Application

 Oxford

 St Hilda’s

 English Language and Literature

 2003

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (3 A*,7 A,1 B,1 C)

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)

Details about the offer

 conditional

AAA

yes

yes

yes

St Hilda’s as first choice, Warwick as my insurance.

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

The quality of tuition;I love the idea of tutorials and one to one discussion; the prestige and the chance to be around some of the future world changers (useful to befriend and borrow money from in the future). I didn’t really think that I had a chance but I thought I might as well apply to the best university if I was going to apply at all.
Also a sheer bloody-minded determination to prove my school wrong-I did and they now wish to photograph and video me (very disturbing).

I just felt drawn to Oxford somehow. I’ve always had in the back of my mind ‘I want to go to Oxford’ since I was about seven. Slightly scary. I had also heard that Cambridge was slightly snooty, but cant judge because I’ve never been there. When I visited Oxford it confirmed my feeling, the lovely setting and general relaxed atmosphere (a bit like a small town but without the nosiness and inbreeding).

I was a little overwhelmed by all of the different colleges I could apply to, so I made a list of preferences and scored them from the Oxford prospectus then looked at the top five. Not that I was an Oxford anorak or anything.
St Hilda’s seemed to have a good arts side, highly rated in English (apparently all of the last third years received firsts). I didn’t like the idea of applying to one of the more prestigious colleges-a bit too intimidating and I thought I’d be out of place as an obvious state school person, although in retrospect that isn’t true. I’d also seen a documentary about St Hilda’s cunningly foisted upon me by my dad who was keen for me to apply to Oxbridge. There was a state school girl on it who really inspired me to apply, the college seemed like a nice community as well, so this biased me to HIlda’s.
When I visited I fell in love with the place and there are punts. Who could ask for more?

Preparation

yes

Well…a talk on interview techniques which was really general and basically unhelpful and a mysterious Oxbridge video which turned out to be Cambridge propaganda. I arranged for a practise interview with my English teacher which was very useful and something I would recommend.

The form: Use the extra information box. You want to use every opportunity to impress. In my case I don’t think the interviewers had time to read it. It does make you look immediately keen and you can write about Oxford specific points that are not relevant in your UCAS form.

The interview: READ! I’m sure you do already but pick out some authors in your personal statement (not on your A-level syllabus) that you can talk about in the interview. Talk about literature to anyone who will listen-aural criticism practise is key and helps your confidence. Try to arrange practise interviews to pick out any weak points and particularly practise anaylsing unseen poetry.
I would recommend doing a huge amount of background reading because you can try to do too much and end up confused. Make sure you can talk intelligently about two or three authors as well as your a-level syllabus. Oh and get the submission essays out of the way as soon as possible- don’t work on them right up to the deadline otherwise you’ll end up seriously panicked.
Make sure that you can put across your enthusiasm for english-that is what they’re looking for. The tutors need to like you and want to teach you so be polite. I ended up saying-sounds pathetic but it must have had an effect- ‘I really love english’.
Basically do your homework, practise speaking and try to relax, get to know your fellow candidates-the best way to quell nerves is by comparing them.
(Note to insomniacs: Don’t drink Night Nurse the night before-it doesn’t work unless you have flu)

Interview

no

yes

Two essays-only one coursework and not re-written- but my best essays were both coursework, so I sent those. One was on ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in relation to society and the other a comparison of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ that I was drafting at the time. I don’t think it matters if you write an essay especially for submission (in fact it is probably better) just make sure it is marked. I wasn’t actually asked any questions about my submission essays.

no

I was the epitome of nervous, stinking cold, dosed up on cough mixture and didn’t sleep a wink the night before. By the time the interview came round (I was the first as well at 9.00am) I felt like I’d already lost any chance I might have had.
The first interview was with two tutors who both made notes on me and asked questions which was very unsettling, difficult to make good eye contact as well. Dr Jones (I think) kept a fast pace so it was hard to make considered answers, when I pasued she would go on to the next question. My plans to pause intelligently went straight out of the window and I found myself rambling (bad-they looked bored). I came out feeling like I’d faced a firing squad.
I had a second interview a couple of hours later with Dr Mapstone on her own, slightly more relaxed-great sofas. Both focused on my literary interests-particularly those I’d specified on my personal statement- and I had to analyse poetry in both.
The next day we had to stay in case any other colleges wanted to interview us. I was the only person that St Hilda’s wanted to interview again-instantly made me think I was a dodgy candidate.
So I had another interview, this time with all three tutors (even worse for eye contact) which was much shorter and centred around analysing a poem-embarrassingly about a couple who had just had sex- because they said that they felt they hadn’t seen enough of my poetry analysis, even though I’d already spent a good part of the previous interviews on poetry.
I was expecting to be given the poetry before the interview but it was given to me in the interviews to look at for a couple of minutes, then read through by the tutor

