Application

 Oxford

 Hertford

 History (Modern)

 2008

 offer made

Applicant

 International Baccalaureate

 pre-qualification

 overseas

 Malaysia

 Independent – selective

 yes

International Baccalaureate

( predicted 7; gained 6)

( predicted 7; gained 7)

( predicted 7; gained 7)

( predicted 3; gained 2)

( predicted 7; gained 7)

( predicted 7; gained 7)

( predicted 7; gained 7)

My Nov 08 IB results are released on 6th Jan 09. We’ll see how that goes!

Details about the offer

 conditional

40 (including not more than 2 core points)

no

But I will if I do indeed fulfil it!

yes

yes

Decisions about the application

Hmm. Oxbridge are the two top universities in the UK, if not in the world. Reputation alone would have been a good reason for applying there. In addition, I liked the small class sizes for tutorials. I must say the collegiate system is another plus point. Faced with the prospect of being ‘lost’ in some of the larger non-collegiate universities, the close-knit communities of Oxbridge became very appealing. I guess this is even more poignant since I am an international student who will need to settle in when I first get there.

This was easy. I didn’t have the privilege of speaking with anyone who studied at Cambridge, and I only heard good things from the Oxford people about the place. I decided on this pretty early.

History has always been my passion. It’s the only thing I ever bothered to read up on outside my syllabus (which one should do if he/she wants of enter Oxbridge!). It helped that I had always done well in History in school. I figured I would be most confident applying for History, and most satisfied actually studying History in the future.

Well Hertford has 4 History professors. Some people will tell you to apply to a college where there is a larger number of professors on your course. I listened to them. This next point is highly subjective. Hertford is the most beautiful/charming/pretty college around. In all seriousness, choose a college that you would enjoy living in (it’s like choosing your real estate; go for something that you’re comfortable with, something that you won’t be sick of looking at after 3/4 years).

Preparation

no

My preparation was more long-term. I made it a point to read regularly. If you don’t already do so, you should try it. You’ll enjoy it once you start engaging with what you’re reading and forming your own arguments. It makes you a lot sharper in your own classroom because you are always ready to challenge the assumptions your classmates make (not that these assumptions are invariably false). Having your own polished arguments and opinions, and being ready to attack/defend perspectives , is something that interviewers for my course said they were looking for. I believe this would the case for most other subjects too, and you’d need more than a fortnight of hectic preparation to work this into your ‘system’.

Interview

yes

Being an international student, my interviews were in October in Singapore, way before most people did theirs in Oxford itself. As such I completed the interview before I sat for the HAT.

yes

Again, my written work was submitted in November, after I had my interview.

no

Smooth. I managed to answer the questions without getting stuck in places. The discussion just developed and flowed quite naturally. It kind of felt like a discussion with a friend (just in a little more depth). I must say it surprised me. I had heard stories of mean interviewers who try to make you come unstuck and to intimidate you, but my guy seemed the total opposite. After awhile he started to agree with what I was saying, which was nice. So yeah the myth about all interviewers being nasty is just that – a myth.

I got a passage on the Great Man theory and the merits of ‘bottom-up history’. I was asked to relate the argument of the passage to stuff I’d studied in school. Then I was asked if there is actually such a thing as a ‘bottom-up history’, and whether it would be useful if it did exist. Finally, I was asked to go into greater detail about what I’d said in my personal statement.

I wore a short-sleeved business shirt and trousers. It was comfortable enough. Honestly though I just picked it out from my wardrobe and put it on without thinking too much about it. I’ve never been one for appearances.

Impressions

I did my interview in Singapore, and didn’t visit my college.

Final stage

Well, I was already holding onto offers from Kings, York and Edinburgh by early December. It was nice to know that I had good alternatives if the Oxford application didn’t turn out well. But it still didn’t drive the nerves away, of course.

This was interesting. A friend woke me up at 2am in the morning (thats 6pm in England, I’m at GMT +8) telling me he got an email with an offer letter. Well, I was half-asleep when I checked mine, fully awake after I’d read the offer lettter, and had my whole household awake with me when I telephoned him back to scream for joy.

Looking back

Hell yes.

Don’t be afraid. Just be yourself. I always believed that nobody expects perfect applicants for if that was the case they’d have nothing to teach us. I’ve received four offers (waiting for Durham’s decision) despite a glaring misrepresentation in my personal statement quoting John Lewis Gaddis as saying the opposite of what he really did (and factual accuracy, argues E H Carr, is the foremost duty of the historian). It is really okay to make mistakes because what the tutors are really looking for is potential. So have courage, and try your hardest.