Interview season

5 Dec

In case we had all forgotten (and if you live in Oxford or Cambridge or read national newspapers like the Guardian and the Telegraph, you won’t have done), around this time of year thousands of hopeful, bright eyed seventeen and eighteen year olds are staking their claim to a place at one of the best educational institutions in the world. Yup, it’s interview season. 


All Souls and the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

You can tell this is so because there are many more worried and lost-looking people in Cambridge, lots wearing duffel coats, or suits, or quirky hats, or hipster glasses. I don’t think they are all here for the shopping. You can also tell it is so because various papers are running articles like ‘5 tips for your Oxbridge interview’ or ‘don’t panic, really’ – type stories. Well, I’m going to offer a few of my own, for anyone that cares to read them. Here we go. 

1) No matter how well or badly it goes, writing a rejection letter to the college to which you applied will probably not make you feel any better and will also generate large amounts of mockery re. chips and shoulders. Oxford and Cambridge are beautiful cities. Experience that, if nothing else. Even to have applied makes you clever, driven and possessed of a certain amount of luck. Remember that. 

2) Don’t wear a suit unless you feel you absolutely cannot perform at your best unless you look like you are on your way to a business meeting. Everyone else will think you are a tosser (and some of them will be in your year if you get in). Wear what you feel comfortable in. I wore skinny jeans, skanky converses with red laces and a hoodie with a dog face on it to my interview. Over the course of the next four years, my tutor taught me while I was wearing rowing lycra, wellies, tracksuits, jeans, shorts, skirts and once even a cocktail dress (I was going to a dinner after, ok?). They don’t care what you look like. They’re interested in what you say

3) Mean what you say. Don’t have a speech prepared. Don’t expect to be grilled on every aspect of your personal statement, either (although rereading it before an interview is a good plan, so you can remind yourself of what books you’ve claimed to have read). If a tutor asks you a question – answer it! I got asked in my interview what my favourite bit of the Aeneid was. I said I liked book 4, because it was the truth, and I explained why, because I had the enthusiasm right there in me to do so. Afterwards I cursed myself for picking such an obvious bit of text – I studied it for GCSE, for goodness’ sake!  – but, y’know, in hindsight, I think it helped me rather than harmed me. And I still really like book 4. So there. 

4) don’t panic if you do/say something stupid. Easier said than done, I know. But – for instance – my very good friend who is now into her fifth year of medical school told me how at the end of her interview, she left the tutor’s office by the door she thought she had come in by and – argh! found herself in a cupboard. She waited there hoping that they would either not notice or come and extricate her, which, after a little while, they did. It’s a good story because a) it’s true and b) it has a happy ending – she still got her place! So if you do that – all is not lost. 

5) don’t swagger around like you own the place and have no doubt you are going to get in. You’ll piss off the interview helpers and they will remember you if you do come back. There are plenty of dicks at Oxbridge, it’s true – but that’s no reason to be one yourself. 

6) extract all the information/banter/conversation from the interview helpers that you can. They will be gratified that you are interested in talking to them (it’s a massive ego massage) and probably more likely to respond favourably to subsequent facebook friend requests and emails re further help/advice. Plus you’ll have a friend ready-made in a year above you when you get there. Winning. I have a special place in my heart for the interviewee who spent some time talking to me when I helped out in my third year. 

7) don’t get hung up on reading every bit of advice (LOL HYPOCRISY). Go and do your best. That’s why you’re there. If you don’t get in, as many tutors say – you’re probably going to be better off elsewhere. And if you do – brace yourself. 

That’s all for now. Be nice to each other. X



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