Applying to University College, Oxford

The history of University College, the oldest of all Oxford colleges is not without intrigue. Most people believe that University College, colloquially known as “Univ”, was founded in 1249 by William of Durham. However, there was a long standing rumour that the college was founded long before that, all the way back in 872 by King Alfred. Regardless of its true finding date, Oxford college remains the oldest college in the Oxford system. 

For those wanting to find out more, A History of University College Oxford, written by Oxford archivist Robin Darwall-Smith and published by Oxford University Press, can be found on Amazon

Why did you apply to University College?

I chose Univ because it's one of the larger colleges, I liked the fact that it's the oldest college, and one of the tutors is an expert on Shelley. (Profile 798)

I had visited it a couple of times and felt comfortable there. I liked the location (High Street), the size, the people and the facilities. (Profile 1089)

Supposed to be one of the best for PPE; central location; and it's mid-sized so hopefully won't be too claustrophobic or too impersonal. (Profile 147)

I went to the open day, which helped immensely. I had made a list of those colleges I wanted to visit in advance, based on the website and advice of a family friend who works in Oxford. I visited all of them, there were a couple I really liked, then back home I re-read all prospectuses and picked one. (Profile 1071)

Nice size, location and feel (Profile 207)

What was your general impression of University College and any other colleges you visited?

I really liked Univ - it's a beautiful college and the students were friendly and helpful. However, despite the fact that I was initially upset about being interviewed at St Catherine's (I didn't realise it was a good thing being interviewed at multiple colleges) when I got there, I loved it. Once I got over my initial reaction to the architecture (not the prettiest college), I realised that the atmosphere was actually much friendlier than Univ, the JCR was nice and big, and I got on well with the tutor who interviewed me. (Profile 798)

I really liked the atmosphere, right from when I first entered on the Open Day and during the interview period. I'm very happy with my decision. (Profile 1071)

Nice (but not impressive like Magdalen etc), quite a historical feel though - apparently it's the oldest college. Which is cool in a way. (Profile 147)

Friendly, a number of activities like watching movies were put on by the JCR. (Profile 1085)

A nice, impressive couple of quadrangles with a very convenient location. I didn't see anything of the JCR as I think it was closed when I visited. (Profile 464)

Describe the day-to-day aspects of living in the college. If you stayed in college, how was the accommodation? How about the food?

- Accommodation: The accommodation at Univ was fine - large room with a sink, desk, cupboards, chairs etc. An en suite bathroom would have been nice and the room was quite cold at night, but it wasn't too bad.

- Food: Not very nice. I'm a fussy eater, though, and at least there was a decent range of food. (Profile 798)

- Accommodation: Larger rooms then I expected, all rooms have a sink and a fridge plus standard stuff. Kitchens were okay, there were plenty. Shower and toilets were fine as well and again enough.

- Food: Food was better then I expected, plenty of choice and good quality. (Profile 1071)

- Accommodation: I had a large large room during interviews - it was a bit of an anomaly but I was lucky, not all rooms are that size at all. In general, rooms are a fairly good size at Univ.

- Food: I seem to remember it being fine while I was there… (Profile 1089)

- Accommodation: Room was big (compared to London Uni rooms anyway) but so cold I woke up shivering every morning (I think my heating could have been messed up though). Had a washbasin, desk, couple of chairs, standard stuff really.

- Food: Edible but not great (Profile 147)

Any thoughts on the tutors/students at University College?

- Tutors: I liked the tutors at Univ but I don't think I got on as well with them as I did with the tutor at St Catherine's. Which is just as well, really...

- Students: I didn't talk to many of them, but they seemed friendly and willing to help. (Profile 798)

- Tutors: Fairly pleasant. I was too nervous myself to really interact with them, but in general they were understanding and co-operative during the interviews.

- Students: The only students around were the JCR helpers as the students had gone home for christmas. They were very pleasant and very helpful, and helped you settle in quickly. Most useful was asking them where the nearest Pizza Hut was of an evening :) (Profile 464)

- Tutors: The tutors were nice during interviews, not at all intimidating. During the talk with all PPE applicants they gave us plenty of time to ask all questions and they really tried to make us relax a bit.

- Students: Those I met were great, as were all other applicants. (Profile 1071)

- Tutors: Really friendly and approachable. They organised a meeting for all of us with as many of them as could make it the morning of the first interviews so we could see their faces beforehand which I think put a lot of us at ease.

- Students: Friendly as well and eager to be of assistance. They looked after us well and were keen for us to enjoy the experience. (Profile 1089)

- Tutors: Friendly, approachable, clever, enthusiastic. No wonder Univ has such a good rep for PPE.

