Six things to know before applying to the Oxford MBA

4 minute read
Cynthia Hass and friend

As I step away from the MBA, I’m reminded of what brought it all together: applying to the programme.

With an increasing number of students reaching out to me to ask ‘what advice do you have for applying?’, I thought I’d share a couple of things I’d recommend.

Of course, the Oxford MBA recruitment and admissions team has their own process and do keep in mind that parts of the application process may have changed, such as the online component assessment that we didn’t have. Nonetheless, I hope you find this helpful.

Here are the top six things I’d recommend when applying and before interviewing:

1. Know your 'why'

Perhaps the most important question of the entire application and interview is, ‘why are you pursuing an MBA?’ Essentially, what drives you to be here? Don’t be afraid to be honest. Some of my answers included ‘It’s Oxford’ and the other half was that I didn’t feel like I had the financial calibre to take on the roles I was being asked to take on. I was as honest as I could be and Googled ‘types of Oxford interview questions’ to help me prepare in the weeks leading up to the interview.

2. You don't have to know everything

That’s not why you’re here. You’re here to learn and you’ll be taking a year to do so. Oxford Saïd isn’t looking for someone who knows everything, but rather someone who is willing to learn and is open to asking questions while also helping peers. You don’t need to come with the greatest Hamlet quotes (yes, I may have looked at Hamlet before my interview) or even everything you know. The interview is a conversation and the application is a story you are telling about your life thus far. Be honest, open and clearly show what makes you great!

3. No one part of your application is the whole package

Oxford really looks at the whole picture...who you are, what your interests are, what you’ve done (academically and professionally) and what you have yet to do. That isn’t to say that some parts have more importance, but it is to say, do not stress if one part of your application is a bit weaker. For example, say you’ve got some incredible professional experiences but your GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) isn’t too hot, or vice versa, know that some components of your application may make up for others.

4. GMAT or GRE (Graduate Record Examinations)?

Pick one, stick to it and study. It matters, especially for scholarships and more. I did both, because I had a mix-up in geography and tests were limited as I was travelling at the time. I wouldn’t recommend that. I’d do one, study it, stick to it and do well. Don’t be afraid to ask an admissions advisor or Google around to figure which is preferred.

5. Be human

A past student told me really some great advice, ‘the admissions team wants to know, can we have dinner with you?’ Dinners are a HUGE part of Oxford; you’ll come across people you’ve never met and you’ll be placed next to dinner mates all the time. The team wants to know, will you have conversations that are worthwhile? Can you talk about things going on in the world while also letting go and talking about your hobbies? Oxford is small. Once you’re here, you’ll run into the same people pretty often; being able to hold a conversation is important.

6. Lastly, do your homework

Research the University, read about the colleges and reach out to alumni. Get a taste of Oxford. I had never visited the campus before I started the programme. So, even if it’s digitally, understand if this is where you want to be. Learning more about it will only help what may feel like a mysterious, daunting process becomes more visible and tangible.

If you get past the application round and are offered an interview, relax and be present. I did a Skype interview and I was really nervous but, looking back, I’d say, ‘it’s going to be okay, what you have to say is worthwhile and once in a while, ask a question or two’. 

Come prepared but it’s okay if things happen along the way. For example, during the interview, the internet in my apartment was terrible. I couldn’t log on to the first five minutes of the interview and was so worried. Luckily, I was able to contact the team right away and they helped me through it.

If something happens, breathe and proceed as normal. Everyone is human and you making the commitment to apply and consider an MBA is an amazing feat in itself.

If you’re applying, interviewing or thinking about applying, keep going, you’ve got this! And, all the best!