Posts tagged How To Choose The Right University
Am I Right For Oxford?

Am I clever enough? Will everyone be cleverer than me? Will the tutors like me?


These are the questions I asked myself over and over again. There is no doubt about it Oxford can seem intimidating.
The stunning architecture, Harry Potter-esque dining halls and world expert tutors are enough to make most prospective applicants feel daunted.
Being nervous is normal but being so stressed that you can’t get your words out in the interview room and burst into floods of tears isn’t the best sign. As much as the interviews are used to test your knowledge, they are also a great way of showing how you react under pressure. They are designed to reflect a mini-tutorial which once at Oxford you will have on aweekly basis. So if you can’t cope with the interview, it’s unlikely you’ll cope with the workload and pressure once you start Oxford.
If you think you can deal with the pressure then ask yourself the next lot of questions:

  • Am I committed to working hard?
  • Do I have the grades?
  • Can I motivate myself to meet deadlines without a teacher pushing me?
  • Am I open to new ideas?
  • Does the tutorial system appeal to me?
  • Am I good at exams?
  • Am I passionate about my subject?
  • Does ‘Oxford Life’ appeal to me?

If you can answer YES to most of these then you really have nothing to lose!

Top Tips

  • Look around Oxford or research it online to see whether the University appeals to you.
  • Research your course, to check you will be happy studying it in minute detail for the next 3-4 years.
  • Self-analyse- ask yourself whether you truly believe you have the qualities to get you through an Oxford degree.
  • Discuss your subject with everyone and anyone who will listen and get them to ask you questions– this is a great way to practice staying calm under pressure.
  • Stop comparing yourself to everyone else – this is difficult but focus on the qualities you have.
  • Don’t pretend to be what you think the tutors are looking for, be true to yourself.
  • BELIEVE – if you really want something you have to believe you can get it and that belief, along with hard work, can go a very long way.


Tutorials – a weekly meeting with your tutor to discuss your week’s work. The tutorial system makes Oxford different from other University. You can’t hide in the back of a lecture theatre, the spotlight is on you!

Matilda is a student and blogger at Oxford. She writes about the application process and student life in her blog and on instagram @thatoxfordgirl!

ThatOxfordGirl, 29 Dec 2016

University College London Profile

Life at UCL – vibrant, international community

UCL, otherwise known as University College London, was founded in 1826 as a secular institution to accept students regardless of class, race, religion and gender. Traditionally, prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge accepted students based on wealth and religion.

The founders, particularly Henry Brougham and James Mill, were strongly inspired by the Utilitarian ideas of philosopher and jurist, Jeremy Bentham. Although Jeremy Bentham was not directly involved in its establishment, he is widely regarded as the “spiritual father” of UCL due to the influence of his reformist ideas.

In his will, Bentham asked for his body to be dissected, and then preserved as an “auto-icon” for public display. This display can be found in the Main Wilkins Building at UCL, and to this day, creates much fascination. It can also be viewed virtually here.

London’s “global” university

UCL’s status of having a global outlook definitely lives up to its claim. With approximately 41% of the student community being international, there are many opportunities to work with people from many countries. From establishing a campus in Qatar as well as the prospective development of an Olympic Park Campus, the lists of opportunities are endless. UCL’s annual “Global Citizenship Scheme”, a summer school designed to equip students with entrepreneurial thinking, global outlooks, team building and problem solving have proved a success in providing a foundation for UCL students as active global citizens. From role-playing development projects in Dar es Salaam to understanding the urbanisation of East London, there are projects to take part in for everyone. Not surprisingly, many universities look to UCL for inspiration when developing programmes that exhibit these values.


UCL’s campus is located in the historic heart of London in Bloomsbury, around Gower Street. Much of UCL’s departments are based here; such as the Medical School, Engineering, Geography, History, Chemistry and Mathematics Departments, as well as many others. The Bloomsbury campus is a short walking distance from many notable institutions such as the British Library, the British Museum, the British Medical Association, RADA and London Business School. University of London’s Birkbeck, SOAS, LSE and Kings are only a few moments away. Its proximity to both London Euston Station and Kings Cross St Pancras means other cities in the UK and Europe are accessible.

Student life: Non-academic

Social life: With over 30,000 students, UCL has an extremely vibrant social life and hosts the largest number of international students in the UK. Founded in 1893, UCL Union is one of the oldest students’ unions in England. The diversity of students is reflected in the 230+ clubs and societies available; from the Baltic Society to the Bhangra Society, Harry Potter Society to the Horse Riding Society; there is definitely something to fit everyone’s interests. Societies are a great source of cultural enrichment, entertainment, socialising and gaining professional experience.

