Hello, and welcome to our new guest series on the blog: applying to Oxford for various subjects. There will be a guest contributor every day writing about their personal experience of applying to Oxford for their own subject.
Today’s post is written by Elle who studied Law at Magdalen College.
Hi! I’m Elle, and I’ve just finished my Law (Jurisprudence) degree at Magdalen College, Oxford and I’m about to start the BCL, which is a graduate level law degree. As a bit of background, I went to a state comprehensive secondary school and sixth form in East London, and come from a single parent, very low income family. I think Law (and Oxford, obviously) get a bit of a bad reputation in terms of being elite, but that’s not been my experience. That’s not to say Oxford is entirely representative of the real world, but I wasn’t a fish out of water either.
Thank you to Chiara for letting me write this on her wonderful blog 🙂
If you’re applying to Oxford, it’s true that your personal statement isn’t as important as it might be for other universities – but it’s important to (a) make sure it’s good, and (b) include things Oxford will like. There are 2 reasons for this: firstly, it’s ridiculous to think that tutors won’t read it, and who knows what factors help decide between two incredibly similar candidates? Secondly, some colleges do have an interview which is led by the personal statement. If you fill it with books you haven’t read and areas you don’t care about, that won’t be a fun interview.
My general advice would be 75% academic, 25% extra-curricular – you might get some advice saying 2/3 academic, 1/3 extra-curricular, but to keep it Oxford-friendly and impress the other universities you apply to, the 75-25 rule works much more effectively.
So what goes in the academic section? In short, why do you want to study law, and why would you be good at it? Here is a great place to include books you’ve read, work experience you might’ve done (which is by no means necessary), and areas of law that have sparked your interest.
‘What about Law’ was pretty much the only book I read – it’s written by some Cambridge law academics, and gives you a run down of the 8 core areas of law. Each area has a case study which is a simplified version of a real case – I loved it, and it made me confident that law was what I wanted to study. I specifically enjoyed the ‘Land Law’ section. So, in my personal statement, I explained why I found it interesting, and how that had solidified my intention to study law. And that’s my main piece of advice really – it’s all well and good doing work experience, or reading a book, but just saying it means nothing. You’ve got to explain why you liked something and why you think it’s so important.
Work experience isn’t a necessity for law, both at Oxford and any other university. Mention it if you’ve got it, but don’t worry if not – ultimately, it’s an academic course and doesn’t need to lead to a vocational career. As above, simply doing work experience isn’t enough – what did you learn from it, what skills did it give you that would make you a good law student, why did you enjoy it?
I did a shadowing scheme at Cambridge and went to the UNIQ Summer School at Oxford, so I also mentioned those. If you’re about to start Year 12, do look into Sutton Trust or UNIQ programmes, and check university websites – there are many that are completely free and specifically targeted at state school students. They give you a great taste into university life, and really confirm whether law is for you – this is my experience at least.
I also devoted a paragraph to explaining why my A-Levels would help make me an excellent law student. I have realised in hindsight that this is completely unnecessary, but might be useful if you do science subjects – they’re a little less of a logical precursor to studying law (but not rare at all). Really it wastes some characters and you can fit in much more useful things.
The extra-curricular side of things will depend on what you’ve done – mine focused on debating, my part-time job and leadership roles at school. Try to draw out the skills you’ve got from these things; Oxford don’t really care about your grade 8 piano certificate unless it gave you something more than just that piece of paper. Harsh, I know, but useful to know.
THE Law National APTITUDE TEST (LNAT)
Full disclosure: I did terribly on the LNAT. And that’s not me being self-deprecating – I got 17/42. The average is usually around 19-22, but many people who go to Oxford get above that. I didn’t.
The LNAT isn’t an Oxford-specific test, but the number of universities using it is decreasing so look that up before you apply. I only applied to 2 unis that used it (Oxford and Nottingham); Nottingham took the multiple-choice score much more seriously and rejected me on that basis.
From subsequent conversations with tutors, it sounds like the essay element is much more important at Oxford. Here, you get a choice of 3 questions and 750 words to answer it. the questions may not be law-related, but often refer to social debates. My advice here would be to focus on structure – answering clearly and in a defined structure shows you can form a good argument, and helps you to get a complex point across in so few words. Use examples where they fit, and try to use them creatively. What you say isn’t necessarily important, but how you argue is.
I don’t feel entirely qualified to advise on the multiple choice section given my low score, but where I likely fell down was in my failure to use the past papers. There are many on the LNAT website, and it’s for this reason that I don’t think it’s necessary to buy a book (I couldn’t afford one, but the past papers alone are the most useful resource). Simply by working through them you’ll get to know the structure of the passages and questions.
My advice for interviews is based on mine, which were all at Magdalen, and these will differ by college, but the purpose of them is the same wherever you’re interviewed.
Before: read what you say you read in your personal statement! Other than that, prep is up to you – I read some articles online, just about the state of the legal system and general articles aimed at prospective/current law students, but it’s all up to how you feel. Nothing is necessary, but it made me feel a little more chilled.
I ended up having 3 interviews – typically 2 are scheduled, and then you might get called back for more; try not to read into this, whatever happens. All colleges do things differently, and it’s impossible to tell what it might mean. In all of them I was given a legal material to read, and then many of the questions stemmed from that. Twice it was a small excerpt from a statute, and I also had a case – for the latter I was given an hour to read it and make notes, but the others I was simply given in the interview. Read these carefully, and don’t worry if you feel like it’s taking ages. Feel free to check these during the interview, if you feel like you’ve forgotten something – it’s not a memory test, and it can really help with your confidence.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to, within reason, think out loud. Sure, if you’re nervous and swearing in your head, maybe don’t say that (!), but your first thoughts and subsequent developments are so useful and really show the tutors how you think, which is really the point of the interview. Stick to your guns, but don’t be afraid to admit that there might be a better or more persuasive argument. The tutors will try to test you on this, so just make sure you think (and say!) all of the elements of the argument before you come to a decision.
Looking back, I came out of the interview feeling confused, but ultimately really energised – I enjoyed being tested academically, and knowing I’d been able to show how my brain worked was satisfying. Tutorials leave me feeling the same even now!
My final piece of advice would be that you don’t have to want to be a lawyer to study law – I know it seems like the logically ‘done’ thing, but I remain confused about what I’d like to pursue as a future career even now. I remain convinced, however, that law was absolutely the best thing for me to study. If you’re drawn to law, but don’t know what you’d like to end up doing, don’t worry – that was me 100%. Equally, if you definitely want to be a solicitor or a barrister, you don’t have to study law. it’s an intense academic course, and if you don’t enjoy at least some elements of it, I can see it being a drag. The Graduate Diploma in Law is equally as intense, but much shorter and less in-depth, which could suit you if you’re more of a History person in terms of study but want to end up practising law.
One Oxford-specific thing to be aware of is that we have a number of compulsory courses which aren’t compulsory elsewhere – we split Public Law into Constitutional and Administrative Law, Jurisprudence, which is philosophy of law, is a compulsory subject and in first year, you have to study Roman Law. I found Roman Law interesting, couldn’t bear Jurisprudence and preferred Admin to Constitutional Law – that’s just me. It is however something to keep in mind, although I wouldn’t say it’s a dealbreaker.
I hope some of this, at least, was helpful! Good luck with applications, and do get in touch with Chiara if you’d like to contact me further!