Why candidates get rejected by world's top university Oxford

By Thanh Hang   May 18, 2024 | 05:00 pm PT
Why candidates get rejected by world's top university Oxford
Oxford University in the U.K. Photo courtesy of the university
Lack of research goals, complaining and excessively listing achievements are three main reasons candidates get rejected by Oxford University, the world's top higher education institution, according to three Vietnamese alumni.

Lack of research initiative

Tran My Ngoc, who earned a master's degree in education at Oxford in 2021, said U.K. universities value candidates who clarify their academic choices and demonstrate experience in their chosen field.

Ngoc said educational programs in the U.K. remain short: 3 years for a bachelor’s degree, one year for master’s degree and three years for a doctoral degree. In the U.S., university bachelor’s programs span 4 years, master’s about 2 years, and a doctorate usually more than 4 years.

It takes only seven years in total for a student to go from a freshman to a PhD holder in the U.K., so determining a research path earlier is beneficial, Ngoc added.

Vu Do Khanh, who earned a master’s in public policy at Oxford in 2016 (and is also a former admissions secretary at Oxford), said the first interview question is always related to research goals, and those who have not yet determined their own path are unlikely to be accepted.

"A person who has yet to set out their research plans will almost never get admitted. The school wonders why it should accept a person who still has no idea what they are going to do at the school."

A quality application to Oxford University should be prepared over a period of 3-4 years, according to Khanh.

This not only gives enough time for candidates to complete their applications, but also provides the opportunity for students to tailor their activities towards their research field, Khanh pointed out.

Talking too much about failures, difficulties

After years of experience mentoring applicants, Dr. Chu Cong Son, who graduated from Oxford with a material science doctorate in 2020, said he has encountered way too many essays featuring the candidate having failed at something but trying to do it repeatedly until they succeed.

"These kinds of essays can fail so easily."

Khanh agreed, saying that the world’s number one university looks for the world's most excellent, finest students.

"A person who failed many times is not one of those."

The school also disregards essays that talk too much about difficulties, according to the experts.

"The admissions council would think that competitive person with many life skills will not let themselves to fall into miserable circumstances," Khanh said.

The alumni said that a student should only mention difficulties that have played direct and critical roles in leading to new successes or personal changes. Any difficulties should not be a focus of an essay, but should work as an intro to the person’s changes and improvement, they said.

Excessively listing achievements

Son said listing too many trivial achievements can also cause an application to fail.

Oxford does want candidates to possess notable achievements in their applied field, but low-level achievements, such as those at the high school level, are not highly valued, he said.

Khanh said there is not a one-fit-all formula, but applicants should focus on listing more recent achievements, and those at the national level or higher.

Certificates, except for those required by the school, should only be listed when the applicants scored in the 1-2 percentile, he said.

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