Applying for English at Oxford University

There are two main course offerings at Oxford if you’re looking to focus on English:
- English Language and Literature
- English and Modern Language

The English Language and Literature course at Oxford is one of the broadest in the country, giving students the chance to study writing in English from its origins in Anglo-Saxon England to the present.

The English side of the  English and Modern Language course offers students a choice of options covering a comprehensive span of literature written in the English language from its origins in Anglo-Saxon through to works produced in English-speaking countries across the world in the present day. The Modern Language study will give students practical linguistic training, encourage them to think coherently about language as a subject of study, and introduce them to an extensive and fascinating literature and thought written in European Languages.

The academic requirements are the same for both courses:
- A-levels: AAA
- Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
- IB: 38 (including core points) with 666 at HL

How did you decide between Oxford and Cambridge?

[English and Modern Languages] Because I thought it Oxford was the best university in the country, for both Modern Languages and English Oxford has the biggest departments (Profile 732)

[English Language and Literature] I preferred the town and the course. I also preferred the Oxford emphasis on the arts. (Profile 1082)

[English and Modern Languages] Oxford has a superior reputation for English and has the Bod - what other reason do you need? Also, the city itself is supposed to be a little more fun. (Profile 639)

Do you have any advice for future applicants in terms of preparation?

[English Language and Literature] Keep a journal of what you are reading from about six months in advance of the interview - include articles, excerpts and poems as well of summaries of books. You may be asked about literature which you haven't read in about a year so ensuring that you have as much as possible in your journal helps you prepare directly before the interview and will also help condense your ideas. (Profile 1082)

[English Language and Literature] Read whatever gets YOU going. Don't try and tick boxes - I read four Jane Austen novels for the sake of it, but I don't think I could sustain a conversation about them for longer than ten minutes. If you read what genuinely interests you, you'll be able to talk about it at interview much more easily. Of course, read widely, but not at the expense of enjoyment. (Profile 959)

[English and Modern Languages] Read lots and lots, and go and see plays and films of the books you're reading so you've got a lot to talk about. read widely, but have a couple of things that you specialise in (Profile 732)

[English and Modern Languages] Definitely seek out people to give you mock interviews - teachers, guidance counsellors and family friends - if you've had practice at verbalising your opinions about literature, the interview will feel far more natural and enjoyable. 

Know your written work well and don't pretend to like a poem/novel/play which you hate. Being honest about your opinions is the best way to go. Also don't focus on extra-curriculars... these seem to hold little or no importance. (Profile 639)

What questions were you asked during your interview(s)?

[English Language and Literature]
- Why do Shakespeare's Tragedies interest you, as opposed to his other plays?
- Why do you think the rounding of characters in Measure for Measure is weaker than in Shakespeare's tragedies?
- Discuss the theme of 'evil' as it is manifested in Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear.
- Attribute one of the following types of evil to each play: Metaphysical evil, Natural evil, Human evil.
- Contrast the idea of time in Macbeth and Hamlet.
- What does Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' lack that is present in his other works?
- Why are the natives in 'Heart of Darkness' voiceless?
- Is Conrad rascist, as Achebe has argued?
- Are there any glimmers of hope in Conrad's bleak portrayal for the human condition?
- What is your perception of the dynamic between nature and humanity in Conrad's fiction?
- Discuss the theme of fate in Thomas Hardy's novels. (I showed them my fortune cookie and told them I was inclined to side with Hardy. I got it in my first night in Oxford, and it read 'Congratulations! You are on your way')
- In what way is character linked to fate?
- How does Hardy portray woman, specifically, Tess from 'Tess of the D'Uberville's'?
- How does Hardy portray the dynamic between women in his novels?
- To what extent is Tess a victim?
- Discuss the authorial voice in Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair'
- What is your opinion of Becky in Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair'?
- How does Thackeray communicate his own feelings to his readers? Does he do this effectively? (Profile 959)

[English Language and Literature] I was asked general questions about why I like Hopkins and the questions grew more specific: what made me think Hopkins' style was similar to that of Keats? Compare the ways in which Eliot and Hopkins talk about Spring. Did I think that it was possible for a poem to sound masculine or feminine based on the use of phonics in the poem?

We moved on to the Romantics - questions were very specific - what was it about the first line of 'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge' which made it so resonant? 

Finally we discussed Shakespeare; I was asked about my favourite Shakespeare play and why I liked that one best. I was then asked why it (Romeo and Juliet) was similar to Othello, what I thought of Othello's last speech and why I thought the final scene was set in a bedroom.

In the second interview I was asked to discuss the poem line-by-line and was asked questions about the significance of the rhythm of certain words and asked to explain some of the metaphors which the poet used. (Profile 1082)

[English and Modern Languages] In French I spoke about Baudelaire, Macbeth and Sartre, and studied a ridiculously difficult extract- a modern poem in english. I also spoke in French about Bonjour Tristesse shortly.

English I analysed On My First Sonne by Ben Jonson, then I spoke a bit about James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Then I spoke about Hamlet and the differences in Beowulf translations (Profile 732)