Application

 Oxford

 New

 Classics and Modern Languages

 2008

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 post-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Comprehensive School

I went to a well-respected, successful state sixth form college in Leicester with a reasonable history of Oxbridge entrance.

 yes (9 A*,1 A)

A-levels

(A at AS)

(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

 unconditional

yes

yes

yes

I received offers from King’s College London, Durham, St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, but really knew all along that, if I were to receive an offer from Oxford, I would certainly take it.

King’s College was my second choice, however, because of its very strong Classics department.

 offer met

Decisions about the application

Oxford is perfectly suited for the study of both Classics and French, which some of the largest and most highly respected departments in the world. The facilities for Classics are outstanding, with the famed Sackler library, and the provision for Modern Languages is equally impressive.

The most important aspect for me was the tutorial system. I know that I work best when I’m in regular close contact with teachers, and don’t like simply being dictated to. I was sure that building close working relationships with teachers had benefited me from GCSEs through to A-levels, and I was keen not to lose this at the most important stage in my education.

Both universities have fantastic departments for Classics and Modern Languages, but the course at Oxford was better suited to me as someone who will be learning Latin and Ancient Greek ab inito.

Aside from this, I much preferred Oxford as a place – Cambridge had a lovely, almost village-like feel to it when I visited, but Oxford seemed to me far more vibrant and much more like the sort of place I would feel comfortable in. I worried that, as lovely as Cambridge is, I might feel slightly claustrophobic in such a small setting.

I have always found language fascinating and learning French and Spanish at school prompted me to look further into classical languages. At the same time, I realised from reading literature in English and in French the extent to which the classical world has influenced our own culture. My interest essentially grew from there.

New College is a large college, known for its sociable atmosphere and friendliness towards students from other colleges. I thought this would make finding friends slightly easier. Aside from this, the college has a stellar academic record (New College is usually in the top five or so colleges in the Norrington Table) and seemed particularly keen on taking applicants for Joint Schools.

New College also has a reputation for excellence in Sport, Drama and Music, the last of which was of particular importance to me. I knew, were I to receive a place, I would be able to take part in both a college orchestra and a choir. What’s more, being established in 1379 (not new by anyone’s standards) it wasn’t short of beautiful buildings and curious features. The chapel in particular is awe-inspiring, along with the fantastically preserved if rather imposing old City Wall, dating from around 900. Another fantastic feature of the college is the beautiful grounds, complete with a Elizabethan decorative mound. What’s not to love?!

Preparation

no

I was given plenty of support by certain subject teachers, but I instigated a lot of this myself. My college principal, being a former pupil at Oxford, was quite happy to give me a mock interview and the college’s Oxbridge co-ordinator was also helpful.

By all means read up, but remember that this isn’t a guarantee of a place. It’s all too easy to get so wrapped up in Oxbridge entrance that you build up your interviews to the extent that you make yourself incredibly nervous. My advice would be to arrange mock interviews with as many people as possible, just to practice appearing calm and confident – this is surprisingly helpful when you’re being questioned. Do bear in mind, though, that these mock interviews will probably be nothing like your interviews in college; they’re good practice nonetheless.

Talk to any friends you have at Oxbridge and just make sure you’re well-informed as to what each stage of the process entails. Nasty shocks will only serve to make you nervous.

Interview

no

yes

I had to submit two pieces for Classics and two pieces for French.

The tutors asked for an essay and a commentary in each, which I was unable to supply, not having enough suitable work for each subject. I wrote two new French essays on topics which were interesting to me, my logic being that if I were asked about them at interview, I would at least have something to say. Having no work specifically in Latin or Greek, I submitted an historical linguistic analysis of a book of the Bible (completed as English Language coursework) and wrote an essay comparing poems by Virgil and Alexander Pope, as I felt these were most suitable.

You aren’t recommended to write pieces specifically to submit to the college, but, when talking to the other applicants, particularly those who were required to submit a number of pieces, I didn’t seem to be alone.

yes

I took one exam in French, which is essentially a test of grammar, and one aptitude test in classical language for which I had an additional interview to discuss my answers.

I would recommend that any applicant get hold of the specimen tests for both of these, which can be found on the Oxford website, as they’re quite different to AS- or A-level examinations. You can certainly revise for the French grammar test, but I would recommend simply practising for the Classical Languages Aptitude Test.

