The season of Oxbridge interviews has arrived! Having done both my interviews this week, I have decided to share my own experience and thoughts about the application process for Oxford University.
Of course this year the whole process and experience is different: interviews are online. Whether that’s advantageous or not, it depends. First of all, I will fill you in on how it all worked.
I sent of my UCAS application at the beginning of October, applying for Modern Languages at Oxford, Durham, Warwick, Exeter and Manchester (with Linguistics at Oxford and Exeter). In November, I then had to take the Oxford entrance exam. For the majority of courses at Oxbridge, you have to take an exam after sending in your application, kind of like the medical UKAT. For Languages, this is the MLAT (modern languages amplitude test). I took the German exam (which is only 30 minutes long). Then, we all waited until the end of November to find out if we were to be called up for the final stage of the application process: the interview. At my school, out of the 16 who applied to Oxbridge (2 Cambridge, 14 Oxford), only 4 got rejected at this stage, those choosing the more competitive courses of Law, Economics and Medicine. I was lucky to have been chosen for interviews, at St Catherine’s College Oxford – I was reallocated from Exeter college, as they said Catz ‘best suited me’ (after all it is the language college).
Different courses and different colleges tackle the interview process differently, but of course this year all are being done online during school hours, done on Microsoft Teams. I had two interviews: Tuesday Linguistics, and Thursday German, since my chosen course is a combination of two subjects. For most courses anyway, you will have two interviews. I prepared thoroughly and felt confident for both interviews.
For Languages at St Catz the interviews went something like this. Half an hour before each, a student ambassador from the College called me to ensure there were no technical difficulties and that I was ready for the interview. That call ended after no more than 2 minutes and then I waited until the start time for the interview then rejoined that call. It was nerve racking to sit in my teacher’s office by myself for over 40 minutes before my interview started, preparing myself for the interviews.
Then it started. It was weird to do online, as it’s hard to get eye contact and to have a discussion online, rather than a simple Q&A, since there’s always a delay with technical software etc. All of the tutors were really nice, although slightly intimidating.
The whole aim of an Oxbridge interview is to judge whether you are ‘teachable’ or not. These universities often teach with one-to-one tutorials and lessons in small groups, so being ‘teachable’ is what they are looking for. The best way to demonstrate this is to show the interviewers exactly what you are thinking – show them your thought process and an insight into how your brain works. Talk them through each and every thought that comes into your head. If you get stuck, ask for help. Usually they can see when you are running out of steam in answering a question, so will give you a prompt. Do not think this is a bad thing! It just means they want you to keep going (and to see if you can).
So how did I find the interview?
First of all, I think it was easier to do online. You can fidget around if you are nervous, and to an extent, you can have all your notes out in front of you, because they can’t see that! (I wouldn’t recommend it though…) It was harder to communicate, and it was a shame I couldn’t go to Oxford itself and spend a couple days there in the accommodation and have that amazing experience, but it was efficient and effective to do in a half hour time slot, during the school day, so that I didn’t really miss much of school etc. The first interview, I believe, went better than the second. In the German interview, the first half was in English, analysing a short passage about trees. He asked me to read out the German passage first then put up the translation. It was only short (4 passages) but we spent a good 20 minutes discussing this – which I believe was a good sign, as I had a lot to say and the interviewer seemed interested in my (obscure) interpretations and responses.
The other half was done in the German language itself, with a conversation with the other interviewer (who herself was German) about Germany, its society and culture (we touched on Brexit and politics and some traditions), and also I had to describe a weird cartoon image of a man swimming in a pool with a shark… it was supposed the resemble the hardships of the work place, as there was a coach on the side of the pool shouting ‘Bestezeit!’ (ie, get your personal best!) – supposedly this represented an employer pushing the employees to work regardless of the situation. I didn’t get this representation until the woman pointed this out and then I was able to explain it better. This was all done in German.
I must say that in the first interview, we did talk about my personal statement, but not about the books I quoted or my exchange experiences. In the second interview, my personal statement did not come up even once, so all that reading and extra work prior to the interview, preparing my notes and thoughts of the interesting books I read was not used. That’s a shame, but I didn’t read those books purely for the interview: I am interested in the German culture and literature, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be choosing to read it at Uni!
How did I find the application process itself? Is the university helpful?
Since the email regarding the invitation to interview last Monday, every email received has been detailed and clear. The instructions were precise and they left nothing out. For example, I was quite impressed that St Catz even explained why I had been reallocated to them – it felt more personal. They sent multiple emails reminding me of the time and date of each interview and which college was conducting the interview (both being St Catz). Overall, I was genuinely impressed with how they dealt with it.
I must also note that the university and the admissions boards must be under a huge amount of pressure this year, seeing as though all interviews are done online and there is no guarantee that there will be no technical issues etc., so a huge thanks to Oxbridge for being patient throughout these times.
There’s nothing else I can do but wait for the results in January. I believe the interviews went reasonably well, but Oxford is so competitive and most applicants are similar (same grades, same personalities etc.) so I don’t know what to think. All I can do now is keep everything crossed and hope for the best! It’s going to be a long month…