How to get in to your top choice university in 2015


There’s a lot of information online about how to increase your chances of getting into University. Econ At Uni is different because all of our advice and tips are super focused on economics and business courses (and even relevant for psychology, geography etc.). What’s more is that everything here is written by someone who has successfully studied at their top choice university. Most of the posts are by an Oxford Economics & Management graduate written during and after his application.

So without further ado…

How can I make the most of this website?

Given that we’re in early September right now, you have plenty of time to prepare. This means not only working on your application but working on yourself.

First things first you should understand how the application system works in the UK and how to pick the right course (if you don’t know already). Next, you’ve still got time to do some reading which will help you write a stronger personal statement and excel in interviews.

  1. Help on choosing the right course to study at university
  2. If you’re an international student or don’t know how applications work in the UK, here’s a guide to the UK university application process
  3. You’ve got plenty of time to work on yourself before/while you are writing your personal statement. This means get reading and start finding out what really interests you about the subject(s) you want to study at University. To get started look at the reading list on the left of this page. And see the following three links for books I’ve previously recommended students to read: one | two | three

If you’d like some tailored advice on how to make the most of the next 2-3 months before your application is submitted, feel free to book a mentoring session where a past Oxford/Cambridge economics graduate will answer your questions and help you decide how best to prepare.

Ready to write your personal statement?

  1. Before you even start writing your personal statement, check out the Personal Statement Guide which has successfully helped many students write the strongest personal statement possible.
  2. For background on what a personal statement is, read this post on writing a personal statement which sets the scene for probably the most time consuming part of your application.
  3. Once you’ve thought about the contents and started to put pen to paper, it’s time to think about how to structure your personal statement.

Applying to Oxford or Cambridge University (Oxbridge)?

  1. Oxford and Cambridge podcasts – surprisingly few applicants will have listened to/watched these so get ahead of the curve and absorb all the useful nuggets of information they provide.
  2. You’ll have to sit the TSA which is an additional exam for certain courses (such as Economics & Management at Oxford). To get a head start, see our post on preparing for the TSA and other critical thinking tests.

Is there anything else you’d like guidance on? Just leave a comment below or contact us.

Note: image used is from Flickr user ralph and jenny

20 questions you should prepare for Economics and Management interviews

Oxford and Cambridge will soon be sending out invitations to interview for Economics, Economics and Management, PPE, Geography and other courses. Once you have checked out the Interview Briefing and the Economics Crash Course Revision Guide, make sure you can answer questions you are likely to be asked.

You’ll have to spend some time thinking about such questions and they will often lead on from what you have written in your personal statement. To get you started, look at the 20 sample economics, management and general interview questions below.

Personal, Economics and Management Interview Questions

      1. Why this University?
      2. Why this course?
      3. Why have you chosen the subjects you have at school/college?
      4. Apart from your studies, what else do you plan to do while you are here?
      5. How have you developed your interest in economics/chosen subject outside of your curriculum?
      6. What options might you take if you study this course here?
      7. What do you expect to gain from studying here?
      8. What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
      9. Why do organisations exist? [Management]
      10. What is economics fundamentally the study of? [Economics]
      11. What is management about? [Management]
      12. Will studying management make you a good manager? [Management]
      13. Do you subscribe to either the Keynesian or Classical schools of economic thought? [Economics]
      14. What is the contribution of John Maynard Keynes to economics? [Economics]
      15. Is economics an art or a science? [Economics]
      16. Are economics models too abstract to be valuable in practice? [Economics]
      17. What determines the size of a firm? [Management and Economics]
      18. Because of the internet, the role of marketers is far less important. (Discuss) [Management]
      19. How might a firm choose between mutually exclusive opportunities? [Management]
      20. Is the assumption of rational behaviour in the study of economics realistic? [Economics]

Feel you don’t quite know how to answer some of these questions? Book a mentoring session with us or if you’re confident enough, try a mock interview. You can see more Econ At Uni posts about interviews and Oxbridge entry to aid your interview preparation further.


Management at University – a taster.

ford assembly line model tManagement At University – what is it?

While it is possible to study many course subjects before you get to university, this isn’t always the case for a subject like management. The closest you can get is probably A-Level Business Studies but even this is very different and lacks the academic rigour with which you will study management at most universities.

So here’s an example of an article that’s been in the news recently and caught my eye because of the importance of this topic in management. By the way – don’t be put off if this topic isn’t you cup of tea. The diversity of topics you can study in a management degree is amazing and this is just one particular topic you might study. It’s very different to other management topics such as long tail (marketing), double entry (accounting), culture and so on.

