By: Saskia Wodarczak
Ah, Oxford… ranked the best university in the world and is without a doubt one of the most prestigious. Not to mention that it is home to some of the most exquisite architecture ever – if you haven’t seen photos, then you must really love that rock you’ve been living under. In a stereotypical English major student fashion, I aspire to attend Oxford. It doesn’t get more satisfyingly ironic than obtaining a degree in English in England, and at Oxford for that matter, and I’d accept that offer with alacrity, no questions asked. Now as a Canadian, I also look at the international fee attached to attend such a school, and wonder why Canadians have to pay international fees if we’re such a very valued member of the British Commonwealth; why aren’t we considered domestic? And before you attack me, I know why I’d have to pay the international fee and why Canada would not be considered domestic… just… let an English student dream.
Every year in October, like clockwork, I get the impulse to apply to Oxford, and always get as far as looking wistfully at their “How To Apply” page. My need for academic validation makes me think I’ll get in. Who knows, I might. But if I do actually hypothetically get accepted, what would I do? I know for sure that my academic validation will be fully validated until the day I die – hey if I can get into Oxford, my brain and I are pretty much good to go. Please note that I never actually click the button to apply. Clearly, I’ve got great self-discipline.
We all know that Oxford Colleges are all very, very, competitive institutions to receive an offer of admission from. However, Oxford’s All Souls College is said to have the most intense and hardest entrance examination, anywhere. For a bit of context, All Souls College is sort of like a masters programme; it’s only open to people already with an undergraduate degree, and those who wish to join must sit in on a set of exams. However, All Souls only admits two candidates a year, but the successful candidates get many benefits, including tuition and accommodation fully paid, and an annual stipend.
The exam in and of itself is written over a 12 hour period, and candidates first sit through Subject Papers pertaining to seven different studies: Classics, Economics, Politics, English, Law, History, or Philosophy – you choose from a series of questions relating to what your undergrad subject was. From there comes the General Paper, targeting the rational argument skills in any area, usually being in an unfamiliar category that is open to interpretation. The last set of essays actually got removed; initially, candidates were to write “The One Word Essay” which was based on a single word given. Imagine, writing an essay about one word – even I couldn’t do that, and I have a lot to say about everything. Finally, the candidates that are successful are roped back for a viva, and are questioned about their answers by a group of no more than 50, “fellows,” – and if the answers are up to par, then you’ve aced the exam and now have a great subject for small talk.
For a bit of context, I’m currently in a Co-op work term; my weekdays end at five in the evening, and my weekends are free. I have a whole lot of time and not enough activities to fill that time.
So naturally, I decided to challenge myself and attempt to write an essay worthy of snatching the golden ticket of admission to All Souls College at Oxford University.
I will not lie; the questions in the subject areas of interest to me were a bit off-putting, especially in the way in which they were posed. This made me question my entire education up to this point, and I immediately felt like a nonentity. Some were brilliant and others were absolutely cretinous. A few personal favourites, in no particular subject area, include:
Should we colonise Mars?
Should we bring back woolly mammoths from the dead?
Are there any unanswerable questions?
‘Blah blah blah get married’. Are English novels much more than this?
Is nothing something?
Is there such a thing as free will?
Do adults have a right to be loved?
Can a robot have a gender?
How religious was the Scientific Revolution?
As we can see, the questions are so simple, yet so complex. So witty, and so very direct. Take a wild guess at which question I wrote my essay on. That being said, it was a lot harder to write this essay simply because a lot of them are a yes or no – and then you’re to defend your answer. It’s good practice, improving upon syntax and structure, and by the time I’d finished writing my essay, I actually felt very accomplished; it’s well-researched and thought out, and will not be featured in this article (so if you wanted to read it, my sincerest apologies). The research aspect was strenuous, because there were a lot of opinions in regards to the question I chose, but very few were actually well-grounded and insightful. Hence, it made the research more lengthy, especially when I got so flabbergasted at the amount of idiodic opinions that I decided to stick to solely scholarly sources.
Maybe in an alternate universe, I’ll attend Oxford. Maybe I already did. The dream, and my academic validation, still remain. I’m also content with just pretending I’m admitted to Oxford and tricking my brain into thinking the same. Embrace your delusions. Plus, these essays are keeping me in practice for my next study semester, and I also get to add them to my writing portfolio. Either way, it’s a win-win situation in my eyes. But if you ever need a good laugh, or even to challenge your writing capabilities, take a look at the essay topics for the All Souls College Entrance Examination – trust me, you’ll be humbled.