Applying to Oxford, a proactive approach

Some of you may be aware of this already but I love the Internet. That’s one of the reasons I applied to the Masters in Social Science of the Internet from the Oxford Internet Institute. Contrary to what you might think, this program is a taught master’s program that I would move to England for. It is not an online degree but rather a degree in the inter-disciplinary study of the Internet and (in my case) public policy and law.

This program had been on my radar for a while now, but until I took a look at it this year it was merely a fantasy. You see, on my way back from Utah I spent the flight doing some of my annual cleaning which includes updating my resume and going through my “dream” folder in Evernote. Just after I had updated my resume to include my work during the 2010 Election, I opened up my dream folder and there was Oxford staring back. A graduate program studying the Internet became actually practical after having just writing about my successes with the Internet and politics. I looked at the program requirements (thank you in-flight Internet access) and realized that I fit the bill rather well.

As it turns out the application was due about 2 weeks later and so I steeled myself for a difficult application process. This was the only school I would be applying to so it had my full attention, but I also didn’t have any groundwork laid for  the supplemental materiel. I would have to build everything from scratch. Now my parents raised me to look at a problem and solve it proactively and creatively, to not be satisfied by simply doing the basics but by pushing yourself to go beyond expectations. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to do even the basics. I reached out to a few of my professors and asked them to write letters of recommendation on my behalf and after a few nerve-racking days they all agreed to write references for me.

I then redid my resume focusing on my education a bit more and tailoring it for Oxford specifically. For example I had a major accomplishment be my Eagle Scout award. In the U.S. everyone knows what that is but does the same reaction occur across the pond? Just to be certain I researched the Queens Scout award and listed that the Eagle was the equivalent just in case. I panicked a bit when getting my transcripts in such a short timeframe but thanks to FedEx and overnight shipping I was able to ensure that I had copies in hand with time to spare.

For my statement of purpose I drafted several different versions ranging from the deeply personal to the highly academic. I then studied the works of several of the Drs and Professors who I could study under and looked at how in line my thinking and past study was in line with their published works. I then printed out each draft of my statement of purpose, read them all, cut out what didn’t work and wove the personal, academic and professional around a technological narrative that the professors and I had similar views on.

After I finished writing my resume, statement of purpose, writing sample, and additional questionnaire I had a handful of editors take a look at them and help me refine the grammar and style. Then I filled out the necessary forms and submitted my application online with a visa payment of £50. However, like I said above, I grew up focusing on being proactive, up until now this is pretty standard grad school application behavior. Aaron Sorkin’s writing in The Social Network asks the question, “How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SATs?” Now I certainly didn’t get a 1600 on my SAT the sentiment is still a driving factor. How do you distinguish yourself as one of the top candidates when you all have nearly the same qualifications? How do I be proactive and be seen above the other candidates?

The same mentality is found in my entire generation. Most people want to stand-out and be noticed. Doubt me? take a look at 15 YouTube vlogs and then come talk to me. So how do you proactively stand out on an application for a prestigious academic institution after you have done all you can in preparation for submitting the exam? Well I have looked at the nature of the program. The MSc in Social Science of the Internet is focused on innovation, and the intersection of technology and other social science fields. What better way to stand out than by showing them that I understand the Internet, its limitations, its flaws and its drawbacks by literally advertising that fact to them?

Google AdWords, as well as most online advertisers, have a tool that lets you run ads on the people who have already visited your site. This means that I could plant a tracking cookie on my website and this blog and then geo-target the visitors who live at Oxford with text and image based ads that show that I understand the internet. If that isn’t an innovative, proactive, risky move to distinguish myself I don’t know what is.

There are some downsides to this plan:

1. These professors probably clear their cookies regularly leaving only a small window of opportunity to target them.
2. The Oxford Internet Institute staff is more likely than the general population to use ad blocking software.
3. If any group of people is going to hate Internet ads it is the people who study the Internet,
That is why, in order to prevent this from blowing up in my face, I have to create tactful ads that don’t paint me as a braggart saying “Look what I can do!” but that get the image across in a simple, unobtrusive manner. As part of that, should any U.K. reader of this post be annoyed by the ads I will stop them immediately.

Wish me luck for this is going to be an interesting couple of weeks.