Oxbridge Interviews Blog

Thinking of applying to Oxbridge? To GAP, or not to GAP?

by Laura on

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Gap years are a tricky one. How to spend it? Where to travel? Should you work, and for how long? How do you avoid ridicule from friends and family? (Click here for tips on how not to behave).

I for one can whole-heartedly recommend the experience, as I applied deferred to Trinity College Oxford, and spent an amazing year travelling across South America. I was young in my year, and felt that I wanted to do something completely different from school before entering what I anticipated, correctly, would be an intensely academic 4 years at university. However, the experience is not for everyone, and the first and most obvious piece of advice is that if you don’t feel like it, don’t do it, and if you do think it sounds appealing, do lots of research and follow the advice below! Gap years are a personal decision above all else, and you should be very committed to them if you choose to embark upon one. One point to note is that for some subjects like Maths, it is important to retain your A-Level knowledge, and so tutors may be less encouraging of gap years than other courses where the time can be spent more positively (eg. Engineering or Materials Science students may benefit from work undertaken in industry).

If you have decided that a Gap is for you, then the first thing is to think about how it will affect your application. The two options available are to 1) apply deferred, meaning that you submit an application stating that you want to be considered for entry the following year, rather than along with everyone else applying, or 2) to make a post A level application, waiting for your A2/IB/PreU results before applying whilst on your Gap year. A deferred place can be great as if you are successful you know that the place is waiting for you when you return! However, applying post gives you more time to make choices if you are a little uncertain, and means that you apply armed with definitive (hopefully fantastic!) results from your final year, which makes you a more predictable candidate and more mature.

People talk a lot about whether applying deferred makes things harder, as tutors need to be more certain, but I simply emailed the tutor at my college and asked about how he viewed deferred applications to make sure. Definitely ask questions! This can help you make up your mind about what the pragmatic, as well as the best choice for you, is.

But what to do? It can certainly be a good idea  to do something that fits in well with your intended degree. Modern Linguists should think about visiting a country that speaks the language they intend to study, and there are lots of internships designed for Gap year students at major firms across the world, for scientists and social scientists in particular. This can make it easier to justify your decision to take a Gap year if you are asked about it at interview! However, I studied Classics, and spent a Gap year that had little to do with my degree! When asked at interview, I said I wanted to experience a bit more of the world and travel before committing to university. In short a Gap can actively help your degree, or act as a breather, but as long as you are busy and doing things that interest you and are fulfilling, then a Gap is very justifiable.

More generally, a gap year can be a great way to gain certain skills which will be invaluable for your university experience. Some candidates may want to gain more maturity and confidence before coming to university and that’s no bad thing in itself as long as it’s time well spent. It sounds cheesy, but if you’ve had some big dream or major goal you want to achieve, now might be the time to pursue it.

If you are a bit stuck for ideas, The Guardian’s Gap Year pages are a great resource to get started with. Despite the stereotype of getting an ill-advised piercing or tattoo, living with a tribe in the Amazon and coming back ‘a changed person’ with a deeper understanding of the world and so on, it could genuinely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so don’t dismiss it outright!

Thinking of applying to Oxbridge? College Choice

by Laura on

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Choosing a college can seem like an arduous task, that will have a major impact on your time at Oxford or Cambridge should you gain a place. Application and acceptance statistics are often used by students to choose “tactically” supposedly to maximise their chances of getting in, and rumors abound as to the “kind of student” favoured by particular colleges over others.

This post is therefore an exercise in myth busting! Choosing a college can be fun, but is certainly not something to get worried about. Here are our reasons why…

1. You will never find a Cambridge or Oxford graduate who didn’t enjoy their degree because of their college. You will always find friends within college, and clubs and extra-curricular societies mean that you will have friends all over the place as well!

