Preparing for Oxford: an admissions journey

Incoming MPP student Dorkina
Dorkina outside the visa application support center – an important step in the admissions process for international students.

Greetings! I am thrilled about joining the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program at the Blavatnik School of Government (BSG) at Oxford in just a few weeks. What’s more exciting is sharing my journey with you. Hopefully you, too, may be inspired to pursue the same path.

My career before BSG
As a physician-scientist, I served as a Senior Health Policy Advisor and Brookings Institution Legis Congressional Fellow in the United States Senate. Before I worked in the Senate, I was a health and biomedical research policy staffer in the United States House of Representatives. My career began at the National Institutes of Health, where I was a Medical Officer and Clinical Fellow.

It’s never too late!
I am what one would consider a “mature student”. Exactly what do I mean by mature? Let’s just say that in the year I was born, major civil rights legislation in the United States had been enacted just a few years previously, and President Nixon was in the White House. One may think: “It’s too late for me to return to school at this stage in my life.” I say, “Absolutely NOT!”

Why study public policy?
A critical need exists in the United States – particularly in the government – for physicians, scientists, women, and people of color who are formally trained in public policy. I identify demographically with all of these groups. Thus, I look forward to enhancing my policy skills at BSG with the ultimate goal of making a meaningful contribution toward addressing the policy challenges faced by these distinct cohorts.

Why BSG and why Oxford?
BSG’s international focus, its innovative approach to training policymakers, the unique opportunity to be a part of a brand new school and building, and access to seemingly endless resources enable one to make a lasting impact both at Oxford and beyond. All of these factors were simply irresistible to me.

When I visited Oxford a few years ago on a short travel-study program, I experienced its history, tradition, beauty, and scholarly life in a rigorous, yet nurturing and supportive environment. All of these were not only tremendously attractive to me, but also well-aligned with my life and work experience.

The application process
I carefully read the material on the Oxford and BSG websites to learn about the application process, along with the School, its mission, its faculty, and student life. BSG provided lots of useful information via social media, and the Admissions Team was approachable and friendly (which really helped)!

I attended a graduate information session at the University of Oxford North American Office in New York City. The Oxford staff provided me with reassurance, along with invaluable information by answering many of my questions concerning Oxford and its graduate programs.

I also applied in December to ensure adequate time for the BSG admissions team to review my application. The Admissions Team contacted me in February to let me know that they were reviewing the applications and would be in touch soon. Still, the wait seemed like forever!

I didn’t apply to other public policy programs. Oxford’s BSG was it for me. There are many other public policy programs, but none (in my opinion) are comparable to the Oxford MPP.

What was it like to be admitted to BSG?
I was notified of my admission in March of this year, and I was elated, to say the very least! Truthfully, I can say that my entire life changed that day. It was like a new beginning. Besides, what better way is there to celebrate the first day of spring than with an offer of admission to Oxford…and a celebratory dinner of fish & chips?! (Yes, I know. It’s corny, right?)

College placement
After I received my admissions letter, the long wait for my college assignment began. As an avid Harry Potter fan, I thought about Harry’s experience of being placed at Gryffindor by the Sorting Hat. A major difference was that Harry only had to worry about four houses. Oxford has 43 colleges and halls for graduate students! Finally, I was very happy to learn that I was “sorted” into Mansfield College.

Meeting Oxford students, alumni, and my amazing classmates
Would you like to meet and interact with friendly, extraordinary students who are full of innovative and exciting ideas for advancing public policy in their respective fields? Then BSG is the place for you! I have connected internationally with prospective students through BSG’s Facebook page and locally at several social events in Washington, D.C., this past spring and summer. Already, I feel as if I have made scores of new friends, and I am truly looking forward to getting to know and learning from the other BSG students when we all meet in the Michaelmas term!

Reading, reading, and more reading!
Oxford hosted a pre-departure meeting last month for new students from the Washington, D.C. area. What I found most helpful was the opportunity to interact with University officials, who provided information via Skype regarding visas, arrival, and orientation.

BSG and my college have forwarded me a substantial amount of information concerning practical matters of departmental life, college life, matriculation and student life. I’m still adjusting to the culture shock, not to mention lots of new vocabulary – Oxford-style!

Housing and transportation
BSG’s fantastic Admissions Team, along with my smart and savvy future classmates, suggested that I search for housing early (April – June). So, I did, beginning just a few weeks after receiving my admissions letter. My college and the Graduate Accommodation Office were very helpful in this process. Your choice of accommodation is highly dependent upon numerous factors, including residence requirements, housing type and availability at your college, location, and personal preference and needs.

Although I do not plan to have an automobile (parking can be a hassle) or a bicycle in Oxford, many students and alumni I have encountered told me that a bicycle can be quite useful.

Financing your education
The issue of financing your education is highly personal because everyone’s situation is different. What I will say is that if you would like to learn more about securing funding for your education, the “Graduate fees, funding, and scholarship search” page is a great place to start.

Notable scholarships and fellowships received by current and past BSG MPP students have included (but this isn’t an all-inclusive list) the Clarendon, Kwok, RhodesChevening and Weidenfeld. Additionally, the BSG Admissions Team can provide you with information about BSG departmental scholarships and other means of financial assistance.

Applying for my visa
After receiving a confirmed (unconditional) offer of admission, I applied for a UK visa, expediting the visa application process just to be safe. Hopefully, this will mean less stress, later! However, it can be a long process, as I just received my visa this week. Now, it is time to start packing….

Settling matters at home
My preparation for Oxford has also involved fulfilling last minute professional obligations, settling financial matters, canceling my gym membership, and shopping. Most importantly, though, I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible with family and friends.

Final thoughts
Whether you are thinking about applying or actively preparing to apply, I do hope that you take time to learn about all of the wonderful opportunities that await you at BSG!

Admissions for the BSG’s MPP and DPhil programmes open on Tuesday 1st September – check the BSG website for more info. 

Dorkina is a member of the incoming MPP Class of 2015. She is a National Institutes of Health-trained physician-scientist and former Congressional staffer who works in health and biomedical research policy. While we wait to welcome her to Oxford, Dorkina may be found on Twitter.

Please note this is a personal account of her experience and is not representative of the admissions process. If you have any questions please get in touch.

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