Project: University #5 – Interview (HSPS at Cambridge)

Having returned from the interviews at Cambridge for Human, Social and Political Sciences course, it is now time to give an overview about how it was, who were the other applicants and what exactly happened during the interviews. First, I can reassure that it was not as bad as somebody might think and the whole process really was lots of fun. Second, I feel much more confident coming back from there and whatever happens, the experience has been great.

Hereby I return to keep You updated with the topic of me applying to university. I truly hope that reading my blog posts will inspire You to apply to different universities all-over the world. Maybe they will even help You get Your applications going and if You have any questions You cannot find answers from elsewhere, then feel free to ask me.

Applying to the UK (via UCAS)

Six or seven weeks ago, I wrote that the University of Cambridge had asked me to go there for the interviews, which means that I was already in the top three quarters of all applicants, although this is not enough yet in order to get accepted, but it is a start. Therefore on 9th of December, after having won the first place with our class at our school’s dancing competition, it was time for me to catch a bus towards Riga, Latvia, since my plane was going to departure from the airport in Riga. Although the plane was not going anywhere before the morning of 10th of December, I still had to go to Riga a day earlier, as the international bus schedule is just crappy and there would have been no buses going to Latvia in the next morning…

Having arrived to Riga, a nice couchsurfer, my host for the night, was already waiting for me – we went to his place, where he made great dinner and where we could chat for hours with him and the girl, that is his housemate.In the morning, Andrejs would take me to airport, where I would discover that for the first time in my life, I had forgotten to do the online check-in, meaning I had to pay fifty euros so the lady in the desk would do it – thankfully we still managed to do it by the last minute and now I just had to run to the gate and get a seat on the plane, which in the long run arrived later than expected, making me miss the train to Cambridge and having me wait for half an hour for the next train. Finally the train arrived and another half an hour later I was already at Cambridge, where I took the bus towards centre, where Augur was already waiting for me. First we went to have a lunch together and then he took me to the college, where I went to the Porter’s Lodge in order to get my room key for the night (when You get an interview at Cambridge, they let you stay in their accommodation for up to two days for free).

The Porters were really nice and I believe that if I were to be accepted to Magdalene, then we would have some fun times with them as well. In the Porter’s lodge, there were some student helpers aka undergraduate students that had been willing to spend their holidays at the college, helping staff and the interviewees. One of them took me to my room (first the key did not work, so we returned to the lodge to see, what had been the problem), showed where all the things were and said that after I was finished, I could go to JCR, where all the interviewees where sitting, watching TV and eating free cookies. After he left, Augur and I quickly went through my Personal Statement and he quickly made up some questions in order to give me a short mock interview – having gone through four or five questions, we decided it was enough and I should not worry too much and should just go with the flow (after all, I had not read through my PS earlier either and I was not feeling stressful at all). We made some plans for the next day and he went on his way, while I went to JCR to meet others.

On the first sight, I just saw lots of engineering applicants sitting in a circle, discussing what had happened earlier and bunch of student helpers sitting on the couches, watching The Big Bang Theory – I had arrived to home. Soon I discovered, there were not only engineers, but also another HSPS applicant and we talked to her a bit – she was from Lithuania. Then we joined the circle of engineers and I made some inappropriate jokes about them, so one of them left, but we quickly got friends with the others. Later on I saw another applicant for HSPS, a girl that I had also seen in July, but she had to go somewhere already. Before she left, she said that she had been asked to describe some candlesticks and this just sounded awkward to me, but I was ready to do the same. Soon we had a dinner and then came back to continue watching TBBT and Friends, while discussing about different things. By the late evening, some other applicants for HSPS had arrived to JCR, including an American guy, who had also been asked to examine the candlesticks. At some point we decided to go to town, where seven of us (mostly engineering applicants) walked for few hours and then returned to the college by nine o’clock, as the others wanted to go to their rooms to stress about the forthcoming interviews – at first I thought I would go to a pub, but later on I found myself at the JCR, where six student helpers (who had nothing to stress about) and I watched Toy Story 3 and Pulp Fiction. By the time we finished, I already felt a bit tired and went for a sleep.

In the morning, after having breakfast, I started to encounter some other HSPS students, including a nice girl from Bulgaria, whom I made a tour around the college (as I had received a tour last time I had been at Magdalene, I still remembered my way around the premise, and we also went to places, we probably would have not been allowed to go on a normal day… After Karina and I had had our tour, we returned to JCR, where there were more interviewees now and soon it was time for my first interview. Before going for my interview, I also read through my Personal Statement to be a bit more ready for the questions that might have been asked.

My first interview was at 10.45, where Dr S Cohn and Dr F Fulminate were conducting a general interview. I went in really confident and when I returned to JCR, I was even more confident and smiley. First when I entered to the interview I really had no clue, what to expect, but Dr Cohn quickly came to shake my hand and introduce himself, after whom Dr Fulminate did the same, which created a really friendly atmosphere. They both reassured that they really wanted me to be relaxed in order to get the best out of me.

