One of the most striking features about Oxford and Cambridge are their division into small colleges, in which you are completely self-sustained and can live, go out and be taught there, especially in the arts subjects where university wide lectures are less frequent and not as strikingly important to the course as science lectures. The colleges thus parallel halls of residence in many other universities, but the crucial difference is not only the more secular nature of the colleges, but that the admissions process is conducted at a college level first, rather than at the level of the university. This means that you apply to a specific college, or apply open if you honestly have no preferences and it is that college and it's tutors that interview you and decide whether or no tot offer you a place. If they are in doubt, or have too many good applicants, then the issue gets discussed with other colleges and the candidate is entered into the so-called pool system of interviews. This means that the choice of college you apply to has a very large impact on whether or not you get in, as the interview styles and expectations of the tutors at different colleges varies considerably. The choice of college is often based largely on very sensible factors from the prospectus, such as number of tutors in your subject (if they offer it at all), size, location, accommodation and 'sportiness' etc. These factors are all very important and are often confirmed by the open day visit candidates pay to the colleges to try get a feel of the environment, yet as far as I can tell, the entire process is still down to a large random aspect. I am a medic who applied to Queen?s after contemplation of the above factors together with the open day, and duly applied there. The interview style was one I had deliberately chosen to apply for in that they claimed to interview solely on the basis of academic potential and not on more subjective issues such as ethi
cs or extracurricular activities, which are always subject to the opinion of the tutor, whereas in my mind the criteria of academic potential is a clear cut one. This led to me getting set 4 problems in my interview for medicine at Queen's, based on topics I had said I wished to discuss or on simple A-Level problems they set with a view to extrapolating the same underlying principle to a more difficult concept of physiological function, such as the extension of a simple electrochemical problem into one involving nerve resting membrane potential. It is not as bad as it sounds, and they often ask you simply to think of a system in the body where this system applies. Why am I telling you all this? Because I think that my transfer to Lincoln college via the pool system was due to my failure to perform adequately in a differentiation problem set to me in my second interview. This is no big deal, as there are many people who are transferred, but caution should be exercised when choosing a college as the extent to which it participates in the pool system and the nature of the interview are very important factors in choosing one. The interview is a search for the logical, analytical person in the usually nervous muttering candidate sitting in front of the tutors at interview-they do not want to trick you (honest!), and give you encouragement and help if you ask for it. This leads me on to general interview skills-from my experience with giving mock interviews for the Oxford Access Scheme, it is very frustrating to interview a candidate who knows a lot about a topic, or the answer to a logic problem set by you, but refuses to speak their thoughts, and sits there locked up in a intellectual prison. Everyone's mind freezes over to some extent, but it is the extent to which you show signs of being able to logically think about a problem, especially in the sciences that gives the tutor the inkling that you are worth a second thought.
If he/she does not feel that you are participating fully, then they will not want to teach you for 3years, let alone in one interview! The main thing as far as I think got me in was the fact that despite not knowing the answers to problems they may have set, or having to take long periods of time over them, I showed them my train of thought, and the extent to which I was processing the options. I know this is very subjective but I feel that communication is one of the key items in an interview, be it science based or arts based. This is of course in adjunct to the standard interview techniques suggested such as not fiddling with your thumbs, making eye contact and speaking slowly. These are all important, but if you don't speak our mind and let the interviewer know what's going on, then how can you hope to impress him/her? Be expected for anything in a interview-the range for medicine varies form simple ethical discussion together with the old favourites such as 'why oxford' etc...? to simple physics/logic problems such as: You are in a boat on a lake with a flat bottom. You can measure he depth of the lake very accurately. If you remove a large stone from the inside of the boat and drop it into the lake, what happens to the overall depth of the lake? Also problem of a fridge in a closed room with the fridge door left open-what happens to temperature of room? If you come out with the answers tot these sort of problems immediately, you have impressed no-one. If, on the other hand you sit and think, and gradually lead them through your thought process, and especially ANY ASSUMPTIONS YOU MAKE OR LIMITATIONS OF THE MODEL, such as further pieces of information that are needed to solve it numerically, they will doubtless be impressed by the train of thought and the appreciation of assumptions in such a simple model. If obviously you don't think like this, then just do what you think is most appropriate-
I can only talk from my personal experience and that of the tutors who interviewed me-hence the issue of where to apply. If you want an interview like that then apply somewhere which is solely academically selective, but if you want to show them what a well rounded person you are as well, apply to tone of the less academic and more 'relaxed' colleges. Something is certain-the college you choose will have a huge impact on your view of Oxford as a place to live as a student-if you just want to get in to oxford then apply open, as it increases the probability of getting in by assigning you to the least popular college, and for science subjects where lectures are the main teaching discipline, college based variety is less important. Whatever decision you come to, try visit the place before you apply just to check and try speak to some students there if possible, and be well prepared for the interview and written test (if applicable). Just be yourself and make sure you let them know how good your way of thinking is, and hopeful that should be enough. Best of luck!!