I had two interviews, one each with members of the Oxford history and politics faculties. In each interview, questions were led by a senior member of the faculty and followed up by a less senior member.
Each interview lasted a short time, probably less than a half hour, and was relatively informal – despite my fears.
The St Catherine’s Oxford history interview began by focusing on areas I’d mentioned in my personal statement and moved out to other areas of history, testing my ability to apply skills to unfamiliar content. One of the interviewers tried especially to push me to areas that I was unfamiliar with.
This made a lot more sense when I later found out these were his research areas, and he had (has) a certain snobbishness towards modern history. Thankfully the other, more senior faculty member was more flexible. The politics interview was largely dominated by a discussion of an ethical problem.
I can only think of one question that really surprised me: at the end of my history interview, I was asked whether I would consider studying just history (as I had applied to history and politics). This completely threw me out and I panicked. Otherwise, each interview was less focused on my personal statement than I’d have assumed.
I read and re-read my personal statement, ensuring I knew and could back up every sentence in there. I re-read parts of key texts, whether I’d mentioned them on my statement or elsewhere, and revised areas I was studying for A-level.
Most importantly, my school organised a couple of mock interviews and my parents agreed to grill me on my personal statement in a similar format.
The whole thing passed by in kind of a blur. I never really believed I would get in. But that didn’t stop me panicking… a lot.
I went out for a smoke after my history interview and damn near had a heart attack when I saw the senior tutor who had just interviewed me, pacing and vaping. What sticks with me the most, though, was how much I actually got out of the overall experience. Because my interviews took place over a couple days, Catz put me up in college for a night. They also sorted out some events (eg. a quiz night in the JCR) that helped us all relax and feel at home.
Know your personal statement inside and out, and don’t put anything on there you’d have to lie about. But you knew that already. If you’ve gotten to the interview stage, your written materials are already top-class.
The best advice is to do as many mock interviews as you can, so you’re comfortable talking about yourself and your application well before you walk into the interview room. Once you’re in there, keep calm, and don’t be afraid to steer the conversation towards topics you’re stronger on.