Updated: Jul 18, 2021
We had the opportunity of interviewing Luke Drago, a student at Oxford University, about: Getting into a Top University
In high school, Luke was the Public Forum Debate captain, an octofinalist at the 2019 NCFL National Debate Tournament, a three-time national qualifier in the National History Day documentary competition (and three-time finalist in the local and state National History Day documentary competition), a strategy intern for the McCool for Matthews campaign, the co-founder of his school's social justice club. Luke also scored a 32 on his ACT and has over 2000 hours volunteered at his local church.
Key points Luke shares:
Oxford is a great choice for students who are sure of what field they’d like to enter and can prove their interest in it.
I always made sure I had free time throughout high school, because I knew it was important to have fun and learn about the things I could be good at.
Q: What are you studying?
A: History and Politics
Q: Why did you choose Oxford, and what did it have to offer you specifically?
A: Oxford’s unique for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason I chose Oxford was because of the tutorial system. In the tutorial system, we get to meet with our professors (we call them “tutors”) after finishing an essay with a small group of students. There, we can discuss our ideas, challenge each other, and discuss our thoughts with our tutors for an hour. It’s a personal way of learning that helps you learn how to defend your ideas and adapt them to new evidence.
Q: What type of person/student do you think would fit well going to Oxford?
A: Oxford is a great choice for students who are sure of what field they’d like to enter and can prove their interest in it. Unlike a lot of schools, you can’t apply to Oxford without declaring a field of study, and your application process is handled by tutors from the subject you apply for. They also want to see that you have qualifications related to that field. All that aside, if you’re a student who is self-motivated and hard working, you’d fit in well at Oxford.
Q: What type of special requirements did Oxford have that were unique/considerable?
A: For American students, Oxford requires that you have either a 32 or higher ACT score or a 1470 or higher SAT score before you’re able to apply. They don’t allow superscoring. In addition, Oxford also requires that you have scored a 5 in three AP tests in subjects related to your course of study. They used to allow SAT Subject tests to supplement this requirement, but those tests have been discontinued. Most subjects at Oxford require applicants to take an admissions exam shortly after applying, and some also require you to submit an essay you’ve written in high school. All of these requirements are used to decide what students get an interview. If you get an interview, you’ll be interviewed by tutors that will actually teach you if you get accepted. It’s a lot of work just to apply, but it’s worth it.
Q: What did you consider when choosing colleges to apply and attend?
A: I wanted a college that would keep me challenged. I wanted to be pushed to grow and set up for success. Oxford’s definitely done that.
Q: How would you describe the main reason why you were accepted?
A: I’ve actually talked to my tutors about this, and they’ve told me that my interview went really well. Which is funny, because I wasn’t so sure of that in the days and weeks after I sat for it. I think it’s important that you be as authentic as you can during your admissions interviews and that you come ready to face questions you weren’t expecting. Prepare for everything.
Q: How did you spend free time you had, if you had any at all, while in high school?
A: Outside of hanging out with my friends, I spent a lot of time working on photography and videography. I’ve loved taking photos since middle school, and it’s a passion I’ve kept going at Oxford. I was also heavily involved in some local and national political campaigns, which helped grow my interest in politics. I always made sure I had free time throughout high school, because I knew it was important to have fun and learn about the things I could be good at.
Q: How was your college essay structured?
A: My college essay for UK schools (they call it a personal statement) was very formal. They’re a lot different from the US essays. It has to be under 4000 characters (not words) and under 47 lines when pasted into their website. I started by asking some questions I wanted to explore further in history and politics, then explaining where my interests came from. I explained some key books and articles I had read in the subject to learn more about it. I talked about some of the key pieces of information I had gained in my classes, and what I had accomplished for them. From there, I went on to discuss how some of my extracurriculars had prepared me to dive into the subject at college, and closed by explaining why I thought it was important for history and politics to be taught together. It’s a real beast of an essay, because we really don’t write anything like it in the US. If I could compare it to anything, it would be a cover letter for a job application.
Q: Were you able to win any scholarships? If so, how?
A: N/A (No scholarship options for American undergraduate students at Oxford)
Q: What would you say played a bigger role in your success? The environment or self-motivation?
A: I think that’s a tough question to answer. My high school did a lot to prepare us for college, but they didn’t have any resources on applying to UK schools. Seriously. I remember walking into Student Services to ask if we had a school code for UCAS (the UK’s equivalent to the Common Application). No one had any clue what I was talking about. It turns out they didn’t have one. Only a few students from our high school had ever applied to Oxford, and none of them got in. So I didn’t have a lot to pull from, and most of what I learned for the application process came from YouTube videos and online guides. But I couldn’t have done it without my teachers, who prepared me for the kind of work I needed to do. My APUSH and AP Lang teachers taught me how to write good essays that engaged with the content. My AP Comparative Government teacher did interview prep with me after school. He and I had to find what kinds of interview questions they would ask, since it’s nothing like the US interviews. To put it bluntly: I worked hard to get into Oxford, but my teachers are the only reason I was able to do it.
Connect with Luke on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/mwlite/in/luke-drago-89a5a7b0.