The Oxford interview: a helper’s view

Ramani Chandramohan sees the process from the other side of the desk a year on from her own interview

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The Oxford interview. It’s an inevitable part of the admissions process, but one that supposedly strikes fear into the heart of applicants and is not always fondly remembered by current students.

Having only just made it through my first Michaelmas term, the thought of being an interview helper this year led to legitimate anxieties about getting candidates lost. I consequently went on a lightning-quick tour around other colleges to give the applicants the illusion that, after two months, I knew Oxford like the back of my hand (on which directions were regularly scribbled when taking them to interviews).

Everyone has their own interview anecdote and mine involves a chair held together with a ridiculously large elastic band outside the interview room which promptly collapsed when I sat on it. At the time, I was convinced that the ability to sit on the chair without making it fall down was a part of the admissions process and that I had already failed at the first hurdle.

Too preoccupied by the chair incident, I didn’t consider how the interview process, which has all the makings of a logistical nightmare, manages to run smoothly. This year, I’ve discovered the answer lies in a remarkably efficient system of spreadsheets, phone calls, and post-it notes between colleges and faculties. Yet under this calm surface, the applicants do not see the legs of the interview coordinators, most often current students, frantically paddling (usually metaphorically, sometimes literally) like the proverbial swan.

The start of interviews was marked by the strange absence of the term-time buzz, which left college eerily quiet, except for the excited and nervous chatter of applicants bonding over Monopoly Deal. Nevertheless, the evening activities of films and quizzes, along with the friendliness of helpers, coordinators and, staff, gave the interviewees a feel for college life.

Sometimes, being an interview helper, dare I say it, did not feel like work at all. Getting to know both my college peers and the candidates provided many memorable moments: the Name Game caused such confusion that I somehow mistook Rudolph for Donald Trump and the decision to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to an interviewee in hall awkwardly backfiring as we found out, mid-song, that it was another applicant’s birthday too.

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On a personal level, the high hopes I had for the work I could do between shifts turned out to be just that: high hopes. Attempting to revise for collections and packing the miscellaneous junk that I had accumulated over the term proved a challenge to my self-motivation skills after an exhausting eight weeks. Napping certainly figured more than any of my intended activities, but at least I had the posts on the Student Problems page to comfort me.

Overall, it was a pleasure to welcome students from Hertfordshire to Hong Kong into Oxford and, as cheesy as it sounds, wearing my interview helper t-shirt gave me a sense of belonging to the college community and pride in representing the university.  Despite the ever-increasing home-sickness, it was incredibly rewarding as a fresher to contribute to the process that I came through not so long ago. Just a reminder to interviewees: always check your chair before you sit down.