Application

 Oxford

 Oriel

 English and Modern Languages

 2002

 rejected

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Grammar School

 yes (4 A*,6 A,1 B)

A-levels

(D at AS)

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

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

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

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

Other universities

yes

yes

Well, I’m still waiting on Nottingham to even acknowledge my application, let alone make me an offer, but I’m pretty certain anyway that I want to go to Birmingham to study English and German, in the year beginning Autumn 2003.

Decisions about the application

I changed my mind a couple of weeks before the Oxbridge deadline; I hadn’t wanted to do a foreign literature-based course at any university, then after a week of studying some German poems and plays, I rather sheepishl;y changed my mind. Then I thought there was no reason why Oxford shouldn’t be one of the places I applied to.

I’d already visited Cambridge while on an extracurricular course, so I thought it would be interesting to apply to Oxford so I could see what that was like. It’s also closer to where I live (Plymouth).

I thought it would be nice to be in a small college and in the prospectus it mentioned having a Shakespeare play out on one of the lawns in summer, which none of the other colleges had.

Preparation

yes

They helped me prepare all the essays to be sent off and my headmaster gave me a mock interview which was much more difficult than the real ones.

The form: My essays got delayed in the post and the college phoned everyone up to ask where they were: my mum, my mobile phone, my school etc. Luckily I’d made photocopies of each one after the teachers had marked them, so we faxed those of instead. So my advice is photocopy everything you send off.

The interview: On the form they send you asking a for “texts you would be willing to talk about at interview”, pick books which are very popular and well-known. The tutors didn’t want to talk about the left-field novelist I’d put down (Adrian Mathews), but made me feel awkward by saying “Unless you want to sell it to us” which implied that my silence on the subject was indicative of a lack of enthusiasm for the book (a novel which of course I had myself opted to put on the Oxbridge form).

Interview

no

yes

For English I submitted an essay on “Othello” and one on “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” and for German I sent off a translation from a German news article into English, and the German script of my module 3 speaking test on the German welfare state. None of the interviewers asked me about or even mentioned my essays while I was in Oxford.

yes

There was a nasty written exam for German which I was told – at the start of my German interview – everyone had found difficult. The tutor looked at a couple of questions and started using big grammar words I didn’t understand, and didn’t really want to, quite frankly. They seem to be a bit behind the times in language teaching if they are still doing parsing and trying to teach German in a manner totally alien to the way we as children learned English.

I was late to the first one so was very relieved to find that they were a bit behind schedule. The first English interview we just talked about my chosen books. Both English interviews were on the same day. The second one was much more tense. I hadn’t a clue what the poem (“My last duchess”) was about but was pleased that they wanted to hear us read it aloud first before starting a discussion.

As for the German interviews, the first was a stressful general interview where the tutor kept misinterpreting my UCAS statement. The second was more relaxed as we had my exam script to look at, as well as discussing a medieval poem I had been told to collect beforehand.

About “Catch-22”: Is Yossarian a hero for our times? Isn’t PFC Wintergreen a horrifying character? About “Dracula”: How many men want to marry Lucy? How may men pump their blood into her? What do you think of the structure of the novel?

About “Fruhlings Erwachen”: Does Wedekind see the children’s relationships as healthy? What does the Masked Gentleman represent?

The interviews were closer to conversations than question and answer sessions. Some of the time it was as though the tutors were telling me what they thought about the texts rather than listening to my opinions. There was hardly any at all of the “Why do you want to study this subject?” questions I had expected. The thrust of the interviews seemed to be much more about how we approached specific texts than our motivation for choosing the course.

Black school shoes each and every day because taking more than one pair of sheos when you travel is silly as they take up a lot of room in your luggage. At times I felt as though I was the most casually-dressed person in the entire city of Oxford, let alone Oriel college. I wore blue jeans, black combats comfy jumpers etc. while quite a few other candidates had gone right to the other extreme and put on ridiculously formal suits. They looked quite smart at mealtimes, but I think my relaxed dress was finally vindicated when I walked into my last interview to find a tutor wearing a very colourful knitted jumper. I can’t begin to describe how lovely it looked in a city full of knee-length black woollen coats (on the Friday of my interviews week it rained quite heavily. I went out through the lanes and along the main streets and saw, among perhaps a couple of hundred umbrellas, a solitary example that wasn’t in a single shade of black. What, I hear you ask, was the daring tonal combination that Oxford’s most outré fashion guru held in their right hand? An alternation of panels on their canopy, which switched from black, to grey, and then back to black again. All the way around its 360 degrees).

Impressions

Oriel is a tiny little place with a tunnel under one of the city streets. The tunnel is quite amusing because everywhere else is very formal with lampshades on all the lightbulbs and carpeted floors, then a for a bout thirty seconds as you walk from one part of the college to the other, it seems as though you’ve entered a nuclear bunker, with 70s brown tiled floor, walls and ceiling, and fluorescent strip lights just inches from the top of your head.

