Application

 Oxford

 Magdalen

 Modern Languages

 2009

 pooled, offer made (St Hilda’s)

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Grammar School

 yes (11 A*,1 A)

A-levels

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

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

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

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

Advanced Extension Awards

(predicted NA; gained Merit)

(predicted NA; gained Merit)

In addition, I undertook the Extended Project Qualification in Year 12 on the subject of literature in the Spanish Civil War. I achieved a ‘B’ grade.

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in French, A in Spanish

AAA, Excluding General Studies

yes

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Academic prestige, excellence, concentration on the literary element of my course rather than simply the language work. I was achieving high grades at school and wanted a challenge and the city (Oxford) was lovely.

I prefered the 50/50 split at Oxford for my course – French and Spanish rather than struggling to decide later on which language I might prefer as it is at Cambridge. I also prefered the city and it was easier access wise.

I love languages and the emphasis on the study of literature and culture really appealed to me. I want to read the texts of world literature as I believe it essential to understand the international community.

I originally applied to Magdalen college because it had a large modern languages department and the grounds were beautiful. While I was at interview, I was also interviewed by St Hilda’s college, which fortunately for me also has a large modern language intake and a beautiful location by the river. Contrary to popular opinion, Hilda’s is not all female any more, and is not really any further away from the centre of Oxford than Magdalen, so I was really lucky in that sense.

Preparation

yes

We had a few meetings about applying which were not terribly useful, and I talked to my subject teachers about what I ought to do. They marked essays for me and helped me prepare for the language test.

Read, read, read! Start as early as possible! Realistically, it is all made so much easier if you begin around the start of year 12 and start going to things outside of school like plays and talks and read as much as possible.

Interview

no

yes

I had to submit three essays – one written in French, one for Spanish and one for English Literature or History (they want to see your written ability in English too as most of the essays will be written in English)

yes

I had two 30 minute grammar tests that were taken during the interview period. They are challenging, but not impossible and there are samples on the website. I would recommend brushing up on all tenses and basics before.

They were generally very specific to the subject. Once I was asked why languages, but mostly we talked about the text we were given before hand to prepare and my personal statement.

I would recommend trying to get a teacher to give you an unseen text in the language or in English and getting them to ask you questions about it. E.g. what is it about, how is it written, what does it remind you of, etc. This will be in English mostly, but speaking in the language is a part of your interview (unless you are ab initio) and so it is worthwhile practising.

Questions about the texts, why I said particular things, what books we are studing in school, books in English that I enjoy – in one of my Spanish interviews we talked at length about Shakespeare!

I wore a skirt, blouse and a cardigan, or a day dress and cardigan. It is what I would normally wear to sixth form and I felt sufficiently smart but not uncomfortable. Towards the end of the interview days people were slackening their appearance and wearing jeans, but I was happy in a skirt. It was quite cold!

Impressions

Magdalen – very pretty! There was a huge christmas tree and the buildings were ‘typically’ Oxford. Magdalen has a little bit of a reputation for private school pupils, but I couldn’t say that it was noticeable other than people constantly asking me what school I went to, as if they would know! I only saw St Hilda’s briefly in comparison, but it was much prettier than I expected it to be. The location was beautiful and the victorian buildings were just as aesthetically pleasing as those built 400 years earlier at Magdalen. It was also very friendly – the helpers were lovely!

At Magdalen, I stayed in St Swithens Quad and my room was fairly big with a comfortable bed and access to a (very) small kitchen which had a microwave/kettle/basic hob but no oven. It was not ensuite, but there were sinks in the bedroom. There was a toilet on my floor, but only a gross bath which looked as those it had not been used for years given the bright blue watermark on it. There was a small shower-room downstairs though, but this did involve walking in front of glass double doors to get to it – definitely need a dressing gown! We also saw the 1st year accommodation in the Waynflete building, which is not very far from main college but is your typical 60s nightmare, but apparently very sociable.

The food at Magdalen was good – a good range of hot and cold food. Every meal time there were two choices of main meal with a range of vegetables which were serve yourself. There was also a salad bar and soup and desserts.

Magdalen – I got on well with the Spanish tutor and found it really easy to talk to him about things. However I found my French interview more intimidating – they put me off a little and at times I know that I didn’t say things because I was scared of what they would think, which wasn’t ideal. I also felt that they were very challenging, for example when I talked about a comparison I had made between an 18th century french playwright and T S Eliot, they seemed very disparaging and this put me off slightly.

At St Hilda’s however, I loved both sets of tutors! The Spanish ones were lovely and really encouraging and basically asked me what I would like to talk about, and the French tutors were much more appreciative when I made points that were out of the ordinary. All in all, I believe that the reason I was offered a place at Hilda’s was because I got on with the tutors better and so naturally I am pleased!

It is very difficult not to generalise, but generally the students there were all very friendly and happy to help. Naturally there were a few exceptions who made applicants feel awkward, but this would be expected everywhere.

Final stage

It was quite stressful, especially as post was delayed due to snow. It seemed like a long, long time!

I had been at work all day and came home to two letters, which told me that it was 90% good news (it would have been too cruel to send me two rejection letters). I had one small letter from Magdalen telling me that my application was being considered by another college a big one from St Hilda’s telling me that I had an offer. It had financial information and a flyer about an offer-holders’ welcome day.

Looking back

Most definitely – but I don’t know whether I would have reapplied if I had been rejected. The whole process was quite stressful and very personal, and I am not sure I could put myself through it for a second time.

Start working as early as possible as it takes the pressure off in the first term of year 13, and allows you to read more widely and really think about it, developing your own opinions. Try and keep a reading log – I found it really useful to look through my notes during the interview period and when writing my Personal Statement. But most of all, go for it! The interview process is rewarding in itself, and you learn quite a bit about yourself not to mention meeting a lot of other fascinating people!