Here’s the article: Amazon workers face ‘increased risk of mental illness’ (BBC News)

Factory conditions at Ford and links to Amazon

Most management students will be familiar with the work of Henry Ford (started Ford Motor Co. in 1903) and his pioneering work on assembly line manufacturing. Before Ford started making cars, most cars were produced as a unit – i.e. a team of workers works on each car. However, at Ford’s early plants, each worker would do the same task over and over again – so instead of completing various tasks to build 5 cars a day, a single worker would 100 car doors to 100 cars in his day. This allowed Ford to reduce the price of the famous Model T from $850 in 1909, to $450 in 1915 and then to $260 in the 1920s.

Continue reading ‘Management at University – a taster.’ »

Prepare for interviews with our briefing on executive pay (hot topic!)

interview briefing oxbridge

Interviews may be a month away but there’s no better time to start preparing than now – especially because you are often given only a few days of prior notice! To make preparing easier, Econ At Uni lets you download interview briefings – these are reports on a specific topic (in this case executive pay, which refers to CEO and bankers’ salaries and bonuses) that has received a lot of media attention.


This briefing is based on the Guardian article titled ‘Three Ways to Tackle High Executive Pay‘ which is similar to the kinds of articles you may be presented during your interview or 15 minutes before your interview for you to prepare and be ready to discuss when you start interviewing. You will learn how to dissect the author’s line of argument and form your own opinions on the issue so that you can discuss the topic with the interviewer in a confident and well-reasoned manner.

This briefing will tell you about:

  • The background to the issue and links to news article on the topic
  • Why it has become hotly debated – arguments on both sides
  • How to develop a critical skill (e.g. quickly analysing articles as you may be required to do as part of the interview process)
  • The theories and academic concepts that underlie real world issues
  • Possible interview questions on bankers bonuses and how to answer them
  • Further reading ideas to deepen your knowledge

You can view screenshots of the first two pages of the briefing below and when you’re ready download the briefing for just 99p.

Can you give me a framework for answering TSA essay questions? (Reader Question)

confused tsa essay structure

Following the recent post about how to prepare for the TSA exam, I have been asked if there is a framework that can be applied to answering TSA essay questions (Section 2) in which you have 30 minutes to write a short essay.

While there is no one size fits all framework, you can use the following tips to focus your thoughts, relax and write a well structured answer to most TSA essay questions.

1) Most TSA questions can be interpreted as proposing a solution to an (implied) problem
2) Clear up any terms open to interpretation
3) Consider PESTEL factors
4) Compare not only the relative effectiveness of different solutions, but also the feasibility of implementing them


A) Should Parking Fines Be Based on the Driver’s Income?

Implied problem: parking fines can often be ignored by wealthier drivers because the amount of the fine is too small to change their behaviour and provide a strong incentive to obey parking rules.

Proposed solution: link the value of the fine to the driver’s income.

Clear up definitions: what is being measured as part of income?

PESTEL and feasibility: would alternative ways of determining parking fines (e.g. by size of car) be feasible to implement?
[Social] would linking parking fines to income (or not doing so) have a disporportionate effect on a particular segment of society (e.g. the poor)?
[Environmental] Are there better ways of determining parking fines – such as by environmental friendliness of the car?

B) Should governments only fund scientific research if it is of direct benefit to society?

Implied problem: government spending on scientific research that does not have a direct benefit to society could be more effective if spent on something else.

Proposed solution: governments should only fund scientific research that does have direct benefits to society.

Clear up definitions: what is mean by ‘direct benefit to society’? How can research be characterised according to this

PESTEL & feasibility: is it always possible to objectively determine if particular research is a direct benefit to society?
[Economic/Social] Would research that is not directly beneficial to society have significant indirect benefits (e.g. space exploration)? Will this type of research still be funded by private agents?

Final Thoughts: Note that this is one way of thinking about TSA essay questions that I have found especially effective – it is not a definitive guide to answering questions and it may or may not work for you and the questions on your exam.

If you are looking for tips on part 1 (TSA maths and logic questions), I recommend Thinking Skills by Geoff Thwaites and John Butterworth, as well as TSA past papers for practice.


Do you have more questions? Leave a comment below.

