An Interview With...

Nick Lai, a current first year undergrad reading Maths at Mansfield College, Oxford University.

Why did you decide on Oxford?

I wanted to push myself more when I went to uni and thought Oxford or Cambridge would be the ideal place to do that. I chose Oxford mainly because it’s a bigger city with more going on, and so would probably provide a better social life. I also thought it was close to home.

How did you find the application process? What were the easier or harder parts?

Writing a personal statement wasn’t that hard since I got a lot of guidance from school. The MAT was definitely the hardest part because I encountered a lot of new parts of Maths I’d never been taught, and I felt pretty unprepared for it.
How did you choose your college?

I looked through the descriptions of the colleges and picked out several that had a high state school population and were renowned for being sporty. I applied to St Catz where I had my interviews, but I ended up at Mansfield College. I definitely think schools need to provide more guidance as to where to apply as in my opinion it makes a big difference to your Oxford experience.

Did you feel well prepared before you went for your interview?

Not particularly, I didn’t really know what to expect. I tried to have a look online for sample questions which helped a bit.

Did you at any time feel disadvantaged for not coming from a private school?

Private schools definitely prepare you for interview much better. But Mansfield is mainly made up of state school students so don’t really feel disadvantaged.

What was your interview like?

The interviewers were really nice and welcoming. I didn’t get asked about my personal statement at all, the questions were all on Maths. I found the questions really tough and nothing like the A Level Maths syllabus, but I quite enjoyed the challenge.

How are you finding Oxford? Was it what you expected? What’s surprised you?

I'm really enjoying life at Oxford now! I found it tough at the start since naively I underestimated the work load, and had to put a lot more time into work than I had done at school. The terms are very intense and the work load seems to be non stop so you have to be on top of everything. Oxford itself is a beautiful place to live and the social/night life is much better than I thought. I'm surprised by how many ‘people like me’ there are who didn’t go to private/boarding school and are really down to earth. I came to Oxford thinking I wouldn't get involved in any of the silly traditions, but I’ve found it’s much better to embrace it as it’s an incredible thing to be a part of.

I totally agree about the colleges as well. I applied to Brasenose which was really oversubscribed and I didn’t even think about the state/private school ratio. Before I got to to the interview I was re-allocated to St Benet’s Hall which is tiny and I'd never even heard of it. Do you ever wish you were at St Catz or can you not imagine being anywhere else but Mansfield now?

I'm glad I’m at Mansfield to be honest, it's much prettier and nicer than St Catz and I’ve settled in well where I am now.

A huge "Thank you!" to Nick for taking part in this interview and a huge good luck to him in his exams!

Disclaimer: All words except questions posed (teal) are Nick Lai's and I take no credit for his responses. All opinions voiced are Nick's and do not represent the opinions of I or any third parties either socially or commercially. If you would like to discuss Nick's opinions please feel free to comment below or email me at


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