Non-Obvious Tips for Applying to Oxford

If you’re applying to PPE at Oxford, you’re applying to one of the most competitive courses in the UK. For that reason, you’ll need to take on board a couple of non-obvious tips for applying to Oxford successfully. 

You’ll have to create a personal statement that helps you stand out as a compelling and special candidate that’s deserving of a place in the interview stage of the application cycle. 

Luckily, we’ve got you covered there. Check out these steps you can take to strengthen your personal statement and elevate it to the next level. 

Those who are looking for more in-depth advice on the Oxbridge application process as a whole should visit this section of the A&J Education site. 

In this article, we’re going to focus on a couple of non-obvious tips for applying to Oxford. These are bits of advice that most candidates won’t take on board when embarking on the PPE admissions process. 

  • Give a concise and articulate insight into your way of thinking 

Most applicants treat their personal statement as a platform to list off their various different accomplishments, but you should try to think of this as a golden opportunity to lend the Oxford tutors an insight into you and your thought processes. 

Quite simply, Oxbridge professors don’t care about how many clubs you have been part of, or whether you are better at hockey than athletics. 

When it comes to speaking about extracurriculars, either omit these topics from your personal statement completely or keep this type of talk to 1-2 sentences maximum. 

Here’s the first of two non-obvious tips for applying to Oxford. Instead of talking about your non-academic hobbies, take some time before writing the statement to come up with 3-4 key themes that you deeply care about, and then use the main body of the personal statement to engage with these themes in a novel and innovative way. 

For example, if you’re applying for PPE, you might be fascinated by the relationship between the individual and society, and you can tie these ideas in refugee work you might have done, or with your readings of thinkers like Thoreau and Machiavelli. 

You may want to talk about the role of culture on political outcomes: think about the impact of Zola’s work on post-revolutionary French society or the impact of women on modern neoliberal Western democracies. You could use the main body of your statement to explore the relationship between Christianity, capitalism, and democracy. 

Most importantly, it’s important to tie in these intellectual interests to what you are planning to study – the study of PPE itself, and specific modules that you hope to cover.

  • Non-obvious tips for applying to Oxford: do something different

Most personal statements are exceptionally boring to read. Often, professors will have to read over 50 of them to select the high-quality few that will gain the writers an invitation to interview.

Put simply, if you want to stand out as a candidate, make sure that your personal statement stands out. 


Here are 4 actionable tips you can use to help make your PPE personal statement stand out amongst the many that tutors will have to sift through during the admissions process:

  • Make statements about PPE that are not obvious.

For example, a good structure is: “A common academic view is X, but I believe Y to be more compelling, for these following reasons.”

Don’t glaze over counter arguments either: acknowledging these demonstrates that you’re reflective and able to grapple with nuanced concepts. 

  • Make non-ordinary connections between subjects 

An example here could be comparing the virality of coronavirus (biology) with the virality of tech companies with network effects (like Facebook).

  • Make striking statements about yourself 

Try to stand out and show who you are a one-of-a-kind candidate, not a box ticker like the other applicants. This is a high-risk, high reward strategy. Don’t make a lot of hot-air statements that you can’t back up, as you’ll likely come across as delusional and arrogant.

Instead, show the admissions tutors that you’re special, by backing up statements with substantive evidence of the work you’ve done and the ideas you have. 

  • Every paragraph should have a concise three-act narrative 

Think of the personal statement as a story, with each paragraph acting as both a composite building block and a self-contained story in its own right. These types of well-written and engaging statements are an absolute joy to read.

For each paragraph, consider the set-up (what’s the context), conflict (what problem did you need to solve?), resolution (how did you solve it?).

Final Thoughts 

When it comes to applying for PPE at Oxford, you’ll have to take a number of steps to ensure that your personal statement is well-written and original, so that you’ll stand out as an excellent candidate in a highly competitive field. 

Here are the key points to remember when you get down to writing your statement: 

  • Take time to think about engaging topics and grapple with these ideas in the statement’s main body. 
  • Take a stance that’s new and bold. Back it up coherently and impressively. Consider counter arguments. 
  • Make non-obvious connections between seemingly unrelated subjects. Again, back these arguments up.
  • Think of the statement as an opportunity to curate and create a three-act story that’s engaging and insightful. Treat each and every paragraph with due respect. 

If you want more in-depth advice on writing a UCAS personal statement, check out the Resources section of the A&J Education website. 

You can also get in touch with one of our team of experts by booking a free consultation with A&J Education today. These mentors will help guide you through the university admissions process.

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