Interviews are shrouded with much unnecessary and apocryphal guff – academics are not sadists
who take unusual pleasure in watching bright 18 year olds embarrass themselves and feel
insignificant. Interviews are an
opportunity to find out more about you than the narrow constraints of UCAS forms
allow. Successful candidates are those that come across as able and perhaps more
importantly interested. There’s no great secret, no magic trick or technique but it’d be
tricky to find a successful candidate who hadn’t thought through the following rudimentary
questions hard and well.
It may seem obvious but students often struggle to articulate why they’ve chosen to study
Classics and not Agriculture. Is it the breadth of the subject which appeals, did you have a
numinous experience at Delphi or did watching Mary Beard on the telly make you realise that
studying the Ancient world could hold up a revealing and sometimes uncomfortable mirror to
many of the cultural givens of Modern Britain? The answer to this question is personal but
it matters: an Oxbridge Classics degree is a significant academic commitment and your
interviewer will know the passion it requires of a student for the degree to be worth yours
and your teachers’ time and effort. If you can’t sound excited for a half an hour interview,
will you be excited or interested in that 5th essay, nth translation or nth prose
composition of term?
Classics at Oxford and Cambridge are not analogous. Each will open the ancient world up to
you but the structure of the courses, the options on offer are thoroughly different. Have
you looked at the relevant course specification? Maybe the thorough focus on Virgil and
Homer at the beginning of the Oxford degree appeals or the opportunity to look at
Classical Art History and Archaeology from the beginning of the Cambridge degree. Either
way, a candidate who knows exactly what they’re applying for and can talk at length about
it, is clearly not applying for Classics at Oxbridge for status reasons but because the
prospect of sitting in a library translating or a museum handling artefacts genuinely
If you tell an interviewer that Classics is the best thing since sliced bread and that you couldn’t imagine dedicating yourself to spending three years studying any other subject, they quite naturally will expect you to have looked into the ancient world beyond what you have been compelled to at school. Enjoyed your set texts, have you read, in translation, any more of that author’s extant works or other works from that genre? Have you maybe been to the British Museum to look at the Classical collection there or watched a Greek Tragedy on stage? Have you been to visit any classical sites?
It is all very well for applicants to be able to list a litany of classical activities but successful candidates engage critically and analytically with these experiences, much like they will be expected to do week on week throughout their degree. So you watched a performance of the Medea – was it any good? Did it expose any aspect of the text you hadn’t considered before? Was it an historically accurate production? If not, does that matter? Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living”, unsurprisingly Classicists take this injunction quite seriously.