Arts Blog, as its dear readers will no doubt be able to dutifully recite in unison, last month proffered the sage advice that those same readers stop memorising Arts Blog and set about focusing on their exams for a bit. This was not, as has been suggested in some quarters, a clever ruse to allow Arts Blog the time to spend a week in Italy, sunning itself by the pool at the Hotel du Lac, and tucking into a four-cheese pizza, but rather a sincere, heartfelt plea which Arts Blog, detaching a string of mozzarella from its chin, can only hope its readers will have noted. Arts Blog does not have time for holidays, and neither should its readers, which is why this month’s sermon encourages you to follow Arts Blog’s lead and fill every minute of every day with useful, interesting and inspiring activities with which you can regale your Oxbridge Admissions Tutor in December. Exams may be over, but in some ways the Real Exams have only just begun.
One aspect of the whole personal statement saga that really tends to get the average Oxbridge applicant’s goat is the thorny issue of the ‘Final Paragraph’. You know the one – it’s the bit where you’re supposed to show off what a ‘well-rounded’ human being you are by talking about how you play the cello, or how you founded your local Morris-Dancing / Medieval-Battle-Recreating / Cheese Society, all the while carefully skirting round the fact that half of yesterday was spent reaching Level 27 of Angry Birds and watching re-runs of Bargain Hunt . This issue gets Arts Blog’s goat too, because the balance is a difficult one to strike, and if it is not struck correctly then that will get the Admissions Tutor’s goat, leaving you with a herd of goats whose ownership is at best questionable.
Back in Arts Blog’s day (and, as we have established, that was some time ago), the inclusion of the ‘Final Paragraph’ was beyond dispute, but it seems that the ground may have shifted in recent years. Some solemnly argue that it is important for the Admissions Tutors to ‘get to know you as a person’, whilst others furiously counter that it should be ‘all about the subject’. Luckily for Arts Blog, it doesn’t have to provide the answer to that question this week and will save it for future Arts Blogs (a cliffhanger if ever you saw one), but it will offer this further piece of sage advice: extra-curricular experience and work experience are ends in themselves, not means to an end. If you choose the right thing, it will help your application regardless of whether you put it down on paper or not.
Arts Blog is thoroughly aware that it is perhaps not making itself very popular here: its dear readers have spent most of the past two months worrying about, preparing for, and then doing exams, and so the notion of more work over the summer holidays may well make them spit out their celebratory mojitos and rend their Hawaiian grass skirts in disbelief. But before Arts Blog’s legion readership breaks out into full-blown revolt (Arts Blog does not wish to see its head on the end of a stick, thank you very much), it will say this: the three key things for planning the summer before your Oxbridge application are Balance, Choice and Attitude.
This bit’s pretty straightforward: you are allowed a break. You’ve just done your exams. It was pretty stressful. So stitch that grass skirt back together and try to suck up that spat out mojito as best you can with a straw – a week off will not ruin your chances. In fact, the next few months are not going to be a doddle, so it’s important to recharge the batteries (when you get to Arts Blog’s age this becomes a medical necessity). Striking a balance between work and play over the summer is crucial – don’t book yourself up completely and burn yourself out before the final straight, as you’ll want to go into the next academic year feeling fresh.
That said, do do something. If it comes down to it, not gaining any work or extra-curricular experience over the summer is by no means a disaster – as long as you use the time that that frees up effectively, and get on with reading and preparation (see previous Arts Blogs). However, Arts Blog will say this: a greater variety of experiences means a greater variety of perspectives. Which is where choice of summer experience becomes important. So do your research – there will be a vast range of summer courses for your subject area that will offer you the opportunity to further discuss and think about your interests beyond the realms of the school classroom – and enable you to talk through your ideas with like-minded people.
Such opportunities will give you new perspectives and ‘ways in’ to your subject that will become a further string to your bow in the weeks ahead. It is very important that you expose yourself to other people’s ideas, as it can be all too easy to leave your own thoughts unchallenged: talking to others will always enrich your thinking. Similarly, when it comes to looking for work experience over the summer, see if you can find something relevant that will keep your brain ticking over. If you’re applying for History or History of Art, why not see if you can work in, or shadow someone at, a local museum or collection? An English applicant might look into similar experience at a local newspaper or magazine. With the right attitude, even experience that is not directly relevant to your subject can be incredibly useful. Which leads us neatly to…
Have the right attitude. By which Arts Blog means being open to the possibilities that your experience offers. It may well not be immediately obvious how sitting in a local art gallery is relevant to the Sociology of Education, but you can try and find a way. An open-mindedness about what you are doing, and an ability to draw connections and feed them back into your reading can make almost any experience worthwhile (and if you have followed Step 2 and chosen your experience carefully, it will be Very Worthwhile Indeed). Arts Blog has already discussed the importance of this approach to your reading in general, and that same approach applies to your experience too. Be active in your thinking, and you will be amazed at the connections that appear.
So there you go. Read, take note, and set to music. Now leave Arts Blog alone, as it has to get back to work*, and has some very important filing** of papers*** to do, and several deadlines**** to meet*****. See you next time!
***vegetarian meat-substitute burgers
 Arts Blog does have time for holidays.
 Arts Blog woke up at 2pm.
 No, Arts Blog doesn’t know what this means either.
 Arts Blog speaks from nothing if not personal experience.
Josh Higgot graduated from Cambridge in English Literature and now regularly tutors with us, as well as heading up events in-schools as part of our dedicated Schools Team. His blogs are always brilliant food for thought, their topics ranging from trips to the museum with Granny, to vegetarian meat-substitude burgers, but somehow he always manages to come up with something enlightening about the Humanities and applying to Oxbridge.