We ran a Q&A session with two students, David and Lucy, who just got back from their interviews at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. David is applying for Music and Lucy is applying for English. There’s a full audio recording available to download at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bz4SeFqiEkAMLUZ6R19pS05NNkE/view?usp=drivesdk
Here are some of the highlights!
Why did you apply to Cambridge?
David: I can’t ignore the fact that it’s one of the top universities for research and I went to a day course there at Corpus Christi, which I really enjoyed.
Why did you choose Oxford?
Lucy: It’s a beautiful city, quite intellectual! The college I applied for was originally the first college women were allowed to go to.
When you arrived, there are so many stereotypes… Did you ever feel like you didn’t belong?
Lucy: Honestly, you turned up there and everybody was wearing jeans and casuals, everyone was really normal. Lady Margaret Hall is doing a Foundation year where people from disadvantaged backgrounds who might have three B’s at A Level can be taught for an extra year if they see potential in them, which is quite progressive.
What did you have to do during your interview?
David: Music is a unique course and every college assesses it differently. When I went in and sat down, the guy just asked me to tell him about my musical experiences. I spent the next half an hour of my life talking to someone who teaches harmony and keyboard skills, a professor at Cambridge, and felt confused but also really happy that they were talking intellectually about a subject that most people think is quite dumb. That’s what the interview system is, they just want to know what your brain is like and how interested you are in your subject. Make sure that you’re passionate because I had just applied for Music because my sister was studying it then I wouldn’t have been able to hold a conversation for that long about it! Make sure you are 100% choosing the right degree course, and the further reading you do is the best way of getting to interview. If you actually read the books you say on your personal statement that you’ve read then you can show your passion and they will get out of you what they really want to get out of you.
Lucy: With the first interview it was definitely more of a conversation- it was, ‘look at this poem, what do you think?’ The second one, the woman kept asking me questions and not really responding to what I was saying. That was a lot harder. I came out and I was absolutely drained.
Back in Year 12, what were you doing to prepare and how did you go about reading beyond what you were studying for AS Level?
Lucy: We were doing Jane Eyre so you can use that as a starting point to read other things relating to that, then branch out until you find a gem you can actually talk about. You don’t need to feel guilty about doing the extra reading; you have to have interests outside of what you’re studying. It has to be the right course for you and doing the reading helps you make that decision.
David: As soon as your exams are over, you’ve got a whole summer to use if you want to do a course, or go on the Cambridge website, find the first year reading list for the course you want to do and get reading. I went on and found a few texts, I read them and I got an interview. It speaks for itself.
I think that’s a good point that whatever your subject, there’s always something you can read online that is relevant. It’s not going to impress anyone if all you’ve done is the course you’re studying. For any competitive university, they are all going to want to see that you’ve done more than turned up to lessons and done your work. They want to see a real interest. There’s this phrase, you ‘read for a degree’. Even if you’re doing Science there’s still a real volume of material to read.
Thanks everyone and hope this is helpful.