Other colleges worth looking at are massive and quite scary Christ Church, with a “meadow” which had a tiled path stretching through it (I don’t know! when was the last time you walked through a pastoral meadow with buttercups and waist-high grass parted by a row of embedded paving stones?)

My room was unbearably cold for the first 24 hours until I accidentally knocked over a board of MDF to reveal a pair of electrical sockets, both of which led to my convector heater. The plug marked “Off-peak” was turned on, while the “On-peak” switch was turned off. Ah, how thoughtful, I thought, they’ve left me to shiver and die in this rattly old room (very spacious with almost full length windows) just because I’m too reverent to pull the room to pieces to figure out its wiring system. To add insult to injury, the college had a put a timer switch on so every two hours I had to go and push the button in to turn the heater on again.

The en-suite was perfectly serviceable, and thoughtfully they’d left a towel so I would advise future candidates to save the packing space and leave your own one at home.

I was issued with a magnetic key to open all the gates into and out of the college. Of course, I didn’t bring one with me from Plymouth, so how they expected me to get into the building on the first night I don’t know. Luckily one of the porters let me in and showed me how to use the door panels (which I had been rather forlornly pushing until my thumb got sore. Sadly, there isn’t enough iron in my diet to create a magnetic field around my limbs yet, Oriel…)

Edible but not great

There was a good selection at lunchtimes and the food seems very cheap (though of course I didn’t have to pay because they were interviewing me). In the evenings, however, we had waiter service which was quite intrusive and the whole meal was tense as nobody knew whether they were allowed to leave or not (’til me and a couple of others just marched out to make room for some undergraduates). The tomato soup was well-known among the current students for being very, very spicy, as I found to my peril when I sipped a tiny amount and nearly burned my mouth. One diner commented critically on the (to me) rather up-market shaded table-lamps, saying with a smile, “At Cambridge they have real candles at mealtimes.”

Not over-friendly but then people are desperate to get to Oxbridge so there’s no real need for them to be. Quite amusing during the interviews, one English Fellow commented on Lucy’s choice of husband in “Dracula”: “So she has the choice of a Texan, a doctor, an a lord. She chooses the lord. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Set up for life, she is, marrying a lord.”

The girl assigned to take me to my room was by her own admission quite drunk, and got lost twice, but seemed nice enough. One of the modern language students was really friendly and actually said goodbye on the last day, which no-one else in the college had done. The head helper from the undergraduates was constantly treating us like sheep to be herded around into different palces at the right time.

Final stage

Well, I didn’t receive it for one thing. it went to my mum’s house while I was staying at my dad’s. She saw how thin it was and realised the news, but popped it through the letter box while I was out having a driving lesson. I saw it on the stairs, clocked the thickness (cheers to www.oxbridge-info.co.uk for that little hint) and carried on walking. My dad brought it up to my room a few minutes later, made me open it straight away. He read it over my shoulder and was very consoling, as was his girlfriend. Perhaps the most unusual response was when I told my aunty that I had a.) applied and b.) not been accepted (I had found out recently that she had studied at Oxford), when she cryptically replied, “Well I don’t have good things to say about Oxford”. I’d heard before that she didn’t enjoy her time there, and quite some fair few of my school teachers were ridiculing “a degree where you study old German poems in translation”, so overall I wasn’t actually too bothered about not going. I’m still nto completely into the mindset of going to live in a university and not just a city, and of course as far as other facilities (shopping, concerts, exhibitions etc.) go, my second choice I think trumps quaint little Oxford. Although Oxford is close to London, I suppose…

Looking back

Of course I would. If you can tell me where in Oxford you can “buy”, as it were, 4 nights full board and lodgings for a Ł10 application fee, then I suppose you’d see marginally more of the city without the distractions of four or five interviews. But really, considering you don’t have to do very much at all while you’re there, I would say that anyone who likes architecture or history should apply to Oxford just to see the city. Even if you know you don’t want to go there, apply and get some interview experience and a nice break from schoolwork.

If you come out of Oxford train station and walk down the steps, stopping before you walk out into the road, there’ll be a bus waiting on your right which goes into the high street for a 50p single. It’s a deceptively short journey, so you may feel tempted to walk back to the station at the end of your week. Don’t.

I’m not so enfeebled that I can’t ordinarily manage a three-quarter mile walk along dead-level streets. However, last December I had taken my wheelie luggage along to the interviews (a bag with two mini wheels on the bottom and a tow-along handle on top). Oxford has very attractive paving, but unfortunately it is composed of small tiles with wide grooves between each one. So pulling any wheeled appliance along makes a noise akin to the grinding teeth of a blue whale.

And yes I’m aware that they don’t have proper teeth.