- Students: The students that stuck around to help us were called "sea-daddies" which was a bit off-putting and just seemed like the typical Oxford weirdness I was hoping didn't exist - but they were all nice enough , so I can't really complain. (Profile 147)

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

[English Language and Literature] READ READ READ. Know the writers you've mentioned on your personal statement as well as possible (ie: don't mention Virginia Woolf if you've only read Mrs Dalloway) and read widely. Don't stick exclusively to certain genres or eras, because you'll feel silly if they ask you what Victorian novels you've read and you can't answer. 

Enthusiasm - you may feel the need to restrain yourself at school or at home because you're worried about looking like a nerd, but Oxford want people who are genuinely enthusiastic about their subject. Don't worry about getting carried away or digressing a bit if it means you're showing your enthusiasm.

Be prepared to justify your arguments. Some critical reading might help to give you a few ideas (although remember to avoid regurgitating someone else's argument), but if you have a strong opinion on a certain text or writer, consider /why/ you feel that way. I struggled in one of my interviews when I tried to justify liking Heathcliff. (Profile 798)

[Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)] For PPE specifically, prepare for the TSA test! Practice really helps, it made a huge difference for me. For interviews, try to relax a bit (I know it's hard) and just explain what you're thinking. I found my debating experience came in really handy because it had trained me to explain thoughts analytically, so you might try that. (Profile 1071)

[Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)] Read widely around your subject and, most importantly, read actively: what is the author trying to say and why? are there holes in the author's argument? what is your own view?

For the TSA: practise, practise, practise...find as many past papers as you can and do them timed. Some of the question types will begin to seem familiar. Do a couple of the essays in one hour to get a sense of how long you have and then I recommend jotting down some ideas for the others or doing essay plans timed (say, five mins?). (Profile 1089)

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

[English Language and Literature] The first interview (poem analysis) was all right, the second interview (general interview) was slightly stressful because the tutor didn't seem to respond that positively to my answers, and the third interview (poem analysis and general interview at St Catherine's) was really enjoyable.

In the second interview I was asked what I'd read recently - I started rambling on about Victorian literature, and for half the interview I talked about Wuthering Heights. I was asked a rather challenging question on Middlemarch, but then the tutor asked me about my thoughts on Shelley, and we discussed Ozymandias and a few other poems, before finishing with a discussion of Eliot's The Waste Land. (Profile 798)

[Law] Not going to lie, it was HELL I think that they tried to get the best out of me. I cried buckets afterwards, but it was those of us who had the bad experiences that were offered places and not the over confident ones. Some were called for secondary interviews which we thought at the time was a good sign, but it wasn't, one of my friends (us interviewees all made friends and keep in touch) had a second & third interview and was rejected. DON’T PANIC, BE NATURAL

Only questions on the case study I was given, quite in depth, wanted recall and analysis I think. (Profile 207)

[Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)] Two interviews, one on economics (4 interviewers) and one on politics/philosophy (2 interviewers). In each interview we were given some questions or a passage 20 minutes before the interview to prepare. Asked about the questions/passage. In the case of economics it was game theory. With politics/philosophy we had a discussion on the passage in relation to politics (about jingoism) and then talked through an informal logic problem. (Profile 1085)

[Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)] Politics: Given an article 25 mins before and I had to discuss the author's opinion and why I thought this. I had to then come up with a potential solution to the problem and state what some of the issues with this would be.

Philosophy: Given a problem in the interview concerning a group of people. I had to reason what the best course of action for a particular person involved would be and then discuss any assumptions I had made and how the situation could be different.

Economics: I had to work through a game theory style questions 25 mins before concerning two people. The interview consisted of me discussing my answers and the ones I hadn't done yet I did on the spot, with guidance where it was needed. (Profile 1089)

What advice do you have for potential applicants based on your experiences?

[English Language and Literature] I tried to come across as willing to learn, and aware of my limitations particularly academically. I made a joke with the interviewer about my spelling and tried to set a relaxed tone. Don't be over confident, be humble!! However bad or awkward it gets (and it might do as they push you harder) stay calm and DON'T CRY IN FRONT OF THEM!! (Profile 798)

[Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)] I really liked the atmosphere, right from when I first entered on the Open Day and during the interview period. I'm very happy with my decision. (Profile 1071)

[Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)] Be genuinely interested in all that PPE has to offer and read introductory texts to any of the subjects you haven't studied before, and try to read some more in depth texts as well, there are plenty of appropriate reading lists on the web. You want to show them that you are passionate about these subjects, and reading up on them off your own back, doing it actively and forming reasoned opinions, can only help at interview.

Don't set your heart on it: that way you feel less pressured so are more likely to perform well in the interview.

Be genuinely passionate about the course and do lots of reading (ideally the two should go hand in hand). (Profile 147)