Oxbridge Interviews: What To Expect & Dealing With Rejection
Hi everyone! I got a request to write a blog post about my experience with my Oxford interviews.
I thought that this would be really helpful as there are actually quite a number of people at Warwick who were Oxbridge applicants. I also asked one of my old school friends who has just started her first year at the University of Edinburgh but got an interview from Cambridge last year – just to give you some perspective at both institutions (as if you don’t already know, you can only apply to one of them).
So back in 2015, I applied to Oxford, and got called for interview at Pembroke College in the beginning of December. I was offered a Skype interview, but my dad suggested I fly out and see what the place was really like (and whether I would like being there). So I flew out to Oxford for my interviews and missed a few days of school. The really great thing about the Oxbridge interviews is that you get free accommodation and meals.
Pembroke College is one of the small colleges at Oxford. Staying in the college for two nights wasn’t a bad experience, the room was modern and ensuite, and the food was fine so there were a lot of great aspects. I only got to meet one Oxford student who showed me my room but everyone else I met were applicants like me. I did meet some people who seemed a little close-minded about the Middle East but most of the people I met were incredibly lovely. From what I remember, the applicants I came across were Law, Biology, History and Arabic (the people from this last course were so lovely – they were so interested in learning more about my country and I taught them some Arabic as well!). Most of the people I met were from the UK or Europe, I don’t think I came across another international student in my time there.
The interviews themselves – I can’t sugarcoat it for myself, as I felt they went horribly. They were very difficult and they really do stretch you. I had two interviews the first day, and then that night, I was called for a third one in the morning. The more interviews I had, the worse they seemed to get. Before my first interview, I had to read a piece of text – I don’t remember what it was now but I think it was a piece of legislation and a case and I had to apply it to the facts? In the first interview itself, I think that’s where I felt a little bit comfortable and okay, from what I remember they gave me a fake murder scenario and asked me some questions on it but I had massive mental blocks in the the other two where I didn’t feel like I could respond to anything. I genuinely barely remember what they asked me but the questions were very unexpected, the scenarios they gave me were strange and odd and I found it hard to think through them. After that first day with the first two interviews, I felt demotivated, sad and I started to feel very homesick since I was in the UK alone. I came out of my last one early the next day very sure that I would not be given a place (I wasn’t wrong).
(Also in the second interview, the interview room was on the last floor and it was a really old building, and the ceiling was so low next to the door that I banged my head coming in which really put me off for the rest of it. Later when I talked to the other Law applicants, most of them had hit their head as well – it made me wonder why they didn’t warn any of us).
Anyway don’t let me scare you – a lot of people don’t like their interviews and most people don’t feel like they went well (and still get in!). I didn’t want to talk about mine after I went back to school so whenever anyone asked how they went I just told them they were fine (when they really weren’t). January came and I got a rejection email. I wasn’t surprised. A part of me was a little disappointed but a part of me was also glad because after my experience, I hadn’t felt confident at going to such an academic place and I didn’t think I’d be able to fit in to that type of work environment.
That was one thing the interviewers emphasised in the beginning as well, that the type of work and very academic environment that Oxford has would not suit everyone – and at the time, I didn’t know if I could have dealt with that sort of stress and pressure if I was offered a place.
The one question I get asked a lot now, is whether I’d have preferred to go to Oxford over Warwick. But after my first year here, I can confidently say that I’m very glad I wasn’t offered a place, because I’m very happy where I am now. Oxford is an amazing university – there is no doubt about that. The city is beautiful and the buildings are old and the education is obviously excellent. But it’s not for everyone, and it wasn’t for me, and that doesn’t say anything about my capabilities.
(Also, it would have been very very expensive. Since the national fees are capped for the UK students, they put the college maintenance fees on the international students which was about £6k on top of the tuition fees – personally it would have been a stretch to go).
I didn’t apply to London universities (as again, since I’d be paying international fees, their universities are a lot more expensive and London is a very expensive city so I could not afford it), but I got offers from my other choices; Nottingham, Bristol, Exeter and obviously Warwick. Nottingham even lowered their offer for me from 38 points to 36. I was actually deciding between Warwick and Nottingham for my firm choice. I really liked the Nottingham campus but preferred the course at Warwick – but when Nottingham lowered their offer, I decided to insure it and make Warwick my firm.
From what I’ve heard, Oxford is very very academic – which is not a bad thing. But for me, I can’t just focus all my energy on academics. I love to study and work hard – but I love being constantly busy and getting involved in a bunch of other things on top of that. Warwick is the type of place that gives me that freedom and even encourages that sort of lifestyle. There is a big ‘work hard, play hard’ environment here which is the type of place where I feel like I can thrive. I’ve learnt so much at university, not just from academics, but from all the volunteering, societies and sports I’ve done in just one year. I’ve been able to grow more as a person as a result. The work we get is still difficult, challenging and pushes you – so I get that side of good academics as well. It’s also very international and I really appreciate that.
If Oxford is the type of place for you – fantastic! Definitely go and apply!! It would be an amazing opportunity to go and study there – but just keep in mind that if you don’t get an offer, don’t sweat it out! If you’re really keen, you can take a gap year and re-apply, so many people get offers the second time round. If not, trust me, you will be happy at any other university you go to. I’ve said it many times – but university is what YOU make it to be. If you have the grades to even consider places like Oxford/Cambridge, then I’m sure you’ll get an offer from another fantastic university that has academics that are just as good!