I had seven interviews at Oxford in December, some formal and some informal, most of which were for Classics at New College. I was introduced to all of the tutors for Classics, including the tutors in Ancient History and in Philosophy. Some interviews were conducted with only one tutor and others with two.

I also had an interview at St Anne’s with a Classics tutor. We also spoke about/in French, though, as the French tutor was unable to make the interview.

My first interview was an informal talk with Robin Lane Fox, the Ancient History tutor, at which Jane Lightfoot, the fellow in Classics, was present. It was a short interview and we talked about everything from French to Ancient History to the Classics test I had had earlier that day.

My next interview was an interview in Philosophy with Paolo Crivelli the next morning. I was given a series of questions designed, presumably, for Philosophy beginners, and worked my way through them with him.

I then had an informal interview with David Raeburn, who had asked specifically to see me about my learning Latin outside of school. He was very complimentary and enormously encouraging. He did ask some more interview-like questions about some of the Greek drama I had mentioned in my personal statement.

Later that afternoon I had an interview designed for students applying for course II (without Latin or Greek) in which I was questioned about the similarities between Latin and the languages I had studied. Others said they had been over aspects of the Language Aptitude Test with the interviewers.

That evening I had my main interview with Jane Lightfoot for which I had to read and prepare an extract from a Latin writer (I got Lucretius). The discussion was incredibly challenging, but, at the same time, truly fascinating. I left the interview feeling exhausted, but knowing that I wanted more.

The next day I had my French test in the morning, followed by an interview with the two French tutors for which I had been given two extracts the day before. We discussed the literary passage in English after a brief talk about my submitted work and then moved onto a journalistic passage which we talked about in French.

I waited until the next day to hear about my interview at another college (St Anne’s) and had a really enjoyable interview, similar to the one with Jane Lightfoot, in which I had to prepare passages from two poems. We also spoke in French about the link between Classics and French and the similarities between Greek and French tragedy.

See above.

I wore a shirt and trousers, and often a jumper or a cardigan, as Oxford can be incredibly cold in December. I made the conscious decision not to wear a suit, as I don’t feel very comfortable in them, but I didn’t want to appear as though I hadn’t made an effort.

Thinking back, I don’t think it would have made a difference if I had decided to wear jeans, but I decided to play it safe and wear something smart-casual.

Impressions

New College was fantastic. I loved the atmosphere, the setting, the undergraduates and the tutors. I was convinced I had made the right choice and felt doubly set on gaining a place.

St Anne’s was wildly different to New College, being a much newer college, but felt very welcoming. There was a pleasant sense of informality among the undergraduates and tutors.

All first years at New College are housed in the New Buildings, which is where almost everyone stays for interview. These rooms are usually quite large and are mostly en suite. My room wasn’t massive, but was a perfectly comfortable size with plenty of storage, HUGE windows looking out onto Hollywell Street and my very own bathroom with a decent shower. Nothing to complain about at all.

Honestly. The food was probably the worst aspect of the college. It certainly wasn’t gourmet, but it was by no means inedible. From the sounds of things, the JCR are working to improve the food, so this shouldn’t discourage any prospective applicants.

I loved each and every one of them! They were all perfectly nice and not at all as Oxford tutors are often painted. They had their ‘interview’ moments, when they would ask a tricky question and you’d silently curse them for a few minutes while the silence echoed around you, but by and large they came across as lovely, if slightly eccentric, people.

Obviously I saw only a minute proportion of the undergrads at New, but all were really welcoming. They would shepherd you to your interviews at other colleges and try to keep you calm on your way to tests etc. Some were a little like your stereotypical Oxbridge student, but they were lovely people nonetheless.

Final stage

I think I hardly need to tell you that I was nervous. I felt as though the interviews had gone well for the most part, but you can never really know how well everyone else has done or what the tutors really thought of you.

At this stage, there is as little point in worrying as there would be in my telling you not to worry!

I was so wonderfully happy and relieved; all my hard work had paid off!

Looking back

YES!

Apply if Oxford is where you want to be. You’ve nothing to lose, and if you aren’t accepted, ask for feedback. If it sounds as though you were good enough, but weren’t taken for some other reason, reapply. It pays off!