The first question, as expected, was about why I had chosen HSPS and I just gave a strange answer how I really enjoy Politics, International Relations and Sociology and how I thought that studying them in one course might really be beneficial for the future. I also added something about Anthropology and Dr Cohn quickly responded, saying that even though they both were teaching Anthropology, I do not have to bring that topic in if I had not thought about that earlier, therefore it was the first and the last time I ever mentioned anything besides Politics, International Relations and Sociology. Dr Cohn then also asked whether I though Sociology was part of Political Science or vice versa and when I first said that Politics was part of Sociology, then by end we reached to a conclusion that even if it might just be one part of Sociology, then there would be no Sociology without Politics, therefore it is an essential part. Next Dr Fulminate asked something about my essay that I had sent in (my thesis on the topic of Social Network Analysis) – first asking why I had included the last page of my paper, the Annex 3, which is a really screwed up graph. It was because I wanted to show how complex the topic had been and then she asked some other questions based on my thesis. After that Dr Cohn asked about my visits to the Ministry of Education and what we had tried to accomplish there with Estonian Student Council Union – I explained the situation and we started to talk more about the education system and what I think it should be like. Then he also asked me about my exchange to South Africa and what did I experience there, as well as whether all the politicians should have such an experience, where I reassured that all the international one clearly should, but in the case of local politicians, it is not as essential to have such experience. Soon we discovered that the time was up and they let me ask a final question from them, so I tried to show them that I am a debater and they said that this can be beneficial to me, as in HSPS it always needed that the students would be able to critically look at different ideas, as well as see things from different viewpoints. Generally it can be said that this interview was all about my Personal Statement and then questions that came from there.

After a little time to talk to other applicants, I had to go for another interview at 12.30, where Dr B Burchell and Dr D Stuckler were conducting a bit more specific interview on the topic of Sociology and Politics. After both of them had introduced themselves, Dr Burchell also recognized me from the summer, where at the Open Days, we had met and even shared some thoughts for an hour or so.

The first to ask a question, was Dr Stuckler, who asked me that if European Union is rich, then why do we still struggle with unemployment, to which I answered that we have both under and over qualified people, ones who just cannot do some things and the ones, that are not needed, but who are not willing to re-qualify either. Other than this, we also have more and more machines replacing many humans in some fields of work. They seemed to have liked my reasoning and then Dr Stuckler asked something about what I think how we could make the unemployment go away, to which I said that we should use that money, that he said the EU has in order to make people re-qualify and to just make some jobs out of the air, just like Adolf Hitler did in the time between two world wars (YES, I DID BRING HITLER IN :D) and I also said that I do not believe that it would be a good idea in the long run, therefore re-qualifying it is. Then he also asked about the social benefits and whether there should be any requirements in order to get them, for example you would have to do some little job or re-qualify to get them and I agreed, although saying that the idea might be good, but in the real-world it would probably not work as the people would not want to do such works or re-qualify, making them live on the streets or maybe even turn towards crime, which would be much worse than just giving them money as we are doing it at the moment. Dr Stuckler seemed to like those ideas as well and then it was time for Dr Burchell to start asking questions, mainly about my thesis and once again, we started from the Annex 3, where he asked, why is it there, what can we interpret from there, what will we miss, how could it be made better and so on, and I managed to answer to all of the questions, while making some connections, that I had not even made while writing the paper, making me feel bad about how the paper was not that good, although making me happy as well, as I was able to make those connections on spot, showing I do understand the topic. Dr Burchell even commented how he had missed some of the connections, when he had been reading the paper earlier on and this made me more confident. Then he also asked about our grading system in Estonia and made me do some predictions about my exams, where I did say that I would get 85-95 in most of them, except Estonian, where my grammar is horrible – he said, he will ask from his colleagues at Tartu University, whether this was acceptable and then Dr Stuckler asked a question, that made me loose my path. He asked about the last journal that I had read and I just forgot, my brained died for a second and then I said how I only remember the last book I was currently reading and then we started to talk about it, until the time was up once again. We said bye and the last thing before leaving that I said was a comment how I am waiting forward to work with them in the future.

After the last interview, I was not that happy due to that journal question, but everything was fine, I met others in the JCR and we went for the lunch. There we talked with Karina and Oisin, before I said bye to others and went to Augur’s place for the night. Augur made a great dinner and we watched two episodes of Downton Abbey, before I was too tired to stay awake and I went to sleep.

In the morning, we had a quick porridge as breakfast, talked about Cambridge and said bye. I went back to Magdalene, where we talked to some interviewees and watched a bit of Friends, before Kristina (the Lithuanian girl) and I went to town for a coffee, then caught the bus to Stansted and soon we went on the planes to fly back home. Overall I saw applicants of HSPS from Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech, US and the UK – mostly girls, but also some boys. It was really great and now I am waiting for the results, that should come out already by the end of this year. But until that, Merry Christmas!

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