Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Down Time

The phrase 'work hard, play hard,' can be applied to the final year at school like no other. We have more responsibility than ever, as a consequence of this have more maturity (ish) than ever, and when we get up in the morning feel less willing to raise ourselves from our lazy stupor than ever.

What I'm trying to say is this - as much as this is a turbulent time in our lives, we need to make as much time for eating, sleeping, and putting our feet up, as for anything else. I know, it sounds a bit naïve to just blithely delcare that this is what we ought be doing. My mum is perhaps the biggest proponent of this sort of advice and my most common response is, 'I would if I could!!!' followed by a sullen expression whenever anyone mentioned the word 'work' or begins a sentence with 'you ought to be....' What's the point in going to bed early when you won't finish your work, right? What's the point of having a proper lunch if you don't have enough time to eat it because you have two study meetings, right? Why relax when you get home when it'll just mean you start your work later so get to bed later so wake up grumpy and less willing to overcome the day's problems, right?

My advice, to myself as much as anyone else, it to chill. Ignore external pressures, focus on yourself and what you need; stay aware of the fact that almost everyone else is going through the same process as you and will be there to help out if you want a chat. Finally, remember this - the most important comforting variable that certainly didn't apply way back in September - it's almost the holidays!

This time next week, I'll be staying at Oxford for PPE interviews for four days attempting to not sound like a complete idiot. I'll be sure to give you a detailed recap including all the gruesome details! In the meantime, if you have any comments, don't hesitate to leave them below.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Waiting Game

Preparing for interviews. It’s something that sounds so much less onerous than ‘preparing for exams,’ but really this is the last hurdle. You’ve handed in your grades, done entrance examinations, selected your very best written ramblings, and now the last thing waiting between you and rejection is a room, a faceless interviewer, and some horror stories about antics designed to throw you off your stride.

I applied to a university that involves interviews, and I’m finding out this week if I’m one of the fortune 60% of applicants who will be selected to go to college and be interviewed. That 60% will live in college for four days and three nights, explore the city, try to appear normal and as though we aren’t working through a perpetual panic attack, and then try not to fold like a cheap tent when questioned as to our intellectual curiosity and on-the-spot aptitude.

For people anticipating the possibility of an interview, it’s wholly helpful to prepare. The most important thing to do, in my view, is read. The main question to prepare for is ‘So, I’ve been reading your personal statement, and it’s good. You’ve read lots of great books. But I’m wondering; what else have you been reading?’ If you can’t answer that question, then your claims of deep academic commitment to the subject looks like a farce. Of course, it’s also important to refresh your memory of the books and topics you’ve listed there. For one, it looks bad if you can’t answer simple questions about your reading. For another, questions about your personal statement will be designed to ease you into the interview, and not to scare you, before the meatier quizzing begins. If you can answer those sorts of questions well, you’ll be left with a good feeling, and calmer as you prepare to tackle the rest of the discussion.

Like I mentioned before, there are rumours about questions designed to throw you properly off your feet. Having spoken to a tutor, this isn’t what most people aim for. My teacher gave me a purposefully unrealistic mock interview that was designed to be off-putting and distracting. I was disarmed by her comment that she was pleased I knew the world ‘fiscal’ and by the view that ‘girls don’t really do economics, do they?’ When my friend received a similar mock interview, my teacher jokingly put her feet on the table, read the paper, doodled, and walked over to open a window. Yeah, it sounds distracting, and it was. It was an amusing exercise to do, but no one is ever going to have an experience like that any more. The fact is that we’re much more likely to hear on the grapevine about alleged strange habits from years gone by than about the multiple interviews which are genuinely geared towards making the applicant as comfortable as possible.

Finally, make sure you know why you want to apply for a particular course, college, or institution. Sure, we all know why, but you’ll find it’s harder to put these thoughts into words when your heart is racing a thousand miles an hour. These are the easy questions, easier even than ones about details on your personal statement, and it’s really helpful to take a moment to jot down some notes beforehand about the university and subject, and what drew you to them. You’re less likely to be assessed on your responses here, but if anything, being sure about why you’re applying will help settle your own mind, and make you even more determined and enthusiastic if you enter the interview room with these ideas running through your mind.

The best of luck to anyone waiting for interview responses! Feel free to leave me a comment below if you have an opinion or a question.


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Application Status Notification

The Personal Statement is, in my opinion, the most important thing about your application that can be easily influenced. You can have 50 A*s at GCSE, AAAAAAAA at AS, and still run the risk of being rejected if your universities if you submit them a piece summarising your life that makes you seem like the most boring stick in the mud to ever walk the earth.

I started writing my PS in the summer and the first draft is pretty embarrassing. Having been afraid of plunging into the thing properly, I decided not to make it particularly serious and so the document began with "PPE is my aim, my dream, bla bla bla." In the margins I'd written, perhaps wisely, 'come back to this later...' Underneath that, I listed my A levels. Perhaps I was worried I'd forget them? Underneath that was a thick paragraph of books titles I intended to read during the summer (but didn't); following on from that was the details of an essay competition I intended to enter during the summer (but didn't); and the rest consisted of doodles, repeated statements, and excuses regarding why I'd failed to flesh the thing out.

