Application

 Cambridge

 Queens’

 English

 2003

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Grammar School

 yes (12 A*)

A-levels

(A at AS)

(A at AS)

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

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

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

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

Advanced Extension Awards

(predicted Distinction; gained Distinction)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Classical Civilisation, A in English Literature, A in Mathematics (Further)

yes

Accepted the Cambridge offer first, with University College, Durham, as insurance (AAB).

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Arguably the best education in literature that I could get anywhere.

The Cambridge English course seemed much better, giving a decent overview in Part I, and a good deal of flexibility in Part II. It is also possible to study foreign languages and literature as part of the English course, which I found especially appealing.

A family friend who had been there (in the ’70s) suggested that I would fit in. It has a good academic reputation, but lacks the pretensions of other colleges. I liked the English DoS, whom I met on the Open Day, and decided that I would like to spend three years studying there with him – I think for Arts subjects the people that you’ll work with will probably be more important than the college itself.

Preparation

yes

The English department at my school is especially lively, and likes to help Oxbridge applicants as much as it can – some other departments don’t give anywhere near as much support. I checked my personal statement with them, and I had an interview with the Head of English, to practise responding to unseen poems under pressure, etc… I spent time looking at T S Eliot and other writers who interested me with my form tutor – this went towards preparing an essay (without having to conform to A-level specifications, etc.), and to make sure that I would have plenty to talk about at interview. I gained much more from these ‘tutorials’ than the Eng Lit A-level, and – bar the essay – none of it was especially relevant to my application, as the interview was short. This amount of preparation is certainly more than I needed, however, I tended to view it more as an end in itself than as ‘Cambridge lessons’

The form: There is a box that asks for any extra comments on the course or college. To avoid making a personal statement that will be send to several universities read solely like an Oxbridge statement, use this to make specific points about the course, e.g. foreign language elements. However, unless you’ve got something intelligent to say, it’s probably best left blank.

The interview: – Read whatever you find interesting, and think about how you respond to it, and why it was written.
– Don’t be shy, talk about books with as many people as you can, get used to this kind of discussion.

Interview

no

yes

– AS-level coursework on ‘Measure for Measure’ – Essay on T S Eliot and Henry James that I prepared, without having to tick the Assessment Objective boxes

no

One half-hour interview with both tutors. I know that at other colleges the English interviews are different (a friend at Trinity had three lengthy ones).

It was a very friendly affair – one tutor was making himself a cup of tea during the start, big sofa, etc… We began with some informal chat – I’d read the DoS’s translation of Proust’s ‘Le Temps Retrouvé’, which he asked about briefly, but not in an ‘interview’ capacity (“Hooray!”…). They didn’t ask further questions about my essays.

One tutor made notes as the other questioned, and they alternated. I was asked about the A-level texts we were studying, and for my assessment of them, as well as the way in which we looked at them. We then moved on to two topics I mentioned in my personal statement, and finally looked at an unseen poem.

– Explain Blake’s dichotomy of Innnocence/Experience – general discussion of what I’d read, what I saw in him, etc… – Why does Blake use the figure of the Bard? – Something about Shakespearian tragedies, but I can’t remember what. It ended up dealing with which of the main four was most effective. – Explaining the unseen poem, paraphrase, discuss language/imagery, etc… Comment on how effective it was.

Black cords and a large rainbow-striped woolen jumper. It was very cold.

Impressions

Fairly relaxed, old buildings were pretty…

Only had a brief look at rooms. Seemed, er, ‘functional’.

Edible but not great

I was directed to the door of an office, from which they leapt out… Very friendly, relaxed, unpretentious. But still prepared to ask probing questions.

I only met two (English) students on the Open Day. Can’t really comment in general.

Final stage

I had a dentist’s appointment, so had to hurry out… Very happy to have an offer, but slightly worried by the requirement of an A in Further Maths…

Looking back

Of course.

Read good books.