Application

 Oxford

 Balliol

 History (Modern)

 2008

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Comprehensive School

I was the only Oxford applicant from my school, the other Oxbridge applicants (aboit 4 of them) chose to apply to Cambridge due to it being nearer. My teachers were very supportive but the application process was at times confusing due to the assumption on the part of Oxford that there was someone ‘co-ordinating’ Oxford applications, meaning that no one knew to whom the test I had to sit was sent!

 yes (9 A*,1 A)

A-levels

(A at AS)

(E 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

 conditional

AAA

yes

Received an ‘acceptance of offer’ form from Balliol with the offer letter, and have returned this, although I believe it is for largely administrative purposes; I will accept the offer on UCAS as soon as my two remaining universities get back to me!

yes

N/A

I feel that both St Andrews and King’s College London are on a fairly similar level, or at least they are both strong second choices; St Andrews I have yet to hear from and KCL I have an AAA offer from.

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

It was slightly pre-determined; from the age of 5 my teachers were insisting that I go to Oxford or Cambridge! In retrospect, these expectations did put pressure on me during the application process but it was entirely my own decision to apply; for me Oxbridge had always represented an amazing opportunity to further my education and when I attended the Oxford Open Day (alone, so that I could make my own decision) I discovered that I really loved the town and all of its little eccentricities.

It’s a bit complicated! When I was younger I had always intended to apply to Cambridge, because I knew it slightly better due to living about an hour’s drive away. However when choosing my AS Levels I looked on their website and found that I was in a bad position from their point of view due to having not taken an MFL at GCSE. Although I have since rectified this, when I contacted them at the time about how strict this requirement was their response was less than friendly. On the other hand, when I contacted the Oxford colleges regarding the most appropriate AS Levels to choose, they were unfailingly friendly. By the time I had left the Oxford Open Day my Oxford loyalty was well and truly confirmed!

Once again, in a very convoluted and complicated manner! I had originally intended to apply for English, then whilst looking at prospectuses became attracted to the idea of a Joint Honours degree in English and History, because they were both subjects that came naturally to me and that I really enjoyed. However, I came to realise that I would be better off applying for one or the other subject, since attempting to juggle both – and thus possibly missing out on the depth or breadth of both – would probably have frustrated me. By that time I had come to enjoy my History A Level far more than my English. My final ‘test’ of which was the best to apply to was in my Personal Statement; I found myself writing about how much I loved History and realising that it was quite true and that it was indeed the subject I wished to study for 3 or more years.

Before going on the Open Day I shortlisted a number of colleges which I wanted to visit and liked the look of, but I chose to stay overnight at Balliol. From that moment on it was more or less decided for me! The student helpers at Balliol were just great and the place felt right for me – although I later vacillated towards Wadham, the ‘loyalty’ that the time at the Open Day had inspired in me was a bit too strong to resist. Also Balliol is very central (smack in the middle of 3 bookshops – heaven!) and seemed to be the kind of place that had the right atmosphere (i.e. not too formal!) which I could fit in with for 3 years.

Preparation

yes

Two of my History teachers gave me a mock interview before I went, and my other two History teachers were very helpful with regards to helping me choose an essay to send in.

Don’t worry too much about preparing; a mock interview is very helpful but don’t expect it to be like the real thing, it’s more to help you get used to thinking aloud than anything else. If you have to sit the HAT, I would definitely advise looking through a few past papers and mark schemes (available on the Oxford History Faculty website) so that you can get a feel for what they are looking for in your answers.

Interview

yes

The HAT, or History Aptitude Test.

yes

One piece of A2 History work, marked and unchanged for Oxford entry. I found the stipulations for this (that it had to be a ‘normal essay’ rather than source-based etc) a little difficult to fulfil and so sent in an AS essay with a covering letter. They accepted this, although it did make for a few hairy moments in the interview when they asked me to explain my reasons for sending an AS, not A2 essay and I made a less-than-coherent response! I would advise future applicants to get the written work sent off well in advance of the date required; mine got there in the nick of time and made for a few very stressful days.

no

I had two interviews at Balliol; one was a general interview about my essay and what I was studying at the time, and the other was based on a source I was given twenty-five minutes before hand. The former felt as though it went awfully, and I burst into tears a few metres outside of the room, although many of the student helpers were very kind and told me that often if an interview goes ‘badly’ it really went well! In my second interview I found that I got on really well with the interviewer and enjoyed it greatly.

