Every Oxbridge application will be slightly different and it’s hard to know what to expect. Each course has a different entry criteria and it differs between universities (and even between the colleges too). I applied for History and German at Somerville College, Oxford.
To do so I needed to:
-fill in my online UCAS application (which included forms, a personal statement and a reference)
-send in two essays (one for German and one for History)
-complete two admissions tests (again one for each subject)
-attend four interviews
-meet the conditions of my offer (AAA at A2 Level with As in History and German; however it’s A*AA from Cambridge- a college could still give you a different offer, it’s up to them.)
UCAS Application (due October):
The Oxbridge UCAS application is due a few weeks before the other universities can accept applications. There’s another article with my personal statement on this website, which should hopefully give you an idea of what one can look like for these subjects. I wrote a lot less about my extra-curricular activities than I expected to (most of it was in the reference my teacher wrote for me), as most of the personal statement revolved around why I wanted to study those subjects and what I had done to prove my interest (e.g. read subject-related books). Your personal statement is very important, because it’s what a lot of universities use to differentiate between applicants as many universities don’t interview for humanities.
Submitted Essays (due November):
My advice would be to read the websites and e-mails they send you. They’re very specific with their requirements for submissions and deadlines. I had to hand in essays with A2 work and you need to be prepared to discuss these essays during your interview.
Admissions Tests (sat in November):
Oxbridge are in the process of changing which courses need entrance tests due to the reformed A Levels, but for my course the HAT (History Aptitude Test) and MLAT (Modern Languages Aptitude Test) were required.
The HAT consisted of 3 questions and took about 2.5 hours. The first question was about summarising an argument from a given extract by a historian, the second was an essay based on a question they gave you and the third was about working with a given source.
The MLAT is a bit confusing because you must make sure that you’re doing the right section as the booklet contains the questions for the other languages too! It mainly focuses on grammar and translation and is 30 minutes long.
This might change however and I would recommend checking out the test descriptions and practice tests online because they are quite tricky and a mock test can never hurt.
Interviews (took place early December):
I was invited for an interview a week before it took place- hence why you should read the books in your personal statement before you put them in, because you won’t have time to read all of them in that week!
Between June and December, I had around 8 mock interviews, which were very helpful. The ones that were especially good were the ones in which I’d never met the interviewer before, because it was a more realistic scenario. If possible, see if your school can arrange for you to have a practice interview with a teacher you don’t know very well or even a teacher from another school, if they have contacts.
Interviews can be very scary because the questions can be very out of the blue and you need to be able to back up your opinion. It’s worth taking an extra second or two before replying to really think about what you want to say, but equally they won’t mind if you suddenly concede and say that you’ve changed your mind and were wrong (as long as you can say why!). This is because they don’t just want a ‘correct’ answer – they want to see how you think and how you adapt when you’re given new information. I had to discuss my personal statement and essays in three out of four interviews so make sure you read them again beforehand, but also be prepared to back up what you wrote. However, they might also challenge your view by giving you new information about the topic, which could lead to you coming up with a different argument.
Another point to note is that I did have four interviews. I was only supposed to have three (two for History, one for German), but when I arrived they said that I would also have an interview at St. John’s College for German (which I think was because St. John’s didn’t have that many German applicants, but to this day I still don’t know why I had the extra interview). Each interview took between 15-40mins (without the extra preparation time which I’ll mention in a second) and I was in Oxford for four days (although I only had interviews for three of them).
For both German interviews I was given short texts to analyse beforehand (I think I was either given 15 or 30mins, I can’t remember exactly, but again it could vary between colleges and etc.) and we started the interviews by discussing these before moving into German for a bit to talk about my personal statement, essay and other random things. Then we switched back into English and they asked me more questions about my personal statement and other random things (such as ‘Where would you like to spend your year abroad in Germany?’ or ‘Do you think the pamphlets of Die Weiße Rose count as a historical source?’).
In my first History interview we discussed my personal statement and essay. Firstly, do not name-drop anything in your personal statement which you don’t fully grasp. I made the mistake of mentioning humanism (which we’d covered briefly in History) which I regretted because I was grilled on it for a while and it turns out I know far less about it than I thought!
I actually thought that that interview had gone really badly. It was my first one and I kept blanking. I must admit that I was very close to giving up and walking out because I thought I’d blown it already. But in the end I thought that they’d given me this chance to prove myself, so I might as well make the most of it, because it was the only chance I'd be getting. If you find yourself feeling that way, don’t give up. So many people walk out thinking that an interview had gone terribly and still get offers. The interviewers know that you’re nervous – when I apologised for blanking they told me that it was totally fine and that I shouldn’t worry. I know they’re scary, but they’re human too!
In my second History interview we solely discussed the long text I had to prepare beforehand. I’d been stuck in a room with other candidates for an hour and we all had different texts to read, but they were about 15 pages of dense text on obscure topics (such as Mediterranean port cities or amputation under Henry VI) and it took me surprisingly long to read. I wasn’t expected to know anything about the topic, again it was more about how I respond to the questions and finding out how I think.
Don’t be put off by your environment. I found it very difficult to concentrate in the preparation rooms because there was constant movement and noise (for one of them, someone was hovering around the corridor outside!). However, the interview rooms were actually very cosy because they were usually the studies of the tutors and we got to sit on comfy chairs (St John’s was lovely, they offered me something to eat and drink before we started – although if you’re clumsy with food like me, I wouldn’t risk it).
The other thing about the interviews is the dress code. They usually ask you to dress as you like, but most people tend to wear smart-casual (so think of a dress you might wear to work experience or slacks and a shirt). Obviously wear what you’re comfortable in, but if you’re like me, you’ll feel more at ease if you’re wearing something similar to everyone else. Suits or dark jeans and a blouse are fine too, but maybe leave the ripped jeans and baggy hoodies for another day.
I also underestimated how long I’d be sitting around waiting. I had many, many hours to kill and while I spent some of them preparing for the interviews by re-reading information, my nerves meant that I needed a distraction. They recommended that we bring school work, which I should have, but I also found it relaxing to socialise with the other candidates. I made some great friends at interview and most people were friendly – don’t forget, they’re in exactly the same boat as you!
Meeting the offer:
You’re told (via post or e-mail) whether or not they’ve made you an offer in January. After this, you need to get your head down and focus on school. Just because they’ve made you an offer doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed your place at the university, especially if you miss your grades. However, I did have a friend who was given an A*A*A offer for History and he missed it by a few marks and they still confirmed his place. So, all hope is not lost, but it’s still better to study hard as I do also have friends who missed their Oxbridge offers and went to their insurance university instead (where they’re very happy).
I highly recommend the website Oxbridge Applications as they’ve also got some great tips to help you. At the end of the day, it’s better to apply to a university you like for a subject you really enjoy rather than a subject you hate to a university you love. All the best for your applications!