Application

 Oxford

 St Edmund Hall

 Computer Science

 2001

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Grammar School

 yes (3 A*,7 A,1 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)

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

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in further Maths and B in either physics or computing- this was on top of the two As i had already.

yes

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

Because of the Oxbridge degree status. I am also interested in staying on at university to do postgrad studies and Oxbridge seemed the best way to go about doing this. I was also interested by their shorter terms (they have eight week terms, most other unis are twelve). The college system was also something that I was attracted by – I prefer small college communities to large university groups.

Preparation

yes

Yes. I had three extra maths classes a week during which we solved past Oxbridge interview questions. These were very useful. Computer Science candidates are required to sit the maths exam during interview, and many of the questions on the exam I sat were similar to questions I had done during my extra maths classes. I also had two mock interviews; both with Maths teachers. Both teachers tried to give me a selection of maths and computer science questions, however my real interviews were quite different.

I did not bother with the Additional Information section. This was on advice from our Careers Teacher who told us that, from past experience, it would make little difference.

The best thing you can do is prepare for the exam by tackling past paper questions. Try to arrange a practice interview with a teacher if you can.

Interview

no

no

yes

Yes. I had a three-hour maths exam, which is sat by all Computer Science applicants. I had done a lot of preparation during school as we had extra classes during which we solved past Oxbridge exam questions and interview questions. Having done the full A-Level Maths in my Lower Sixth year also helped a great deal, I have no doubt about that. Other candidates who were doing the single A-Level in two years seemed to find it much harder than those doing Further Maths.

I had three inteviews. My first was with the Computer Science tutor, the second with the Mathematics tutor, and my third interview was at Balliol College. My first interview was the worst. The interviewer thought I was talking rubbish and making things up. He said at one, “here’s a hint, if you don’t know, just say you don’t know, don’t try to pretend”. I thought that this had ruined all my chances of getting a place at St Edmund Hall. My second interview was better, and the Maths tutor was very friendly. He got me to write things down with a purple colouring pencil. He also asked me if I would join the tiddlywinks society. The third interview was at Balliol College, and there were three interviewers present – the Maths tutor, the Computer Science tutor, and a Maths graduate student. They got me to solve problems on the whiteboard in the room. They were very friendly and seemed impressed with my efforts.

My first interview was with the Computer Science tutor. He asked me did I know what Group Theory was. I didn’t, although I had heard of it and I tried to give an explanation of what I thought it was. I was wrong, and he didn’t seem too impressed. He then spent about ten minutes explaining what Group Theory was, while I did the old “smile and nod” routine. His next question was which part of maths I enjoyed the most. He asked about my personal statement on my UCAS form, and towards the end he asked me about my hobbies and recreational activities. My second interview was with the Maths tutor. He asked me to explain what I understood by differentiation. I explained it by drawing a curve and showing how differentation worked using first principles. He then asked me to differentiate x^2. I had done this before so it was easy enough. Then he asked me to differentiate sin(x), and I got completely confused at one point although I was able to correct myself. I managed to work through it, although I did not know how to prove that sin(x) tends to x for small values of x. He showed me a nifty little proof for this although he made me work through a lot of it. He then asked me how many vertices and how many sides a square has. Then he asked about a cube. Then he asked about a four-dimensional cube. I got this wrong initially but then he walked me through the problem until I gave the correct answer. Finally he asked me about sports and my UCAS form. My third interview went better than the first two. They asked me what part of maths I enjoyed the most. I said I was interested in chaos theory, and the Computer Science tutor then asked me about Lorenz’s weather model, and what exactly made it chaotic. They all seemed impressed with my answer (just as well I had read about Lorenz the week before!). I also said I liked working with complex numbers. There was a question on the exam that could have been solved with complex numbers, although I did not have time to finish it. So they got me to finish it on the whiteboard, and then they showed me an easier and quicker way to go through it. I did get confused a couple of times, but they seemed impressed with my answers anyway.

To all three I wore white trousers with a belt and a blue casual shirt, with the top two buttons undone. I felt most comfortable in this – it’s not what I’d usually wear but I felt smart enough and at the same time I was comfortable. I didn’t think I could be comfortable in a suit (I’ve never worn one in my life, discounting my school uniform). There were only a few at my college who wore a suit.

Impressions

I was really impressed with how friendly everybody was at St Edmund Hall. One feature I liked was the side gate that we had to use if we were coming in late. I know that some colleges insisted that candidates were in the halls by certain times e.g. 10pm, but at St Edmund Hall they gave us a special key card and key code so we could use the side gate whenever we wanted, which I thought was great.

The rooms were quite big, although they did not have toilets or showers. There was a kitchen unit to every six rooms, and unisex toilets and showers too, which I thought was great! During the interview period, we had videos shown all day and every day in the JCR. The college bar also seemed great, although unfortunately they weren’t allowed to serve candidates.

Good

The kitchen staff were always fighting amongst each other which was quite entertaining.

They were very approachable and very friendly, especially the Maths tutor. The Computer Science tutor laughed at everything which I was impressed by, he’s the type of guy I could get on well with! The Maths tutor was always smiling and was very friendly towards me, and didn’t critisize me once.

Great bunch of people. I really got on well with them. We explored the pubs every night; we were all very like-minded people and everybody was very relaxed. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the other successfull applicants there next year.

Final stage

I had left for school before the post arrived, so my mum phoned the school and asked that I phone back urgently. I received the message during Physics class and my teacher let me out to go and phone her. When my mum told me by offer was an A and a B I just stood there and asked “Are you joking? You’re making this up aren’t you?” for about five minutes. The phone is in the school office and everybody in there thought I had gone mad or something terrible had happened. After getting off the phone I went straight to the Principal to tell him the news, as it was his old college that I had recieved an offer from. When I went back to Physics class my teacher went mad and opened a box of Celebrations for us and we didn’t do any work for the rest of the period.

Looking back

Yes. Even if I had not received an offer, I would have applied, simply because it is an experience. I could never live without knowing whether or not I was good enough for Oxford. It was a lot of work but in the end it has definitely been worth it.

Make sure you prepare for the exam, especially if you are only studying the single A-Level Maths and not studying A-Level Further Maths. If you can, visit the universities and colleges before you decide which college to choose. There is no way I could have picked the right college simply by looking at the prospectus.