Oxbridge applications: interview with an Oxbridge reject

If you're thinking of applying to Oxford or Cambridge, read on...

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AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk's editor, Emma Finamore, applied to Cambridge, was rejected, and lived to tell the tale. 

What did you apply for and why?

I applied to study English Literature at Pembroke College, Cambridge. I think one of my parents had read that the English school there was really good, I went for that.

The only reason I applied was because my teachers at college thought I should, it wasn’t anything I’d ever considered before.

But it’s flattering to be asked and once someone puts that thought into your head, it’s hard to shake off!

So, I put a lot of work into my application and ended up being offered an interview.

What was the interview like?

It was really exciting and a bit scary, as you can imagine. I had to go to the college in Cambridge for an overnight stay – they put all of us applicants up in rooms in the college so we could see what it was like, and get up early on the day of the interviews.

It was amazing, it looked like Hogwarts or something – there was a big garden in the middle of the college, I think you call it a ‘quad’, and a huge hall where everyone ate together, with wooden panels and long tables.

It was like nothing I’d ever seen, like being in a film.

I had to have two interviews, one of them went ok but the other was a disaster. I remember going to the professor’s study, which was at the very top of this winding, stone staircase, and we sat in front of the fireplace.

I remember thinking the room was lovely and cosy, but that he was quite frightening!

I tried to be too clever and talk about a book I was reading, Machiavelli’s The Prince, which I obviously had no real understanding of and was only reading so I’d have something impressive to speak about at the interview.

The professor saw straight through me instantly and we just had a very short, awkward conversation.

Were there any tests?

After the two interviews all the applicants had to sit a test in exam conditions.

I can’t remember exactly what was asked but I do remember stopping halfway through, looking round the room while everyone else scribbled away frantically on their tests, and thinking “I have no idea what I’m writing or what I’m doing here”.

I’d run out of things to write, and didn’t really understand the questions anyway.

I knew then that there was no way I was getting into Cambridge.

How did you hear about the result?

I got the result in December, I remember I was in Manchester visiting family friends when my mum rang and said they had a letter from Cambridge through the post.

Even though I knew deep down what the result would be, I do remember being excite, and I asked her to open it and tell me what it said.

It was – obviously – a no, which was a bit deflating, but my parents were great and told me that they were super proud of me just for getting an interview, and to think of it like a big, exciting experience – so it didn’t matter if anything came out of it or not.

Do you regret not getting in?

I genuinely am now so glad that I didn’t get in, because I would have had to go (you don’t get in to Cambridge university and then turn it down, do you?) and wouldn’t have had the fun university experience, and all the friends, that I ended up with by going to Leeds.

At Oxford and Cambridge you have really short terms, so you’re only at university for eight weeks before going home again, whereas I loved making my new home in another town and really feeling like I’d moved out of the family place.

Students live most of the time in college at Oxford and Cambridge, which seems like just a big boarding school, whereas I loved living in a big student house with all my friends.

You’re also not meant to have part-time jobs (they want you to focus entirely on study) at Oxbridge, and a big part of my university experience was making lots of friends through working in bars and music venues, some of my best friends to this day.

To anyone applying to Oxford or Cambridge, I would say of course try your hardest, and it’s such an achievement if you’re successful (not to mention your employability after graduating) but don’t think it’s the be all and end all: there’s a whole world out there, Oxbridge is only one small part of it! 

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