Application

 Oxford

 Lady Margaret Hall

 Biological Sciences

 1999

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (2 A*,6 A,2 B)

A-levels

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained A at A2)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Biology, A in Chemistry, B in French

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Best reputation in the country (world?) and all the implications for career prospects etc.; tutorial system, college atmosphere, unparalleled visual appeal 🙂

I knew that I wasn’t ready to pick a specialism within biology at the time of application, so it had to be a general biology degree. So, rather than collapsing down to the study of biology alone in the third year, Å• la Cambridge NatSci, I wanted to study the biological sciences exclusively from day one in order to cover as much ground as possible. I’d still stand by this judgement. For me, there was little to choose between the two in terms of other factors

Excellent situation, i.e. non-central. Visit for yourself and you may well agree that the situation alone is sufficient. It’s not an old, prestigious college, but that doesn’t concern me at this stage

Preparation

yes

Day visits to both Oxford and Cambridge were organised by the headteacher, himself an Oxford graduate. I also had a one-to-one Q&A session with him before leaving for interview – quite helpful.

When writing my personal statement, I tried to make it interesting, and stylish. I wasn’t prepared to write a dry, tasteless summary of my achievements and aspirations. In my opinion the statement is not THAT important, and my advice would just be to try and inject some personality into it. Provided that all the main areas (why that subject, extra curricular activities – particularly those relating to your subject, etc) are covered adequately in your statement, the UCAS form may well not be discussed at interview at all.

Interview

no

yes

I was asked to submit two pieces of written work completed during my A-level courses. Unfortunately, with the exception of French (which was hardly relevant), I had not written any essays for my subjects at that point. I therefore was forced to submit a chemistry assessed practical writeup and a work-in-progress version of my biology coursework, an extended investigation into pH and phage success rates in E. coli. At the time of submission I was less than satisfied with these, assuming that better-prepared students from selective schools would have the edge having written countless essays. However, the prepared work was simply not discussed at interview.

no

I had two interviews, separated by a gap of twenty minutes. Each was roughly thirty minutes in length; the first taking place in my college, the second held in the Zoology department. For the first interview I was facing two people – the director of Plant Sciences and a tutor of Biological Sciences at the college. The second was a one-to-one, but instead of sitting in his office, we quickly moved off and the interview was conducted in a “walk-and-talk” format.

I had been told to expect one interview to focus on my subject choice and the other on my other strengths and place in the college. However, both interviews were very much biology-oriented.

In the first interview, I was presented with some graphs and data tables and asked to analyse them in several ways. No specific prior knowledge was required. Next up, on a table to my right were two objects. I was asked to identify them and deduce their function – a classic biology question ever since Darwin! The tutors were helpful, they tried to talk me through the deduction process, and gave me a little prompting when I needed it. The second interview was not a static affair. I was given a tour of the Zoology department and asked for my ideas on some of the displays, as well as having a general light-hearted chat with my interviewer. I was a little nervous at first, but then I realised he was actually being fairly friendly, and I started to relax. We ended up in a lab where a third year student was conducting a project on habituation responses in fish. The student and her tutor talked for a short while about a problem she had been having and I was asked for my thoughts.

I wore a smart shirt, tie, trousers and shoes for my interview, not going for the suit option. I wanted to stay cool – literally – under the pressure of the interview situation and in the end, that was how my interviewers were all dressed too. I also took and used an umbrella as it was a foul day in Oxford! It wouldn’t do to turn up all wet, now would it?

Impressions

LMH was fantastic – I could not have reasonably expected better. The rooms at LMH are larger than average, owing to the college’s position away from the city centre. As far as I could gather from my limited time there during interviews, the atmosphere is genuinely very relaxed and friendly.

The rooms were large, and had plenty of furniture. There were loads of kitchens/bathrooms/showers. I wasn’t too sure about the state of the JCR when I was there, but the bar (which is in the basement) is HUGE 🙂

Excellent
At LMH the food is paid for on a one-meal-at-a-time basis, rather than termly. This in combination with the excellent kitchen facilities – again, no doubt thanks to the spaciousness of the site, should allow a lot of freedom during term-time.

Brilliant – easy to talk to while no doubt the best of the best at their jobs. Much better than expected. They were all a lot younger than I expected!

My interview was outside of term-time but a couple of “runners” were still there and were easy to get on with. They were probably chosen for their interpersonal skills, but I’m optimistic about the college as a whole. They certainly seemed distant from the traditional Oxford stereotype.

Final stage

Nervous!

I was elated, of course! After telling various people who had told me that they wanted to know straight away, I spent the rest of the day celebrating.

Looking back

Of course… Why not?

Be positive, be sure of yourself and be fast on your feet mentally. If you don’t believe you have what it takes, don’t be pressured into applying – the chances are they’ll see that at interview