How to prepare for the TSA and other ‘Critical Thinking’ tests


Many courses require candidates to sit a critical thinking assessment. This is true not only for Oxbridge  (Economics courses will generally require you to have sat the TSA) but also for courses such as mathematics (STEP) and medicine (BMAT). Indeed, even if you choose to do a Masters course such as an MBA you will probably need to sit a test like this.

So how can you maximise your chances?

In this article, the primary focus will be on the TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) required by Oxford and some colleges at Cambridge. However, many of the points will apply just as well to other critical thinking assessments.

The following Oxford courses require the TSA (for Cambridge here’s the 2015 list – PDF):

  • Economics and Management
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Geography
  • Philosophy and Linguistics
  • Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)
  • Psychology and Linguistics
  • Psychology and Philosophy.

The TSA consists of a writing task and a critical thinking task

For Oxford the test is split into 2 sections. Section 1 is the critical thinking component – you have 90 minutes for 50 multiple choice questions. So that’s less than 2 minutes per question. The first 10-20 will take you far less whereas towards the end the difficulty increases and you might find yourself needing more than 2 minutes.

The second section is the writing task. You have 30 minutes to write a short essay. The essay topics vary and you will be given a choice out of at least three. Past topics have been:

  • Should convicted criminals be allowed to vote?
  • Should we have a right to choose when and how we die?
  • Does a country’s ideal political system depend on its level of economic development?
  • Could a robot ever think like a human?
  • Do patent laws encourage or hinder development?
  • Do coalitions necessarily adopt policies which unite party leaders but alienate party followers?
  • Is the general understanding of science damaged by the way it is presented in the media?
  • Should governments only fund scientific research if it is of direct benefit to society?

In each paper, you will find that some topics lend themselves to economics more naturally than others. In this case, its point 3 (economic development), point 5 (patents), final point (scientific research).

tsa preparation book

For critical thinking, one book will have you covered

From my own experience as well as that of my peers this is you handbook for the maths/logic based critical thinking section.

Thinking Skills by John Butterworth and Geoff Thwaites is the only book I used for TSA preparation – though I did work through it from start to end. It helps largely for the maths and logic section.

You can buy it on Amazon

For the essay section, this is how you can prepare

There is no substitute for practice! Start writing with no time limit imposed so that you can prepare thoughtful, comprehensive essays (max. 1200 words) initially before working to do the same in the 30 minute time limit. Take a look at the essay questions in past TSA papers and prepare answers for one or two questions from each paper and have an experienced teacher or Oxbridge mentor mark them. Failing than, find a former Oxford or Cambridge student (or someone who has sat the test and been made an offer) to read over your answer – they should still be able to give you a good idea of where you can improve and feedback on your communication, structure, arguments and logic and language used.


Make sure your sentences are clear and easy to understand. Avoid using sentences that are too long – ensure that the reader will be able to read and understand your arguments easily.


  • Introduction: Define any terms that are open to interpretation (e.g. patent laws, development) and prepare the reader for the arguments you will later make by outlining each of them in sentence.
  • Arguments: Aim to make 3 distinct arguments. For example, for the patents topic, if your view is that patents encourage development, the arguments could be: i) patent laws provide an incentive for investment in R&D and this enriches quality of life (i.e. development); ii) patent licenses only last for a finite amount of time so counter-arguments about cost and quality for the consumer are only valid for a limited time (i.e. benefits are eventually widespread); iii) patents help smaller companies to create jobs because they increase security on near-future prospects for these companies (i.e. more employment is created)
  • Conclusion: Summarise the arguments you have made in a sentence. Discuss their inter-relatedness. Discuss the importance of context (i.e. patent laws encourage development as long as the following conditions are met…). Do not make any radically new points but do discuss further research and arguments you also consider important but could not fully examine in the allocated time.

Arguments & Logic

This is of course dependent on the essay topic but the general rule of thumb is to prioritise arguments which you have the highest chance of defending. Spend 5 minutes planning your arguments before you start writing your answer. It helps a lot when it comes to writing the essay – a good investment of your limited time. There are broadly three types of argument you can make – philosophy/ethics [it is immoral to…], theories [this causes growth because it increases consumption], and current knowledge [cars are already taxed according to their carbon emissions, so there is no need to link parking fines to emissions too]. As an economist, I’m most comfortable with theories and current knowledge.


Typical written communication and essay rules apply here. Remember to use formal language (i.e. don’t use abbreviations – write out “it is” instead of “it’s”). If English isn’t your first language consider getting someone who is a native speaker to review your language.