Entertainment: The Bloomsbury Theatre, owned by UCL, is a quality West End theatre with bargain tickets. Typical West End theatres in Leicester Square can be rather expensive, and so The Bloomsbury Theatre is a great on-campus alternative. From Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” to stand-up comedy by the likes of Omid Djalili; there is a lot on offer.

Another (more obvious) form of entertainment is just BEING in London. This bustling metropolis attracts people from all over the world for its rich cultural heritage and things to do. From free museums in South Kensington to beautiful parks, historical attractions to mega sporting events; London has a lot on offer for just about anyone. There are always new people to meet and new things to experience!

Clubbing: UCLU have 4 café’s and 3 bars on campus with great student deals throughout the year, however exclusive club events at premium London venues such as Ministry of Sound and Koko prove extremely popular. Whether on or off campus, Christmas & Easter balls organised by societies are also premium events that sell out fast at 5-star hotels such as the Dorchester. The UCL Summer Ball held in the UCL Quad (in the Bloomsbury Campus) is also a great post-exam event.

Networking: Being surrounded by numerous other universities such as LSE, Kings and Imperial provides plentiful opportunities. Building large networks with other students enables collaboration, friendships, and can act as an aid in the future. With Cambridge and Oxford University students regularly engaging with London universities, the opportunities to engage with like-minded people are endless. There is no other city in the UK which enables such a teeming network of students.


Student life: Academic

Career opportunities: Living in London and studying at a powerhouse such as UCL means career opportunities are endless. There are lots of networking events hosted throughout the year by various societies, as well as multiple careers fairs for recruiters to visit campus. Aside from the standard careers fairs, brand ambassadors make regular trips to the UCL Campus to actively reach out to students and potential employees. UCL Careers organise sector themed ‘weeks’ such as Government and Policy Week, Media Week and Museums and Cultural Heritage Week (as well as a host of others). Typical events can include one-to-one CV sessions and coaching with industry professionals, as well as wider networking. The Banking & Finance and Consulting Fairs prove to be particularly popular amongst UCL students.

Aside from the keen recruiters, UCL Careers have well-equipped Consultants and Application Advisers to give CV guidance, practice interviews, and can give important advice for your future after graduation.

Multi-disciplinary approach: As UCL is an incredibly large university, teaching style’s vary from department to department. From individual experience, social science based courses are, as expected, taught with fewer contact hours and more reading time. Tutorial sessions are common and students are encouraged to engage in discussion and take a collaborative approach in their learning. This is largely shaped by the ‘global’ and ‘multi-disciplinary’ approach undertaken by the University.

Furthermore, tutors are assigned to small groups of students to mentor them throughout their time at UCL. This can range from personal, academic and professional mentoring and general advice.


For first years, UCL offers accommodation ranging from Halls of Residence (catered, close to Bloomsbury campus) to Student Houses (self catered, a shorter distance away e.g. in Camden or Kings Cross) to Intercollegiate Halls (available to all students in London). There is a lot on offer to suit everyone’s preference, such as en-suite rooms or catered.

After first year, students tend to rent flats in groups, as rent in London is not cheap!  Most students relocate to nearby locations such as Camden and Kings Cross. Private accommodation providers are also widely available and come with their own amenities. Popular choices include UNITE (St Pancras Way) and Nido.


Rivalry with Kings: Traditionally, UCL has always had a strong, albeit friendly, rivalry with Kings College London; running over two centuries. The London Varsity Series is an annual sporting event where KCL’s sports teams (hockey, tennis, rugby, netball etc) take on UCL’s teams. Scores are often very close, making for tense and nail-biting matches!

Did you know?

UCL has been a popular location for many film directors due to its beautiful architecture. The scenes depicting the British Museum in the The Mummy 2 (2001) were, in fact, shot in UCL’s Quad, whilst the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre was used as a backdrop in the hit film Inception (2010).

Sarah Marghoob, 24 Jul 2016

Applying to top UK universities: tips for a successful application

Your first steps to studying at UK’s best universities

Studying abroad is a great adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will widen your horizons and grant you thousands of new possibilities. Here, we will outline the very basics of applying to study in the United Kingdom, in particular its top universities, so you can learn what the overall process looks like.

What universities are out there?

You must have heard of Oxford and Cambridge, the most renowned universities in the UK and Europe. While they may sound mythical at first, they are actually in your reach and would always devote a lot of time to assess your application, no matter what your background is. They view each candidate as a separate case and care a lot about your academic potential, far more than about other things such as grades or qualifications. If you are a naturally curious person with a lively interest in your subject, then you have a very good shot!

