Application

 Oxford

 Balliol

 Chemistry

 1999

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (4 A*,5 A,2 B)

A-levels

(NA at AS)

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

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

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

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

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Chemistry

AB, A and B from Maths and Physics. General Studies excluded.

yes

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

Oxbridge in general is considered by nearly all people to be the “bees knees” in education and I want the best start to a good career I can get. The teaching is of the highest standard and there are adequate funds to buy all the equipment that is needed for a degree course.

In the spring of 1999 my head of year told me about a Summer School that was being run at 5 different universities. I knew that I had always wanted to do chemistry for my degree and as Oxford was the only one of the 5 offering a Summer School in chemistry I applied there. I managed to get into the Summer School and I spent a week at Balliol College, Oxford, doing some quite intensive chemistry work. Anyway to cut a long story short, I loved the Summer School experience and I met loads of people that I have stayed in contact with ever since, them too nearly all applying to Oxford.

Plus Oxford is a diverse, fun city, with lots to do and see. I wasn’t overly impressed with Cambridge City Centre so this put me off there. I also wanted to do a pure chemistry course and only Oxford offered this. Plus it is one of the best universities in the world and who doesn’t want the best start in life they can get!

Preparation

no

Thoroughly revise all your current A-Level content. Don’t think you are going to have an interview that asks you about your hobbies and why you chose the university, because from my experience that just ain’t gonna happen. It will be technical, and you guessed it, will be all chemistry. As you will be hoping to study chemistry for 4 years there, they don’t want someone who doesn’t know their stuff, they will ask you testing questions. The basics are essential, know all your bond angles and stuff like that. It is likely you will be asked organic mechanisms and you may have to draw them. Also know about bonding. Chemistry is not all you need to know, you need to be able to think logically, as you saw in the door question I was asked. Be prepared for everything, I know that is not possible but it is a true statement!

Interview

no

no

no

I actually had two interviews, one at my first choice college, Balliol and one at Christ Church. I stayed at Balliol College for 4 days and as you can imagine alot of the time is spent doing nothing (unless you use your time productively!) Both my interviews were of a technical nature and purely about chemistry. I can’t remember being asked anything about my personal life at all.

My first interview was at Balliol and I was interviewed by 3 people, once from each branch or chemistry (organic, inorganic and physical). They were very friendly and tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible, even though I was nervous as hell. It was impossible not to look at one of the interviewers, as they were sat in an arc around me. The room was nice and cosy, this made me feel better.
My second interview was at Christ Church. Yet again, 3 interviewers, one from each major branch. Again, 3 very friendly blokes who made me feel comfortable. The room was nice, like a living room in fact.

Both my interviews were of a technical chemistry nature. At my first interview I was first interviewed by the organic chemistry tutor. He asked me about alcohols, aldehydes and ketones and the way in which they can be distinguished between each other both chemically and physically. I think I also had to write some oxidation of alcohols equations down on a piece of paper too. i can’t remember if I had to do a mechanism or not but I think I did. The first thing the inorganic tutor did was hold up two molecules in front of me (models obviously). At first sight and to a none chemist they would appear the same but infact they were optical isomers (one being the mirror image of the other – a chiral centre). He asked about the effects this has in nature and pharmaceuticals. That is all I can remember from the inorganic chap. I was only asked one thing by the physical chemistry tutor and in my opinion I made a serious cock up and I didn’t get the grasp of what was being said. I found out afterwards that the same thing had been discussed on some TV lectures (I wish I had seen it!) Anyway I was posed this scenario: There are 3 doors in a line and behind one of the doors is a sports car which you can win. Initially you go and stand behind the middle door and choose it. At this point someone opens the left hand door and you see that there is no car behind it. To maximise your chance of winning the car do you stay behind the middle door and choose it or do you move to the door to the right and choose that??? I had absolutely no idea what he was getting at, I knew it was something to do with probability but I knew there would be a catch. Anyway after I finally got the scenario worked out in my head I said the door to the right. He asked me why and so I jokingly said that if is was behind the middle door then you would have seen the bonnet stick out in the left door when it was opened. This gained some quiet chuckles from the other two interviewers. Anyway moving to the right is the correct answer, I don’t quite understand why still. The reason is something to do with initially the chance of it being behind any door is 1/3. When you choose the middle door the chance of it being behind there is 1/3 and so the chance of it being behind either of the other two doors is 2/3. However the door on the left is opened and there is no car behind it. So the probability of it being behind the door on the right remains 2/3. I still don’t get it, LOL. My second interview was also totally technial, I can’t remember it as vividly as my interview at Balliol though. If I can remember rightly it was mostly inorganic. Alot of stuff asked about the shapes of molecules. Everything seemed to flow quite well in the interview too, we moved from one thing to the next slowly. I can remember we talked about BF3 quite a bit and co-ordinate bonds came in to the conversation alot as well.

Impressions

Balliol College is superb. It is not too small, not too large. The quads are beautiful and in my opinion it is the most beautiful Oxford college (it is the oldest too). It is located dead in the centre of Oxford just down the road from the King’s Arms pub, which is a plus. The porter is a friendly guy too.

The room I was in was not too bad. It is centrally heated (which is damn effective – like a sauna). There was a wash basin in my room too. It had a sofa and a another large chair. There was also a desk. The room was actually quite big. i was on the ground floor so I didn’t really like my view too much out of the window. I would have prefered to be a few floors up.

Excellent

The tutors are fantastic. Very friendly guys. One of the chemistry tutors that interviewed me is also the Dean and archivist of the college. I am in e-mail contact with the tutors which is good. Alot of help has been given to me about which of the books, on the reading list I have been sent, I should buy.

I didn’t really mingle with the current college students too much. The ones I did talk to seemed very friendly and were happy to talk about college life to me.

Final stage

I remember the letter arriving on a Monday. The mail had come after I had arrived at school so I didn’t get it in the morning. I arrived home at abouy 4pm and no one else was home. My dad was at work and my mum was in town. The mail hadn’t even been brought in yet. I dashed to the porch to get the mail and there it was – the big stamp on the back of a letter saying “Balliol College – Oxford University”. I took the letter inside the house and no lie here, I spent 10 minutes just looking at the envelope. I finally plucked up the courage to open the letter and the first thing I saw was “Dear Mr Widdop esq” I didn’t fully remove the letter from the envelope, I just say and thought about it for a little more. Then I pulled it fully out “We are please to tell you that we will be offering you a place to read chemistry MChem F100 at this college in October 2000”. I was totally over the moon, I never expected to get, my GCSE grades were not superb like many of the people I met during interviews. I also knew it was likely I would get AAB and not AAA+ like most candidates. I rang up my dad at work and told him straight away! Then I rang my brother. And then my friends. I am the only person fom my school to ever get an offer from Oxford or Cambridge so they were over the moon.

Looking back

Yes I would, it is a challenge and a moment in your life you will never forget. yes interviews are scary but they are an experience you will never forget.

APPLY! Even if you didn’t get 10 A*’s in GCSE still apply. Just as long as you have *good* GCSE grades and a decent A-Level prediction, you might as well go for it. If you don’t apply then you won’t know will you!