The graduate admissions process is designed to ensure transparency, objectivity and consistency in selecting the most able from among the many excellent applicants to Oxford and in the process ensuring attention to equal opportunities and diverse needs.
A useful resource is the Graduate Admissions and Funding Online Handbook since it provides detailed information on all aspects of the admissions process. Currently, there are three main application deadlines (November, January, and March) after which some departments may continue to accept applicants.
Other useful background resources:
- See Admission of Students with Disabilities and the Integrated Equality Policy for guidance on the avoidance of unfair discrimination;
- See the Online Graduate Studies Prospectus for the information provided to students.
- The UK's Quality Assurance Agency have produced, jointly with the National Union of Students, The UK doctorate: a guide for current and prospective doctoral candidates. This document explains doctoral qualifications available in the UK in terms of the nature of the degree, routes into doctoral study, funding and finance, and the experience of doing a UK doctorate. It is likely to be useful for UK-based students as well as international ones to increase their understanding of what a doctoral degree is.
Ideas and tools
There are multiple challenges in admissions selection processes as there are with any assessment decisions. Interviewers are attempting to bring as much rigour as possible to what is still ultimately a judgement. Rigour can be addressed in a number of ways – taking into account, for instance, personal bias, the context, applicants’ personal circumstance that may influence them at the time of the interview. Online self-study materials are available to address these issues including relevant legislation, University principles underlying the admissions process, and exercises to practice different aspects of the selection process.
Use your Oxford email address to access the guidance materials by creating an account on the Learning Institute's courses website. Go to Graduate Admissions Assessors and Admissions Staff Guidance.
Generally, the interviewing process can be viewed as constituting three elements:
1. Pre-interview planning:
- review criteria;
- agree relation of criteria to the interview;
- ensure questions address the criteria: It may be useful to create scenarios describing situations you know postgraduate students face. This facilitates easier comparison across applicants;
- agree on ranking scale;
- review questions that may not be asked.
2. The actual interview:
- ensure sufficient scheduling between interviews so that neither interviewers nor students feel rushed.
- allow sufficient time between interviews to review the process and make notes;
- make independent judgments in relation to the criteria and ranking scale before discussion;
- agree on consensus rating ensuring that the principle reasons for acceptance and rejection are recorded.
Insights from research and literature
Postgraduate admissions has been researched internationally for several decades; much of this research is in the fields of psychology and medicine. Issues addressed include:
- the range of sources of evidence used in making admissions decisions;
- the importance of ensuring criteria assessed align with the curriculum;
- ensuring sources of admissions evidence are well aligned with the criteria so there is adequate evidence for a decision;
- creating mechanisms to increase validity and reliability.
As regards the role of interviewing in admissions, research suggests that it enables the assessment of criteria not easily assessed from other sources, e.g. letters of reference, CV, research proposal. In particular it highlights personal traits and qualities such as interpersonal and communication skills, critical thinking, self-appraisal, integrity, potential as a future colleague. In this manner, the interview broadens the scope of assessment beyond academic achievement as measured in transcripts and standardized tests. In using interviews, the research evidence is clear that setting clear criteria, developing a structured interview protocol and training interviewers enhances reliability.
An interesting approach is the ‘multiple mini-interview’ in which there are a series of ‘stations.’ In each, one examiner and the applicant address only one aspect of the interview in a very short period with the applicant then moving on to another station. The results suggest the value of collecting ratings across multiple people spread over multiple interviews rather than by increasing the number of raters in one interview (Eva et al, 2009). This method has found to reduce the effect of chance and interviewer bias and was also more cost effective than traditional interview panels (Eva et al, 2004).
The above text was based on:
Albanese, M., Snow, M., Skochelak, S., Huggett, K., & Farrell, P. (2003). Assessing personal qualities in medical school admissions, Academic Medicine, 78(3), 313-321.
Eva, K., Rosenfeld, J., Reiter, H., & Norman, G. (2004). An admissions OSCE: The multiple mini-interview, Medical Education, 38(3), 314-326.
Eva, K., Reiter, H., Wasi, P., Rosenfeld, J., & Norman, G. (2009). Predictive validity of the multiple mini-interview for selecting medical trainees, Medical Education, 43(8), 767-775.
Patrick, L., Altmaier, E., Kuperman, S., & Ugolini, K. (2001). A structured interview for medical school admission, phase 1: Initial procedures and results, Academic Medicine, 76(1), 66-71.
Salvatori, P. (2001). Reliability and validity of admissions tools used to select students for the health professions, Advances in Health Sciences Education, 6(2), 159-175.
Acknowledgements: Created July 2011 by Lynn McAlpine, Oxford Learning Institute.