Updated: Jan 25
Anna Crowley discusses her successful application for Philosophy and Psychology at St. Hugh's College, Oxford.
My name is Anna and I’m from Dublin. I’m studying PPL (specifically Philosophy and Psychology) at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. From a young age, I had always dreamt of studying abroad, and I decided to apply to Edinburgh and other universities during the summer of 5th year. My mum said that I should give Oxbridge a go, and I’m so glad that I did! I was initially going to apply for Spanish and Philosophy, and it was only in August that I decided to change my mind, giving me only two months to get my personal statement and entrance exam prepared.
Although my school were helpful with my application, I definitely didn’t get the support that UK students have access to. However, I could make up for this because of the incredible technological world in which we live! The internet was truly my best friend. I watched about a million YouTube videos and podcasts just on the UCAS application in general to familiarise myself with the process. I would then recommend researching the specific degree to see what it entails. The university website is the best resource for this, and some further tips and links to this end can be found under the paragraphs ‘Background’ and ‘Picking Your Subject’ in this article.
Working on my Personal Statement
The next step is the personal statement. Through researching of my course, I picked out some topics I was interested in and found books and courses that coincided with them. I know some people have been dreaming and preparing for their Oxbridge application since they were born, but please do not be deterred. I read all the books and completed a few courses I mentioned within a few weeks while still having a great last month of summer. I only read two books and two research papers and completed one short online course – quality over quantity!
When it comes to writing the personal statement, I built up a bit of a technique which specifically applies to two subjects. I had three paragraphs about three general topics that I’m interested in, and then I took both a philosophical and psychological approach to the topic. For example, I wrote about free will – which is mainly a philosophy topic – but also wrote about an article I read that discussed the effects that a lack of freedom during lockdown had on our mental health, thus taking a psychological spin on things.
Everyone always says that you should show not tell your passion, and I think this is a great piece of advice as it also illustrates how you think the subjects link and intertwine. A short paragraph on your extra-curriculars isn’t important for Oxbridge, but it’s worth putting it in to show your other skills, such as communication skills. If you’re applying for other universities, they might also place greater emphasis on extra-curriculars. For my intro and conclusion, I made them link so that the personal statement had circularity and read nicely. I would recommend giving it to many people to get a variety of feedback, but don’t forget to stick to your own ideas to show your own thoughts and personality through your writing. Remember that it is a personal statement. Drafts are going to your best friend; I rewrote my personal statement eight times!
The Admissions Test, and How I Went About Preparing
I took the TSA admissions test, and this was the part of the application with which I really struggled. I knew it was going to be the weakest part of my application, so I tried my best, but also put extra effort into other parts to compensate. I did buy a book, but the questions weren’t the exact same as the past papers, so I would recommend just sticking to the past papers. The BMAT also has similar sections if you run out of the TSA ones, so look there for extra content.
I was consistently getting low scores, but the following video helped me create a system which allowed me to improve my scores: here. I also found the following free online course a bit late, but it was extremely helpful and I’d really recommend having a look at it: here.
For section two, I did give some essays to my English teacher, but it wasn’t particularly helpful. Some people will be better than others at this section, but I just had to try my best. I did cry that day at school after the exam and my score wasn’t the highest score ever, but you never know!! I ended up getting in so don’t count yourself out!
How I Prepared for Interview
For interview preparation, begin by making sure you understand everything in your personal statement (one out of my four interviews was based solely on my personal statement). I then decided to research a little bit of many topics in both subjects. The YouTube channel ‘Crash Course’ really helped for this. From here, it’s important to choose an extra few topics aside from your personal statement and read around them (in both my psychology interviews, I was asked about a research paper I’ve read lately). For psychology specifically, it’s important to understand the basics of experimental design as you likely will be asked to interpret and/or build your own experiment. I found the following video helpful: here.
For philosophy, having a look at the basics of logic is a good idea as well and practicing some questions is useful. My interview was online, and to prepare I got up the philosophy admissions test past paper and would record myself answering and discussing the questions and logic problem in them. Using TSA essay titles is useful as well. You’ll feel silly the first few videos, but this really helped me getting comfortable talking to a screen!
How Do I Find the Course Now That I’m at Oxford?
In terms of studying the subject now, I absolutely love it!! I was worried that I would be behind because these subjects are offered to A-level and equivalent students, but I don’t feel like that at all. And even if my course mates have seen some concepts before, they’re always willing to help so please don’t let that stop you. I love living here, the city is amazing and so much fun, and there’s something for anyone and everyone! Of course, the work is a lot, but if you develop some sort of system and have okay time management skills, you’ll be absolutely fine. I honestly feel way less stressed than I was doing the Leaving Cert!!
Some Final Tips and Getting in Touch
To conclude, I would just remind you that Oxbridge really isn’t everything. Yes, it’s an incredible opportunity and I would hope that everyone who would like to apply does so. But it’s important to take a step back occasionally and not let it consume your mind all the time. I found it hard to enjoy the Christmas break of 6th year because I was thinking about the results so much! I wish I could have just relaxed and remembered that what needs to happen, will happen!
Good luck to anyone reading this. You absolutely deserve to apply to Oxbridge no matter what people say to you. The biggest reason people don’t get accepted is because they don’t apply, so just give it a shot! These institutions are for everyone, including you! Don’t let it consume you but give it your best shot because you owe it to yourself to do so.
If anyone wants to reach out with further questions, my email is email@example.com or insta dm at @annacrowleyyy. Thank you and good luck!!