Applying for History at Oxford University

Oxford’s History course combines the examination of large regions over extended periods of time with more focused work on smaller social groups, shorter periods and particular themes. It provides a distinctive education by developing an awareness of the differing political, cultural, social and economic structures within past societies and how they interrelate. The course combines vigorous debate over questions of interpretation with rigorous attention to source material, while the constant enrichment by cross-fertilisation from other disciplines leads to new questions about the past.

Academic Requirements:
- A-levels: AAA
- Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
- IB: 38 (including core points) with 666 at HL

How did you decide between Oxford and Cambridge?

Cambridge doesn’t do history and politics, and I didn't want to do straight history or their social science course because I'm not interested in sociology or psychology particularly. I was all set for Cambridge though, until I went there and realised i really hated it, it was so small and unimpressive and I just didn't like it, so started looking at Oxford instead. (Profile 809)

It's a bit complicated! When I was younger I had always intended to apply to Cambridge, because I knew it slightly better due to living about an hour's drive away. However when choosing my AS Levels I looked on their website and found that I was in a bad position from their point of view due to having not taken an MFL at GCSE. Although I have since rectified this, when I contacted them at the time about how strict this requirement was their response was less than friendly. On the other hand, when I contacted the Oxford colleges regarding the most appropriate AS Levels to choose, they were unfailingly friendly. By the time I had left the Oxford Open Day my Oxford loyalty was well and truly confirmed! (Profile 932)

The fact that Cambridge may not have been able to overlook my GCSE's and I preferred the atmosphere at Oxford, it felt more fun and sociable. (Profile 671)

Why did you choose the History course at Oxford?

Originally I had applied for a variation on politics or international relations at all of my other 5 choices, however Oxford doesn't offer straight politics. As a result I had to put down combined honours and have little interest in philosophy so PPE wasn't an option. However when they offered me single offers I took a lot of time to think about it and I realised I preferred history as a discipline. Also my ultimate aim is to join the FCO and this degree course at this institution will help me progress with that after graduation. (Profile 671)

I had originally intended to apply for English, then whilst looking at prospectuses became attracted to the idea of a Joint Honours degree in English and History, because they were both subjects that came naturally to me and that I really enjoyed. However, I came to realise that I would be better off applying for one or the other subject, since attempting to juggle both - and thus possibly missing out on the depth or breadth of both - would probably have frustrated me. By that time I had come to enjoy my History A Level far more than my English. My final 'test' of which was the best to apply to was in my Personal Statement; I found myself writing about how much I loved History and realising that it was quite true and that it was indeed the subject I wished to study for 3 or more years. (Profile 932)

I love history and politics from doing them at A level, and particularly political history and looking at the past and finding links and similarities to the present, so why not learn both together. (Profile 809)

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

If you are applying for history look at the online HAT tests, I hadn't and regretted it later. (Profile 671)

Don't worry too much about preparing; a mock interview is very helpful but don't expect it to be like the real thing, it's more to help you get used to thinking aloud than anything else. If you have to sit the HAT, I would definitely advise looking through a few past papers and mark schemes (available on the Oxford History Faculty website) so that you can get a feel for what they are looking for in your answers. (Profile 932)

Read around your A level topics for history, particularly if you send in a school essay. Make sure you've read all the books you mention in your personal statement and know at least something about areas of interest you've mentioned. Think about arguments and counter arguments for things you read and research. Don't worry too much!! (Profile 809)

Did you have to submit any written work prior to the interview?

They requested an A2 level essay. This was problematic for me as we hadn't yet been set one at my college. As a result I submitted an AS essay. They had no problem with this (I explained at my interview) and in fact it was beneficial as much of the interview was based on the topic of my essay which was one I had enjoyed and felt comfortable talking about. (Profile 671)

One piece of A2 History work, marked and unchanged for Oxford entry. I found the stipulations for this (that it had to be a 'normal essay' rather than source-based etc) a little difficult to fulfil and so sent in an AS essay with a covering letter. They accepted this, although it did make for a few hairy moments in the interview when they asked me to explain my reasons for sending an AS, not A2 essay and I made a less-than-coherent response! I would advise future applicants to get the written work sent off well in advance of the date required; mine got there in the nick of time and made for a few very stressful days. (Profile 932)

One essay. Mine was simply a homework essay of about 1200 words.

My interviewers commented that it was on a topic which they had not seem from any other candidate. Lots of applicants had submitted their coursework, many on the same topics, so I would suggest that sometimes doing something different can set you apart. (Profile 713)

I submitted one of the A2 essays we'd been doing which was fine. I'd done quite well so I didn't have to do anything to it. (Profile 809)

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

Most of the questions centred around my essay in the history interview although they did ask me one question related to an activity on my personal statement (membership of an archaelogical society, which they followed up with - what does archaeology have to do with history?). Politics was entirely about what I chose to talk about within what I've studied as there was no written work submission requirement. Although the scary french research assistant asked me what the cause of wars was and gave me three options to choose from, the only problem being I agreed with none of them so babbled rather incessantly. (Profile 671)

In my first interview I was grilled on the 1930s and my perception of the Depression, and was then asked (regarding Russia) to give 5 points about industrialisation. In my second interview I was invited to ask questions about the source and we then discussed the motives of various figures featured in Luther's account and the possible self-bias on Luther's part. I was also asked about various elements of my Personal Statement, and the tutor very kindly recommended a book for me to read on one of the extra-curricular topics I had mentioned! (Profile 932)

In the history interview they asked me about the essay I'd submitted (about Germany) and the period in general and in its context, and linked it to the rest of Europe and the future of Germany. It was ok, felt good because it was about something I was comfortable talking about. For politics they asked everyone about the same two areas, world government and why we obey the law. I thought this was hard and kinda harsh, it seemed more at home in a law or PPE interview. But everyone was in the same boat so it wasn't so bad.

They asked about the ways leaders try to unify people (I started talking about politics and Sarah Palin and then realsied it was a history interview), and about why communism is so repressive. For politics they asked me about the EU which I've never studied so that wasn't too good, and about traffic lights, should we go through red ones. The questions didn't seem too bad which made me think they were going easy on me and no way would i get in.(Profile 809)

The head interviewer offered me a piece of advice during the interview which I think would serve all History applicants well: "Don't be frightened to state the obvious!"

First interview: half time was spent discussing submitted essay and the other half discussing general history topics, particularly concerning how you would go about researching topics.

Second interview: discussion of a set text, which we were given 1 hour before the interview. In my case, the piece was about 10/11 pages and was on a topic I had no prior knowledge of. Lots of the questions were thematic, rather than knowledge specific. (Profile 713)