Working through the Thinking Skills book and practising essays (and taking on board feedback!) should mean that you are well placed to sit the TSA and do well. Remember that TSA marks are often considered in conjunction with GCSE grades (i.e. if you have a low TSA mark but strong GCSEs – or vice versa – you could still get an interview). Most importantly, go into the test relaxed with a good nights sleep and a clear mind. Good luck! If you have any questions, fire away using the comments form below.


The Undercover Economist Strikes Back – Tim Harford’s new book is here

If I had to put a number on the proportion of economics/business applicants who have read ‘The Undercover Economist’, I’d say 97%. Are you part of the 97%? All of us at Econ At Uni are! Imagine our delight when we learned that Tim has a new book out, and it’s called The Undercover Economist Strikes Back (click the picture for Amazon):

We haven’t got our hands on it yet, but as soon as we have had a chance to read it we’ll do a similar post to the one we did for the previous Undercover Economist book and helpfully tell you how you should read it.

Have your say: what would you like to see on Econ At Uni?



As you might have noticed, we are undergoing a re-design at Econ At Uni and as part of this, we want to ask you – our readers – the following question:

How can we help you out even more with your application?

We’d love to know your views on what information you want to get, if you are looking for any tips or advice on specific issues or any other ways in which we can help you out (e.g. by offering Skype or in-person personal statement workshops).
Get in touch via the comments form below (it may take a minute to load)


The Personal Statement structure dissected

personal statement structureA simple guide for structuring your Personal Statement. This template breaks down the statement into 4 sections. It can be difficult to maintain flow given the strict character limits imposed on the UCAS form, so you are encouraged to deviate from the template where appropriate. The most important thing about a Personal Statement is that it is PERSONAL – make sure your personality comes across when you write yours.

By the way… have you checked out the Economics Personal Statement guide? You will only find it on Econ At Uni.

1. Personal Intro & Highlights

  • What gets me excited about economics
  • Why this means I want to and should study economics
  • Achievement highlights: be specific (especially for economics related presentations and writing) and mention the skills that were nurtured through each (leadership, verbal reasoning, written communication etc.)

2. Transferable Skills/Motives:

  • List not only where you worked but what you did there and who you met
  • Show understanding of the situation in the wider economy and how this affects the organisation you worked at – you are applying to be an economics student after all
  • Subjects studied and skills developed through school study. Show you know what academic skills the course requires (numerical ability as well as written communication skills are both required for economics at university)

3. Hobbies & Free Time:

  • Keep it brief
  • Again, list achievements (e.g. Grade X in Piano)
  • Any unusual achievements – have you been on TV? Slip it in casually.
  • What do you read/do to keep abreast of current events? You could mention a book here if you wanted to.

4. Conclusion:

  • Retell why you’ve selected the course you’re applying for
  • Refer to your future: allude to the fact that you’re still young and don’t know exactly what you want to do, but have a good idea and doing this course at uni will help your ideas to mature.

Still need some help? Check out these books for more tips:

3 books you should have read over the summer…

And even if you didn’t it’s still not too late! The following books are light reads, filled with anecdotes. Even if you have the slightest interest in the way the world works, all three will be of interest. The first is highly recommended for Economics applicants, while the third will appeal more to the Psychologists/Managers of you. The second is a good general read for anyone about the financial crisis and is a must read if you’re considering a career at an Investment Bank or hedge fund.

1. The Logic of Life by Tim Harford – from the author of The Undercover Economist comes the Logic of Life. Most economic theories are underpinned by the assumption that people – sorry – “economic agents” – are logical or rational in the way they behave and make economic decisions. But are they really? Tim thinks they are. A useful book to form your opinions on one of the most fundamental but hotly contested assumptions of modern economics. An ideal discussion to step into during your university economics or philosophy interview.

2. The Big Short by Michael Lewis – from the highly acclaimed author of Liar’s Poker comes the latest instalment. A must read for those of you considering a career in the world of Finance. Even if you’re not, it’s again very handy for university interviews. It even doubles up by providing great conversational fodder for dinner parties with Bankers, Economists, Politicians or anyone willing to talk about the GFC.

3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – you might be noticing a trend arising in these recommendations. All these authors have previously published books which have been very successful and proved to be enticing reads for Econ students and this is no exception. This one is more for the psychology and management aficionados out there, which takes a look at why people are successful. Pay particular attention to the section on Hofstede’s dimensions of culture – there’s a good chance you’ll be coming across it again at University.