History (Modern)








 Comprehensive School

 yes (5 A*,5 A)


(A at AS)

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

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

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

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

Advanced Extension Awards

(predicted Distinction; gained Distinction)

Other universities


Decisions about the application

The tutorial system, the potential job offers, the top-class reputation and the amazing “oxford experience”

Although both have excellent reputations, Oxford’s bigger and more, well, groovy!

I wanted a big community, plus had heard good things of the orchestra and the all-important bar! It’s beautiful and right in the middle, but also very competitive… although I doubt that made much difference!



An hour-long patronising session from the headmaster – who had never attended oxbridge nor had any hope of it – which wasn’t terribly helpful, and a similar affair from a well-meaning cambridge-graduate maths teacher who, bless him, did his best with very little material!

Know your essays very well, or at least read them! don’t leave them at home. Also, be GENUINELY interested in history. If you just muddle through it at school while managing to fake talent, thinking it might lead to a good job, it’s not the subject for you! and if you must fake it, read around your a-level syllabus to make it convincing.




I submitted an essay from lower sixth on Henry 8th (a subject on which I had forgotten almost everything by the time of my interview), and a very rushed essay on the french revolution which apparently they found very interesting until they realised that was the extent of my knowledge!


My first interview was based on my essays. I blanked completely because I’d left them at home and thoroughly confused myself with regard to literacy rates in france in the 18th century. In my second interview, I spent a long time talking about sylvia plath and very little about history. when asked history related questions I froze. It was at this point I realised I didn’t really like the subject I’d applied for, and would much rather be in an english interview.

The first was based on my essays, challenging opinions I had put forward in them. The second was partly about my extra-curricular interests (copious) and my general interest in history (minimal)

jeans, jumper and trainers. I’m either good enough or I’m not, why go overboard? but don’t take my word for it! I DIDN’T GET IN!


The college was beautiful although in december it was very bleak. The bar was closed for the duration of our stay but it looked like it had potential in a medieval, mead-drinking kind of way.

my room was in the so-called new quad. It was large (as halls of residence go) and had an ensuite shower, toilet and sink so no complaints there, except the shower looked slightly unfinished and had a tendency to flood. there was a fridge (with some kind of bizarre, comedy black and white cow-skin print on it. whoever had that room in their first year had a sense of humour, apparently) and a huge desk on which I did no preparation whatsoever.


it pays to lie about vegetarianism. The cutlery was plastic (presumably the underpriviledged quota from backwater comprehensives such as mine would have nicked the good silver) so meat of any kind was a real challenge!

The history tutors were extremely encouraging and friendly in interview – especially Dr Parrott who tried very hard to bring out my hidden potential (it was very well hidden beneath panic and poor preparation) and the american lady whose name I can’t remember. However, the tutor who gave the introductory talk for history candidates is quite possibly related to the demon headmaster. luckily I can’t remember his name either.

The “shepherds” as they call them were, on the whole, pretty cool. a nice young man carried my bag up three flights of stairs on arrival, and another nice young man found me a piano to practice on. The girls who hosted the “history tea” were wicked and everyone was really supportive and helpful.

Final stage

I got a letter within a week telling me I hadn’t got in. I wasn’t surprised by the rejection – I was more surprised at the sense of relief. Had I recieved an offer for history from Oxford I would have felt compelled to carry on with history which would have been a BAD THING. I was disappointed as I knew I could have performed a lot better at interview, but I concentrated instead on really researching all the other offers I’d had. which turned out to be pointless.

Looking back

I would definitely apply. For English. Which is in fact what I’m doing this year. The experience was a real eye opener and tested my certainty about the future. I left knowing that I loved the place but hated the subject!

Be very certain that you are doing something you love.
read your own essays, especially if it’s been over a year since you wrote them!
don’t be over-awed by all the other applicants or their backgrounds.
Don’t be over-awed by Oxford either – it’s a wonderful place, but if you’re good enough to apply, chances are if you don’t get in there you will end up somewhere else fantastic anyway so don’t lose faith in yourself.