The good news for aspiring masters students that want to go to Oxbridge is that the majority of masters courses at Oxford and Cambridge don’t interview. In addition, if you have already completed a masters degree at either university and want to stay on to do a PhD/DPhil, the chances are you won’t have a formal interview, but may instead have a chat with a potential supervisor. So, with this weight off your mind you can devote all your energies to nailing your online application, with a little help from our Applying to Oxbridge section!
However, the majority of PhD/DPhil candidates will have to experience the notorious Oxbridge interview, but don’t believe the hype! Yes it’ll be testing, yes you will have surprise questions flung at you but if you have an idea of what to expect and prepare accordingly you’ll be ready with a stellar answer for the most obscure of questions. Above all it’s important to keep in mind that the primary functions of Oxbridge interviews are to learn about you, your proposed research and whether you would be a good academic fit for the university, rather than a display of ivory-towered eccentricity. The Oxbridge interview has an overwhelmingly constructive purpose and you will be asked relevant if probing questions, with the occasional curveball thrown in to keep you on your toes.
Oxbridge Interview Questions
Your Oxbridge interview questions mean that you will almost certainly be grilled on your most recent academic work, whether that be an undergraduate or masters course (you can of course apply for PhD/DPhils at either stage). The format of the interview may vary, though we’ve tried to cover most bases with a variety of case studies.
Student Case Study #1
Michael, who did a DPhil in Genetics at Oxford University, says of his interview, “ I had to prepare a 15 minute presentation on my undergraduate dissertation and then answer questions on specific works relevant to my field that I had been given to read before the interview.”
If you have already undertaken original research projects in a masters degree you should make sure you know your previous projects inside out, as you will be asked to dissect your work and zone in on various details as well as talking about the research as a whole.
Student Case Study #2
Casting a critical eye over the method and outcome of the project will also serve you well, as Rachel, a DPhil student in Economics, found, “ Make sure you have a firm grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of all your previous research experience. I was glad that I revised my evaluation skills for my interview!”
Aside from your past, present, and future research, Oxbridge interview questions will centre around your reasons for applying to the university (remember unlike undergrad you can try for both Oxford and Cambridge!) and your chosen postgraduate programme. Also, if you get asked about the other universities you’ve applied to don’t worry that you’ll be automatically blacklisted for daring to consider other places, you won’t! Just subtly emphasise your preference for Oxford/Cambridge/either by swotting up on the course and tutors’ interests to show that you’re engaged.
Student Case Study #3
Hannah was successful in her PhD interview for Modern Languages at Cambridge. She says, “ I made sure I did plenty of research regarding the PhD and read lots of the supervisor’s recently published work so I could explain exactly why I was attracted to working with them.”
Another key way to show your enthusiasm in your Oxbridge interview is to ask questions, and lots of them! Nothing indicates commitment to the cause better, and also helps to make the interview more of an interactive exchange than a one-way Q&A session. A few areas to enquire about could be contact time with your supervisor, faculty conferences and whether you will be able to contribute, and the potential for group work or support with fellow PhD/DPhil students.
Oxbridge Interview Techniques – a few final points
In the heat of the moment all the useful interview tips you’ve been given sometimes have a nasty habit of absenting themselves from your mind just when you need them most. If you find yourself blanking at exactly the wrong moment it’s fine to take some time to think, and equally if you’re tying yourself in knots mid-answer you’re well within your rights to start again. Your interviewers are on your side and will admire your honesty (plus they’ve blatantly all been in the same position at some point!). A well-structured and coherent answer requiring a bit of a pause in the proceedings is infinitely preferable to diving straight into a question and getting in a pickle.
Dress-wise your interviewers want you to feel comfortable and formal attire isn’t obligatory. It’s probably not the best idea to rock up in a hoodie and pyjama bottoms, but as long as you’re neat and presentable, possibly erring on the side of smart, you’ll give off the right first impression.
And last of all, just go in and own it!
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