Oxford and Cambridge share a lot of similarities. They use the famous tutorial system so that each student is assigned a tutor that guides and mentors him on a very individual basis. They are both stunningly beautiful and permeated with bizarre traditions. They use the college system so that each student is assigned to their ‘house’, just like in Harry Potter, in which they live, eat and sleep, becoming a part of a family-like community. They are both crazy about their sports, most notably rowing, and would meet each year to compete in countless disciplines. And, most importantly, they are both amazing places to spend your initial years of adolescence while having great fun, meeting inspirational people and developing yourself academically, all at once.


If you prefer the atmosphere of a great, vibrant metropolis, studying in London may be your thing. Here, you may be considering London School of Economics or University College London, depending on the course you are interested in. The experience will be much different, less mythical and more urban than in Oxford or Cambridge – but it doesn’t mean it will be less exciting!

How the application system works

The whole application process is centralized and officially hosted by UCAS platform. You need to register by filling in a couple of forms and then you are good to go!. Everything you do regarding your application will be processed by UCAS. After you have registered, you can start selecting universities and courses. Up to five can be chosen, but Oxford and Cambridge cannot be picked at the same time – so you’ll have to make up your mind! It is generally a good idea to apply to more than one university, as they all receive the same application pack – it is a very small fuss for a higher chance of success.

Then, you will have to write a personal statement, which is a 4.000 characters long letter describing your motivations and key achievements. The purpose of the personal statement is to articulate to your university that you are the perfect candidate with lots of academic potential and to assure them that you will not squander the chance if you are successful. . You will also need to ask your teacher for your predicted grades and for a reference letter.

Once your PS is written, referee contacted and grades’ predictions uploaded around early October, it is the time to wait. For some universities (like LSE or UCL) that would be the end of the journey – for Oxford and Cambridge, however, this is just the beginning, so you will have many more opportunities to prove your academic potential in the subsequent steps of the process.

Next in line would be the aptitude tests, for Oxford usually written in November. Their purpose is to check your ability to think on your feet and solve problems you have not encountered before – but with proper preparation they should not be a problem. Many social sciences subjects would take the famous TSA test, but each course may have its own exam. The test result has a considerable impact regarding getting to further stages, but is not that important later on.

After the test comes the invitation to the interview – so that means you are flying to the UK! This is easily the most exciting part of the recruitment process and usually happens in early December. You will get to meet your tutors and show them in person that they would actually enjoy teaching you for the upcoming three years. You will get to see your dream university over a few days of fully funded accommodation, meet like-minded peers and dine in straight-from-Harry-Potter dining hall for free! Interviews are a great experience, but can seem stressful beforehand – make sure you come prepared! Most candidates have one to three 30-minute interviews and spend about 3-5 days enjoying their future colleges.

You will get your offers from Oxford or Cambridge around early January. The system here may be different than in your home country: Once you get an offer, you are not automatically a student. The offer will give you certain conditions that you have to meet to be enrolled – usually sitting a language certificate and achieving a proper A-Levels/IB/national exam score, based on what they think you are capable of achieving. The point of this is not to keep you idle and complacent once you have secured a place at a world best university, so make sure that you do not fail the final sprint – the vast majority of people don’t, so no need to worry.

The journey is long but exciting and rewarding! For your convenience, this is the timeline of all the important deadlines

Jakub Labun, 18 May 2016

Oxbridge vs. Ivy League? The choice matters

The Choice Matters

Anyone who has ever browsed university league tables will have noticed the dominance of British and American universities in the top, and in particular, in the very, very top. Out of the top 10 places in QS’s World University Rankings 2016, nine were taken up by British or American institutions. Most famously, there is Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge Universities) in the U.K., and Ivy League (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and a few others on the East Coast) in the U.S. Both evoke a variety of stereotypes: ancient towers and libraries, tweed-wearing quirky professors, fashionable leather shoes, frat parties and college-crested jumpers, Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg.

Getting into any of these places is a job well done, and having the option to pick between them is, as it were, a first-world problem on steroids. Whether you are fortunate enough to be pondering offers from both sides of the Atlantic, or whether you are simply trying to figure out what the differences are between these places, read on. I will try to highlight some similarities as well as differences in a way that can hopefully help you make up your mind, wherever you are in the process. But do note I don’t talk about financing issues in this piece, and that summary overview cannot replace researching the specific universities you are considering. Also, these thoughts are my own and are based on research I have done and anecdotes I have; others might disagree and you should always do your own research, with your own goals in mind. But even so, this article might be a place to start doing that.


Since you will spend most or at least a vast amount of time studying at any of these universities[1], understanding the differences in academic experience is very important. In short, at Oxbridge you will spend three (or for some courses, four) years exploring the subject(s) you have chosen in depth. In particular, in the social sciences and humanities, which are less standardised in terms of curricula, you will dive deep into the specific options that you pick, gaining a strong command – though not necessarily much of an overview, unless you add that yourself – of your subject(s).

