Application

 Oxford

 St Hilda’s (open application, allocated college)

 Modern Languages

 2007

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Comprehensive School

My school didn’t have a history of sending students to Oxbridge; it didn’t even have prospectuses for it.

 yes (9 A*,2 A)

A-levels

(A at AS (258 UMS))

(A at AS (276 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS (298 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS (273 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS (291 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS (267 UMS); predicted A; gained NA at A2)

Advanced Extension Awards

(predicted Distinction; gained NA)

(predicted Distinction; gained NA)

(predicted Distinction; gained NA)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in French, A in German

A, Offer was AAA including French and German, excluding General Studies.

yes

yes

yes

I also applied to UCL (twice), Durham and Warwick, received offers from choices.

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

I’d been thinking about Oxford for years, always imagining what it would be like to be a student there – I just knew that it would be a million times better than my shoddy comprehensive school. Perhaps, I suppose, it was more the idea of the learning environment that I’d be in, and the enthusiasm of other, fellow students, that did it for me, not to mention being taught by world-renowned scholars. The heritage, history and architecture helped, though!
Being one heck of a competitive person, I guess, also convinced me I should apply, because otherwise I’d never know whether I was good enough or not.

Something of a no-brainer – I’d dreamed about going to Oxford for ages (sad, I know), so, to me, Cambridge just wouldn’t be the same.

In the end, three other people from my Sixth Form applied to Cambridge, two of whom were rejected, and they’d tried to convince me to go to Cambridge with them; I wasn’t having any of it.

I sort of settled on MFL at the last minute… at first, I’d wanted to apply to Law w/LSE, then gravitated towards English & MFL and finally, I decided it was either PPE or MFL.
I’d not had the opportunity to study Politics, Philosophy or Economics at Sixth Form level, due to a highly restricted range of courses on offer, so I didn’t think I’d have a chance in Hell of getting in for that, plus I figured, I’ve always found languages ridiculously easy, and revelled in that, so it would be nice to be stretched in them for once.

After winning a British Council Fellowship to Germany for a fortnight doing research for my A2 coursework, and after having spent time in rural France, I just knew that it definitely had been languages all along, and that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to expose myself to such cultures, and the capability of speaking to hundreds of millions of new people.

I’d armed myself with an awful lot of information before even making the initial application, and I’d decided that I would love to go to Magdalen, Merton or Jesus (but mostly Magdalen), however, I must admit that I’d read some horrible stories about state school applicants (read: Laura Spence, etc) being rejected, so I figured I’d just be humble and accept what was given to me.

My advice: Don’t make an open application unless you know for sure that you’ll be happy at any college. Making an open application is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made, after deciding not to bother focusing on Maths enough after year 7.

Preparation

no

No, not at all. In all honesty, it wasn’t made a big deal of at all; I didn’t get any special treatment and, in fact, most people didn’t even know I was applying.

We had a ‘personal statement advisor’ come in and visit us from Liverpool Hope University (I’m from Liverpool), to offer help with people writing their personal statements (yes, by the time I was ready to send off my application, most people were only just thinking about writing their statements, most of them having decided to apply to Hope themselves), but I opted to not receive any ‘help’ from the student, and ended up helping more of my friends with their statements than she did.

Yes, definitely. I would say that rather than just reading reams and reams of poetry and foreign literature, it would be better for you to just look at summaries of the texts, and focus more on critical appreciations of it. Consider perhaps reading just the first couple of chapters, or the beginning and endings, and practise your interpretive abilities.

Make sure you have a strong grasp of the grammatical aspects of your language(s), covering all present, past, future and subjunctive tenses.
I’d say make sure you’re ready to discuss the topics mentioned in your written work, but I wasn’t asked about it at all.

Interview

no

yes

I was asked to send two pieces of work for each language, with at least one piece in each target language.
However, I called the admissions tutor at my allocated college and explained that we very rarely write essays of the required nature and, as Oxford don’t like it when you write essays for the purposes of sending them off, it was agreed that I should send one piece for French, one for German, and two pieces from English Literature.

In languages, these pieces were discursive essays (something about prison and rehabilitation for French, and something about immigration and integration for German), whilst the English essays comprised a focused critical appreciation and comparison of two Seamus Heaney poems, and a critical commentary on an extract from Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

yes

I had to sit two thirty-minute grammar tests involving translations from English to the target language and vice versa, discreet choice conjugations and application of rules.

I’m not easily scared; not at all. But these interviews ended up being much more nerve-wracking than I’d expected.

There were only two interviews; one for each language. People had told me that they’d had ‘general’ interviews -this definitely wasn’t true in my case, which certainly left me a bit miffed!
I remember how we all obsessed over the notice board, because it would show who was going to be given another interview, or who had been invited to another college for interview, so I was completely paranoid when I didn’t have another interview after my initial two.

