Interviews at Oxford

Interviews take place at the start of December every year, you will find out at least 7 days before whether you have been shortlisted for interview. You may very well be expected to stay at the college overnight for a number of days. The structure of interviews depend upon the college and subject. I personally found that I was interviewed twice, one interview was with a Politics and an Economics tutor and the other was with two Philosophy interviewers. Both interviews were approximately 25 minutes long, and I was given prereading before my Philosophy interview for 40 minutes.

Things I found: 

  • It’s okay to dress casually. Wear what you feel comfortable in, most tutors won’t wear suits, and not wearing a suit won’t stand against you!
  • Take your time composing an your answer. You will be asked questions that may not have definite answers, give yourself a few seconds to think of what you’re going to say.
  • Be nice! Although the main purpose of interviews is to assess your intellect, a secondary purpose is for tutors to select students that they want to spend at least 1, perhaps 3 years teaching. If you’re rude or arrogant then even if you’re the cleverest person interviewed you still might not be accepted!
  • Take time to get to know the other people being interviewed for your subject, some of these people are likely to be the people that (if you’re accepted) you’ll end up studying with next year.  This is something I wish I’d done more.
  • Don’t be set in your views, if the tutor puts forward a stronger argument than your own then don’t be stubborn for the sake of it! Adjust your views based upon information that is put in front of you.
  • Sleep well, don’t stay up late reading The Economist or going clubbing with your new interview buds, even if you don’t expect to have an interview the next day. On my last day in Oxford a number of people were given interviews at other colleges last minute, try to avoid being hungover or exceptionally tired in interviews. They’ll be plenty of time for you to try Purple Turtle, Atik or Bridge when you’re a student in Oxford!

What was discussed in my interviews: 

Economics (12.5 Minutes): This interview was predominately based around a set of questions that can be found on the blog of the economics tutor who interviewed me. This can be found here. Alongside the queuing scenario, I was also asked what my favourite area of economics was, which is Development Economics. Another question I was asked was given the definition of an externality and asked what it was called (as I’d done A-Level Economics), this is a question I got completely wrong.

Politics (12.5 Minutes): I brought with me to the interview a folder containing a selection of letters that I’d sent to my MP and ministers over a number of years. At the beginning of the interview I showed this to the tutor and he had a look through the letters. This led onto a discussion about how a democracy should function, whether MPs should make an informed choice on behalf of their constituents or whether they should echo the views of their constituents. Following on from this was a discussion about populist opinions such as the death penalty and whether they should be law (as at times more than 50% of population have supported them). The tutor then noted that my extended project was covering the topic of the economic efficiency of autocracy versus democracy, and asked what conclusions I’d come to and whether using a case study based methodology was the best idea. He suggested that I looked into Rwanda, which turned out to be a fascinating case study for the extended project.

Philosophy (25 Minutes): Before the interview began I was asked to go to the academic office 40 minutes before the scheduled start time to be given a test. I was given the test, has my phone confiscated and was taken to the library to site and work through the set of questions. Firstly there was a set of questions predominately covering knowledge and based upon a certain set of criteria whether we could say if something was true or not. There was then a question on the trolley problem. We spent the entire 25 minutes discussing these questions.

It’s important to note that every tutor will have a different methodology in interviews. I’ve heard anecdotes from other people interviewed for PPE at the same time as me at different colleges, who had very strange interviews. In one interview the tutor (who was a philosophy tutor) placed a pile of sand on the desk and asked “how many particles of sand make a pile of sand”, this was the topic of the interview for a whole 25 minutes…


What happens after the interview: 

This is a question I only learnt the answer to since arriving at Oxford. At my college all the respective subject tutors go away and deliberate on the interview candidates that they have spoken to and score them. The central departments request that every interview candidate is given a score according to a set of predefined criteria, to try to reduce discrimination in the interviewing process.  During the admissions process that I was a part of the minimum, mean and maximum interview scores for their respective subjects are shown below (for offer holders).  My personal scores were Philosophy 67.5, Economics 70 and Politics 70. Following this, all the tutors come together and discuss the candidates together and made their final decisions.

Interview 1 (Philosophy) score, offer holders

Minimum 45

Mean 68.5

Maximum 95

Interview 2 (Politics) score, offer holders

Minimum 50

Mean 69.1

Maximum 85

Interview 3 (Economics) score, offer holders

Minimum 55

Mean 69

Maximum 90

Courtesy of a freedom of information request from the University of Oxford