Meanwhile, an American liberal arts degree (which you will get at the Ivies) encourages and even requires wide exploration of varied subjects (at Harvard, undergraduates do 32 options over their four years). In theory there is significant room for specialisation through taking the maximum allowed number of courses in a particular subject. However, apart from the fact that the chance to experiment is one to make use of, the large number of different courses will tend to push towards overview and brief familiarizing, compared to the narrower rigour of Oxbridge. The takeaway point, then, is the choice between the curious exploration and general education at the Ivy League on the one hand, and Oxbridge’s emphasis on sustained study and subject-specific mastery on the other. Debates will continue to rage over the advantages of each, but largely this distinction should feed into personal reflection on which is right for you, given your goals, ambitions, and interests.

Study aside, there are other important things to think about (something of which I was sublimely unaware during my own application process). Non-academic factors can be subdivided into two categories: Non-academic university life, and what we may broadly call background culture.


Beginning with background culture, it’s undeniable that spending your undergraduate years in the U.S. or the U.K. will shape you into different persons. As one person unhelpfully reminded me as I was personally battling with the decision between Oxbridge and Ivy League: “Wow, just remember that you are really choosing what kind of person you will be for the rest of your life.” As much as this was an exaggeration (as I also told my distressed self at the time), it is true that American and British general culture (norms, bureaucracy, behaviour, partying) differ and that you will be influenced in different directions depending on in which you choose to immerse yourself.

The best way to get a sense of this is, if you are able, to visit and experience the respective cultures (hint: google open days for your favourite universities or send them an email). However, that’s far from always possible. (I’d never visited the U.S. when I got admitted.) But this is difficult to advice on generally, so I will just mention a couple of points: First, talk to as many people with relevant experience (e.g., fellow nationals who have lived in one of the countries) as you can, and see if you really struggle to picture yourself in either of the images that emerge. Second, think about how much you value a cultural and social challenge in itself. From a European perspective, anecdotally it seems to me that those of my friends at Ivy League colleges had a much more challenging time to feel at home, on average, than those in the U.K. Is that part of the challenge you are aiming for, or something which would stand in the way of your goals?

Life In The Bubble

When it comes to non-academic university life, there is more that unite than separate Oxbridge and the Ivies. Frankly, old elite universities share a number of features, including the strong sense of “living in a bubble”, curious traditions and many scarily intelligent peers. As well as, of course, drinks and parties, competition for social status, and performance anxiety. But similarities aside, there are, needless to say, differences.

One of the most notable differences is probably how extra-curricular activities are viewed. An American friend on an exchange year from Columbia to Oxford told me that she had asked the President of Columbia in her first year, “What should I prioritise, my studies or getting an internship?” The President had answered that to be frank, from the university’s point of view it was the internship. In my experience, this is the opposite of the typical attitude among Oxford tutors, although this is an area of massive individual variation. This is not to suggest extra-curriculars are dead at Oxbridge – very much to the contrary. But it does say something about the greater institutional support available at American universities and about the general difference in attitudes. Once again, the ideals of the education of citizens (Ivy League) and the education of thinkers (Oxbridge) come out.

As for living arrangements, it is difficult to generalise. Oxford and Cambridge offer a combination of secluded life in a college, yet with a wider (though not extremely large) city surrounding it. Many students spend part of their degrees living in normal shared flats. Top U.S. colleges offer quite different experiences depending on location – Columbia University is in the middle of New York City, whilst Harvard and Princeton have highly concentrated campuses without that much going on in the immediate surroundings. Dartmouth, on the other hand, boasts extensive access to the outdoors. All in all, these differences underline the fact that you are looking for a place to live, rather than just study, and that’s something you need to keep in mind.

In The End

In the end, though more alike than different, Oxbridge and Ivy Leagues present two distinct alternatives, and which you choose makes a difference. Do your research. Think about whether you are looking for liberal arts breadth or Oxbridge depth as far as your studies go.  If you feel strongly in the direction of one country, direct your application resources (time and effort) accordingly. Try to move beyond the stereotypes. Remember that most people you ask for advice will (and who could blame them?) base their answers on exactly such stereotypes. Don’t stress, take your time. This is a tricky choice, and requires careful thinking about yourself and what matters to you.


Erik Hammar graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Christ Church, Oxford, in 2015. After leaving high school, he received offers from Harvard College as well as Christ Church, Oxford. He is now working in London.

[1] I will use the word “university” throughout, even if “college” is more accurate as far as U.S. undergraduate degrees are concerned.

Project Access is a non-profit startup run by students from Oxford, Cambridge and other top universities. We believe that information should never restrict people from studying at their dream university.

Erik Hammar, 28 Jun 2016