Anyway that is enough from me, my friend Caroline studies Psychology at Edinburgh now, and she had applied to study the same course at Gonville & CaiusCollege in Cambridge. Here is her experience with her interviews:
Hi, I’m Caroline and I’m currently studying Psychology at the University of Edinburgh as Rana already mentioned. The Cambridge interviews seem like they were years ago, so if my memory is a little fuzzy at times I do apologize, but I will do my very best to recall everything as it was.
My decision to apply to Cambridge to begin with was actually incredibly impulsive. For the better part of my secondary education, I had been quite set on pursuing an Art degree; however as IB Art became more and more demanding, and pushed me (way too) hard, I realised that it wasn’t for me. I realised that I wanted to keep art for myself, to not be “forced” to be creative, and to end up in a career where I would have the ability to help people. So, I suddenly decided that I wanted to apply for Psychology. Edinburgh was where my heart was truly set at, but then my IB coordinator asked me why I wasn’t applying to Cambridge. He said I had the grades and that I should just go for it; why not?
So I did. And it was stressful. Having only just decided on what I wanted to do in the future at the end of September, and with the early UCAS personal statement submission to Cambridge on the 15of October, I had a lot of work ahead of me. This part of the process really wasn’t fun, and I felt a lot of pressure to write this amazing mind-blowing personal statement on a subject I actually knew nothing about. So attempting to suddenly gain loads of knowledge about psychological theory and experiments that I could artfully sprinkle into my personal statement was really exhausting. But my careers counsellor was great and she provided me with a lot of support.
After the personal statement was sent off, I received an email a while after stating that I had qualified for the tests that they use to determine whether you get an interview. I couldn’t really prepare anything as it was common sense and critical thinking (things like analysing a text, and simple maths problems if I remember correctly?). I passed the test and was called for an interview.
My mum flew with me on a night flight to Cambridge on the 6of December – my interview was on the 7. I was really happy that she came with me, because it was a very challenging and “out-of-my-comfort-zone” experience, and I think having her there to support me really helped me. I stayed at the Gonville and Caius (the college I had applied to) accommodation, but I can’t remember the name. It was nothing special, very worn down and cold in my opinion, but it did have an ensuite. Comparing it to the accommodation I have now at Edinburgh though, it really does falter in my opinion.
I had two interviews on the 7of December, one in the morning with Professor John Mullen, and one in the afternoon with a woman who I can’t remember the name of – Susan something?
Mullen was intense. We started off by a bit of light chatter about which subjects I took and where I’d lived; I think he found it mildly interesting that I’ve lived abroad for half of my life, but it was difficult to say. He asked me five different questions, like explaining the relationship between graph of TV violence against adult aggression, and examining why the results might be like that. The majority of the questions where fine; critical thinking based that I felt I answered somewhat well, but question three really threw me off. He asked me to explain an optical illusion, as in why what I saw wasn’t correct. And I had no clue. At all. He kept trying to feed me information, hoping I would catch on I guess, but I had absolutely no idea why my brain processed the information like that, and I think in the end I just told him that I didn’t know – I really couldn’t come up with anything better.
My second interview was better, she was much more friendly, and even though her questions where tricky as well, it felt more like a discussion rather than being put on the spot which I massively preferred. I didn’t feel terrible after any of my interviews, and I mainly just remember telling my mum “I actually have no idea how I did, the questions were weird” hahaha.
Looking back, I don’t know how I truly feel about the experience. I didn’t think it was particularly enjoyable, but then again it isn’t supposed to be. It’s supposed to push you, and filter out those people that don’t suit the Cambridge model. I didn’t suit it. And I’m very happy that the professors realised that (before I did) and rejected me, because I would not have thrived there. Like Rana, I very much enjoy trying new things and coming from a Scandinavian background, it’s an incredibly important cultural aspect to not solely dedicate your life to studying. To meet new people, go to a random society meeting, get drunk and feel terrible the next morning – and have the time and space to do all of this. I wouldn’t have been able to have had the experiences I’ve had here at Cambridge; for example, I tried out two different types of volunteering, and that helped me realise that I definitely prefer one-on-one interaction with “patients”, rather than being in big group of people with less structure. And I love Edinburgh, it’s gorgeous, it’s just the right size, there’s so much to do and so much great food to eat!
No harm can come from applying. I truly believe that everything is an experience and there’s absolutely no harm in collecting experiences. And don’t feel too bad if you apply and don’t get in: I have a friend called Paula and she’s a perfect model student, gets amazing grades in all subjects (from art to maths), sings, plays the piano, was on all the sports teams at our old school. And she didn’t get in. But she went to Imperial instead, Rana went to Warwick and I went to Edinburgh. So many other universities offer top rate academics and I really don’t think that not getting into Oxbridge is the end of the world. It just might be the beginning of something better.
That’s it – really long post I apologise but I hope that gives you a really good idea of what to expect from Oxbridge interviews if you do decide to apply, or if you have applied and you’ve been rejected, that it’s not the end of the world and there are so many other universities where you could have an amazing time. I hope this helped, if you have any questions, feel free to comment down below!