Application

 Oxford

 Keble

 English Language and Literature

 1999

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Independent – selective

 yes (8 A*,1 A)

A-levels

(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)

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

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in English Literature

AAB, Excluding General Studies

yes

Oxford will be my frim acceptance, insurance probably Birmingham.

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

For the tutorial system and intensely academic atmosphere.

After reading both prospectuses, I actually preferred Cambridge, and in truth very nearly applied there. However, my school suggested that I was more likely to succeed at Oxford and the tutors at the open day appeared far more encouraging and much less aloof than those at Cambridge.

The college is academic, sporty, and has excellent facilities. The tutors at the open day were also impressive

Preparation

yes

Yes – quite a lot. I undertook a course in practical criticism, and had several mock interviews.

The form: I think candidates too often regard the application form as a mere receptacle for factual information – this is a serious mistake. As one of the tutors at Oxford put it at an open day, “your battle to impress begins here”. Remember that your form will be scrutinised; for your prose style, for your motivation, for your wider reading and for at least a dozen other things. You must impress – and this is the one situation where *you* are in control.

The interview: My advice to all candidates applying for English is threefold. First, know your set texts backwards: I’m convinced what got me my offer was my knowledge – and ability to qutoe and discuss – of the poetry of John Donne. Second, be prepared to talk about anything on your forms – it doesn’t look good if you can’t, but if you can you can then really show off. Lastly, *argue*: several times the interviewers challenged my ideas and all bar once I stood my ground. The letter myschool received suggested they found this trait impressive. Back up your ideas, and don’t be afraid to disagree – but *do* know when you’re beaten.

Interview

no

yes

I had to submit “2 marked and not rewritten essays, prepared in the course of my A-level studies”. I, however, wrote 2 essays specifically for application! This is a good idea.

no

I arrived at the college the night before my interview. All candidates were told that interviews would begin at 8.30 am – and not necessarily in alphabetical order. Given that breakfast was scheduled for 8.15-8.45 am, this caused some consternation: most people were up at 7 to discover the time of their interview(s)! All English applicants were told to expect at least one – and probably two interviews, an to consult the college notice board regularly – for here were all messages posted.

My first interview was at 3.30pm. I had to collect a poem 20 minutes before the interview, then go to wait outside the room indicated on the map that I was given. As it turned out, the room was on the other side of the college – and Keble is *big* – and up 3 flights of stairs. Consequently, I should only have about 10 minutes to look at the poem. Fortunately though, the interview before ran late!

I was invited into a large sitting room by the two interviewers and offered a chair. They sat on a sofa amidst piles of paperwork and the interview began. One of the men spent most of the time reading through my UCAS form and listening to my answers. In fact, I think he asked one question!

The questions were initially straightforward but quickly became much less so. To begin with, I was asked why I had chosen Oxford, why I wanted to do a degree in English, and what I expected to gain from the course; these I had expected and was prepared for. One of the interviewers asked me then what texts I was studying at A-level, and began to ask me about “The Lover’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer. He asked me whether the work was English or not and whether it was a narrative poem or merely a versified short story – and was there a difference? We discussed the motivation of Chaucer’s characters and the view of life that the tale presents. The above questions were reasonably easy; I did not feel stretched, and in fact just think they were almost a warm up. The topic of conversation then changed to John Donne and his poetry, and became immediately much harder. First, the interviewer asked me to recite verbatim both “The Flea” and “The Relic”: these are long, complex poems and I was fortunate to have recently learnt them! I was then asked to discuss – using these two poems as a specific starting point – the role of religious motifs in Donne’s love poetry. I struggled a little here, but quoted frequently and referred back to the poems’ language as often as possible. It is perhaps worth noting that both interviewers appeared surprised I could do this task. Finally he asked me how Donne had influenced 20th century poetry – not surprisingly considering I had stated an interest in T. S. Eliot and Derek Walcott on my UCAS form! – and I put together an answer whose central premise was the integration of thought and feeling. The interviewers then asked me to read aloud the poem I had been given ( a difficult monologue of unknown author) and to describe what I found interesting about it. I briefly described its structure and central idea, paying attetion to its conversational stylee and unusual language. The interviewers then asked me to consider certain lines of the poem in isolation, and then the interview ended most abruptly. I was simply told that they had seen all they required, and did I have any questions? I asked one or two brief course-related questions and left.

Impressions

Keble was large and mixed the old-fashioned and modern very well. Pembroke and Magdalen also attracted me.

Very large and modern, if rather sparse. Room had a sink and desk but no ensuite. Still considerably bigger than my room at home though.

Good.

Very pleasant, friendly and knowledgable. Highly impressive.

Most seemed OK, if a little disinterested. A few were loud and arrogant.

Final stage

I actually received a phone call 4 days later which was fantastic. The tutor seemed genuinely pleased to be having me, and I was delighted.

Looking back

Yes, definitely. The feeling of satisfaction more than made up for all the stress/hard work.

Other than the interview advice detailed above, (in short know your stuff and argue) there are a few good ideas. First, all informatiopn with regard to interview is normally posted on college noticeboards at comparatively short notice: so check them regularly. At Keble a number of individuals missed a second or third interview – whether they subsequently received an offer or not I really don’t know! Try also to remain calm: few people perform well when panicked. Arriving for interviews in plenty of time is furthermore a good – if obvious – tip.