Application

 Oxford

 Corpus Christi

 Classics

 2009

 pooled, offer made (Balliol)

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Comprehensive School

 yes (1 A*,1 A,3 B,3 C,1 E/F/G/U)

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 Ancient History, A in Classical Civilisation

AAA, I was to attend the Wells Latin Summer School as part of my offer.

yes

The Summer School cost me over £400 for which there was no help, I was working as a barman and heavily in debt whilst finishing my A-Levels so this presented quite a difficulty. A bit of overtime pulled me through and quite apart from the fact that it he

no

 offer met

Decisions about the application

I wouldn’t have even bothered if it were not for my teacher at South Downs College, she urged me to apply and boosted my confidence enough for me to believe I could do it.

Oxford had the better reputation for Classics…to be honest I didn’t think I had a cat in hells chance so I lumped for the one I’d heard more about. I’d visited Oxford once with my cousin just to see the museums and to this day I’ve never even visited Cambridge; I should make the effort really.

Because I love Classics, it is what I would choose to do whatever situation life found me in.

I chose Corpus because it seemed quiet and serious. There was something about the big name colleges that put me off, my background wasn’t fantastic and I didn’t think I had much of a chance at highly competitive colleges.

Preparation

yes

My teacher leant me a couple of CLC books and tutored me for a GCSE in latin, which I sat alongside my A-Levels. I had a practice interview with our deputy principal and was also sent to meet another tutor at a school nearby for another practice interview.

I’d say practice interviews were probably the best overall preparation. Whatever help your school is prepared to offer, snap it up. Being able to present yourself as confident without coming over as arrogant is also very important.

Equally, I found being fully aware of the application process and the interview process was useful. Knowing deadlines and dates is essential and meeting them critical. It’s a bit of hassle getting the UCAS form off early but after you can sit back and relax a little.

In yourself, sometimes it is good to sit back and think a little, asking myself a few questions over a beer in my local pub helped me…not that I’m recommending that of course. It can be good to really ask yourself why you want to study your subject and what you really want.
If you’re comfortable in yourself you’re much more likely to come across well in an interview and it will only help you.

If you have to sit any form of exam, then find what resources you can from the internet, from the university, or from your school. Do practice and revise because it will boost your confidence if, during the interviews, you’re comfortable with whatever written or oral tests you get given. Being fantastic in the interview probably won’t be enough if you flunk the tests and the tests (in the case of Classics at least) are less of a variable than the interviews.

Interview

no

yes

Two written essay’s pertaining to the subject. It is helpful in the run-up to the application process if you bear in mind you’ll need some marked written work. Speak to subject teachers about the best course of action.

yes

As I’ve already written, if you know you’ve got some form of pre-interview exams then do everything you can to prepare for them, it is something you have an decent element of control over.

The first interview went well enough, it was relatively informal and I felt happy enough with the subject matter. The second interview, however, was truly terrible and I got myself into an awful muddle. I walked away pretty certain I’d just lost any chance I’d had of getting a place. The third interview later that day at Balliol was relaxed, calm and enjoyable. The fact of the matter was I felt fresh out of luck and had convinced myself that I had already failed so I felt I no longer had anything to lose. I had a language interview in which I squirmed like a plump worm on a hook and finally the next day I had another interview at St.Johns, which was again comfortable and informal. This last interview focused a little more on my previous academic failures, which might have been a little rattling if I had not already prepared for such a question properly.

One thing that annoys me about the mythos of Oxford interviews is all this tosh about zero sum decisions by the tutors. Stories like tutors throwing a ball at the applicant or lying in the middle of the floor. Such puerile fabrications only strengthen this idea that access is granted in an arbitrary fashion rather than on much more substantial criteria such as presentation, general and specific knowledge, problem solving and articulation. It’s like interviewing for a job in a sense, these people are not just judging whether you’re up to the standard they are looking for, they are also judging whether they can put up with you for 3-4 years. People don’t get in because they can catch a ball!

In my Balliol interview I was asked a question regarding one of my essay’s. It was about the nature of Kings and Tyrants in Ancient Greece, I was asked to explain why I had voiced a rather throw away opinion in my essay. I was then asked what impressions I had of a passage from Plato’s ‘Meno’ regarding the desire for good things. My St.Johns interview was reasonably thorough, I was asked for my opinion on a disputed line in Sophocle’s Antigone, which I ascribed to Ismene eventually, my thoughts on the Spartan disaster at Pylos and my impressions of a rather ugly statue of an old Greek man. The perfect preparation for the drive home listening to ‘Dark side of the moon’ if you ask me…

Smart casual I guess you’d call it, I wore jeans, a shirt, a jumper and a blazer with a knitted ginger cat in the pocket…to be honest I think they admitted the cat and I’m just his means of getting around.

I once turned up to an interview for the Police when I was 18 wearing a T-shirt and Jeans, so I know full well how awful it is to turn up in the wrong clothes, everyone else was wearing smart suits. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to don a saville row suit for the interviews, smart casual is absolutely fine. Again, if you feel comfortable then it’ll help you. Be yourself, after all it is you who wants to get in, not a false persona.

Impressions

Corpus was small, cosy and quiet. Indeed I was surprised at just how small it was, people refer to it affectionately as being like a Hobbit hole. Balliol was grand and large, I turned up there a night feeling despondent and to be honest just felt like a mouse who’d been given a false, last chance by some malicious cat. Tucked away in the Dr Kelly’s room on staircase 18 with the winter outside I felt like I was in a castle. St. Johns was huge but a little impersonal, again I was there for just a single interview so didn’t get to stay and write a tourist guidebook for the place.

Corpus new building had average size rooms just off the quiet cobbles of Merton Street. After the urban hell of my hometown it was like dying and going to heaven.

After having lived off sausages and the occasional take away curry, having proper dinner in a wood pannelled hall was one hell of an upgrade. The food was excellent.

They were friendly enough, as any interviewer will be with any interviewee, they kept their distance and it’s difficult to pass comment much further than that. The two tutors at Balliol were very friendly.

A mix, I won’t say I liked everyone, I spent a lot of my time in my room. It was one great big common room of egos clashing. I’ll be honest I didn’t like a lot of the people there.

Final stage

Nervous, of course I was nervous, I’d spent most of my life failing in most endeavours but having gone back to college I’d started to succeed for the first time in twenty years…I was horribly afraid I was going to fail for the umpteenth time and the expectations from friends, family and teachers was a terrible pressure.

I actually got both a rejection and an acceptance letter. Corpus couldn’t give me a place but in the same letter informed me that my application had been successful, I had a hunch it was Balliol and the next day I got the letter. My mother was ecstatic and when I went to work that evening the waitress gave me a great big hug. It made my Christmas (the letter, not the hug…though that was nice)

Looking back

Without doubt, leaving full time employment to go back into education was a huge step, I wouldn’t change it for the world, to have then gone on to Oxford University is something I never dreamed would happen. It changed my life entirely, it is just about the first time in my life I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t change a thing.

I was 17 when I joined the Royal Mail and 22 when I went back to college, it took a while to pull myself out my own lack of self confidence and start believing in myself again. If I could give any advice then it is to people in a similar situation to myself. Don’t give up on yourself and believe in your own abilities.It doesn’t matter if you messed up your teenage years, if you’ve got the ability then there is a place at Oxford for you, no matter what your background. Have faith in yourself and don’t rule yourself out, it is never too late to give it a try.