5 Things Every Oxbridge Applicant Needs to Know
by Andrea R
1) Forget the urban myths about Oxbridge interviews
No-one is going to ask you to pretend to be a banana. Or set fire to a newspaper. Or solve an impossible equation. Nor will you be tested on your knowledge of High Table etiquette or judged on whether you pick up the right forks at dinner. The Oxbridge admissions process is designed to be testing but fair, not to catch you out and make you look stupid. Interviewers genuinely want to make sure that Oxbridge is the right place for you and is somewhere you would thrive, not just survive, academically and socially. Treat the interview as an exciting opportunity to have a stimulating conversation about a subject you love, with people who are experts in their field – how often do you get to do that? Embrace it! Remember that the interviewers are on your side; they want to give you the opportunity to shine and to show who you are and what you can do.
2) Be prepared to think outside the box
You won’t be asked impossible or wacky questions by your interviewers. But you might be asked questions that stretch you, or make you think about a familiar topic from an unfamiliar angle. Don’t panic! Oxbridge interviewers are looking for intellectual flexibility and curiosity. It works like this: imagine a primary school pupil who knows that 6 plus 4 equals 10. Now imagine what might happen if you ask that child to work out 10 minus 6. She might panic – ‘But we haven’t done subtraction yet!’ Or she might stop, think flexibly about what she knows, and realise that, if 6 plus 4 equals 10, then 10 minus 6 must equal 4. That’s intellectual flexibility. Then she might think, ‘Wow, that’s interesting – I wonder if that works for other sums that I know as well? Let’s find out…’ That’s intellectual curiosity. Both are ideal traits in an Oxbridge candidate.
3) Don’t be intimidated by the other candidates
You’ll probably meet some of the other interview candidates. They will probably all seem much cleverer, more confident, better prepared and better-dressed than you. Don’t be intimidated! Some of them you’ll see again in Freshers’ Week. Others you certainly won’t. Different people cope with stressful situations in different ways – some by going quiet and withdrawing, others by appearing over-confident, loud and talkative. How a person comes across in that awkward small-talk zone between interviews is no reliable guide as to how well they will perform at interview (or whether you’ll enjoy spending time with them in real life). Don’t worry about what other candidates tell you about themselves, their school, their extensive extra-curricular activities or their interviews – be yourself!
4) Don’t just say you are ‘passionate’ about your subject – show it!
Nine out of ten candidates will have claimed on their personal statement that they are ‘passionate’ about their subject. Yawn. The interviewers need to see that you are deeply committed to and motivated by the subject you’re applying for. What have you done to demonstrate this? For example, have you read books and articles on your subject outside the confines of your A-level curriculum? Have you had the opportunity to undertake any voluntary work in your field? What musuems, galleries and exhibitions have you visited recently that have enriched your understanding of your subject? Have you attended any lectures and talks at local learned societies, listened to relevant radio programmes, read magazines and journals? What excites you most about your subject at the moment? What new developments in your field intrigue you the most? Which parts of the course are you most excited about studying? Real passion for a subject can’t be faked – but you’ll need some evidence to back it up.
5) Other universities are available
Think carefully about why you want to apply to Oxbridge. Is it the prestige? Childhood daydreams? Other people’s expectations? The chance to live on what looks like the set of a Harry Potter movie for 3 years? Or is it because you’ve carefully researched the course and you are genuinely excited about studying it? Beware of falling in love with a place, or the idea of a place, but failing to research your course options properly. Because, at the end of the day, you’re going to spend an awful lot of time in the library or lab. As with any university application, have you looked at how your chosen course is taught and assessed, and thought about your preferred ways of working? For example, are you a self-motivated, independent learner, who doesn’t mind working alone? Do you relish the idea of a one-to-one tutorial defending your ideas to your supervisor? Or would you prefer a course that involves more collaborative group work and interactive, seminar-style teaching? When it comes to assessment, do you thrive in the exam hall? Or can you show off your abilities better through continuous assessment? Don’t apply to Oxbridge unless you really want to do the course you’ve applied for – and be honest with yourself about the kind of lifestyle and study experience that you want out of your time at university. If you're still keen, then go for it!