If Oxbridge actually did weird interview questions, I would have got in
In reality, their application process is just like the people who go there – boring, not special
Oxbridge interviews aren’t otherworldly, they aren’t intended to see the dark crevices of your mind and pull out your soul. They don’t ask “weird questions”, they’re boring, stuffy and predictably out of touch. The kind you would expect of a thousand year old institution. They ask about your set texts and your modules and your mental arithmetic.
Earlier this week Oxford University released a special selection of interview questions and sample answers. An outline for everything from Oriental Studies to Engineering, a guide to entering the hallowed halls of mythical Oxbridge.
The vibe they’re desperately trying to cultivate with these questions is obvious: Difficult. Out there. Weird. Special. “What is ‘normal’ for humans?” they asked. “Do bankers deserve the pay they receive?” “Here’s a cactus, tell me about it.” The questions fit into the myth we all want to buy into – that Oxbridge isn’t just for the smart, or the posh. It’s for people with the X Factor, people who can understand the weird and esoteric.
But it’s simply not true.
It’s easy to imagine hundreds of over-eager 17-year-olds pining over the questions Oxford has released. They may be following generations of their family to Peterhouse and St Johns. They may have paid hundreds for preparatory interview classes. They may be the first person they know to even apply. They’ve heard the rumours of “unusual questions”, carefully crafted by some of the greatest minds in the country, designed to plunge the depths of their untapped potential. This is the answer, they think, looking at the sample questions Oxford has dropped online like the world’s worst album teaser. It’s all true, I’ve got it now.
I was one of them.
When I interviewed for New College Oxford I was convinced I would be asked the same “weird” shit. A nice lady from Cambridge came and spoke at our school and told us “Really, we’d rather ask you about Twilight than what you studied in your last module”. We’re not like other places, she was saying. We’re not fucking pigs and telling poor people we’re sick to fucking death of them. We’re not complaining about safe spaces. We’re cool. Honest.
I packed out a personal statement with interesting stuff and prepared myself for the weird, fun, Oxbridge I was about to see. The side kids who weren’t special enough to do well in their GCSEs and get to interview would never experience. The real thing. And I was disappointed.
Because actually, it was still twisting spires and damp rooms and grumpy interviewers. They hadn’t spent hours crafting interesting questions based on what I’d painstakingly included in my “about me”. They asked me Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. About iambic pentameter in a poem I’d been asked to analyse. One of them checked his phone mid-interview. They opened their grim meals with Latin prayers. It was everything I had expected and completely disappointing.
Obviously, I fucked it.
I’m good with weird. Would’ve got in, I swear. But it doesn’t really matter, because the truth is Oxford and Cambridge can’t live up to the paper-thin “modern and different and cool” reputation they’re trying to uphold.The story is the same for people who got in and those who were rejected. Their questions are dull and unremarkable, but they’re still etched on your mind years later, to the point where you can recite back every detail of your interview day to everyone who asks — because they’re so crushingly disappointing.
Oxbridge propagate the myth of having “interesting” “weird” interview questions, picking out the finest minds of their generation, because actually, the place is full of exactly what you’d expect. Desperately serious hand-wringing chinless weirdos you wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation in a pub with. The people you watch, cringing through your fingers, on University Challenge.
If you want to make the world believe your university is cool, releasing unique, like, totally random interview questions is a good, lazy way to keep up the facade. Don’t buy it.