English Language and Literature
Independent – selective
yes (9 A*,2 A)
(NA 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)
Details about the offer
A in English Literature
I still have a Warwick interview in January, and am aware that I still have a long way to go (ie A Levels!) before I can actually say ‘I’m going to Oxford’, so I’m trying (in vain!) to remain focused!
Decisions about the application
To be very honest, expectations from parents and myself were the main factor. But once I started to investigate, whilst being aware that Oxbridge are not necessarily the cliched ‘best’ in all aspects, I was very attracted the tradition and the one-to-one teaching that you do not get anywhere else.
Ironically, I didn’t give Oxford much thought because I had friends at Cambridge and I fell in love with it, … until (typically!) a few days before I applied, a teacher dropped in an offhand comment about Oxford being slightly easier to get into (!?) than Cambridge. I didn’t believe that in the slightest, but it got me looking at Oxford, and having remembered it being an equally lovely place, and perhaps less claustrophobic because of its size, and the slight differences in the course didn’t bother me, I thought, what the hell! Either way I thought my chances of success would be the same (ie low!)
Having made a bizzarrely hasty switch to Oxford, Christ Church was the only college I could remember when visiting the city earlier in the year. The buildings were gorgeous and it has an impressive music reputation. Although after I’d applied, I half-regretted my decision because people reminded me that it was a well-known, rich college and as a result would probably be over-subscribed. Grreeaat.
I had overwhelming support from the English Department and from the Head, and I did receive (very much needed!) extra tuition to drag me up to Oxbridge standard. But, in the actual interviews, I found that pre-rehearsed quotes are useless, and that if you do not know the texts which you wrote about in your essay b.a.c.k.w.a.r.d.s, you would have a very uncomfortable time.
The form: Sell yourself with genuine enthusiasm, and be sure to like and have opinions on any books/texts that you mention in your personal statement. In my second interview, the interviewer literally went through the authors I’d mentioned one by one, linking questions. Very nerve-racking!
The interview: Have a genuine interest and enthusiasm for the texts you write about, and talk to anyone who will listen (or even those who won’t!) about your opinions so you get used to actually vocalising them. Rather than trying to manicly lengthen your reading list, it will be a lot more beneficial to find a few types of poetry/novel/drama that you enjoy and have a couple of examples up your sleeve – I personally was relieved to find that everything that came up in the second interview I could at least comment on because I had mentioned them in my personal statement (although it was no less interrogating!) They may ask you about your A Level texts so make sure you can talk about them intelligently!
Apart from that, enjoy the interviews, because they are the only occasions when you can ‘be a boffin’ as it were and talk ‘literature’ to people who love it even more! Don’t be intimidated, of course they’ll know more than you, they’ve devoted their lives to literature, but because of this no amount of enthusiasm will be too much! Wave your arms around, nod/shake your head, smile/frown, laugh. After all, they’ll be teaching whoever they choose for the next three years, and they won’t want to be slogging away with someone who hardly reacts!
The requirement was two essays written for A Level study, so I submitted one essay on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (coursework) and one on Browning’s dramatic monologues (research as a follow-up to AS Level poetry). I recommend sending something on pre-20th century literature if you happen to have one available. Walking into my interview with two tutors, I got an encouraging “Hmm yes, Browning, that was very refreshing” which stopped my knees from completely buckling up!
The first one with two English tutors (in the letter it had said there would be three, never trust them!) was in one of their rooms – books absolutely everywhere! I sat in a low-ish swivelly armchair which squeaked everytime I moved! But it was generally a positive atmosphere. In the second, with a research fellow and two female graduates who were all lovely, I sat in the middle of a similar room in a hard chair while they sat on low sofas around me – very ‘on the spot’! Both were meant to last 20-25 mins but took 30mins – and felt like 10! Once you get going it IS quite enjoyable – in a sadistic kind of way!
The first one with the tutors was purely on the Corelli and Browning. Basically they gave me a different point of view to what I had expressed in my essays – a couple of times I asked them what they thought after I had given my own opnions so it took the form of a lively discussion. I was rather bemused when I realised they were actually doing most of the talking – at times I even had to interrupt them! If I made a link to another novel/poem/author we made brief diversions. In the second one, they asked me what I found interesting about the argument and the structure of the argument of a Virginia Woolf literary criticism passage. Then, that line of argument was discussed (as I’ve mentioned earlier) in reference to all the texts and authors I had mentioned in my personal statement – and Shakespeare.
This was all very confusing because the outfits of other applicants varied from stiff-collared suits to jeans and a comfy jumper. I opted for a happy medium – a red shirt and black trousers ie casual smart. Having said that it was utterly freezing in Oxford during the interview period, so I may have been wiser to choose something warmer. Either way, it’s nothing to lose sleep over, as long as you don’t look like you’ve just crawled out of bed/a dustbin, they won’t be in the least bit interested in your appearance.
I arrived at Christ Church for interview in the dark on my own, and so the grand buildings which had looked gorgeous before in daylight seemed rather imposing at first. But in the morning the grandeur of the (Harry Potter!) hall was awe-inspiring, and the Nerve Centre (where the interview times are posted) was warm and buzzing with animated applicants.
Choosing a rich college definitely had its advantages, the rooms were unbelievably spacious – mine was better than my room at home! All the rooms I visited had a lounge and a bedroom, all old and therefore grand. Be warned though, the rooms are freezing at night (especially if it takes you a couple of nights to discover one of the heaters, ahem).
A couple of the courses at dinner over the course of my three-night stay were admittedly slightly dodgy, but I for one don’t get three-course dinners at home! I thought there was an impressively wide choice of dishes at breakfast and lunch – I can see how easily you can put on a good few pounds eating as I had done while I was there!
The two tutors who interviewed me , both male, were perfectly friendly, both slightly eccentric! The younger one was quite pushy with his argument but that only prompted me to answer back with more gusto – with restrospect that must have been exactly why he had been like that!
I didn’t really get to know them, but they seemed very friendly and approachable.
Having told us that they would have the letter in the post by the 21st Dec, it didn’t actually come until Christmas Eve, so by that stage I must have sprouted a good few grey hairs. The waiting is definitely not good for your health! When it came I was still in bed and so was an emotional mess of being tired/petrified/dazed. When I read that I had been offered a place, my mum and I did a little dance, laughed a little, cried a lot! Then on the phone to friends who had been waiting in equal agony on my part, and then necessary ones to the school etc. I was shellshocked for a good while afterwards!
Yes I would, for the same reasons I’ve mentioned earlier. Both preparing for the interviews and actually doing them have really inspired/scared me into loving literature even more! Looking back at myself before I started the process I am quite bewildered at how little I knew in spite of wanting to try for Oxbridge. So for the experience, I would definitely apply again. You don’t lose anything anyway, it’s only one in six possible universities!
Enjoy the process, because otherwise it won’t be worth doing it to yourself! I feel very lucky, because there must have been so many people just as good if not better who did not get in, for no amount of bizzarre reasons. So take any result with a pinch of salt and don’t lose your head either way. And remember that wherever you end up you will have the time of your life so only think of Oxbridge success as a possible icing on a very delicious cake! If you decide to go for it, good luck!