Student Blog: English at Brasenose

IMG 2415Back in June I was fortunate enough to be involved as a student helper in The Brasenose College Study Day for English Literature, Languages and Classics. As well as being a wonderful experience in itself, it was a particularly special opportunity for me as it was the same day that I had attended as a sixth form student two years earlier. At that time I had never really considered Oxford as an option for me, being from an area where very few people went to Oxford if they didn’t attend the local grammar schools, but having the opportunity to visit Brasenose and experience a tutorial, a lecture and a mock interview as well as simply experiencing the college itself, was the moment when I decided I wanted to go to Oxford University, and more specifically I wanted to go to Brasenose.

The day was kicked off with coffee, tea and biscuits in the lovely Lecture Room Seven. When I attended the day two years earlier, this casual start to the day really allowed me to relax into the experience and talk to current Brasenose students. This is followed by a quick introduction to the day made by the tutors, and a tour of college, led by Brasenose student helpers. In my role as a student helper this year I was able to see how the structure of the morning allows the attendees to get used to the people they’ll be spending the day with and the place they’ll be spending the day in. The grounds of Brasenose College are absolutely stunning and I remember being almost over-awed by it when I first came to the college, so it felt brilliant, as a now Brasenose student, to lead sixth form students round and help to dispel any fears they may have in the face of what can be an imposing place. As tour leaders we were able to showcase Brasenose as the impressive place that it is while still being the place that we’ve so easily come to call home: the library has an incredible sense of history, and also a sense of comfort and comradery around exam time which is so lovely to be a part of; the chapel is a beautiful example of architecture, and also the place which I personally associate with music and the choir practising, which can be heard walking past the chapel on a Sunday evening and makes you feel part of a very special community; the staircases that surround New Quad are so wonderful to look at and walk on, and also the staircases on which the first years live. This dual sense of impressiveness and homeliness is something I really wanted to get across as a student helper this year, as it stands out in my memory as something that struck me two years earlier.

One of the main parts of the day is the sample tutorial element, in which students get to experience the main way in which Brasenose English students are taught, a challenging and intellectually stimulating conversation with the tutor and perhaps another few students, discussing the students’ pre-prepared work and ideas about literature. As we led the sixth form students to Dr Sos Eltis’ office, I was reminded of how I felt when I was in these students’ position a couple of years earlier. I, like them, was very nervous, but was so quickly put at ease by the tutorial experience and Sos herself. It is simply sitting in a comfy chair or sofa and talking about literature, and what aspiring student of English Literature doesn’t enjoy talking about their favourite novels, poems and plays? Having this tutorial is the perfect way to introduce prospective students to college teaching at Brasenose, as a helper I was able to witness the end of one of these tutorials this year, and was reminded once again of how the tutorial on Brasenose Study Day is so true to the tutorials we have every week as current students. The tutorial is a platform for the students studying A-level English Literature to express thoughts on literature with other students as passionate about the subject, and world-leading experts in their fields, to question and challenge pre-conceived ideas and to learn how to delve more closely into the text. After lunch, the student attendees get another taste of academic life studying English at Oxford, by attending a lecture. The lecture I went to when I was a student on the Brasenose Study Day was ‘Shakespeare: words, bodies, action!’ by the college’s own Professor Simon Palfrey, a lecture which really opened my eyes to a wider and more sophisticated way of reading Shakespeare, and provided me with a way of thinking which I was able to take back to school and try to apply to my A-level study of Macbeth.

The afternoon was concluded with a talk on course information and the admissions process, and followed by a question and answer session between the sixth form student attendees and current Brasenose students. Part of this talk is a mock interview, which, much like the tutorial during the morning, reveals the interview element of the application process to be not the scary, intimidating experience many think it is, but simply a chat about literature between the applicant and two friendly and experienced tutors. The admissions process talk also addresses areas such as the ELAT (the admissions test for English Literature), the writing of a good personal statement, and the submission of a school essay. The question and answer session with Brasenose students is a great way to end the day, as it allows the sixth form attendees to ask any questions they may have to people they can more easily relate to, students only a couple of years further down the line as themselves, and people like me, who attended the very same event not so long ago. Here the conversation is not confined to one particular topic, this year we answered questions about student life, with a particular interest in extra-curricular activities, the work load, particulars of the course and more.  Having been both the sixth form student asking the questions and the Brasenose college student answering them, I can attest to the value of the day in its capacity to reassure, inform and to be an enjoyable and memorable experience.

By Lucy Thompson-Sharpe (Second Year English Student). Read more about English at Brasenose

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