Advice from Oxbridge Applicants
Wednesday, 18 March 2020
A number of Bolton School Sixth Form students and recent leavers have received offers from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge this year. We caught up with the group to find out why they applied to these prestigious universities and their thoughts on the application and interview process.
What inspired you to apply to Oxford or Cambridge?
Krishnan Ajit, Medicine (Cambridge): Of course the reputation that Cambridge has is what sparked my initial interest in the university, but it was after visiting and hearing about the learning experience from other students that I really decided for certain that I wanted to apply. Cambridge is a lovely place as well, which makes it very attractive not only as a university but as a place to live for the next few years.
Khadijah Ali (Old Girl, Class of 2019), German (Oxford): My decision to apply to Oxford was one that naturally developed over my time at school. Though I’ve never considered myself to be ‘naturally gifted’, I’ve always pushed myself academically. I thrive in competitive environments surrounded by people who are equally as passionate about learning. The prospect of being taught by tutors who are experts in their subject during small-group tutorials really excites me. I know that it’s a cliché and that every person who has ever been accepted into Oxbridge will say they ‘never thought they stood a chance’. However, believe me when I say I didn’t! The process has taught me that there’s no ‘Oxbridge type’ and I would encourage students to apply if they are considering it. Applying to Oxbridge is a lengthy process, but it’s character-building and excellent preparation for future job applications.
Lewis Spencer-Ogg, History (Oxford): The tutorial system presents a uniquely challenging academic experience which I believe would maximise my learning in a way other universities cannot offer. The reason I chose Oxford rather than Cambridge was because as a history student libraries represent a large part of my study, so the facilities in the Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera were the deciding factor for me.
Which college did you choose and why?
Daniyal Ashraf, Medicine (Cambridge): I chose Robinson College mainly after speaking to students who studied there; its down-to-earth nature and very friendly students from a range of different backgrounds persuaded me to apply there. The fact that at my interview the students were chatting about Love Island meant I didn’t feel too far away from Bolton!
Antonia Jameson (Old Girl, Class of 2019), Fine Art (Oxford): I applied to Queen’s because it is near the Ruskin School of Art and very pretty, but I was pooled to Lady Margaret Hall. All of the colleges are nice so I didn’t really put much thought into which one I applied to. In hindsight I think I will prefer living at LMH because it has an extremely friendly and approachable atmosphere, while still being on the river and with acres of gardens! It was also the first college to accept women so I feel lucky to be able to live there.
How has Bolton School helped with the application process and interview preparation?
Yusuf Adia, Medicine (Cambridge): School has been extremely helpful with the application process and interview preparation. Dr Holland (Boys’ Division Director of Higher Education Applications, Head of Careers Education) was always available to provide advice on the UCAS application, the personal statement as well as with Cambridge-specific related matters. Dr Holland also set up the ‘Forum’ talks where each potential applicant gave a talk on a topic related to their course and was then asked searching questions by various subject teachers.
Additionally many different medicine interview practice sessions were held. Some were for all medical applicants and others were more specifically aimed at the Cambridge interview. The interviews at Boys’ Division as well as the interview I had at Girls’ Division were all very helpful and definitely helped with my confidence talking about medical related subjects.
Rachel McGinty, Law (Oxford): School greatly aided me in preparation in several ways. At the beginning of Year 12 they hosted an ‘Oxbridge Conference’ which speakers from both Oxford and Cambridge as well as applicants from schools around Bolton attended. During this day I was able to gain an insight into the application process as a whole and also some specific information such as useful supra-curricular activities that could enhance my application and enthusiasm for law. I got to speak with several current Law students and read some successful personal statements; both beneficial to me at the beginning of the process.
Also, once a week at lunchtime I attended ‘Law Society’ which was of great use to me when preparing to sit my LNAT exam. I was taught about good exam technique, and did practise questions to improve my speed and accuracy. This certainly helped contain my nerves on the actual test day. It was the interview preparation that I found most beneficial, as it can be difficult to practise interview technique and questions alone. As the interview offers can be released very close to the interview dates themselves, the school provided several opportunities over the few months prior to any potential interview, to ensure I had enough time to practise.
How did you find the application and interview process?
Khadijah: My interviews were far more relaxed and (dare I say!) enjoyable than I’d anticipated. To prepare, I practised annotating unseen extracts under timed conditions and answered abstract language questions that I’d found online. Before each of my three interviews, I annotated an unseen text which I then discussed with the tutors. This led onto discussions from philosophical theories about death to how languages influence the way we think. My personal statement was used as a springboard to test my fluency in German and we spoke about the issues of reading literature in translation. Instead of interviews, I thought of them as intellectually stimulating discussions with experts who love their subject! I was stumped a couple of times during the interviews but asking the tutors for clarification quickly amended this and redirected me.
