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, traditional written submission. The essay’s prompt gives applicants the leeway to share whatever additional information they believe the school needs to fully evaluate them, so they do not have to adhere any particular topic, though the 250-word limit might feel restrictive for some candidates. However, Oxford also requires applicants to complete an online assessment involving several video questions and an on-the-spot mini essay. We imagine that most candidates would much prefer to write a second essay over contending with videos and spontaneous queries, but Oxford applicants should embrace this opportunity to showcase themselves in a more dynamic way for the admissions committee. In our full analysis, we provide 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.
Oxford Saïd 2023–2024 Essay Tips
Mandatory statement: Please provide a personal statement that outlines anything additional that you would like the admissions committee to consider. (Maximum 250 words)
This essay prompt is worded much differently than the school’s first essay prompt for last year, but it essentially asks for the same type of information. Interestingly, in our previous essay analysis, we noted that if a candidate was not paying close attention as they read through Oxford Saïd’s application information, they could accidentally interpret the prompt as one for a standard optional essay, given that the phrasing was almost verbatim what we see from other schools as an add-on essay invitation. This season, however, the admissions committee has tightened and clarified the wording—even adding “mandatory statement” at the beginning—to avoid any such possible misinterpretation.
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 separate optional essay opportunity with which to do so. However, because this is an essay that all applicants must submit, your goal is to provide some key additional information here for the admissions committee 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 committee to know to be able 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, impressive accomplishment, or unique ability (or something else altogether). As always, take time to consider everything the admissions committee will already be able to learn about you via the other parts of your application, from your statistics and resume to your recommenders’ contributions. With this essay, you want to round out that information in a positive way that pushes your candidacy forward in the direction of acceptance.
Even though this submission is not optional, we still recommend downloading a free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide. 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 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 Oxford 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 the additional, non-MBA master’s degree is necessary for you. If you hope to participate in this program, you will need to help the school understand exactly why and how doing so 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 intend to apply that learning, you have no room to be vague. 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 time since your previous application to do so, because earning a Saïd MBA is important 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 are presented in the best light possible.
Online assessment: To virtually get to know you and see how you think on your feet, you will need to complete an online assessment as part of your application. This comprises:
– Two motivation-based questions – all candidates will answer the same questions
– One competency-based question – this will be randomised
– Written response – this will be randomised and light-hearted
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 question will allow you to demonstrate the skills and qualities we look for, such as decision-making, problem-solving, influence, leadership, and strong communication skills.
Once you have submitted your 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. You can complete this any time before the application stage deadline in which you wish to apply.
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—and spontaneous ones, in particular—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 video questions like these are not intended to trip you up or entice you to do or say anything that would immediately disqualify you from consideration. Video submissions are most often merely 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 … 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 one “competency” question, 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 suggest using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method when responding to this question to ensure that your answer includes all the relevant information the admissions committee seeks. Take time 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 this question 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 recommend 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 might 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 committee 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 to 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.