The source I was give for my second interview was Martin Luther’s record of his trial for heresy during the Reformation in Germany. My first, more general interview focussed on my essay, which was on the 1930s, and on the other half of my History course, the Soviet Union and industrialisation. I would advise future applicants to be *very* certain that they want to talk about the topic which their essay is based upon!

In my first interview I was grilled on the 1930s and my perception of the Depression, and was then asked (regarding Russia) to give 5 points about industrialisation. In my second interview I was invited to ask questions about the source and we then discussed the motives of various figures featured in Luther’s account and the possible self-bias on Luther’s part. I was also asked about various elements of my Personal Statement, and the tutor very kindly recommended a book for me to read on one of the extra-curricular topics I had mentioned!

In my first interview I wore jeans and a smart buth very thick pink jumper (because it was cold!) and to my second I wore trousers and a blue smart V-necked top (because after the terrible interview the day before I wanted to try and impress a bit more!).

Impressions

Balliol struck me at once as very friendly and informal. I also liked the fact that it was an old college, although not as pretty as Worcester, which I also visited, but I felt that in the long-run this was a good thing, since it would probably wear on me better! During the interview period I visited Merton College and was given permission by the librarian and archivist to have a look at some papers (the letters of Andrew Irvine) held in their archives, which was a great honour and a spine-tingling experience, which certainly put Merton as second on my list of ‘favourite colleges’.

The room I was given during the interviews at Balliol was in the older part of the building and literally huge, with two settees and an ensuite bathroom. This however was third year accommodation; the first year rooms, which I also saw, are in a newer part of the building and much less spacious. However, there seemed to be lots of storage space and they seemed to be fairly normal university standard rooms.

Copious. There were some very nice meals provided, whilst others were a bit hit-and-miss. Breakfast was brilliant but is apparently not provided during term-time; once again, fairly average university grub, except served in a Hogwarts-style hall!

My first two interviewers, terrified me to death but were obviously hugely intelligent guys and hopefully a bit less intimidating in a tutorial situation, and indeed there were many History applicants who said they enjoyed their interview with them. Lyndal Roper, who led my second interview, was simply lovely and I am very much looking forward (if I get the grades!!!) to studying under her.

Amazing! Wonderful! Friendly! Organised awesome games for the evenings!

Seriously, the student helpers at Balliol just made the interview process so much less stressful and scary; it was great to have people to talk to who had been through (and survived!) it themselves, and the JCR was always full of things to distract us stressed-out applicants from the reason we were there…

Final stage

At first I was fairly philosophical about it (especially since I had just received a King’s offer) but as the date of the letters being sent out got closer and closer I became more and more worried – the last few days were agony since I knew friends from the interviews who had heard but due to the wonders of the postal service in my area I had not, so it was pretty tense! I don’t know how I’d have survive Christmas had the letter not arrived on Christmas Eve.

I had rung my Mum up from where I was working in town to check that the letter had arrived and she told me it had and that it was quite thick – nevertheless when I got home I was shaking as I opened the envelope! When I read the first line saying I had been made an offer I burst into tears… it was well worth the wait!

Looking back

Yes. Even if I had been rejected, I would still say this; I met some wonderful people through the interviews, and it was great to spend 3 days in Oxford. Even the interview that I felt went badly taught my something, and getting to read Andrew Irvine’s letters in Merton College gave me something concrete to take away from the interview period even if I didn’t get an offer. The HAT was also challenging but enjoyable so, yes, I would go back and do it all again, but I do not think that if I had been rejected I would have chosen to re-apply.

Don’t let it stress you out too much (and yes, I know, it’s easy for me to say!), and take one step – from the Personal Statement to the pre-interview tests to the interviews – at a time. If you do get to interview and one goes badly, or seems to, don’t stress too much about it; spend an hour or so getting it out of your system and then get read and calm for the next one (if you have a next one). If not, it may well not have gone as badly as you thought, so still don’t worry! Just do your best at every stage and have no regrets.