My top advice for candidates is to be yourself! During one interview, we were discussing a character who was instigating another. In the moment, I could only think to say they were ‘egging them on’. This may not have been the most articulate way of speaking but, in hindsight, it conveyed my point perfectly and helped me come across more naturally. At the end of the day, the tutors wanted to see the real person they would be teaching if I was accepted. A source of angst (particularly for girls!) is the topic of clothes. Just wear what you feel most comfortable in. The tutors don’t care how you dress, within reason of course. It’s more important to be engaged, willing to give it a go, and enthusiastic!
Alex Gao, Engineering (Cambridge): Firstly, the deadline for application was October rather than January, so we had to do everything at a faster pace. For Cambridge we were also required to fill in a ‘supplementary questionnaire’, which was basically like a mini UCAS application, and that extra task did take some time to complete.
The interviews were completely different from any exams that I have done, as the thing that matters in an interview is not getting the ‘correct’ answer, but how you react to an unknown problem and find your way through it. So most of the time as long as I ‘went onto the right track’ the interviewers then presented the next question, which was kind of frustrating, as if I wasn’t even allowed to finish the question! I didn’t really prepare that much for the interview as I had no idea what was going to come up, so I just mainly brushed up on my A Level science subjects. After all, interview isn’t about extensive preparation or excessive polishing, but rather the ability to simply be yourself and think on the spot.
Lewis: The Oxbridge application process is much more rigorous than that for any other university for History. I had to go through the History Aptitude Test and a four day long resident interview process in order to get my offer, whereas for all the other universities I applied to a personal statement and predicted grades was all that was required. The interviews were extremely challenging but I felt that the mock interviews and source preparation that I had done in school allowed me to be as prepared as anyone can be for the unpredictable nature of the interviews.
What supra-curricular activities do you think helped you with your application?
Daniyal: Work experience was particularly useful and also meant I had a realistic understanding of what a medical career would entail. Volunteering at Bolton Hospice also taught me about a side of medicine that isn’t as well-realised and is an experience I’d recommend to any prospective medical applicant. Reading about what a medical career entailed was very useful as the career is sometimes overly-glamourised and it’s very important to have a realistic understanding of what it’s like to be a doctor. Also, learning more about diseases or illnesses I was interested in was particularly helpful, whether that be through books or online courses; I learnt about diabetes, Parkinson’s and age-related disorders as I’d seen these in my work experience placements and wanted to learn more. I’m not sure how useful it was for Cambridge but playing rugby and being involved in drama productions also gave me outlets to ensure I maintained a work-life balance, something that is particularly important for prospective medical applicants.
Rachel: I undertook several supra-curricular activities to assist me with my application. Firstly, it was important to assure myself that I had an enthusiasm for Law what with it being an unknown subject to me; for both myself and my application I had to be convinced that the idea of a Law degree fascinated me. Consequently, following news cases by subscribing to the Times Online and reading several books that provided an overview into different aspects of the law certainly fired my interest. In order to gain a sense of understanding of what a Law degree might entail, besides from reading, I felt that actively experiencing some taster sessions would be beneficial. I attended a Law Masterclass at Cambridge University, and a Young Lawyer Day in London, where sample lectures were given to provide an insight into studying law. Additionally, work experience at various legal firms and at Chester Crown Court furthered my interest and understanding of the way law operates in society and confirmed my aspirations for entering the field.
Read the full interviews with each student by clicking on the links below:
Yusuf Adia, Medicine
A Levels: Biology, Chemistry, Latin, Maths
‘The way every little thing works with each other to create something as extraordinary as our body is fascinating. I want to study these processes and apply my knowledge in a way that can effectively treat and assist other people.’
Krishnan Ajit, Medicine
A Levels: Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Latin
‘My work experience and volunteering have strengthened my resolve, but my initial desire to study Medicine certainly stems from how much I have enjoyed learning science at school.’
Khadijah Ali (Old Girl, Class of 2019), German
A Levels: Biology, Chemistry and German and EPQ
‘I chose to study German as I get a real buzz out of learning the complex grammar rules and the challenge of translating gives me a satisfaction which is second to none.’
Daniyal Ashraf, Medicine
A Levels: Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Latin
‘I applied to study medicine as I wanted a career that consisted of a strong scientific base but also had the ability to directly help others and have a positive impact on their lives.’
Alex Gao, Engineering
A Levels: Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry and German
‘I’m simply fascinated by the fact that you can use your scientific knowledge and creativity to design ‘things’ or processes that can either help yourself or help other people.’
Antonia Jameson (Old Girl, Class of 2019), Fine Art
A Levels: Art, Latin and Religious Studies
Currently completing a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at the Manchester School of Art
‘I have applied for a Fine Art BA. Simply because it’s what I love doing, and I know it will help me in the future in terms of employment at a gallery. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to focus solely on what you enjoy for three years.’
Rachel McGinty, Law
A Levels: Latin, Geography and History
‘Attending various sample lectures and reading a variety of legal books and cases confirmed my enthusiasm for the law and the ethics behind it, and I find studying something so dynamic and evolving a stimulating prospect.’
Lewis Spencer-Ogg, History
A Levels: History, Maths and Physics
‘I am fascinated by how different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds can subconsciously dictate the manner in which an individual writes and views events within our common history.’
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