I had twenty minutes before each interview, in order to look over some material and prepare to talk about it.
For French, I’d a poem entitled “Chanson d’automne”, and for German, an extract from a Kafka text, “Eine Kaiserliche Botschaft” (I think).

The tutors made me speak French/German when answering certain questions, too, especially about the literature I said I’d read, but when discussing the extracts I had to look at before the interviews, it was in English, which was a pain, as I’d made all of my notes in the foreign languages!

All of the tutors were female, which was more intimidating than one would imagine. The general setup was that there would be two interviewers in each interview, but they confused you by having a sort of good cop, bad cop routine going on, where one of them would write things, and the other one would interrogate; every now and again, they would throw you by having the until-then silent one ask you a really probing question!

Mostly, we discussed the ideas in the texts I’d looked at beforehand. It was very offputting, the way the lecturers kept disagreeing with me. Most uncharacteristically of me, I sort of mumbled “Oh, right, well in that case…” and trailed off, before launchng another attempt at a meaningful interpretation. At the point where one interviewer told me “..so that’s clearly wrong,” I felt as though I was losing it completely.

After that, we had conversations about literature (“l’Etranger” in French and “Die Verwandlung” in German) and in German, they were asking me about how I’d managed to self teach it until year 12.

Finally, they asked how I thought I’d cope, studying literature when I’d never done it before in lessons, and did their best to put me off languages.

Nothing about my personal statement (other than asking me how long I’d been a practitioner of Campanology), why I wanted to study at Oxford, why MFL or what I wanted to do in the future, or anything on my written work.

My interview outfit consisted of a white long sleeved shirt, a black and silver motif tie, black waistcoat, black trousers and sombre black shoes. I decided I didn’t want to wear a suit, but I still wanted to look as though I’d made the effort to look smart.

Impressions

Architecturally, it was nowhere near as bad as I’d thought. What I will say is that the photographs in the prospectus, in the alternative prospectus, and on the website that existed at the time, let it down. It is rather breathtaking, and the river is lovely.

The applicants and students were genuinely friendly (apart from one girl, who asked me if I was Northern, to which I replied “yes”, and asked how she knew, with the response being “you’re not very well spoken, are you?”, referring more to my slight accent than my manner of speech, style or nuance.

To surmise, the college definitely left me feeling a lot better about my position, and I became quite excited at the prospect of being in the first ever male intake.

Definitely of a high quality. All of the rooms were of a large standard size, all had either an ensuite or a basin, large built-in wardrobes. My room had a fridge, as did many others.

It was lovely! Hilda’s is amongst the best college food, especially the breakfasts; we left some appreciative comments in Hall’s guest log.

Daunting, to say the least, although perhaps that was due to my being male, and several of the tutors having been against the move to go coeducational. They weren’t hostile, though, just rather tight-lipped and conventionally academic.

I hardly saw much of them at all! They seemed very busy trying their utmost to make sure that everyone got to their interviews on time, everyone was escorted to and from various other collleges satisfactarily, which is a good thing.

They organised quite a few activities outside of the college, as well as making sure that there was a conatsnt supply of filmage to the JCR, and they kept our coffee cups full, lovely girls!

Final stage

Well, I didn’t have long to wait, thankfully; I’d heard that you could be waiting until Christmas Eve for your decision, and I had visions of my Christmas being ruined. However, I got home on the Sunday and had by decision letter arrive the following Saturday.

I wouldn’t say I was too tense about the decision, because I was full expecting to be rejected; it was more of a case of trying to immerse myself in school work and forget about it.

I was on my way out to ring the bells for a wedding at my local church, as it happens, when I went to open the front door and saw The Letter on the doormat. I knew what it was because of the brownness of the envelope and the small St. Hilda’s crest on it.

I opened the letter and just saw “AAA” before I let out a shriek and ran upstairs to tell my mum I’d got in. we hugged and then I ran round to the church, because I was late. Boy was it hard to keep a straight face until the end, when I told everyone.

Looking back

Without a doubt. I thoroughly enjoyed the four days I spent in Oxford, having never strayed far from Liverpool (aside from going abroad) in this country.
I managed to discover personally that there are many public/private school educated people who don’t discriminate based on class, and spent a great deal of time having conversations and experiences of a previously unexplored calibre.

Don’t make an open application. As I’ve said, there’s potential for you to be disappointed. Do make a decision on the college you like, and don’t be afraid to apply to it. If you’re good enough to get in, you’ll get in, which I now know.
Don’t feel as though you have to go to open days, either. By all means, get to one if you can, or really want to, but they aren’t necessary. I never went to one, and it doesn’t count against you.