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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

September 06, 2010

Oxford Said Fall 2011 Admission

For Fall 2011 admission, I have somewhat revised my post on the Oxford Said Business School MBA application essay questions from my previous post. I have taken the questions from the Online Application.

SHORTER ESSAYS:  The only thing that has changed is the length of the essays.  Essay 1 was 1000 words maximum and now is 750 words maximum.  Essay 2 was 2000 words maximum and now is 1000 words maximum.  

THERE IS MORE THAN JUST THE TWO ESSAYS DISCUSSED BELOW: Also do keep in mind that the Oxford application form contains significant space to write "essay like" content:

-FOR EACH PROFESSIONAL POSITION: 5000 characters maximum
-HOBBIES: 7900 characters maximum.

My clients have found it helpful to make full use of this space provided.  Considering that Oxford takes a CV as well, there is really plenty of room here to highlight ones professional accomplishments in ways that can't be fully accounted for in the two essays below.

Oxford has two essay questions.

1)Explain why you chose your current job. How do you hope to see your career developing over the next five years? How will an MBA assist you in the development of these ambitions? Maximum 750 words. 
The question actually breaks intro three parts, so we will look at each piece.

"Explain why you chose your current job."
I think without being explicit about it, Oxford is engaging in a bit of behavioral questioning here. Behavioral questions (See my analysis of MIT for more about this topic) are based on the idea that past behavior is the best guide to future behavior.  By understanding your rationale for taking your most recent job, Oxford can gain some insight into how you make choices. If they can understand how you make choices about jobs, they gain some insight into how you make other kinds of choices; About your career goals, why you want an MBA, and why you want one from Said.  To provide an effective answer you need to explain what motivated you to take your current position.  Multiple motivations are fine.  The important thing is that you provide an explanation for your decision, not a summary of all your professional experiences.    
Bad answers to this part of Booth's question will either take the form of general summaries of past professional experience or even an overall interpretation of one's past experience. Said wants an analysis of your decision, not an analysis of all of the wonderful things you have learned from your past work.  Of course you will likely need to refer to a position (or positions) prior to the most recent one, but that does not mean that you should summarize those positions.  You would discuss such experience(s) only in order to explain why you chose your most recent position. 

"How do you hope to see your career developing over the next five years?"
Oxford Essay 1 is a completely practical question. Unlike schools like Stanford that ask about the applicant's "career aspirations", Oxford is looking for something more grounded and more specific: A FIVE YEAR PLAN. Note the ambiguity in the question itself, the plan maybe written from the perspective of the present or from the perspective of after one finishes the MBA. I advise clients to treat it as as post-MBA five year plan as I think that is implied by the presence of the third part of the question ("How will an MBA assist you in the development of these ambitions?"), but I would not insist on that. I think most applicants should treat it as a post-MBA five year plan, but if you prefer integrating the MBA directly into the plan, that is fine.

A plan is practical. It has details. It shows you have really thought about what you want to do. It shows you have done research about your intended future employer and/or future entrepreneurial venture. It shows you are realistic. That does not mean that it should be boring or lack ambition, but it does mean that it has to rise beyond a level of mere abstraction. Treat it as seriously as you would treat a memo to your boss on the future direction of your department, a proposal to a client on an expensive project, or a business plan. Make sure you show how Oxford fits the plan. If you can't establish a tight connection between your plan and Oxford, either apply somewhere else or change your plan. And remember as long as you can speak effectively about your plan in an interview, the second after you are admitted, you have no obligation to stick to that plan.

"How will an MBA assist you in the development of these ambitions?"
While this question does not say an "MBA from Said," I would urge you to assume that.
In this part of the question you need to explain why you need an MBA from Said. To really answer this question you need to know about Oxford. Fullly investigate what the program offers and how it will best help you.  BIG HINT: Find one or more professors and/or research focus areas at Oxford that really meet your needs as well as discussing more general aspects of the MBA program. 

