How To Stand Out Academically


Date of Publication: 30 July 2014

How to stand out academically

When you come to do University applications, you will find that there is a phrase which comes back repeatedly to frustrate you: “shown interest in your subject” – as if wanting to apply for it wasn’t enough!

The good news is that Oxford Summer Courses is exactly the sort of thing you can do to show that interest – spending some of your summer voluntarily studying your subject is a good sign you have interest in it beyond doing it at school, and it is the sort of thing that Universities love to see! (You can apply here)

Oxford Summer Courses only runs in the Summer though, so I thought I would take the opportunity in this post and the next couple to share with you some of the resources that I found helpful between the ages of 16 and now as tried to work out what I wanted to do at University, and tried to stretch and expand my intellectual horizons beyond school textbooks! As I tried to ‘show interest’ (which is what I wanted to do anyway).  

I study Philosophy, Politics and Economics, so my recommendations will focus around them, but for each resource I will include a subject interest area tag for you to see!


In this first post I will share some great podcasts that you might find interesting. Podcasts are a fantastic way to learn – whether you are on the Bus going into school, doing housework, or going for Jog, you can always find the time to something. So why not listen to something which will be interesting and mind-expanding?

(1) This American Life

Suitable for: General Interest, Politics, US Current Affairs, Science, Psychology, Economics + Business

I discovered This American Life when I was in 6th Form, I think a friend recommended it to me. Each week they take a theme, and tell different types of stories on that theme. From Comedy to Investigative Reporting, Human Interest, Science, Fiction, History they cover the whole gamut of human existence.

One of the best things about This American Life is how it captures, in audio, the experiences of people who are in many ways unlike oneself, and gives one a way of understanding and appreciating something of the lives of others. Equally compelling are the investigative reports they run, and if you’ve never discovered David Sedaris, now is the time to. On iTunes: App (with the back catalogue):

I would recommend the following episodes as tasters:

(2) The RSA

Suitible for: General Interest, Science, Current Affairs, Politics, Philosophy, Business, Economics. Really anything!

The RSA is the Royal Society of the Arts, it was founded in 1754, gaining its royal charter nearly 100 years later. Charles Dickens, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Stephen Hawking and Tim-Berners Lee have all been Fellows of the Society.

These days they run a phenomenal series of public lectures which provide superb insights into cutting edge writing and research. I’ve often found some of the most interesting books I’ve read by hearing an RSA Lecture by the author first!

The best place to start is the RSA Animate Series here:

If you like that then their podcast is superb:

I thoroughly recommend it.

(3) Planet Money

Relevant to: Economics, Business, Politics, Current Affairs

This podcast is a wonderful application of ideas and theories from the world of economics to modern stories about economics, helping to explain what it is that the economic news means! The best economics essay I wrote here at Oxford was based on a story I had heard on this Podcast!

(4) Philosophy Bites

Relevant to: Philosophy and Religious Studies

Are you interested in Philosophy? Have you heard someone mention Utilitarianism? Or maybe claim to be a ‘Liberal’? Have you ever struggled to define ‘knowledge’ or wondered what makes something an object? Have you ever asked what Rights are, or how we have them? Or whether Animals have them? Ever paid less for a copy of a painting and wondered why we value the original so highly if the copy is identical? – want to understand more the centuries of thought that lie behind these ideas and claims? This is the podcast for you!

It takes the format of a 15-20min interview with a Philosopher on a topic they write on, in which they explain the area and their position. – you can download it on iTunes, or browse the catalogue on the site.

That’s it for the Podcasts, but we will be posting again soon with more on how to stand out academically, and push yourself beyond the syllabus!

Read more about academic tips in this article: 5 Useful Tips for Writing Essays

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