point is to get a referee of high repute. This is because, a reference from a tutor of a course at your university will not hold the same reverence as a reference from the head of school for example. So get a referee who is quite known for their contribution to legal academia; for example, a teacher who is a well published author or one who holds a senior position. However, make sure your referee has an idea of your academic capabilities. There is no point having a reputable teacher to write you a reference if they don’t know you too well, what would they say? The reference will end up being too general and we want to stand out. So if you can get a professor of some standing who also knows you quite well, then that’s awesome. Also, make sure you inform your referees quite early, so they can provide the reference in time before the deadline. Most importantly, make sure your referees say that you're a great student!
6. Essay- For the Oxford Masters in law programme (the Oxford BCL), you are to submit a 3000-word essay on any legal topic. In essence, you are to provide a sample of your written work. The assessors want to know how you write and whether you write at a level that matches the standard of Oxford. With the essay, I’d say, take one of your best ones on a subject you enjoy (something that scored 72+) and improve it. Something from your LLB will be suitable. Ask a teacher to take a look at it again until you're happy with it. If you don’t have an essay that you're particularly proud of, write a fresh one. It goes without saying that they will be impressed by clear, analytic as against descriptive essays.
7. Personal Statement- Like most graduate applications, you are also required to submit a personal statement with your application. I’d say the most difficult part about the personal statement is that you are only given 300 words. Essentially, you have only one page to sell yourself. This means that you have to make your personal statement as focused and clear as possible. A useful guide to enable you do this is to make sure your statement covers the following points: i) why you are outstanding ii) why you want to do the programme iii) what attracts you to the course rather than other courses iv) what specific modules attract you v) what you will contribute- essentially what skills you will bring v) what your future career plans are and how the programme will play a role in enabling you achieve them. As long as you are able to outline these points, and be as brief and clear as possible, you should be fine!
8. First Class Requirement- The Oxford Masters in Law programme (i.e the Oxford BCL) stipulates that they only accept people with First Class Undergraduate Law Degrees. While this is true for the most part, don’t allow this discourage you however. I have come across several Oxford graduate students who didn't make firsts in their undergraduate degrees, so please don’t let this discourage you. I think what they mean when they ask for only first class degrees, is that they want you to be outstanding. And being outstanding is not just an academic thing, it’s the full package. There are several other ways that you can show that you’re outstanding. It could be through your professional experiences, leadership positions or volunteer work you’ve done in the past. Perhaps even grade scores i.e. dissertation marks or individual module grades. There are several ways you can make your application stand out. So still apply!
9. Colleges! In terms of colleges, it doesn't matter at all where you apply to. I wasn’t too fussy about this when applying, I just wanted a place on the course lol. But if you have any particular college preferences, then make sure you specify this on your application. However, your college choice does not affect the faculty’s decision; if you are not given a place by the college you choose, you will automatically get placed in another college, so it’s all good still. Also take note of the application deadlines, they are very important. Most of the deadlines for Graduate programmes at Oxford are in January, so you have to start your application on time!
10. God! God! God! - I can’t even take credit. Getting into Oxford is extremely competitive. Hundreds of people apply every year. While I took so much care with my application, so did several other people, and they were all outstanding! Getting a place is still a miracle in my eyes. I’m not the most knowledgable person in the world but God just does what He does. God’s favour and grace are definitely the most important things when applying!
That said, I wish you all the best!
P.S I recently got interviewed by Legally Engaged where I spoke about the University of Oxford's application process, so you can check out my interview here as well. And for more information about the Oxford BCL, you can also watch these videos by past BCL students here and here and, check out my blog for more posts like this.