I'm applying for History and Politics at Balliol College this year. I applied last year (same course and college, I'm glutton for punishment) and apparently did well at interview but was rejected on account of my lack of GCSEs, having lived abroad for ten years, and a pretty poor HAT score. I just thought I'd post and give some insight into the interview process and what the week I spent at Oxford was like.
Firstly, the 4 days I spent at Balliol were amazing. Everybody I met at the college was lovely and I made some really good friends, who I'll be going to visit again this year. The best thing, for me, was the intellectual curiosity of people. We had discussions on everything from socialism to Keats to religion, including a big argument in a bar with some students from St Anne's college who said that "communism is a nice idea, but will never work". That's not to say that it was a week of academic discussion amongst pretentious, aspiring intellectuals though. We also did a fair bit of drinking (those of us who were of age), and went on raids to JCRs at other colleges looking for Trivial Pursuit, stealing biscuits, and, at Christchurch, leaving left-wing messages on the paper flip-chart. From these raids, we got a bit of an idea of what the different colleges were like, so here's what I can remember (remember I was only there for a few days and spent an hour at most in each college, so don't let any of my opinions put you off):
Amazing. A decent JCR, friendliest people and quite a liberal and left-wing attitude amongst the candidates.
Fanciest JCR in that they have giant TVs, a pool table and comfy leather chairs. An amazing hall (the one Harry Potter's great hall is based on in the movies, as I'm sure you all know), great looking college and good food. All this was offset, however, by the candidates we met there. There was a really snobby vibe to the place and when we went in to look for biscuits, one guy playing pool sneered at us and, in the poshest voice imaginable, actually said, "Eugh, noobies...". We met a really nice girl who was applying for English there who said that she didn't really get on with many of the other candidates, putting it down to her being a "statie" and a lot of the others being privately or publicly educated.
Lovely college, which is like a maze inside. We had to stop a Philosophy lecturer to ask for the key code for the stairways (we told him we were interviewees there and had forgotten the code), to which he answered, "It's Pi", with a look of absolute disbelief. Their JCR smelt a bit funny but seemed well kitted out and there was a little cat wondering the hallways, which made the place seem quite homely.
Beautiful college. We had a surreal moment where we realised we were in the hallway they used for the first scene of David Tennant's Hamlet and people started acting bits out. Their common room was pretty good, with a pool table and a football table. We queued for about 20 minutes to get into the hall for dinner, only to realise all candidates there had to show a dinner card thing to get their meal, so we ended up leaving.
Also known as Toriel, for how right-wing it's supposed to be. The candidates we met were nice and I liked the college, but the JCR seemed quite cramped.
Quite a small college with a very small hall and amazing grounds. The JCR was probably my favourite. It's very comfy and they had a giant tv and a Wii as well as the typical board games. There were about 5 people there when we visited, so we couldn't sneak a free meal out of the place.
Didn't like it. Felt stuffy.
Now, the interviews. I only interviewed at Balliol, so I can't really say how different they are at different colleges. My first interview was for History and was actually quite fun. I was asked a few questions relating to the essay I sent in but most of the questions, whilst related to the my topic, were on issues I hadn't studied directly and required me to speculate and imagine why X might have happened. This, presumably, was to let them see how I reasoned things through and stops candidates from just reciting pre-prepared arguments.
My second interview, for Politics, felt like a nightmare. The tutors were both nice enough, but I had to talk about lessons learned from the Russian Revolution (referenced in my personal statement) to an expert on Marx, which made me nervous, and then I got battered in a little debate on wikileaks and transparency with the other tutor.
Again, though, don't let any of this put you off. When I was rejected, I was convinced it was because I had messed up the Politics interview, but it turned out that I alright in the interviews. It seems to be true that if you find an interview difficult, it's because they're pushing you and it's probably not a bad sign. In terms of weird questions, there were none for me. A girl I met from St Anne's, applying for English, did get one from one of her tutors though. In her personal statement, she had said something about literature adding to reality, so when she went in for one of her interviews, the tutor brought it up and asked, "How does this table add to reality?" to which she didn't have an answer. She got a place though
Apologies if I've rambled on a bit, but, hopefully, this will give people more of an idea of what the interview week is like. If you've got any questions, just ask, and maybe, if I do ok in the HAT, I'll see some of you in December