Sheridan attended Somerville College, Oxford from 2007-2011
Which course did you apply for?
I applied for Classics (Course IB).
Which A Levels did you take?
I studied triple Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and General Studies. Even though I had only studied Latin and Ancient Greek at GCSE, Oxford was really flexible and happy to consider me for a course which typically requires A-Level Latin.
What were your Oxford interviews like?
I was interviewed at four different colleges, and my experience was quite different in each one. In my first interview, I was asked a mental Maths question as soon as I walked in- before I had even sat down or knew who the interviewers were. Whilst for a split second that seemed rather daunting, it actually became a really good ice-breaker. Most of the interviews were quite relaxed chats, and there were points where I genuinely forgot the high stakes and that I was being assessed for a place. I left every interview having enjoyed it, and feeling that I had learned more about the subject.
What did you find most difficult about the application process? What did you most enjoy?
The application process was really straightforward and there’s no one thing that sticks out in my mind as particularly difficult or challenging. I was nervous about how I would fare competing with students who had taken arts/humanities at A-Level, and whether the reading I had done would be sufficient preparation for the types of interviews I would have.
I really enjoyed the linguistics interview I had, where I had to analyse a completely made up language and discuss the grammatical clauses and “rules” I could decipher from the passages provided. I remember that it was an inflected language and I was absolutely in my element. Fortunately, I was the last interview scheduled for that day, and my interviewer and I ended up talking about it for substantially longer than the twenty-minute interview slot!
At Oxford, can you describe what your average day or week would look like?
For the first five terms (coming up to Mods*), I had Greek classes five days a week, and Latin once a week. There were also lectures each day, typically in the morning. In the afternoon, it was a matter of completing Greek for the next class, and reading a disproportionate amount about Greek particles! There was only one tutorial a week where I had to write an essay, and my college also gave us an hour a week of unseen work, prose composition, and a reading class. These really were so much help, and the extra contact time made me feel much more confident.
After Mods, there were no language classes (at least for the modules I chose). I then had two tutorials a week, every week, and had to submit essays for all. The workload was far greater than for Mods and this was almost certainly due to the fact that I chose no Philosophy modules (which were completed in eight, as opposed to twelve, weeks), and I did not choose my modules “strategically” (whilst many of my peers chose modules with overlap, either temporally, or in terms of authors, I made my decisions purely on my areas of interest). Whilst I can’t actively recommend that (I had a number of late nights!), I would do exactly the same thing again, including learning Modern Greek at the Language Institute alongside the modules I was taking formally for Greats.
What was your academic experience like?
Whenever I reflect on my time at Oxford, the thing that stands out the most in my mind is the fact that I had absolutely outstanding tutors. I was lucky to have many of my tutorials one-to-one, and the level of expertise and guidance I received was second to none. There were times when the course was challenging (I’m sure I used to disappoint my ancient history tutor in particular on a weekly basis!), but the skills I learned and developed during those four years transcended the degree, and even now I look back and realise how much my main tutors moulded me as an academic and critical thinker. I would never have said this at the time with all the essay deadlines, but I owe them a tremendous amount.
What was your social experience like?
If you asked my tutors, they would probably say it was too active! I think I had a healthy mix of in-College and University-wide events. I used to spend rather a lot of time at the Union, and my Classics year was so friendly and cohesive, that it was very common to go to another College for brunch, dinner, symposia, toga parties, and punting. I wasn’t remotely sporty, so I was spared the carnage of crew dates! I ended up attending a number of balls, ranging from those run by different societies to Commem balls, and, even though that can add up, I don’t regret it because the entertainment and activities at them are really unusual, and it’s a great way to have fun with your friends and relax. Even now, I have a large number of photos and memories to look back on, and I do with some regularity. Facebook can be cruel and unforgiving.
Finally, what one thing did you wish you had known when you applied to Oxford?
The Classics course at Oxford is renowned, and I think that the application was more daunting and competitive in my head than in reality. I wish I had spoken to students who had been through the admissions process previously, and with slightly atypical A-Level subjects like mine. Contrary to expectations, I became far calmer when I got to Oxford for the interview period. That is, in part, because the interviewers put me at ease, and also because the current students I met seemed rather relaxed, and not the “bookish” types I was expecting. I had also set myself higher standards in terms of the level of knowledge the interviewers were anticipating from successful candidates- in truth, they were interested in my opinion and how I was developing and defending my arguments. As someone who invariably has an opinion, that played to my strengths!
* For Classics students at Oxford, Mods refer to ‘Moderations’, which is a course that runs for the first five terms of the degree.