I was suprised that they didn’t ask any of the expected settling the candidate questions about why I chose hilda’s. This became obvious when I discovered that nearly all of the other candidates were open application. Apart from poetry analysis (which took up the majority of the time) the questions focused on the literary interests I had mentioned in my personal statement, which was disconcertingly on the floor infront of them. I was asked what I had read recently, questions extended from that into the nature of biographical fiction-was A S Byatt commenting on the adverse effects of biography on a novel. My interest in Blake and how I felt that art and literature overlapped. I was also asked about Iris Murdoch, who I’d chosen as my favourite author- how does Murdoch use the sea and water in her novels left me a little stumped. I supposed that they were trying to look at how well you can think on your feet so I tried to repsond to that. The interviews finished by asking if I had any questions. Useful to think up something memorable. I said that I intended to become a professional writer and asked in what ways the Oxford course would particularly benefit me. Probably best not to ask why St Hilda’s is one of the lowest colleges in the academic league tables as one of the other applicants did. (In fact they’re strong in English).

I brought a suitcase full of clothes and books thrown there in a hurry. I ended up wearing a minnie the minx style black and red polo neck and black cords and on the next day, a multi-coloured hoodie and a long black skirt-I was going for a memorable effect.

Impressions

Lovely. I was a bit disappointed that the punts only come out in spring/summer and wanted to have a joyride in one. Hilda’s just seemed friendly and relaxed (even through my haze of nerves). The dinner hall is a little scary, adorned with battle-axe style portraits looking sternly down at you.
I had already stayed over night at St Annes when I visited Oxford and I was disappointed with the St Hilda’s rooms in comparison. Much smaller and less facilities. Despite the smaller site the college has a great atmosphere-everyone seems to know each other. Nice library and JCR-although St Annes has a pool table (grrr).

Pretty basic. I heard it described on a documentary about Hilda’s as like cheap hotel. That just about sums it up. One shower and bath and kitchen beween about 15 people (and this was the best corridor), although apparently there was a sink in the room that I failed to find. The room was ok apart from the lack of ensuite (a friend interviewing at Cambridge showed off about his). Bed with pull out for ‘guests’, desk, wierd low seated chair and table which looked as if they had been made for obese dwarves. All very seventies and beige.

Excellent

Yum. I was raised on microwave meals so I’m easily impressed but this was good. Starters and everything with vegitarian options and a choice. I was intrigued to hear about a black market in meal tickets.

Friendly, you could tell that they were keen to pick out the best people. They seemed quite rushed – note the personal statement paper trail on the floor – but still concentrated on you in a way that made you feel thoroughly scrutinised and assessed. I had already met Dr Mapstone, which I think was a definite advantage and made me feel much less nervous.

Very bright and smiley-scarily so- keen to help. It was nice to be escorted to your interview and have someone to talk to while you waited. Some obvious posh types that you could imagine with horses, one escorted me to my first interview and made me -quite unintentionally- feel thoroughly small. Apart from that they seemed lovely.

Final stage

I refused to open it until the evening and spent ages carrying it around being threatened by my mum and friend to open the damn thing. After the interviews I was convinced I hadn’t got in so I thought ‘oh well its a thick rejection letter, telling you where you went wrong’.
When noone was looking I finally opened the thing and sat in shock, unable to speak for about 5 minutes. Then I smiled. A lot.

Looking back

Yes, definitely. Even if I’d been rejected I would because the experience of being interviewed is useful and you meet some interesting people along the way.

Don’t immediately let the prestige intimdate you. Oxford want enthusiastic people who love their subject. It doesn’t matter what kind of school you’re from-they can easily spot coaching anyway- or how much you know (I feel like I know nothing) as long as you have the talent and the desire to learn. If you think you might like it find out more and if you feel the same go for it! Try to work hard for your AS-levels because consequently you need much lower grades at A2 to fulfill intimidating offers-I got AAAAB for AS and need CCC at A2 to get AAA at A-level.
Good luck to anyone reading this! The more you want it the more likely it is you’ll get it.