2. It is official, no college is “easier” to get into than another. At Cambridge, they have a “pool” system, meaning that if you are not offered a place at your chosen college but the tutors feel you are a good applicant, you will be placed in the pool to be picked out by another college. This system remedies the imbalance that is inevitable in subjects between different colleges, so trying to tactically apply to “less popular” colleges is not necessarily a wise option. Oxford meanwhile interview many candidates at multiple colleges; we have heard from our students that they were interviewed at up to three colleges, and were made offers by their first choice or other colleges instead. There is little point in trying to play this labyrinthine system, designed to take the best applicants for each subject every year.

3. Take control, and pick a college for personal reasons! Think about what you prefer. Big or small? Old or new? Central or further out? If you’re sporty, you might be looking for a college with a great sports ground. If music’s your thing, you’ll be curious about what your college choir and orchestra are like. And if your preferred method of relaxation involves walking around a quad drinking port, Merton’s going to be right up your street.

Essentially, if you end up at either university, you will think your college is the best! Heated debates ensue in the office when we approach the question of “the best college”.  I went to Trinity, Oxford and am therefore its fiercest advocate. Harriet was at Worcester, which apparently is “the only college to pick”. Don’t even get us started on the battle between Rosie the Cambridge graduate and the rest of the Oxford-educated team…

So, ultimately, we would suggest that you don’t worry too much about “the college conundrum”. It’s not really a conundrum at all!(Pick Trinity, just look at the lawns!)

Thinking of applying to Oxbridge? What to do next… Open Days

by Laura on

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If you think that Oxford or Cambridge could be the place for you, it is a really good idea to arrange to visit the open days at both universities. You can check Oxford’s schedule for open days by clicking here, and you can find Cambridge’s prospective dates by clicking here. The dates will be for university wide open days as well as days run by particular subject departments and faculties.

A visit can really help you to imagine what life would be like as an Oxford or Cambridge student. Seeing the libraries, any subject-specific facilities and meeting tutors will give an accurate feel for what how your studies will progress, and give you a better idea of whether the university’s approach will suit you. Remember to save up lots of questions!

Open days also allow you to have a closer peek at the different colleges that make up the universities. We will be discussing college choice in more detail over the coming weeks, but it is always a good idea to take a look at some colleges and make a note of the ones you feel a mysterious affinity with (certainly my approach to college choice!); they are where you could be living, so the look of the place and the friendliness of the porters can be helpful indicators for whether you would enjoy being a part of their student body.

Talk to students! Lots of current and graduated students will be on hand in faculties to answer your questions. They will give you up to date and candid advice based on their own experience, so if you have any concerns you would rather not raise with the “Regius Professor for Greek and Latin”, they are a great resource to tap.

Thinking of applying to Oxbridge? What to do next… Subject Choice

by Laura on

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AS levels are of course approaching faster than you might like, but you may also be starting to think about life beyond school, and where you would like to study at university. Oxford and Cambridge applications open in September, and so it might feel like you are being a bit of an early bird thinking about your university plans now. However, early birds catch the worm, and thorough preparation is absolutely integral to maximise your chances of success at Oxford or Cambridge!

Oxbridge Interviews have plenty of tips that will help you to stand in the best possible stead come the Autumn term, and here is our first…

 

Subject Choice

Having already narrowed your subject choice down to four or five AS levels, you might already have a good idea of the discipline you want to pursue. However, it can be equally tricky choosing between the different courses at different universities on offer for your subject, or you might be unsure about picking between English or Modern Languages, Biology or Biochemistry.

First of all, if you are looking to commit to a career long term such as Medicine, Psychiatry or Engineering, you should always check to see if a particular degree is required to pursue it; if the required degree is not something you feel would interest you, then it might be worth re-evaluating whether the career path is really for you as well.

It is worth remembering that, by and large, a UK degree is very flexible, so you shouldn’t feel that you will necessarily exclude yourself from a career path by choosing a degree subject that seems unrelated. Amongst our interviewers, we have Classicists who are now Lawyers, Biologists who now work in PR, and Computer Scientists in Management Consultancy. The world will still be your oyster after leaving university!

