Saturday, October 01, 2005

Oxford University: Should I Apply? (III)

In the first two instalments whereby I gave my opinion with regards to some of the common questions asked in applications to the top universities, followed by a write up on my personal experience at Oxford University. Here, I'll try to outline the process of applying to Oxbridge universities (which isn't exactly straightforward).

Unfortunately, during the process of writing this instalment, I've just found out that I've made a major boo-boo with a critical information - it was some 15 years ago today that I made the application, and I hadn't realised that some of the application processes has changed. Oxford has made special arrangements for applicants from Hong Kong (most of them ends up at Wadham College), China, Singapore and Malaysia. As a result of the "special" application process, the closing date for applicants from Malaysia was brought forward to 20th September, which has just passed. I'll still proceed to complete this post, as the information might still be useful for some of you in future years. Much apologies for the error.

Much of the following information is obtained from the Oxford University admission website as well as The Times Good University Guide 2006. In addition, should you require additional information from those already at Oxford at this moment in time, please feel free to visit the Oxford University Malaysia Club website.

1. Selecting Your Subjects

Overall, there are approximately 3 applications to every 1 place at Oxbridge but there are big differences between colleges and subjects. Hence, the choice of subjects that you decide to ready at Oxbridge will actually make some slight differences in your admission probabilities. The following provides a sample of the differences between the relevant degree courses:
Degree Subjects | No. Applications 2004 | No. Acceptance | % Acceptance

Classics | 262 | 114 | 43.5
Economics & Management | 608 | 84 | 13.8
English | 1,098 | 247 | 22.5
Geography | 247 | 78 | 37.6
Law | 1,105 | 211 | 19.1
Modern History | 813 | 243 | 29.9
Oriental Studies | 110 | 44 | 40.0
Physics & Philosophy | 42 | 13 | 31.0
Philosophy, Politics & Economics | 1,107 | 251 | 22.7

Biochemistry | 273 | 87 | 31.9
Biological Sciences | 229 | 90 | 39.3
Chemistry | 319 | 176 | 55.2
Computer Science | 103 | 28 | 27.2
Engineering | 406 | 135 | 33.3
Engineering, Economics & Management | 92 | 12 | 13.0
Mathematics | 553 | 178 | 32.2
Medicine | 1,090 | 154 | 14.1
Physics | 519 | 173 | 33.3

Source: The Times Good University Guide 2006
So, from the above, it does look like with the exception of Medicine and EEM, the sciences may appear to have a higher probability of entry. The percentage acceptance varies from year to year due to fluctuations with the number of applicants. Should you require information other subjects, please email me separately.

To see the minimum requirements required for your choice of courses, download the requirements table here.

2. Selecting Your College

One of the unique things about applying to Oxbridge is that not only do you have to select the university, you will have to select which college of the university you would like to apply to as well. There are about 30 colleges each at Oxford and Cambridge. The colleges at Oxford are ranked by the performance of each College in terms of the degree classifications achieved by the students. You can view the full rankings table here.

The top 10 colleges at Oxford for 2005 are:
  1. Merton College
  2. St John's College
  3. Balliol College
  4. Magdalen College
  5. University College
  6. Hertford College
  7. Exeter College
  8. St Anne's College
  9. ChristChurch College
  10. Keble College
Choosing the right college for you may be particularly important as the colleges are not homogeneous in nature. Certain colleges are stronger in sciences, some are more sporty, some are more "down-to-earth" than others. The number of applications each college receives, as well as the number of students each accepts differs as well, which may change the probability of success.

In the Preliminary Application Form to Oxbridge, you'd be required to select your top 3 college choices. You may also leave the college selection blank and leave it to the University to "fill-in-the-blanks" for you. The advantage of leaving the college choices blanks is that the universities will typically select colleges with fewer applicants on your behalf. I took this method of application, which gave me Keble as my first choice. However, it should be noted that statistics apparently show that a lower proportion succeeds this way than if you opt for a particular college.

In addition, not all colleges offer all courses. You may refer to the following document to see which colleges offer the subjects of your choice.

3. Application Forms

The first application form which you would need to submit, is the University & Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) application form for universities in the United Kingdom (UK). UCAS is the centralised processing agency for the respective UK universities. You may identify Oxford or Cambridge (not both) as one of your choices in the list of university preferences. You may submit your application electronically via the UCAS website.

Next, you will need to complete a Oxford Preliminary Application form which you may download here (~800kb). It's the special application pack for Malaysia-based students.

15 years ago, I had to sit for the Oxford Entrance Examination, interspersed between my 'A' Level examinations. Thankfully, I received a conditional offer of 2 'E's for my 'A' Levels to take up a place at Keble College. Unfortunately, I had completed my 'A' Levels examinations by then, and didn't have the opportunity to really screw it up! :) Nevertheless, it was common then for the university colleges to make such offers as they were confident that candidates selected from the entrance examination are unlikely to perform that badly for their 'A' Levels.

However, towards the late 1990s, the entrance examination was largely scrapped due to criticism that the examination favours students from the rich 'top' schools. These 'top' schools rigorously coach their students in taking the entrance examinations, thus apparently providing them with unfair advantages over students of other government schools. I know that all the Singapore top junior colleges do that - unfortunately, I wasn't "late" enough to be part of the mechanised program. :)

But recently, the entrance examinations have been brought back in the guise of a "written test" as tutors are finding it difficult to fully differentiate the quality of students from interviews alone. In addition, it appears that scrapping the entrance examination did not play a part in changing the composition of students from the various types of schools. You may have a look at the sample written test questions for the various courses here.

Hence, as stated in the application pack for Malaysian students, there will be interviews conducted at Quality Hotel on the 25th to 26th October, and for those who go beyond the interviews, a written test held at the Petaling Jaya Community Centre in December. Some additional information and useful tips about Oxford interviews are available here. The interviews are conducted by a few tutors, on behalf of all the colleges at Oxford. I know that my wife's law tutor in Kuala Lumpur almost on a yearly basis to interview candidates for I'll often be dining with him sometime during October in recent years.

OK, I suppose that's all the "extra" information I needed to provide here. The standard information is easily available from the online forms and websites and prospectuses and the British Council etc. Use your resourcefulness to make the application work for you. That will be the asset that would be most valuable to help you gain entry into the university of your choice (besides of course, a little bit of brain matter). Once again, I apologise for the error on the closing date for Malaysian students, but I'm certain there are many of you out there who will be applying sometime in the future. Should you have additional queries, you can always email me.

Good luck and have fun!


Anonymous said...

With regard to the selection of colleges - I personally don't think it makes too much of a difference which one you end up in.

Sure some colleges are poorer (so you'll have marginally worse facilities) and some may be more tight-knit or some may be more socially active. However soon after arriving, you'll find that you will adapt, grow to love and enjoy your college's uniqueness.

That said, I would try to avoid the permanent private halls... They're pretty small, maybe only a handful of undergradautes and the rest of the population consists of monks. (Not that monks aren't fun)

Anonymous said...
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