Application

 Oxford

 Greyfriars

 English Language and Literature

 2000

 rejected

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 FE College

 yes (2 A*,3 A,5 B)

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 B; gained A at A2)

Other universities

N/A

I’m starting again. Luckily I can, because I’m taking a Gap Year. Thinking of trying Cambridge this time, or maybe Oxford again.

Decisions about the application

For a time I believed I was good enough. I’m used to being a straight-A student. I suppose it went to my head and the whole Oxford thing (dreaming spires etc) seemed so wonderful that it came to fill my waking and sleeping hours. I fell in love with the idea of being an Oxford student.

I met some Oxford students at a conference and they seemed really nice. I had previously disregarded any fleeting pretentions towards Oxbridge on the grounds that I’m common and they’re all snobs, but their attitude really changed my mind. The ones I met were great, anyway.

Greyfriars is Catholic, which appealed to me, and small. Perhaps I also hoped it might be easier to get into, being not very popular. (Hah.)

Preparation

yes

My excellent English teacher gave me an hour and a half extra tuition each week, which was great. Everyone was very willing to give advice (including “Oxford isn’t for everyone” and other warnings. But it was too late, and I was deaf to all but the call of Oxford!)

The form: Mention specific authors, but for God’s sake know loads about them, and be ready to talk about them.

The interview: Don’t think you can learn certain impressive facts, and just reel them off and hope they’ll think you’re knowledgeable! Very, very bad idea. Get to know a couple of authors you’re really interested in, and spend time forming opinions of them. Know what you think as well as what the critics say. They’re looking for a genuine personal response. Beforehand, eat a banana (well, it can’t hurt) and try to keep your mind calm. Whatever you do, don’t get to the point where you feel your life hangs on this interview. The terror could make you inarticulate.

Interview

no

yes

2 essays, one on the rather dodgy subject of Caliban’s moral status in the Tempest, and the other an English Language essay on Language Acquisition, which was totally irrelevant but got a good mark. Mistake, I think.

no

I hope you realize what this is doing to me! Ok, well… It was on a chill morning shortly before Christmas that I packed 18 books of Literary Criticism into my bag, and took a 5-hour train journey down to Oxford. Read throughout, with the desperation of one who has no idea what she is doing. I had three different people sitting opposite me at intervals throughout the journey, and bizarrely, they all had connections with Oxford. The first was a boy who told me his sister had applied and been turned down, and he spent some time telling me that Oxford is full of f**ing snobs who haven’t got f**ing time for anyone. There was also a kindly old lady whose sister is a lecturer or something at Oxford, and she told me that Oxford isn’t for everyone. (Where had I heard that before?) And there was someone else, who I can’t remember. The whole thing was a bit like a sequence dream, anyway.
Arrived late evening and was given a cup of tea and had an “informal chat” with a tutor. I could not think of one thing to say, nor could I remember one book that I had read in my entire life. The nightmare begins. They showed me to my room and I stuck my home-made Revision Posters on the wall, then went to find a supermarket and purchased a banana (because I have heard that one should always eat a banana before any exam, since they provide quick-release energy to the brain). The next morning I had my interview. It was ghoulish. 3 of them sat in a semicircle surrounding me, and though the door was just behind me, terror glued me to my seat. Afterwards, I knew it had all gone wrong. I stumbled across to my room, threw myself on the bed and cried for 2 hours. Left as soon as poss.

The usual stuff about myself and why I wanted to study at Oxford, etc, etc, to put me at my ease (I think they noticed the abject fear in my eyes). They asked about my faith, because it’s a Catholic college, and moved on to questions about what I’ve read, what I thought of things. Oh My God. I was desperately dredging in my brain, but it had mysteriously emptied itself of EVERYTHING except a clammy grey fog. It was horrible, horrible! Such was my need for prompting that they were practically telling me what to say. At the end they asked whether I thought I would be able to hold my own in the one-to-one tutorials they have. Against all evidence, I whispered, “yes”. Could feel them glancing at one another.

A denim skirt, knee-length boots and a purple jumper. No coat, because I was staying in the next building and there was no waiting or anything. I think the boots were a mistake.

Impressions

It was the Christmas holidays, and it was empty except for a couple of tutors, a handful of monks, the gate-keeper guy (who was lovely) and one other interviewee. I loved what I saw of the college, but though everyone was friendly, I felt it was a mask, and behind it they were watching me very critically. (But maybe I was just being paranoid.)

Nice room. Washbasin in room, shared bathroom.

Good

… at least, it would have been good if I wasn’t vegetarian. They didn’t provide an alternative so I had nothing to eat at the evening meal, except the dessert. But they weren’t to know, so I don’t hold it against them.

I felt they tried to be nice to me. Don’t want to say much, because if I speak out of bitterness, they may read this and be upset or offended. They probably were nice.

Didn’t meet any. But I passed a lot of them in the street; they were all wearing long black coats and striding very purposefully and confidently, like racehorses. I was very frightened by this and it renewed all my old fears about whether I would ever fit in.

Final stage

I seem to have suppressed my memory of it. I knew I hadn’t got in, anyway, but I scrunched the letter up as small as I could and stuffed it in a drawer. It’s still there because I daren’t touch it.

Looking back

Funny you should ask. After being severely depressed for months, I’ve recovered and studied and my love of literature has become so much more genuine and informed, and I’m thinking of applying again this September (2001) (NOT to the same college). I wasn’t ready for it last year.

READ READ READ. Don’t try to create an image for yourself, or be false, even a bit. It will all go horribly wrong. Don’t be pretentious. (you know if this is you!) Don’t cry for 2 hours if it’s a disaster, it isn’t worth it. And good luck.