A good step to take now is to read through the course outlines for the different subjects you are interested in. You want to make sure that the modules in your 3rd or 4th year are going to suit you as well as those in the 1st year, so that you are a happy student throughout your course.

At Oxbridge Interviews, we are all fierce advocates of studying what you love. You will come across as a far better applicant if you are writing or speaking in interview about a subject you are passionate about! Not to mention the fact that a 3am essay crisis is much more difficult to overcome if you are not interested in your title…

Your degree choice is definitely worth giving a lot of thought to, as it is your chance to study a subject in depth, and get to grips with the complex debates and issues at its heart. Good luck, and if you would like any advice, send us an email or give us a call!

Keeping it current… Human and Biomedical Sciences

by Laura Bromley on

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Check out aeon magazine when you can for academic articles that cover everything from space exploration to the role of philosophy in the modern world. This article explores the impact of the colossal advancements made in the Life sciences field in the past century, and how these developments have shaped socio-political changes across the world. A great way to engage with the more abstract impact of science on the modern world!

Read the article here

Cities, elephants and arguments: how much should I read before my interview?

by Laura Bromley on

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In the months before your interview there is a lot of pressure to read. Whether it is books, newspapers, journal articles or blog posts, it is likely you’re being advised to try and read as much as possible (we are guilty ourselves if you have been following “Keeping it Current”!). Now I am not going to suggest this is bad advice, but I do think a little in-depth reading can go a long way!

When it comes to reading it is important to read things which capture your imagination. Do not read things because you feel you should or you think it will make you look good – read something that interests you. This is particularly important because you’re much more likely to sound enthusiastic and engaged in an interview if you are discussing a book which focuses on a topic which interests you.

Equally, do not try and read piles of books and articles. It is much more productive for you to read a few texts in depth. If you read a text in depth, you are more likely to remember interesting examples, which you can draw upon as ‘evidence’ during your interview. For example, during my Cambridge interview I talked extensively about one paragraph in Jane Jacob’s Death and Life of Great American Cities where Jacobs compares a city to an elephant being examined by a blind man!

Similarly, by reading a few texts in depth you are more likely to identify the argument of the text. By argument, I mean the overarching message which the author is trying to relay through their book or article. It is very important that, if asked about a book which you have read, that you do not simply describe the content of the book but try to discuss the argument or purpose of the text. Always ask yourself, why has the author chosen to write this book on this topic? And, importantly, to what extent do you agree with what the author is saying?

So, if in doubt, know a few books really well. You will find it much easier to talk about texts which you are familiar with, than texts which you read in a pre-interview panic. Happy reading!

Say NO to nerves! How to combat interview jitters

by Laura Bromley on

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Some nerves are inevitable during the Oxbridge interview experience, the setting is new and the subject matter challenging. However, there are simple tips that can help you deal with these nerves, allowing tutors to see your full potential and passion for the subject.

There is still lots of time before the interview, and therefore lots you can do to ensure you perform at your relaxed, confident best.

The key motto is PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT! Lots of nerves stem from your own knowledge that you haven’t prepared properly! It’s important to ‘think outside the box’, but try not to flood your brain with new facts and theories. Know what you say you know. Read your personal statement, submitted work and any other information you have passed to the university, ensuring that you have ideas and opinions, and therefore the ability to field questions, on anything you have said you are interested in. Try to  think around what you have learnt in your A-level syllabus, what interests you and what gets you going. Then read a few related articles, novels or books to broaden your perspective.

It is recommended that you have a practice interview, with someone that you preferably don’t know well who can grill you with subject specific questions. Enter our interviewers, who are subject specialists, and the different kinds of interview practice Oxbridge Interviews can offer! Armed with our tailored feedback and advice, you will go into your interview knowing that you have been asked challenging questions about your subject by an expert, and lived to tell the tale, an invaluable confidence booster.

