How to write an effective “Reasons for Applying” supplement for Oxbridge

graduate admissions international students supplements writing
By Anupam

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably thinking about applying to the University of Cambridge or Oxford in the UK. Your grades are stellar and you have plenty of out-of-school experiences to talk about, but unfortunately, they’ve only given you 1000 characters to prove your interest in the program. Moreover, this is your only chance to sneak in details that prove why you should be picked over other applicants!

I was recently admitted to the Advanced Diploma + MPhil in Economics track at Cambridge. In large part, I can credit my admission to a strong but short supplement where I illustrated what experiences made me unique in the applicant pool, what I planned to do after the program, and what I would leverage from the program to achieve my goal. 

In this blog post, I’m going to share the supplement that I used, alongside a sentence-by-sentence template and program research techniques to write a concise but effective answer.

Sentence 1: career goals and interests

The Diploma will allow me to start the Economics graduate track and engage with fascinating topics like dynamic game theory with constraints and foreign exchange rate fluctuations, which will respectively inform my understanding of web3 incentive design and digital assets' salability over time. 

In this bulky sentence, I mention a few important details: 

First, what goal do you have that makes this program an indispensable step in your journey? 

In an earlier supplement, I articulated my goal of entering national policy consulting for new technologies and media. As my undergraduate degree was in a non-Economics subject, the conversion program offered by the Diploma was essential for me to start the Economics graduate track: without it, I wouldn’t be able to apply for the jobs that I was aiming for. 

Consider a program that allows you to complete a professional degree like law or medicine early; the UK offers programs that can grant you a law degree in 3 years or a medicine degree in 6 years, rather than the respective 7 and 8 taken in the US. A good application would emphasize an eagerness to get started early in the field and highlight this aspect of the program as an essential step in that process.

What specific topics in the program will be helpful for you to learn, based on your specific profile, and why?

Elsewhere in the application, I mentioned my background working with digital assets and my goal of consulting on the development of new technologies and media in the future. I used this focus to identify specific subjects within the curriculum that I would have a unique perspective on, given my experience, and a particular curiosity about, given my career goals. 

When finding specific subtopics within the curriculum, look for lecture notes from the program that you’re applying to or similar programs. Consider the work, internship, and research experience that you’re bringing to the program. This is another opportunity to set yourself apart and show how you will uniquely contribute to class discussions! For example, someone who has  personal trainer experience and plans to apply to medical school can mention their work with clients and identify what supplemental program-based skills they need in order to help people in a different way. 

Sentence 2: unique resources in the program

Moreover, Cambridge offers unique resources, like Dr Melvyn Weeks’s expertise with digital economies and Dr Simon Deakin’s specialty in the economics of law; institutions favorable to interdisciplinary ideas, such as the Bennett Institute and INET; and consulting opportunities through proximity to UK policymakers interested in crypto. 

In the second sentence, I mention unique resources in the program including faculty research areas, research centers, and location-proximate work opportunities. 

What research areas interest you?

For this section, I looked into the faculty on the program and went through their research to identify what they were most interested in. Aside from showing that you have researched the program well, this is a good way to pique the interest of those faculty members when they are looking through your application, and reaffirm your unique connection with the material. Given my interest in working with digital assets in the future, as well as my law school background, I highlighted these two research areas.

What centers on campus would be beneficial for your goals?

While all campuses have professors researching within your discipline, most also have research centers with strong ties to other universities and industry. Given my career goals, and my legal-into-economics track, I chose centers that emphasize interdisciplinary research in public policy and economics. 

When choosing these centers yourself, focus on centers that lie within your discipline and have values that strongly align with your background. For example, someone who researched bacteriophages may highlight a microbiology research lab on campus and papers that they read from that center. 

What relevant industries or public sector organizations are close by? 

This is another opportunity to highlight your unique career goals. Knowing that the UK has expressed a lot of interest in being a global frontrunner for digital asset regulation, I highlighted that merely being in the same country for this program would be highly beneficial for my goals of working in public policy related to those technologies. 

When doing this yourself, look at companies that are headquartered in the area and public sector organizations that emphasize your discipline. For example, someone pursuing a computer science degree might emphasize proximity to technology company headquarters in Cupertino or Mountain View. 

Sentence 3: what makes this class special

Finally, through its composition of students with diverse work and undergraduate backgrounds, the Diploma cohort is a unique learning environment that offers multifaceted discussions about the contrasts between economic theory and experience, and the efficacy of digital solutions to problems faced in students’ industries and cultures of expertise. 

In this final sentence, I emphasize the student body of the program and two ways that this will provide a better learning experience of the discipline compared to another university that offers the same discipline. 

What makes this student body special for class discussions? 

The track that I chose at Cambridge is specifically designed for people with non-Economics undergraduate degrees that have chosen to go down the Economics graduate track; this program, diverging from some other Economics programs, typically consists of an international student body that has a few years of full-time work experience. 

Although this is a niche case, every graduate program is unique in a way. To get a sense of the profile of people entering and exiting this program, go on Linkedin and look through alumni’s career profiles. You can find these profiles easily by searching “site: Linkedin.com [the program that you’re interested in]”. Once there, look at their work experience, research, and other interests prior to and following the program. You can also look at the graduate destinations page on the program that you’re interested in; most programs will publish a PDF of these destinations every few years. Think about what makes the others on this program stand out in a way. This can include non-traditional backgrounds or a specific interest going in. 

Tips for writing

This is a thorough breakdown of how to write 3 strong sentences for your supplement. Ensure that you have a clear picture of your career goals and strong research into the different facets of the program. Additionally, feel free to write very rough drafts of the supplement (this was my 8th draft!), and take turns revising other supplements. This will help you to be efficient in your writing and think of details that you may have forgotten.

Anupam graduated at the top of his law school at King’s College London with First Class Honors. Since graduating from King’s, he has worked as a Growth Lead in the tech, finance, and film industries. He is now beginning an MPhil in Economics at the University of Cambridge.

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