Application

 Cambridge

 Christ’s

 English

 2008

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Independent – selective

 yes (11 A*)

A-levels

(A at AS (260 UMS))

(A at AS (291 UMS))

(A at AS (300 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (300 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (284 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (261 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

Advanced Extension Awards

(predicted NA; gained Distinction)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in English Literature

AA

yes

yes

yes

Also received offers for BA English from Durham and Bristol, both of which gave exactly the same offer as Cambridge.

 offer met

Decisions about the application

Place to study with like-minded people, freedom to pursue my own academic interests, supervision system, good career or postgraduate prospects.

Some people at my school were convinced that Oxford would be easier (based on the fact that they didn’t require UMS marks and my school’s track record) but I wanted to keep an open mind and base my decision purely on the course. I liked the fact that Cambridge had separate compulsory papers on literary theory and literature in other languages, both of which interested me. The structure – whistlestop tour for 2 years (with no exams at the end of the first year!), and then time in th 3rd year to specialise – was more appealing than Oxford’s.

Sort of covered that in the response above, but I’ve always enjoyed and been good at finding meaning in literary texts, and exploring how they connect with history and other art forms.

Its comparatively small size for a Cambridge college; its central location in town; traditional architecture without being too much of a tourist trap; accommodation provided for all 3 years; interesting-looking drama and film societies; its reputation for hard work and good academic results, rather than too much of a party culture; thorough and enticing subject description on its website; the chance of an unconditional offer.

Preparation

yes

I had a few practice interviews – 2 which were about 30/40 minutes long, and 3 which were about 15 minutes long. One was discussing one of my application essays; one was general questions; the others were looking at unseen poetry.

Mock interviews can be helpful, but they’re not essential – the important thing is to prepare yourself by reading widely, but not so widely that your head starts to spin, and go into those interviews still enjoying literature. Given that Cambridge asks for a lists of the texts studied at AS, it really does help to go over those.

Interview

no

yes

I submitted my AS Shakespeare coursework on ‘Othello’ and a second essay on Coleridge’s poetry. You’re meant to submit stuff that’s part of your normal schoolwork but, because I took Eng Lit off-timetable by myself, I wasn’t really doing normal schoolwork – so the second essay was a bit of a long, rambling free project to be honest, and in hindsight I’m not that impressed with it. Other people in these profiles have submitted personal projects like this as their work – but I imagine it tends to be better just submitting (or tinkering) school essays…

no

I had 2 English interviews, each with one of the College Fellows, and 1 general one with the admissions tutor. The latter was basically a chat clarifying points in my personal statement, and thus it’s hard to judge whether it went well or badly. The English ones began with unseen poetry analysis, then moved on to some points about the submitted work, clarification of bits in the personal statement, and a few general questions which arose from those. The second one went better than the first, but I think I had strong and weak bits in both.

The unseen poems were by Geoffrey Hill and Margaret Cavendish. With the former, I was sort of led through the poem, focusing on what it meant word by word and how that affected my judgement; the latter was a bit freer, and we discussed the possible influence of context. We discussed place, particularly urban setting in T S Eliot’s poetry and the influence of the continent on English modernism (based on points in my personal statement). I also parroted some really obvious critical points on ‘Paradise Lost’ which I’d just finished – that probably marked me down a bit… See below for further questions.

To what extent can all poems be considered fragments (based on something I hadn’t considered in my Coleridge essay)? Discuss Shakespeare’s representation of Italians (the interviewer noted my Italian name). What are the advantages and disadvantages of looking at and ignoring context when dealing with works of literature? What was the last book you read?

I went for the vaguely smart look, thinking it was the safest bet. Black school trousers and shoes, smart shirt without tie, long black coat. To be honest, I doubt it mattered.

Impressions

See ‘Why I applied there’ really. I also had a look around Queens’, which was also nice, but a bit too big for my liking and I found the modern architecture there intrusive, unlike at Christ’s.

Didn’t see them at interview. Now that I’m living there, it’s fine by me.

I ate lunch in Upper Hall (the informal canteen). Again, Christ’s food is adequate, not great – but it’s not really what you go there for.

All of them were very welcoming and friendly, which shone through the formality of the situation, although I imagine one was being slightly more reserved and ‘bad cop’ than usual for interview purposes. They genuinely seemed engaged by what I had to say, and gave their own ideas without being condescending.

My interview was well after the end of term so the only other student I met was an economics postgraduate in the canteen, whom I struck up a conversation with as I was early and had nothing else to do. She was nice.

Final stage

There was a good fortnight between the interview and finding out. I had several ‘damn I should’ve done that…’ moments – I guess they’re inevitable and they’ll come when you have nothing else to think about, eg. in the bath. But it wasn’t too agonising…

I was very pleased, particularly as it gave me the freedom, if I wanted to. Given my feelings about the interviews, I wasn’t surprised not to get an easy offer, and in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t – I’d’ve put pressure on myself to get the A’s anyway and it would’ve been awkward among friends at school who’d got conditional offers.

Looking back

Oh yes!

Work hard at AS – it makes so much difference, both to the application and throughout the A2 year. And be yourself – cos that’s the person your interviewers will end up teaching…