Five things we really want you to know about applying to Oxford

We look at thousands of your applications, references and questions every year — here’s our best advice on what to look out for when you apply for a graduate course.


Entrance to the Bodleian’s Weston Library | Photograph by John Cairns

1. Read everything before you start

Even if it’s tempting to get stuck into your application straight away, reading ahead will help you plan out what you need to do outside the form itself and avoid common mistakes.

Our full Application Guide is reviewed every year to make sure we’re up to date on the questions and worries we hear most.

Start from scratch

Applying for graduate study can be different from undergraduate in ways you might not expect, and every university you apply to can have different requirements and processes.

You already have an idea of roughly what a CV, transcript or personal statement should look like, but don’t skip our instructions on these — your documents might need to look quite different depending on which university and course you’re applying to.

For example, you can get transcripts in a huge range of formats so if you have your academic record ready to go, quickly double-check that we accept the document you have. If it’s not quite right, you’ll have more time to request a new one.

Give yourself the best start on your application

Going through the guidance for documents on your course page isn’t just about making sure your application is technically complete (although that’s important!).

Each academic department chooses their own guidance on what they want to see in your documents, and following their instructions carefully is the best way to make sure you’re actually giving them what they’re looking for in a successful application.

2. Talk to your referees

We’re here to answer your questions when you apply, but we also help your referees — here’s what we recommend to make it easier on both you and them:

To summarise:

  • Before you register anyone, you should tell the people that you want be your referees about your plans to apply and ask if they’re happy to submit a reference for you by the deadline.
  • Register your referees in the form as soon as they say yes. Try to give them at least a few weeks’ warning of your deadline, and more if you can. A good reference takes time, thought, and often some research to prepare.
  • After you register them, check in with your referees and make sure they have everything they need to apply, particularly our automated email with the instructions and link they need to submit.

3. Check for common mistakes

Your application is your first opportunity to show assessors you’ve got good organisational skills and pay attention to details.

Here’s a master list of small, easy-to-make mistakes we see really often — have a check through before you hit ‘Submit’:

  • Have you put the right institution (i.e. Oxford) everywhere? We know you’re likely to be applying to other universities and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but this is a really common mistake and you’ll come off as more focused and accurate in your application if you’ve proof-read for typos like this.
  • Have you uploaded the right version of your documents? Is there a Statement_FINAL_FINAL_V2.doc somewhere on your laptop, or are you happy with Statement_FINAL_FINAL_V1.doc? This is a really common mistake but you can’t always put it right if you realise too late.
  • Did you submit the same document twice? Unfortunately, uploading a personal statement instead of your transcript isn’t any better than not uploading a transcript when it comes to making sure your application is complete and ready for assessment. Take a careful, last look at all your documents.
  • Is your written work (if any) the right length? It’s easier for our staff and your assessors if you put an accurate word count at the top of your documents, and it’ll help you double-check it against your course requirements before you submit. Your course page will have guidance on what should be included in the count.

4. Only send what you need to

Think about who’s going to be looking at your application in the end — assessors are busy people who’ll see a lot of applications at once, so focus on what’s important and useful to someone who wants to know whether you’re going to do well on a postgraduate course.

The best way to communicate exactly what you want to (and expect to) through your documents is to be selective, clear and concise, following all the requirements on the course page.

Keep documents the right length

There’s really no need to include your whole thesis, or a 10-page CV. In the best case scenario, assessors are still really unlikely to read it (it wouldn’t be fair on other applications). At worst, your document might be rejected and you could end up with an incomplete application that’s never assessed.

Some things don’t need certifying

You don’t have to prove and document everything in your application with a transcript or certificate when you apply, just your university academic record and any test results specifically mentioned in the course entry requirements (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS, GRE).

You don’t need to send scans of your passport, first aid qualification, driving licence or swimming certificate (we’ll take your word for it) and you don’t need to send GRE or GMAT results if your course doesn’t ask for them.

The application form has a space to upload each of the documents we ask for, but nothing else — don’t be tempted to try to get around that by adding extra documents to the end of your transcripts or personal statement, as these get removed before your application goes to assessment.

5. Help us identify you and your documents

It’s much easier and quicker to communicate about your application and identify your documents if you’re consistent and clear with the name and email address you use.

Tell us what you prefer to be called

When you apply, make sure you let us know about any other names you’ve used before that could appear on your documents or be used by your referees.

If you often use a different first name, maybe a nickname or a different spelling of your formal name, you should also give details in your application when you apply, especially if your referees usually use it when they speak to you.

Always use the same email address

Your data security is important to us and we need to make sure that we only talk about your application with you.

If you send us an email, do it from the address in your application. If you’ve got a really urgent problem or question you need help with, the last thing you’ll want is a delay whilst we make sure you’re actually you.

Get ready for graduate applications

You can find our detailed Application Guide, course pages and step-by-step guide to applying for graduate study on the University of Oxford website:



Graduate Study at Oxford
Applying for graduate study at Oxford

A perspective on masters’, DPhil (PhD) and other graduate courses from Graduate Admissions at the University of Oxford