Oxford University (Saïd Business School) Essay Analysis, 2020–2021

Oxford University (Saïd Business School)The Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford takes a rather minimalist approach to application essays, asking its candidates to compose only one short (250-word), traditional written submission. And the prompt gives candidates the leeway to share whatever additional information they believe the school needs to fully evaluate them, so they are not restricted by any particular topic. However, Oxford also requires applicants to complete an online assessment involving several video questions and an on-the-spot mini essay. We imagine most candidates would much prefer writing a second essay over contending with videos and spontaneous queries, but Oxford’s applicants should embrace this opportunity to showcase themselves in a more dynamic way for the admissions committee. Read on for our guidance on approaching Oxford Saïd’s single essay question and online assessment, as well as its separate prompts for 1+1 MBA candidates and reapplicants.

Tell us something that is not covered in your application which you would like the Admissions Committee to know about you. (Maximum 250 words)

If you are not paying close attention as you read through Oxford Saïd’s application information (though of course, you are, right?), you might accidentally interpret this question as a standard optional essay prompt. The wording may understandably give some applicants this initial impression, given that it is almost verbatim what we have seen from other schools as an add-on essay invitation, but in this case, the essay is required, so this is not a mistake you want to make. Perhaps Saïd is hoping to check candidates’ attention to detail with this query?  

If you have a notable problem or issue in your candidacy, this might be the right place to address it, given that the school does not offer a typical, separate optional essay opportunity with which to do so. However, because this is an essay that all applicants must submit, you must provide some key additional information here for the school to use in deciding whether to include you in its next incoming class, even if your profile is free of questionable components. You will therefore need to determine what is most important for the admissions committee to know to evaluate you thoroughly and fairly, whether that is the story behind a seemingly unfavorable part of your application or whether it is one about a significant learning experience or impressive accomplishment (or something else altogether). As always, take time to consider everything the admissions committee will already be able to learn about you from the other parts of your application, from your statistics and resume to your recommenders’ contributions. The goal here is to round out that information in a positive way that pushes your candidacy forward in the direction of acceptance. 

Even though this piece is not optional, we still recommend downloading a free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide to help you prepare. It might help you in determining whether or not you should write this essay on a problem area/issue (or perhaps which one, if your candidacy somehow includes multiple questionable elements), and if so, the advice and many examples within will direct you in how to do so most effectively. 

If you are applying under the 1+1 scheme you also need to submit the following essay:

Explain why you see this as particularly beneficial for you and how it fits with your career and personal development aims. (Maximum 250 words)

For this essay, Saïd provides a very straightforward prompt. Oxford has created an innovative two-year program through which you can earn two master’s degrees simultaneously. But the school has a simple request first—explain why you want/need that non-MBA master’s degree. If you hope to participate in this program, you will need to help the school understand exactly why and how it will affect your career. With a mere 250 words in which to detail precisely how the 1+1 program will contribute to your management education and where you will apply that learning, you have no room to be vague. You must clearly demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between the dual-degree program and the achievement of your goals. Your underlying message needs to be readily comprehensible: “I will complete X degree, which will benefit me by manifesting in Y part of my career.” 

Re-applicants will need to submit an additional essay: What improvements have you made in your candidacy since you last applied to the Oxford MBA? (Maximum 250 words) 

Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or accepted some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Saïd wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Saïd MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.

Online assessment: You will need to complete five questions via our online assessment platform.

To virtually meet you, get a sense of your personality and see how you think on your feet, you will need to complete an online assessment as part of your application:

  • Two motivation-based questions – all candidates will answer the same questions
  • Two competency-based questions – these will be randomised
  • Written response – this will be randomised and light-hearted to show us how you can think on your feet!

The motivation-based questions give you the opportunity to demonstrate your motivations for undertaking an MBA and why the Oxford MBA is the right programme for you. The competency-based questions let you demonstrate the skills and qualities we look for, such as decision-making, problem-solving, influence, leadership, and strong communication skills. 

After starting an application for either the Oxford MBA or Oxford 1+1 MBA you will see a link in your application status portal. This will enable you to register with Kira Talent, our online assessment platform, and complete your assessment. This link will appear up to 24 hours after starting your application, therefore we strongly encourage you to leave yourself enough time to practice and complete the online assessment by the deadline in which you are applying.

You will be provided with preparation time and practice sessions before going live with your real responses. The whole online assessment should only take up to 30 minutes for you to complete. All you need is a desktop or laptop computer with a functioning webcam, microphone and internet connection.

