University of Cambridge

Oxford Calling: My Interview Experience With Oxford University

It’s a norm for British top universities to conduct interviews with their candidates prior to admission. For most of the universities the interview merely becomes a formality because the admission decision would be based on your college tutor’s report and your result prediction. But for some high profile universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, the interview can become the determining factor that would decide your entry there.

If you are successful, then you’ll be offered a place, provided you achieve the required result in your coming A-levels exam. But if you do extraordinarily well, they might even offer you a place without any prerequisite, which means that your A-Levels exam results will not have any influence, which is good, really. This is called a non-conditioned offer.

A former schoolmate of mine did fabulously well in Oxford interview and was extended a non-conditioned offer. However, it was just so unfortunate for him when the company that sponsored his tuition fees immediately withdrew him from all overseas institutions after he scored an E in one of the subjects and he had to accept his fate to continue studying in some local university, not in Oxford.

Upon hearing his news, I was left wondering what a fool the company had been, and how cruel the decision was. Ironically, it was the same company that I accepted an offer from to further my A-levels study abroad a few years after that.

By the way, in my case even though I could choose to apply for admission to up to 5 universities, I was not allowed to applied to Oxford and Cambridge University at the same time. So you’d have to choose one over another. In my case, I applied to Oxford University because Oxford was where most of my friends applied (duh…).

As Oxford consists of a number of colleges that make up the whole university, I was left wondering which college I should apply for. After doing some prospectus reading and asking around, I finally came down to choose a small college by the name of Somerville College. It was quite a nice place to be, and I liked the beautiful scenery and the nice people there.

To say the truth, being called up for Oxford interview was already a triumph. Yes, Oxford! At least I had my chance. I was so excited, yet at the same time nervous since I did not know what to expect what type of questions would be asked during interview. And it was one of my first experiences being interviewed by a foreigner. Early in the morning, where I guessed the interviewer would probably still in bed, I was already there waiting in the reception room, eager to impress myself.

It turned out that the interview session was some sort of a slaughterhouse for me. I was like a cow being tied up while the professor in front of me ready to slash my neck. To say the least it was nightmare.

There was not much introduction going on – the first thing the interviewer asked me was my name. And that was only because it was a standard procedure to make sure they were interviewing the right candidate. Soon afterwards you would be down to business.

I vividly remember the interviewer asked me how to find out how much energy the cup of coffee standing on his desk would give him. It took me a while to start with. Even though I managed to make a start; I was clearly not progressing well to find the solution. After much waiting, the professor slowly guided me step after step on how I can solve the problem. At the end, with the help of the professor, I managed to come up with an answer. It was not a pleasant experience, but I learnt a lot. For me, this experience taught me even every body has a chance to gain a place in Oxford, not every one is qualified to be there. It took a high level of competencies, knowledge and sometimes luck.

I did not hear any offer from Oxford then.

At the same time, a good friend of mine applied for another college in Oxford, Mansfield College. For the past few years, the college has its own history to have accepted Malaysian students every year. So he was out to continue the tradition, to be another Malaysian accepted for Oxford next student enrolment.

Incidentally, one of our high-school seniors was studying at that college, and through some tips, this friend learnt that it was normal for the interviewer to ask similar question year after year. So upon hearing this, he insisted on getting last year’s question from this friend and even the answer for that question.

I was not really sure what the question was, but it sounded something like this:

There is a glass standing on top of a piece of paper. You are needed to calculate how much force and speed you need to apply to the paper so that when you snatch the paper away, the glass stands still.

I tell you what. He did get the same darn question!

He was duly offered a place at Oxford University. And I was not!

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