(More specifically: Clare College, to study Modern and Medieval Languages)
During the application process for these Hallowed Grounds, I would scour the internet for every Oxbridge tip possible, so thought I would write down my own experience here. Original, no. I hope you find it useful; I’ll keep towering-spires based waffling to a minimum.
GCSEs + A Levels
GCSEs: I took 11, including French, Spanish, History, Latin Language + Literature. I got 11A*. I got 100% or close to 100% or 100 UMS in 6/7 of these. This was unnecessary, I was just an insane perfectionist à la Hermione Granger, and became very good at copying exam technique (not the same as actually learning). You probably just need majority As and A*s, with A* in the subjects linked to your degree choice. Yes, I know the system has changed, but I don’t understand this.
A-Levels: French, Spanish, History, English Literature, and an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). A*s. Quick summary:
French / Spanish: So incredibly boring as exams that I can see why we voted for Brexit. Luckily, I had lovely and interesting teachers, so it was not too bad. You only need one language post A-level for MML, but I didn’t want to have to deal with the stress of learning an ab-initio language at Cambridge.
History: Fantastically useful and interesting, kind of wish I had applied for French + History!
EPQ: Super useful intellectually, as it was the first time I had done a long piece of academic work (5000 words) and read extensively in a 2nd language. I did mine on the satiric tradition in France, talking about Charlie Hebdo, Molière, and Voltaire. I talked about it A LOT at interview and because I’d spent so long thinking about the texts and themes, I felt very confident in having this discussion.
Personal statement: I spent ages and ages on it necessarily: don’t use the word ‘passion’, and show what academic interest you have in your subject, doesn’t have to be a great work of prose. If anyone actually finds this post and wants help, drop me a message and I’ll look at yours 🙂
Other: I also entered the Trinity Hall Languages Essay competition, (only ‘commended’ but I did enter it a year earlier than everyone else, in post GCSEs summer rather than 1st year of A-levels), and the Dukes Education Essay Prize (2nd place and £250) .
Preparation for interview: I read a fair amount (off the top of my head – Molière again, Montaigne, Vargas Llosa, Spanish Civil War poetry, Neruda, Baudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Balzac, Marquez, Laura Esquivel…amongst other texts and authors. I only talked about Molière at interview I think, but all this reading deepened my interest in French and Hispanic Literature, and proved my intellectual interest to the academics.
Interview: I enjoyed my interviews, and found them stimulating and a generally enjoyable experience. Writing this is making me remember how exciting & beautiful a city Cambridge is; halfway through my degree, I often find it exhausting and oppressive, so it’s good to think about how much I still like the university / city / course. I stayed overnight in college, as I was travelling from York, which is a 3hr train journey. On the evening before interview day, I went over my notes and watched some Damon & Jo videos on Youtube to remind myself that I actually am a fan of languages and travel, and for their exceptionally fun, positive vibe.
I had 2 interviews. Both involved reading a text in advance and discussing it in French and Spanish with the academics. For French I had La Cloche Fêlée by Baudelaire (which they seem to have re-used a few times…) and for Spanish a short kind of post-modern story about a boy. I made a lot of notes and did a lot of ‘thinking out loud’: verbal reasoning really turns Cambridge academics on. In the Spanish interview, this took about 20 mins and in the French about 10. I also got a question about rhythm totally wrong in the French one, and got a bit of an over-the-glasses stare from the man who is now my supervisor until I corrected myself. I talked about Molière in a LOT of detail (he REALLY went for it), and in the Spanish I got one of the famous quirky qus: ‘How are the studies of History and Grammar similar?’. Lateral thinking, start with basic ideas and build up, compare, bring in new points after you’ve clearly answered the question.
The interviews are very very similar to supervisions, so if you don’t enjoy it, or find that the set-up of you + academic is your idea of Hell, then chances are you’re not really suited to Oxbridge – or rather, it isn’t really suited to you. It’s a very specific learning method (Socratic and pretty intense), and the interview is testing your openness to develop intellectually from this scheme. If Cambridge operated on sign language, all the interviews would test your BSL, if Cambridge was based around touch-typing, the interviews would test your keyboard skills.
Getting the grades: It’s a good idea to actually get the grades set… but some arts / humanities academics at Camb will still accept you if you miss them (my friend Meg wrote about getting in here: https://thetab.com/uk/cambridge/2017/10/15/missing-your-grades-isnt-a-big-deal-98634) but I also know people who were rejected on this basis. I know you can’t predict everything, and sometimes the academics won’t give you benefit of the doubt. Plus different colleges are more or less competitive to get into – Clare is the most competitive for MML, so I made a vv big effort to get my offer.
Good luck !