This is a take on the Oxford interview process from someone who has gone through it several times now: initially as a terrified 17 year old interviewee, and subsequently as a mature, calm and enlightened (well, ish) interview shepherd. Working at interviews involves lots of practical to-ing and fro-ing, showing candidates to their rooms, making announcements about interview times, walking candidates to other colleges for later interviews, and organising fun social and ice breaking activities. It additionally, and perhaps more importantly, means being approachable, supportive and sympathetic for nervous applicants in a new, alien and pretty environment. Being at interviews as a post-interview survivor definitely helped me view the whole thing in a more objective, less I’m-not-clever-and-I’m-definitely-going-to-make-a-fool-of-myself light, so here are some reflections.
When preparing for your Oxford interview it can be easy to only focus on the actual academic interview, which is of course super important, but I think it’s crucial to remember that the actual time you are in an interview only makes up a small proportion of the overall time you are in Oxford. So as well as revising your personal statement and re-reading your submitted work for the zillionth time, it’s key to give at least a little bit of thought to the practical side of coming to Oxford for several days. For many of you it will be your first time away from home without anyone you know, for some of you your first time in the unique setting that is Oxford, perhaps even your first time in the UK. You’ll have to navigate yourself around the city and around colleges (it’s expected you’ll probably get a bit lost!) And you’ll be thrown together with lots of other equally nervous interviewees whose names/subjects applying for/home towns will probably all blur together in your brain. If you feel a bit daunted, that is natural, but remember that everyone will be in the same boat as you.
There is no one correct way to spend your free time at interviews. If you want to stay in your room and prepare, then that is fine. If you want to hang out in the waiting room or JCR (undergraduate common room) or get out and explore Oxford that is equally fine. Do what makes you feel most comfortable at ease and try not to be put off by what others are doing or saying. One thing I would definitely recommend, though, is trying to make the effort to go to college meals. It’s nice to socialise a bit, meet some new people and it stops you from being isolated and fixated solely upon your interviews. (And if that’s not sufficient incentive, it’s free food in an Oxford hall!)
My other main piece of advice is to make the most of the interview shepherds and college staff facilitating interviews. They are there to be of use to you! Bombard them with questions, get them to guide you to obscurely named rooms, quiz them on their own interviews. And if you’re a bit homesick, Oxford is too dark and cold in December, you think you completely messed up an interview, in short if you're not feeling too great, get them to get you a cup of tea and have a chat with them. Interview shepherds have been trained in the welfare side of things, and crucially have been through exactly what you're going through so will understand where you're coming from. At the end of the day we are here for you guys, and want to help in any capacity we can to make what can be a strange and stressful experience that bit easier!