Updated: Dec 12, 2019
By Jenna Colaco
My interview period was filled with many great moments and some minor panics! I remember being so nervous about coming to Oxford to interview. I had totally over-packed! I was so worried that I decided to pack almost every book I mentioned on my personal statement into my suitcase. Since I was applying for Classics and English, that made my suitcase so ridiculously heavy and I wanted to feel at home so I even chucked in my alarm clock. In retrospect, I didn’t need every single book, but having something that reminded me of home and ensured I was up in the morning was very comforting.
On my way to Oxford it was snowing. I remember being so panicked because the train had terminated a stop early due to snow on the tracks so everyone was advised to take a bus into town. I was so terrified that I would get lost and end up somewhere random and totally miss my interview. Luckily, I met a really nice woman on the bus who had studied at Oxford herself and who had come from a very similar educational background to me. She too had grown-up in an area that wasn’t affluent, attended a state school and was very nervous when she was applying to Oxford. I think in a strange way ending up on the bus with her was actually such a blessing because she really helped me feel like I shouldn’t worry as much as I was. She also very kindly checked with some friends of hers who were tutors and let me know that I didn’t have to worry about wearing formal clothes to interviews. She told me I was free to wear jeans if that was what made me most comfortable and that tutors aren’t concerned about what I am wearing, their focus is on how I think and my opinions about the subject I am applying for.
When I arrived, everything was totally fine. I still made it for my arrival time, but even if I hadn’t, they would have understood that I cannot control the trains running. Fortunately, I didn’t have interviews until the next day. I had three interviews the next day, two in college and one at Classics Faculty. For my English interview, I had ten minutes to read an unseen passage before they called me in. I actually really enjoyed the interview, they were very friendly and seemed genuinely interested in my personal statement. I totally misinterpreted the passage and went on a rant about the exploitation of little people in the world, but they guided me to see what else was in the passage. In essence, you don’t have to get everything right, you just have to be willing to think and reassess with guidance. I would say as a general tip to anyone applying for English— have something you are currently reading! The final question I was asked was, ‘What are you reading at the moment?’ So make sure you have an answer and a reason why you are reading it, or what you like or dislike about it.
My second interview was a Classics interview, my favourite one, with the tutors who now teach me. I had never studied Latin or Greek before university so they gave me a poem in English which had classical references in it which would help gauge how I responded to classical themes and the conventions of classical literature from my knowledge of reading English translations of authors such as Virgil and Homer. We then moved on to discussing an essay I had submitted. It was such a lovely interview and if they referred to something that I didn’t know of, I would just tell them that I had never studied it before. Or, if they used a term which I didn’t understand I asked for a definition and they helped explain it to me. It is totally fine to ask your interviewer to repeat something or define something for you.
My third interview I found much harder. Since I was applying for Classics and English Course II (starting classical languages at university), I had to have a faculty language interview. I had no idea what this interview entailed at all. The whole interview was about my CLAT (Classics Language Aptitude Test) which I had found very hard. As preparation for this interview, I would urge applicants to read a little about English grammar, understand tenses and clauses and basic grammar points.
The day after that, I had my final interview at another college which was classics based but they asked a lot about my desire to pursue joint honours. We began the interview by discussing an extract that they had given me to read fifteen minutes prior by a classical writer I had written about in my personal statement. They then asked me to discuss my EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) because I had chosen a topic centered around the reception of the classics by writing on Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. If you are applying for a joint course, make sure you have firm reasons why you want to study them both together as opposed to studying single honours.
I went home the next day exhausted but accomplished. Looking back, I wish I spent more time exploring the city and relaxing as opposed to staying in my room frantically trying to read more. Interviews are a stressful time but Oxford is a beautiful city to explore so try and make some time to see some of it if you can.