 Which recent development, world event or book has most influenced your thinking and why? Maximum 1,000 words.
This is "The Oxford Question" and just as Essay 1 is highly practical, this one is the place to think great thoughts, to show your personality, and to establish you fit at a school known for centuries as one of the great centers of scholarship. Over the years, I have worked with great applicants who used this question successfully to win admission to Oxford. For Fall 2010, I had two clients admitted and in Fall 2009, I had five clients admitted. You can find testimonials from four of them here
In addition, I had the opportunity to work with additional admits on their Oxford interviews. Each told their own story. The things that were common to all, was a willingness to take on a big subject and to show their connection to it.

THE RELEVANCE TEST: A great answer here will be on something relevant to why Oxford should admit you:
- A concept or value that has influenced a major decision(s) you have made in your life
-An important aspect of the way you view an issue critical to your goals
-Your commitment to something greater than your own personal interest
-Your inner intellectual life
-Your ethical values
-Some other aspect of who you are that will compel admissions to want to interview you

A number of clients have successfully written on a recent development.  Obviously the impact of a recent development is much more time-limited than a world event or book. Your ability to integrate such a development- technological, environmental, cultural, political, economic, academic or social most likely- into your own experience can be a great way to show Oxford how you think about the changing world around you.  I have noticed that this topic seems to really easily connect to goals and can make for some of the most effective essays that I have read.

While many recent developments are world events, not all world events are recent developments.  Did some world event in the past deeply impact your thinking?  If so, what was it?   This topic can work extremely well if you want to focus your essay on showing how something in the past impacted you.  This topic will likely make it possible for you to easily integrate your experiences into the essay.

In many ways I consider this to be the most difficult topic to write on because it involves a question of taste.  You really need to think seriously about what sort of book is appropriate.  Based on working with clients, I suggest you select something that fits well with Oxford.  If the previous sentence is not specific enough, you need to learn more about the academic culture of the place.  Serious literature,  serious non-fiction, academic texts,  and classics are likely to be more effective than popular fiction,  popular business, self-help, or other popular non-fiction.  If  I sound like I am being a snob, it is because, at least based on what I can determine from working with a variety of clients, it is in your interest to follow my snob advice!  Know your audience and act accordingly.  This is not supposed to be a book report, so focus on directly connecting specific aspect(s) of a book to your thinking and most likely your actions.

The thing that has influenced you is less important then how it is has influenced you.  A good answer will focus less on the recent development, world event, or book and more on its impact on you. Focus on those aspects of the development, world event, or book that specifically impacted you. Show how it has done so.

Make certain that your explanation of the recent development, world event, or book is very clear as Oxford is using this question to determine your ability to analyze something. Be precise in your explanation and do not assume the reader has extensive knowledge of the subject. Even if the subject is well known, say "9/11" in the US, it would still be critical that you explain the exact impact of particular aspects of that event had on you.

Finally, effective answers are always personal.  You may or may not be able to write about your accomplishments here, don't worry as long as it clearly helps Oxford admissions understand why they should interview you.

English Requirements at Oxford
Please see my earlier post on TOEFL and IELTS requirements for Oxford hereTake these requirements seriously because it seems to be clearly the case that Oxford is not making any exceptions to the minimums (TOEFL 109, IELTS 7.5) that were imposed on Said last year.   Said now joins HBS in having the highest English minimum test scores.

Questions? Contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. If you are looking for a highly experienced admissions consultant who is passionate about helping his clients succeed, please feel free to contact me at adammarkus@gmail.com to arrange an initial consultation. To learn more about my services, see here. Initial consultations are conducted by Skype or telephone. For clients in Tokyo, a free face-to-face consultation is possible after an initial Skype or telephone consultation. I only work with a limited number of clients per year and believe that an initial consultation is the best way to determine whether there is a good fit. Whether you use my service or another, I suggest making certain that the fit feels right to you.

-Adam Markus
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