If you are reading this, then you probably know that the deadline for undergraduate applications to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge is coming up soon (the 15th October to be precise). And if you are reading this, you probably also know that in order to get an offer from either Oxford or Cambridge, you need to first go through the infamous process known as the Oxbridge interview.
I remember being in this very position a few years ago, about to send off my application to Oxford. I had mixed feelings, ranging from hope to trepidation to a touch of terror. Four years down the line, however, and four Oxford interviews, one offer and a degree later, I thought I’d share with you my top tips for handling the whole process.
Before the Interview
If you’ve put in an application for Oxford or Cambridge, chances are you’ll have to sit a pre-interview test before your application progresses any further. Don’t stress about these tests!
While it’s not true that you don’t need to study for them, these tests are designed to use skills that you learn in class anyway. This means you normally don’t have to learn anything new (perhaps with the exception of the BMAT). However, I would STRONGLY recommend having a go at all the practice tests online. Just like with any test, it’s super helpful to know the set-up of an exam before you go in. It’s also important to have had a couple of attempts to make sure you can finish it in the time allowed!
As I said though – try not to worry too much about them. Just make the effort to practice!
Read, read, read and then read a bit more. At Oxbridge they make you read A LOT, whether that be literary texts or scientific journal entries. In the interview, tutors are looking to see if you like reading (and studying in general) because that is what you’ll spend most your time doing when you go to uni there…
Don’t just read, though, make sure you’re reading intelligently. For starters— have you written about a book you haven’t read on your personal statement? Claimed you read the entirety of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species? If you’ve written it, make sure you’ve read it—believe me, a tutor will be able to tell straight away if you’re bluffing!
Equally, try having some opinions on the stuff you’re reading. So if you’ve been reading some articles in an economic magazine about the impact of the Obama administration on the American economy, think about what you think and why you think it. Tutors want your opinions, just not lots of pre-learnt fact (although the facts do help…).
Invitation to Interview
It’s happened — after all the stress of writing your personal statement, swotting up for your aptitude test and reading every book you said you’d read on your personal statement, you’ve been invited to an interview. So what now?
Double check everything!
Oxbridge interviews are normally in December, which means nearly two months since you submitted your personal statement and application essay (if you had one). Make sure you go back and read over these things before your actually interview, because it’s very likely an interviewer will ask you something about it. Again, this is not something to freak out about (it’s actually super great if you think about it— they’re asking you about something you know!). It just means when you’re in the room, being interviewed, you’re not having to rack you brains trying to remember what on earth you said about tax law in your personal statement.
Also double check time and date! I worked as a student helper at interview week three years in a row. I once had to look after someone who misread the date on their email and arrived a day late for their interview. It wasn’t the end of the world— they rescheduled for her— but it was a little traumatic for the interviewee!
This really only applies to Oxford, where you get a little ‘holiday’ and actually stay in the college, but pack an extra day’s worth of clothes just in case. Oxford has this funny thing where sometimes you have to say on for an additional day or two for another interview. If like me when I was interviewed, you pack a little too lightly, you could be stuck without a change of clothes for a few days. Again, not awful, but not too great for those around you!
At the Interview
Check the timetable
Normally interview times are put up near where any student helpers are situated. Remember to double check this when you arrive—as I said earlier, a missed interview is never fun!
Make some friends!
You may be thinking—how on earth do I have time to make friends when I’m preparing for an INTERVIEW!?! Trust me, sometimes it’s a relief just to have a chat to other people who are going through the same thing. These people aren’t your competition, but, if you do get an offer, they may well be your classmates next year. You might as well start getting to know each other sooner rather than later!
During the Interview
I cannot stress how important this is. Tutors (the people who interview you) aren’t scary monsters, but rather looking for students they want to teach! They often like students with a sense of humour, or students they think will be good at listening and taking their advice. They certainly don’t want someone who thinks they already know it all!
Don’t be afraid to have an opinion
Your interviewer may seem like the possessor of all knowledge, but don’t be afraid to disagree with them, or have your own opinion on a topic. This is precisely what they are looking for- someone who has the capacity to be analytical about their subject. In saying this, it’s important to remember that if you have an opinion, make sure you can back it up. My tutor once said to me the worst comment she ever had from an interviewee was ‘I really hate Jane Austen’ and nothing else. It’s completely fine to hate Jane Austen, but you’ve got to have a reason why. Has it got something to do with her writing style (for example)? You’ve got to be prepared to defend that explanation.
Don’t worry if you are wrong
Don’t panic if you get something wrong! Lots of students used to come to me after interviews panicking because they’d misunderstood a question, or misread a poem. I’d always tell them not to sweat it. Tutors aren’t expecting you to know EVERYTHING (what would be the point in them teaching you if so?). However, they do what to see how you come to a conclusion, even if it’s wrong. Your thought process is just as important as your answer.
Ask a question
If you don’t understand something they’ve said- ask them what they mean! And equally, if you have a question you want to ask them at the end- go for it! Tutors love nothing more than to talk about their subject. If you have a question you’ve been dying to have answered, it’s probable that they’re the most qualified person to ask!
After the Interview
Don’t freak out!
I know it’s really tempting to panic after an interview. Some people will have interviews at another college, some people will be sent home straight away, some people will have to wait a bit longer to hear a decision. Whatever category you’re in, please don’t worry about it. None of these things are bad news, Oxford and Cambridge have an interview system that very few people understand (I definitely still don’t after 3 years there!). Trying to second guess it will never, I repeat NEVER, help.
I know it’s tough not to play over your interview in your mind countless times, but really, there is nothing you can do once it’s over, and you have to wait quite a while to hear back from either uni. If you can, try put it to the back of your mind—what’s done is done and all the jazz—and get back to focusing on your IB. Whatever happens, you’re going to need to be getting good grade there to go to any uni!
I hope this was helpful to all you budding Oxbridge hopefuls out there! As ever, watch this space for some more uni application advice, as well as the usual IB banter this blog provides (I hope…)
And one last thing: