Things I should have said at my Oxbridge interview (but that I’d never have the nerve for)

Greetings from your friendly neighbourhood Oxbridge reject.

That’s right, I can claim membership to that very exclusive club. Like many others, I fell in love with Oxbridge – I won’t say which university – on my first visit there. I was fourteen.

I still like Oxbridge. Pretty place, nice reputation. The people aren’t half as snobby as TV makes them out to be.

I might never recover from my Oxbridge interviews though. I had two, both at the same college, and both for English. One interview was a marked improvement on the other.

Let’s have some background.

I took an ELAT (an aptitude test) and scored an interview at my chosen college. My interview was in December 2012. I chose a rather old college, with the best academic records in the business. The room was lovely though – I’ve included a picture. There was a problem with earwigs in the taps, I recall, and they had to give us cans of coke because we couldn’t drink the water. Imagine a college full of nervous potential candidates hyped up on caffeine. You don’t understand the meaning of competitiveness until you’ve played Articulate with a room full of emotionally unstable teenagers.

As I’ve said, one interview was quite nice. The professors shook my hand, told me they valued my views and everything. The other – not so much. The girl just before me ran out crying, sure she wouldn’t be accepted. The professors sat me down right across the room from them, so I had to shout to be heard. They didn’t smile. It began.

I feel the need to interject that most Oxbridge experiences are not like mine. I’ve spoken to people who were interviewed at other colleges, and their interviewers were the friendliest people they could ask for. However, I wasn’t very lucky.

Here are a few quotes from my esteemed interviewers:

“You’re asking about the little blue birds in the extract? You surely know little blue birds of happiness, don’t you? Put it this way. Have you seen the animation Snow White when they float around the girl’s head?”

“Did you hear that Dr —–? She thinks Georgian literature comes from the Georgian era.” (Cue uproarious laughter.)

“Oh, I am sick of all this Claudio sh*t.”

“Really? F*ck off!”

Interesting. Did you come up with that yourself then?”


You may talk about interview strategies all you want, but I was shocked at these particular professors. I asked the other English candidates and they said that they had all had similar, though not identical, experiences. Did I write a letter of complaint? No, I didn’t. Just in case I’d managed to scrape into Oxbridge.

Oddly enough though, I felt nothing as much as relief when I received my rejection letter. Then I got into my second choice university, and you know what? I’m really happy here.

Shortly after my interview and before my rejection, being my usual cheeky self, I came up with a list. And here it is.


Things I should have said at my Oxbridge interview (but that I’d never have the nerve for)

Note: My interviewers only asked half of the following questions. For future Oxbridge candidates, they never asked about my personal statement at all.

Interviewer 1: Why do you want to study English?
Me: It isn’t like other subjects. In Science, it can be proved that light travels in straight lines. However, in English I can argue that the whole of Gulliver’s Travels is a piece of satire to note a metaphor of light not travelling in straight lines. I can never be wrong. Never.

Interviewer 2: Why do you want to study at Oxbridge?
Me: It’s wonderfully elitist; lots of posh people. Hopefully I’ll meet a rich husband.

Interviewer 1: What do you think of the title ‘Self-Unconscious’?
Me: Reminds me of my friends when they’ve had a bit to drink.

Interviewer 2: Do you know what English is?
Me: The language we’re speaking in.
Interviewer 2: No, what is the subject?
Me: Someone ruled by a monarch. Really, you’re how old? You ought to know this.

Interviewer 1: I’m f*cking sick of all this Claudio sh*t!
Me: Really, swearing’s just a lack of vocabulary.
Interviewer 1: I have a doctorate in English.
Me: Just shows they’re giving them out these days.


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my little rant and that I haven’t put anyone off applying to Oxbridge. I bear no ill will towards the place, except the frustration I’ve expressed in this post. I know some great people who managed to get in and are having the time of their lives. If you recognise which university, what college or even which professors I’m referring to, please keep that to yourselves. Everyone deserves their own chance to see if Oxbridge is the place for them.

11 thoughts on “Things I should have said at my Oxbridge interview (but that I’d never have the nerve for)

    • It’s so true, preparing for college, taking the ACT and SAT, and thinking about academics and majors helps future college students before they go to university. The admissions process can be daunting, and counseling is helpful if the consultants really know people in academia. For help planning ahead, I recommend contacting your local school board and locate professional college admissions consultants. I did that where I live in Louisville, Kentucky and thanks to Leigh Moore and Denise Parsons at CAP (College Admissions Planning) both of my boys got into the schools they desired.

  1. This is exactly why I didn’t apply for a Cambridge scholarship when I graduated from university in Chicago. Was done with that type of interviewing. (Not that I would have gotten said scholarship anyway– ha!)

  2. I met some similar balls of sunshine during my college days as well. I always thought it was funny how some people with doctorates aren’t above behaving like common bullies. If they don’t find you impressive, don’t sweat it–it just means you’re not a snootypants! 😉

  3. Ha these are great interview answers. You were definitely unlucky with your choice of college though, the worst story I’ve heard before this was a medic applicant who was told to design an engine for them.

  4. Pingback: Things I should have said at my Oxbridge interview (but that I’d never have the nerve for) | Bort Simpson

  5. Muahaha, I love this. A little bit of sarcasm and honesty never hurt anyone. Sometimes the best answers possible come to you just after a conversation and you ask yourself, why not just dare it next time? No matter how important the conversation might be. There are so many people out there who think to be better than others because they can speak in a fancy, literacy terminology, aren’t there? I myself study literature but don’t do that at all. I simply like reading, thinking and talking about what I have been reading. Teacherskeeptelling me that my work on literature often is not academic enough. So what? I simply have my own point of view 🙂 I don’t want to take myself to seriously when it comes to discussing literature.

    Anyway, I am really looking forward to your next blog entry – you seem to have honest and healthy own views on the pieces you read 🙂

  6. This post makes me so glad that I never went through anything like that. The worst I had was an audition for a drama program where I broke my toe in the warm-up session and one person on the panel had the audacity to question me and then come over and wiggle my toe, remarking ‘it’s not broken, I couldn’t have done that if it was’, ignoring the fact that I was wincing in pain. Needless to say, I didn’t get in and it was definitely for the best!

  7. oh no I’m so scared after reading this now! Luckily I have a couple of years to go before I need to consider choosing universities but, like you, completely fell in love with Oxbridge – I can’t believe they were so mean! If that had been me I would have like, cried.

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