FOR those struggling to get to sleep, another cliched story about someone’s tiresome ‘journey’ into Oxford University can make a handy remedy.

Yet Tilly Rose’s tale, featuring a bold 10-year-old’s ‘throwaway’ comment, near-death health scares and a now global brand, is unusually eye opening.

Miss Rose was told that there was nothing doctors could do to save her life while completing an Oxford degree many thought she would never take.

Now back to full health after a remarkable recovery, the High Wycombe-born founder of ‘That Oxford Girl’ boasts 500,000 views on her blog, 31,000 Instagram followers and a published book – completing her transition from pre-teen Oxford University wannabe to admissions process guru.

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16 years ago, she remembers telling her parents on an Oxford day trip that she would be studying at the University – disregarding her state education and no other family members attending university.

But a litany of serious health episodes during her teens added to the obstacles in her way; indeed, she was advised by her school not to take her GCSEs – let alone apply to university - because of the amount of time she had taken off.

Once the ‘incredible, absolute dream’ of getting a place at Jesus College came true, however, her health worsened.


The English Literature and Language graduate recalls: “I had seen over 30 consultants at over 15 hospitals and nobody could work out what was going on. Unfortunately, the antibiotics which were treating the repeated pneumonia were starting to not work properly because I had had so many treatments.

“It got to the point where they said ‘we have done every test we can do… and ultimately whatever this is, it’s probably going to kill you’.

“So it was a case of palliative care.”


But, on one of her hospital admissions, which had seen second year Miss Rose absent for huge chunks of term, a junior doctor carried out a ‘fluke blood test’ – the first to come back positive in more than a decade - and found that she had been living with active Tuberculosis.

Yet after two weeks of treatment, she went into anaphylactic shock and was told that the only known cure would also kill her.

Had specialist Liverpool Professor Peter Davies not come up with a new combination of drugs allowing her to undertake 18 months of chemotherapy during her Oxford finals, she does not believe she would be here.

There were some positives: in September 2016, as her friends took jobs while her treatment continued, she started the blog. Less than three years on, it has 70 ‘student ambassadors’, some of whom were accepted to Oxford after reading her work.

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Explaining why she started the resource, which aims to demystify the application process to a diverse range of would-be Oxford students, she explains: “The kids that are prepared are getting in.

“When I started at Oxford I had been completely shocked by the disparity in the amount of help that young people received through the application process.

“There had been people alongside me who had been trained since age seven. It really opened my eyes to the fact that there are so many people that could ultimately end up at a university like Oxford, but there are so many barriers in their way that they don’t even consider it an option.

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“That was sort of where the idea came from: I asked myself what was I good at and that was writing and decided to set (That Oxford Girl) up to provide a student perspective.”

Now London-based, the access activist is in Oxford every week, focussing on the brand full time. The intention is explaining the process simplistically and in an accessible, fun and social media-focussed form.

Perhaps the most successful strand is the Instagram account, which features stunning Oxford scenery and a number pictures of Miss Rose alongside the advice, and averages 150,000 impressions a week.

With Instagram ‘influencers’ under fire for hidden advertising, Miss Rose is open about sponsored content.


“What I’ve always been really careful (about) is not uploading any sponsored post or advertising which conflicts with the values of what I am doing”, she suggests over coffee in Turl Street Kitchen.

“As you can imagine, I’ve been approached by so many private tutoring companies, who would’ve made this a very lucrative site - but I was always against doing anything like that because it completely went against the ethos.”

Using “#ad” to declare posts an advert on Instagram, she makes the point that without them she could not sustain the free resource.

Her main piece of advice to applicants is to believe in your ability and not be put off by ‘impostor syndrome’ - thinking you would not fit in.

Interestingly, she is clearly optimistic about the progress Oxford is making around access, but in the wake of the institution facing severe criticism for its student diversity figures, concedes that there is ‘so much work to do’.

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Outside of trying to aid those efforts, she enjoys reading, the theatre, socialising and yoga – but admits to ‘living and breathing’ the blog.

Its chances of becoming self sustaining long term have also been improved by Miss Rose winning a place on the ‘pre-accelerator’ women’s programme with Oxford Foundry, which aims to support and empower entrepreneurs.

Far from running out of steam then, That Oxford Girl’s eye-opening story seems to have plenty of life in it yet.