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Exeter English Interview

Stepping into Exeter college, I had to shake off the sense of foreboding that had accompanied me on the long car journey down to Oxford. It was certainly the most overwhelmed I’d ever felt, I was lead to my room in a daze and as soon as I was alone the panic set in. To calm my nerves I sat by the window and began to re-read one of my personal statement books. I noticed darkness fall over the chapel and so I ventured to dinner where I plucked up enough courage to talk to two girls in the queue. After an evening of new friends and relaxing, I was sufficiently de-stressed and ready to face one of the most important days of my life.

My first interview began with an hour to read and annotate a poem. This seemed at first to be an excessive amount of time but it flew by as the poem was two pages long and there was a lot I wanted to discuss. The poem was extremely feminist and extremely interesting, I think this was the main reason that walking into my first interview, the nerves dissolved. The room was unlike anything I had anticipated, the interviewers were not at all terrifying- they were two lovely women who smiled and invited me to sit on a comfy chair which I sank right into. Initially I was asked what I’d been reading recently and I spoke about my EPQ-based reading which was great as it was so fresh in my mind. My EPQ is about American literature so a discussion ensued about common themes in quintessential American novels. We talked about the literary canon and the issues relating to it and I was asked how I thought books were chosen for a school syllabus. Soon it was time to discuss the poem, I had been worried about this as I’m always hesitant to discuss technical aspects of poetry. I ended up picking out what I thought was interesting in terms of language and critical meaning, they pushed me to go into depth and asked me what I thought of a specific biblical metaphor. I was confident in talking about women’s writing and glad to have the opportunity to discuss something from a feminist perspective.

Finally, the question I had been afraid of “when do you think this was written and why?” I had sudden visions of my rejection letter because I’m terrible at guessing time periods and I knew I had no idea. To play it safe I stuttered something about it possibly being from the Victorian era, following this there was an uncomfortable silence in the room that lasted an age, only the chair squeaked. Eventually they told me that I was, of course, wrong and they asked if I thought it could be from earlier so I agreed that it probably was, because of certain language used. Even as the answer came out of my mouth I was almost shaking my head with regret and it completely knocked my confidence but I’m very grateful that it was the last thing I got asked because I needed to calm down from the trauma. I shut the door and took a deep breath, staring at the poem in my hand and all the annotations I never said. I decided to erase it from my mind, go for a Starbucks and prepare for interview number two.

Interview number two was a ten minute discussion on 'anything you’ve read’. We’d been told previously that this would be the case so upon arrival in an office, that I wished was my own, I was asked what I had planned to talk about. I then talked about A Streetcar Named Desire and why I loved Blanche. At times it felt like I was going off on a tangent, but I felt just like I was having a chat about something I really enjoyed and felt passionate about. I was grilled by the interviewer to give as much detail as possible but luckily I knew the text in so much depth that I was able to quote it. I thought that talking about something I’d previously studied was a bit like cheating, but the discussion was open ended and my enthusiasm extended beyond the AS syllabus. At one point a horrid winged insect flew at my face and I wafted it away aggressively exclaiming that there was ‘a fly in my face’, a terrible occurrence which subsequently haunted me for weeks. All I could think about was that I was a huge embarrassment and Oxford would definitely want to reject the person who swotted a bug mid-discussion.

Despite all of the little things which I was convinced completely let me down, I had two very interesting, mind-expanding interviews and by the end of my time in Oxford I knew I was simply lucky to have had the experience to talk about something I love, to some of the most intelligent people. But the indescribable feeling of receiving my offer email from Exeter college was worth 100 insects attacking me and, I don't mean to be cliché, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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