When I started writing my actual Personal Statement, I didn't even use that bit of paper as reference material. I ended up preparing for my application by doing work experience during the summer and so it was much easier to get into a groove with that on my mind, instead of with what was essentially a 'To Do' list. Anyway, one thing I do know is that if I was as successful at trimming the fat in real life as I ended up having to be when writing my personal statement, then I wouldn't have to worry about binge-eating after completing a particularly successful trawl of the internet for rejection statistics. I started out at 5500 characters, and I tell you this - it can be rescued when it's that long. I managed to cut it down to 4000 without losing anything of value, mostly by getting rid of nothing-words like 'particularly' and 'really' and 'very' and 'relatively' as well as a useless joke at the beginning about how at the age of 7 I'd considered the words Philosophy, Politics and Economics to be indicative of extreme boredom.

To anyone who has yet to write theirs, these are the most important things to remember. Firstly, utilise all 4000 characters. There's an urban legend about a pupil applying for Geography who made their personal statement into the shape of a tree using appropriate spacing. It's funny, but the content suffers. Also, instead of just listing your various achievements and endeavours, every university stresses how important to reflect on these experiences and really demonstrate what you gained from them that makes you a more prominent applicant. Particularly, show that you aren't just someone who is content to sit in lessons and not exhibit academic curiosity. Talk about your studies and reading outside class. However, it's still important to link your current studies with your future studies, and show how they stimulated your interest in the course. If you're applying to different courses at different institutions (like me - I'm applying to one which does not involve Philosophy), make sure the PS is entirely relevant for each, and that the courses are sufficiently similar that your application does not suffer on both fronts. Most importantly, don't lie. You'll regret it later, and it's unfair for the thousands of others applying entirely fairly up and down the country. Most of all, enjoy it. It's an opportunity to show who you truly are academically and it gives you a chance to draw together everything you've done. It might end up surprising you - you may have done more than you think.

In the middle of writing this post, I absently flicked onto Gmail to see that I had a new email lurking in my inbox. Having now experienced it for the very first time, I can confirm that there really is nothing that matches the thrill of fear that runs down your spine when you see the (1) and the words 'UCAS Application Status Notification.'

I clicked on the email and sort of skim-read it in a panic. There was no point, really; I already knew what it would say. You are cordially informed that, "This change may for example be one of the following; one of your choices has made a decision about your application; you have received an invitation; you have withdrawn from a choice; your reply to an offer has not been received at UCAS by the deadline given."

Having read this, I engaged in an internal monologue with myself in which I debated the merits of either logging on to Track, or instead of deciding not to log on to Track ever again and just postpone university indefinitely. Anyway, a minute or so of hand-wringing later, I logged on. I have an offer!

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Chocolate really is the most important thing about applying to university. After all, research has shown that it can boost cognitive abilities. The last few months have made me believe it.

I had a mock interview on Friday. It's probably a little bit silly to drive yourself crazy with nerves about something that doesn't matter in the long run, but naturally, I did. Afterwards, I convinced myself that it's in some ways preferable to have a mock interview that went hilariously unfortunately than one that was a doddle. Anyway, after said mock interview, I thankfully got to enjoy some chocolate I had secreted in my bag, and was free to wander back to the common room, make some tea, and essentially ride out a sort of 'nerves hangover.' I'm sure we all know the feeling.

For me, there are a number of moments during the process so far that have been the most nerve-wracking. Number one - realising I'd clicked 'send' on my UCAS form despite the fact that it contained a massive, gaping error. Here's some advice - don't send it when you know you won't be able to contact your referee for an extended amount of time afterwards, for example, over the weekend. I learnt that lesson the hard way. Number two - attending an Oxbridge conference and being blown away by the number of people there who literally spewed genius. Sitting in the corner while someone quotes from Nietzsche's 'On the Genealogy of Morality' is a little disheartening, granted, but then again I doubt any potential interview is going to allow anyone time to recount every little facet of history about the subject. I suppose we can all fill half an hour with something other than inane mumbling.

Number three was realising I'm seemingly one of an extremely small number of people in my class who has not yet had the pleasure of receiving an offer. You can explain this away to yourself with a variety of very valid reasons. University A prefers to wait until all applications are received before doing anything with them. University B has a notoriously slow departmental process. University C allegedly only gives out offers every two weeks, so if you can avoid the rejection week in the middle, you're as safe as houses. And the other universities might not have got around to looking at your application yet. Even so, it's true that there are only so many times you can stand it when your heart leaps at the sight of a (1) in your spam folder, before realising that it's an invitation to buy a new laptop that's 227% off and comes free with a deal allowing you to sell your soul.

We all overanalyse it. It's university! It's the most exciting time of our lives! People are far more likely to be crowing exuberantly when they have an offer than when they don't, so it creates the false impression that we're all alone in the place-less world. Thank you for reading my first entry! I look forward to sharing more of the gruesome/exhilarating moments that develop from my application in the future.