Application

 Oxford

 Merton

 Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)

 2006

 rejected

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Independent – selective

 yes (10 A*)

A-levels

(A at AS)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

Other universities

yes

no

Rejected by LSE Government and Economics. Have yet to hear from UCL.

Decisions about the application

– Oxbridge experience
– Tutorial system
– Oxbridge is in a league of its own

– Course
– Better location
– Prefer the Oxford alumni I have met
– Apparently less ‘aggressive’ interviewing for public schoolers compared to Cambridge

– Balances theory and practice
– I like philosophy
– Am interested in the social sciences, economics and politics are the main ones
– Very flexible; can branch into sociology/international relations
– Broad

– More academics-orientated
– Architecture
– Good location
– Rich
– Good food
– Good accommodation

Preparation

yes

Mostly useless. We had ‘Oxbridge classes’ every week for a term which fed us random information (no real debate involved) that didn’t pop up once in interview. The practice interview was useful though in giving you some confidence and letting you know some basics not to get wrong.

– Ask questions in class
– Concentrate on relevant A-Levels (Philosophy, Politics, Economics..) because sometimes they ask questions on this, and expect a good knowledge of the syllabus as a basic requirement
– Get a practice interview, but don’t overdo it
– Read around your subject but only stuff that appeals to you; do not feel that you need to read any complex material because they honestly do not care
– READ UP ON GAME THEORY: THIS WILL ALMOST INEVITABLY COME UP ON YOUR WRITTEN TEST
– Get a practice paper for the written test, this is an important section of the application
– Try and debate as much as you can with friends/schoolmates/teachers/family
– Glance over your personal statement and written work beforehand; work out what you will say about things if you are asked, but this is only likely to crop up once or twice most
– Work out what you will say to obvious questions like ‘Why PPE’, ‘Why Oxford’, ‘Why Merton’ and also ‘Why would you be good for Merton’ type thing
– Do not overprepare. When you get in for interview they are honestly looking for how you think, most of the questions you get cannot be prepared for at all

Interview

no

yes

I sent a long essay on Chinese ‘democracy’ and a shorter one on game theory. If I could change something here, I would have sent in a shorter A2 piece of work to show how I think and work under time pressure; for both these essays I had about 4 weeks to write them.

yes

Written test. You are given 15 minutes reading time; use it wisely. The test is an hour, and divided into three sections ==> 20 minutes each section. Stick to this timing rigidly, if you do not finish a section move on and see if you have time at the end. You have to move quickly through the test; it is definitely do-able but they push you. As I said, game theory is likely to come up. There is a specimen paper on the Oxford website. While some answers might be more ‘correct’ than others, they are definitely looking for your thought processes. Spell out your reasoning for them.. this is something I regret not doing much.

They were OK, I was a little nervous but tutors are not trying to catch you out. Despite nervousness, some of the discussions were pretty enjoyable.

Three interviews – philosophy, politics and economics. Each one with two tutors (or one tutor, one graduate student). All of them gave me a problem 25 minutes before which we spent a lot of the time discussing. In economics they are looking to test how good you are at maths as well. In economics and politics they did not ask general crappy questions like ‘Why PPE’ they got straight into it. I think the more general questions were left for the politics interview – this was the case with the other applicants as well, and politics was the only one in which I was asked about my written work and PS.

Some examples:

Economics – Problem given about getting 100 people from A to D (various routes etc.)
How would you draw a line of length root 2?
How can the government limit the number of people taking a certain motorway shortcut?

Philosophy – Given a problem on the paradox of the heap – when does a heap cease to become a heap? Spent most of the time talking about this in philosophy.

Politics – Given a problem about an imaginary parliament in which three parties all had equal votes: they must form an alliance, what is the most likely outcome (you need to see the page to really understand)
Then various questions about what it means to be ‘democratic’, what kinds of democracy can we have, e.g. is taxing people democratic? is war democratic? talked about tyranny of the majority..

Smartish casual. They are academics; they do not (or at least should not) give a shit what you wear. They are looking to see if you can think, and a suit is not going to fool them.

Impressions

Merton: Great people, nice accommodation. Very old though, make sure that is your thing.

Somerville (second interview): Seemed like nice people, more laid back environment, newer architecture (19th century) but there is a truly horrible 60s building plonked in the middle where most first-years have to live. It is truly awful. Otherwise good, nice. It’s a good location in that it is near city life, but it is far away from PPE departments. Basically out of the way.

Ensuite with a shower. Rooms were varied, others I went to were bigger than mine, some were located further out etc.

It was quite good, good selection. Supposedly best in Oxford..

Nice, not there to catch you out, but then again if you are not doing well they are not exactly going to hold your hand. They seemed very fair and reasonable.

Decent bunch, very approachable and keen to make sure everyone was having a good time etc.

Final stage

Was busy with other things. Waiting became pretty unbearable after others in my college had got offers and I still hadn’t heard, so I got in touch and found out by e-mail (live abroad).

Got in touch with friends etc. to let them know. Was obviously very disappointed..

Looking back

Yep, enjoyed the experience a lot. There is definitely something there that other universities just do not have.

They are not looking for geniuses, they are looking for smart people who work fairly hard and who like to question and think about things.

My biggest piece of advice for the interviews themselves is to think out loud (unless of course you are thinking something very stupid, in which case don’t). They like this, it shows them how you think and can help them understand what exactly is going on in your head even if your answer isn’t quite what you wanted to say. Also remember there is often no right or wrong answer – they will try and tie you up in knots to see how you deal with that and whether or not you enjoy it. Do not lose confidence when they disagree, if you do not agree with them then stick to your guns and explain your reasoning, if you think you are wrong though then explain why and structure your response to switch views. Just because they disagree with you though does not mean they really believe what they are saying, often it is a test of how you deal with that kind of thing.