Application

 Oxford

 St John’s

 English Language and Literature

 2002

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (8 A*,1 A)

A-levels

(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 A; gained A at A2)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in English Literature

AAB

yes

I chose Oxford as my firm place, and Southampton (offer ABB) as my insurance.

N/A

 offer met

Decisions about the application

It was a long shot so I didn’t set my heart on it, but I liked the course, the tutorial system, and especially the college system, where you get the best aspects of both a campus and a city university combined.

I preferred the Oxford English course to the Cambridge one, it seemed slightly more modern and inclusive, though both were good…

Without an incredible amount of knowledge/deliberation, to be honest. I liked the brief description in the prospectus (big, fairly informal, lots of state school students), and although this wasn’t all that much info to go on, it seemed to me that all the colleges were good in their own ways … I didn’t put in an open application though, because I didn’t want to go to St. Hilda’s (a previous 6 years of single-sex education was quite enough). Oh, and another reason for choosing St. John’s was its location near the town centre (and near the Odeon just down the road!)…

Preparation

yes

Not really. I just had a couple of informal chats with my English teacher, but our school didn’t make a practice of coaching Oxbridge applicants specially.

The form: Er… not really… I filled in the box for additional comments but I have no idea if that was important or not. Sorry!

The interview: Erm… know your stuff and be prepared to talk about it right there and then? I hadn’t done much oral discussion of literature beforehand, but that’s probably a good idea. But probably most of all just be yourself, and don’t pay too much attention to all those rules about how to sit or look or speak. Oh, and also if possible, get to your interview the night before .. it gives you more time to look over the pre-released text.

Interview

no

yes

I had to submit two essays (although there was a mix-up where St. John’s sent a later paper asking for three, it wasn’t necessary in the end – though I panicked and sent another one anyway!) … they did tell us the essays shouldn’t be analyses of small passages of prose or verse, rather, wider topics. I submitted essays which I’d already written and which my teachers had already marked, as we were told to do … though I actually sent a GCSE essay on “Pride and Prejudice” for one of them, as I didn’t have very many A-Level ones on novels at the time of application!

no

I arrived there the night before my interviews, and was given two (related) poems to look over before the big moment. I got there too late for dinner, so I just stayed and made notes on the poems … getting quite nervous!

The first interview took place in Professor Kelly’s room (which is where you have your tutorials if you get in!) … as another person on this site said, it’s got great old sofas that you sink right into … I didn’t get the chance to enjoy them, though, I was trying to stay in a dignified upright position by perching practically on the edge of the sofa … The second interview was in another of the tutors’ rooms, in North Quad. Both interviews were on the same morning, spaced about an hour or two apart … but we had to stay another day in case we got called for interview at another college, which happened to a couple of other people.

I didn’t get asked a single general question or even any on the non-curricular writers I’d said I liked in my personal statement; they were all academic discussions about the stuff I’d been studying, and the poems they’d given me. They cut to the chase, in other words!! I was asked about “Othello” and Tennessee Williams in my first interview, and also asked to comment on whichever of the two poems I wanted. Unfortunately, they didn’t ask it quite that way – they asked which poem I LIKED more, and I somewhat stupidly chose the harder one … argh. The “Othello” questions, at least the ones that have been fixed in my memory for all eternity, were about Iago, whether or not he is the personfication of evil, or a rounded character in his own right. I sort of answered “yes” to both and tried confusedly to reconcile them … I can’t remember the Williams question I’m afraid. It’s been blotted out of my benumbed consciousness. I just remember babbling something about Stanley and money and then running out of things to say … Pretty demanding stuff, but interesting of course. The second interview was slightly less disastruous. There, I got asked about Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale (the significance of the fairies), and about the poems again, except this time I was asked to contrast the two (one poem was a reply to the other in the same style).

I wore fairly smart black trousers, black shoes and a pink poloneck jumper… I wasn’t sure how smart we had to go, but I felt uncomfortable in a suit or smart skirt and anyway it was cold! I was dressed more or less the same as the other candidates in this respect, so I didn’t feel out of place…

Impressions

I loved St. John’s… it was the only one I visited, in all honesty, but it was enough. It’s one of the bigger colleges, but they’re all still quite small, which really makes you feel at home there and less intimidated (though the dining hall, with the paintings and long tables full of students, like a mini Harry Potter hall, was quite daunting to me at first!)… the college has some beautiful buildings, though the more functional accommodation sites are pretty comfy too. The thing about the interview system where you actually stay in the college, is that you form an attachment to the place already, which maybe you don’t get with unis you haven’t seen or have only visited briefly… it certainly happened that way for me and this college.

Oh yeah, and I had no idea about the SJC reputation, either… that of being the richest/most workaholic college… I have no point of reference with other colleges or unis, so I don’t know if they work us harder here than other places… but believe me, the work is pretty hard, probably in all colleges!

For my interview, I stayed in the Beehive, which is (oddly enough!) a building based around a staircase system with hexagonal rooms. I also found it quite cute that the sets of unisex toilets and showers had a door at each end of the room, so you could get from staircase to staircase without going out into the quad!
OK… moving on from the loos… the rooms were really massive. Big wardrobes, a desk, a bed and a couple of comfy low chairs, lamps, a washbasin and a self-locking door. Which could conceivably have been tricky, so make sure you have your keys with you always!

Now I’m here, I can say that the Thomas White quad and accommodation is also pretty good and homey… the rooms vary in size though most are smaller than the Beehive rooms, but all are extremely comfortable and cosy, as is the (more private) quad itself and the staircase system here (with 5-room floors rather than a wide spiral) is pretty cosy too, with a small kitchen, a shower and a loo on each floor. You get a sense of community in the quad. The college bar, TV room and lounge are just underneath, too! 🙂

And finally… all rooms in the college have this year been given ethernet connections… well speedier than modems!

Good

English breakfasts… mmm… they’re free at interview, so take advantage of that!!! 🙂

Very interesting people! Very nice, if a little scary, (especially a couple of them) but all obviously really knowledgeable about their topics…

I didn’t see much of them (though I chatted to a couple of JCR people at breakfast), but they seemed friendly and helpful… and they organised a couple of video nights and some other activities (I saw “American Beauty” there on the second night, so they had good taste too!!)…

Final stage

I had a minor nervous breakdown?? It was totally unexpected … my first interview seemed so disastruous (I even ran out of things to say at one point in that Tennessee Williams question), I really thought I’d been rejected … I didn’t want to hear it over the phone so I waited for the letter, and it was a totally euphoric moment since I’d fallen in love with the place at interview, although the psychological pressure of getting the grades meant much stress over the following months!

Looking back

Yep … cos I got in, yeah, but it was worth the try anyway, for the experience.

Don’t set your heart on it, I suppose… I didn’t, though staying here at interview did make me feel sadder about feeling like I’d been rejected (which sounds really affected now, considering I got in, but seriously that’s how it felt! The interviews were pretty demanding and you don’t always come out feeling like you’ve lived up to it )… still. Don’t feel inferior if you don’t get in – also don’t think that people here feel superior because they did get in. There are far fewer snobs than the Oxbridge stigma suggests… there isn’t really any definitive advice to give except the old (true) cliché “be yourself”!! 🙂

For the applicants that do get in… be prepared for pretty intensive work demands (even if they aren’t always perfectly adhered to… ahem…)… and get through as much as possible of the reading list!! Really!!