In the run up to the interview, lots of tips are going to be thrown at you. The most important thing you can do is be calm, do as much as you can but also enjoy your other extra-curricular activities. If you let the prospect of the interview take over everything else, you will neglect your school work, which is really important too! Don’t be afraid to ask from advice from your schools teachers, tutors or Oxbridge graduates.

On the day, just think about all the preparation you have done, and how much you enjoy your subject. You can never predict what will come up, so don’t try to; just be ready to immerse yourself in some challenging material and use every brain cell to answer the questions presented to you! Your passion and ability will be apparent.

Good luck!

Our Interviewers… interviewed!

by Laura Bromley on

Tim Deeks studied Spanish and English at Trinity College, Oxford, and graduated in July this year.

 

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Why did you choose your degree subject? 

If I’m completely honest, I chose English and Spanish largely through a process of elimination (although I did not, of course, say this at interview!). This approach did mean that I genuinely enjoyed my subjects at school though, and that is vital – the late night reading will be demoralising if you don’t really love it.

 What is the best book you have ever read related to your subject?

 James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not for everyone, but it is genuinely funny and staggering in its composition.

 What is your top tip for applying for your subject to Oxbridge?

 You don’t need to be a walking reading list. The most important thing is to show that you are the kind of student the tutor would like to spend three or four years teaching – engaged, thoughtful and passionate about your subject.

 Best Oxbridge moment?(keep it clean guys!)

 There are plenty of surreal ones involving drinking port with tutors, but the best would either be winning hockey “cuppers” (inter-college sports tournament, brutally competitive) or my  year abroad.

  What are you up to post-Oxbridge?

I’ve started a company making and selling a Spanish hot sauce, run pop-up bars, and have also begun the D&D restaurant management graduate scheme.

My Interview Experience

by Laura Bromley on

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Liz Storer applied to Robinson College, Cambridge, and was interviewed there. She was offered a place at Newnham College to read Geography.

I interviewed for Geography at Robinson College Cambridge, and whilst it was several years ago now – I have vivid memories of that day. I had two interviews, one being a general interview and another subject interview with a Geography Professor.

I remember being nervous on the drive from Birmingham to Cambridge, but when it came to the interview itself I was quite calm. It’s important to arrive in good time, so that you can relax, socialise with the other interviewees and even just read the paper – I think that allows you to enter the ‘interview zone’ a lot easier.

My first interview was enjoyable, it was really more of a chat where we discussed the interests and readings highlighted in my personal statement and how I would deal with the potential stress should I be accepted to Cambridge.  I would say it is essential to realise that even if an interview or interviewer seems quite laid back, you are still being tested! Don’t get too comfortable and whilst it is great to be enthusiastic and really show your personality, maintain coherence and integrity throughout the process.

The second subject interview was most definitely harder. I had about ten minutes to answer a range of questions on a range of topics across physical and human geography. We then went through these in the interview – some of my views were challenged and others accepted – if your interview becomes more of a conversation or  debate, I think that’s a really good sign that you are engaging the interviewer. I was then asked to analyse a poem about environmental destruction and interpret some images – I was unsure of exact answers but drew out themes and made comments about language, the potential meaning of the photographs and what they were representing. The interview was quite diverse, and whilst my preparation helped me to structure my answers and boosted my confidence, I definitely had to think on my feet.

My best advice is to try and enjoy your interview experience. Generally these encounters are very similar to the supervisions you will receive on a weekly basis whilst at Oxford or Cambridge, so it’s a great chance to see if you enjoy that style of learning.

Keeping it current… Social Sciences and beyond

by Laura Bromley on

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The London School of Economics has a fantastically broad range of free lectures open to the public, on subjects ranging from “should the Eurozone should be allowed to survive” or “the politics of religious freedom” to “Is Britain divided into two nations?”. Some talks do require a ticket, so make sure you check before turning up on the day, but all promise world-renowned speakers on some of the most pertinent issues confronting us today – Geographers, Economists, Politics students and Anthropologists should all take note, but there is really something for everyone, so expand those horizons!

Click here for the full list of lectures on this month!

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