by Sapphira McBride
My interview experience was a mixed bag. I arrived in Oxford the evening before my interviews; alone and absolutely terrified at the idea that I could fall at the last hurdle of what had been a long and emotionally draining application process. When I arrived at the college, I wasn’t thrilled to discover I had an interview at 8:30 the next morning at a different college 20 minutes away, but there was nothing I could really do other than try to remain calm and get a good night’s sleep. I avoided speaking to anyone else applying for Psychology because I was scared they’d all sound so much more prepared or smarter than me, or that there’d be an atmosphere of rivalry between us. If I could turn back time, I would have made more of an effort to speak to other applicants rather than staying in my room desperately re-reading my personal statement, because most people were probably feeling exactly the same as I was.
Because I’d just spent 20 minutes walking in the freezing cold, I was a bit shivery and out of breath when I got to the interview, so it didn’t get off to the greatest start. I was given 30 minutes to read a recent psychology study before meeting the two interviewers. They started by asking me some general questions relating to what I had written about in my personal statement, but this only lasted for about 5 minutes before they started to ask me about the study I’d read. These were relatively basic questions about what the study did and what the researchers found, to make sure I had understood it, and then the questions progressed to be slightly more analytical; requiring me to interpret the results and potentially apply any knowledge or ideas I might have to the study. I was sat quite a distance from the interviewers, so it felt quite formal and not anything like the mock interview I’d done with teachers who knew me so well. Overall, I felt underwhelmed and disappointed after my first interview – it hadn’t been a disaster, but I also didn’t feel like I had said anything that would set me apart from anyone else, or that I had really connected with my interviewers.
My second interview, at my college of choice, went much better. I was again given a study to read before the interview. The set-up was much more informal the second time round – I was sitting just across from the interviewers at the same table, which felt much more natural than the three meters away I had been from the interviewers the first time round. The interview opened with the very broad question ‘So, why psychology?’ which is meant to be an icebreaker to relax interviewees. For me, the question allowed me to steer the conversation in the direction I wanted. I gave examples of books and research I had found particularly interesting, and the interviewers then bounced off this to ask me more in-depth questions about the research I’d mentioned. Make sure if you bring up a specific topic or researcher, you do actually have something to say about it! You can use it as an opportunity to guide the direction of the interview and to show them how much you’re interested in the subject.
It felt a lot like a chat, with the interviewers laughing at some silly hypothetical situations I had made up as examples for what I was trying to say, and not at all like a formal interview. It did still require me to think carefully about what I was saying and consider the ideas being presented to me, but without being intimidating or test-like. After about halfway through, I was asked about the study I’d read, and was asked very similar style questions to the first interview. This time, I was prompted more to explore my ideas and the limitations of the study with the help of the interviewers, so it was very much a two-way discussion.
The end of the interview was based on statistics (which plays a large role in psychology) where I was given some simple probability calculations to do. Even though I’m not at all confident with maths and panicked as soon as I heard the word ‘probability’, it was pretty simple stuff you would’ve come across at around GCSE level, like the probability of rolling a certain number on a dice if it’s rolled three times. I left with the impression that the interviewers don’t expect an answer straight away - and they give you time to use pen and paper if you need it. Even if you do get a question wrong or don’t reach an answer, it seems they won’t necessarily think less of you as an applicant: they understand you might be nervous, and they want to see that you’re open to learning what the right answer is rather than being devastated that you don’t know something (as, trust me, that’ll happen a lot at university…)
By the end of the interview, I felt more energised than before. I was excited by the idea that the two people I had just been speaking to might be my future tutors or lecturers. Like the first interview, I had no idea how well I’d done or what to think, but I definitely felt more positive and hopeful, that I at least had a chance, than I had the same morning. Just because you have one bad (or just not particularly good) interview, doesn’t mean your chances are completely ruined at all – the best thing to do is treat it as practice and think how you could have done it differently the second time round.
No interview is exactly the same: I found the two I had very different in atmosphere and style even though many of the questions were similar. It’s helpful to remember that it’s not just an opportunity for the interviewers to see how much they’d like you to study there, but also an opportunity for you to see whether or not you’d actually like to be here for 3 or more years! It’s easy to apply to Oxford without really knowing if it’s right for you until you get here – if you come away hating the atmosphere then you’d probably have a more enjoyable experience at a different university.
Even if after all your interviews you think you have absolutely no chance, don’t let yourself overthink things – you won’t know until January, so there’s no point worrying about what you can’t change! My advice would be to give yourself a massive pat on the back for making it to the interview stage, and allow yourself plenty of time over December to relax after the gruelling admissions process you’ve just been through.