We know that required videos often strike fear into the hearts of business school candidates, but let us reassure you a bit about this component of the Oxford application process, so you can relax and put your best self forward. First of all, keep in mind that these kinds of video questions are not intended to trip you up or entice you to do or say anything that would get you immediately disqualified from consideration. Video submissions most often are opportunities for the admissions committee to put a “face,” so to speak, on your written application and learn a little more about your personality, energy level, communication style, and other such intangibles. In reference to the video component, the school’s admissions FAQs page even states outright, “There are no right or wrong answers, and this isn’t a test. It’s just a way for us to get a glimpse into you and your personality and help to let you stand out as the unique candidate that you are!” If you focus on being authentic and sincere, you will provide the admissions committee with exactly what it is seeking. Thankfully, the Kira platform is set up so that you can practice an unlimited number of times, so you will not have to go into this portion of the application cold. This is a valuable opportunity that we cannot encourage you enough to make the most of.

To start, you will need to respond to two “motivation” questions, which will be the same for all applicants. Although the school does not present outright exactly what these questions will be, it does explain that it is interested in the “whys” behind your application and offers on its FAQs page the sample question “Why is an MBA the next step for you to further for your career?” We assume from the prompt that the other question would then naturally be some version of “Why do you want to earn your MBA from Oxford specifically?” (You might also want to be prepared to answer the query “Why is now the right time to get your MBA?” just in case.) You will be given one minute in which to prepare your answer and 90 seconds to record it. Because these topics are common elements of a traditional personal statement, we encourage you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which explains how best to prepare for and respond to questions related to these subjects and offers multiple illustrative examples.

You will also be required to answer two “competency” questions, which will be drawn from a group of options and will therefore vary for each candidate. Judging from the school’s proffered example—”Take a minute to tell us about a time where you’ve overcome a challenging situation, either professionally or personally. What was your approach to resolving the situation?”—these appear to be in the vein of typical interview questions. We recommend using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method when responding to these questions to ensure that your answers include all the relevant information the admissions committee seeks. So be sure to do some research on what this technique entails, and make it a central part of your practice efforts. You will be given 45 seconds to prepare your answer to these questions and one minute in which to respond. For sample questions you can use to practice, consider downloading a free copy of the mbaMission Interview Guide, in which we present a list of 100 common interview queries.

We suggest practicing in front of a mirror to exercise maintaining a pleasant and natural expression as you speak and timing yourself to ensure your answers do not tend to run long. Although you can prepare as much as you want, you will have only one chance to record your response(s) when you do the official interview. If you stumble while answering or ultimately are unhappy with your answer, unfortunately, you will not be able to rerecord anything or try again another time. This may make you nervous, but we encourage you to view the situation a little differently. As we have noted, Oxford wants to get to know the real you through these video essays. If you fumble for words or lose your train of thought, just laugh or shrug and continue with your response. Accepting a mistake with a sense of humor and grace will give the admissions committee a more positive and natural impression of your personality than rigid scripting and overpreparation ever could.

The final portion of the online assessment involves a written response to a query the admissions FAQs page describes as “light-hearted,” offering as an example “Apples are more versatile than bananas. Discuss.” Because truly preparing in advance for such a casual and nonpersonal prompt is largely impossible, this is the question that will give the admissions committee the best impression of how you improvise and perform extemporaneously, as well as communicate clearly under pressure. Focus a little less on trying to write a serious treatise and more on being authentic to your personality and letting a bit of your creative side shine through—though be sure to stay on topic and actually provide an answer the question! You will be given five minutes to craft your response, which the FAQs page notes should allow you to write up to 500 words. If you want to practice for this part, ask a friend or family member to Google “silly questions,” or “funny” or “random” ones (a quick search brought up such examples as “Is cereal soup?” and “If animals could talk, which would be the rudest?”), and choose some for you. Then give yourself five minutes in which to formulate and type up a response to each. This will give you a feel for how much time five minutes really is, how much you can generally write in that period, and how well you are able to develop a mini essay that both provides a clear answer and is reflective of your personal style.

Business schools outside the United States are increasingly popular among MBA hopefuls, and we at mbaMission are proud to offer our latest publications: International Program Guides. In these snapshots we discuss core curriculums, elective courses, locations, school facilities, rankings, and more. Click here to download your free copy of the Saïd Business School Program Guide.

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