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News > Alumnae Interviews > Madeleine White - Perkonian at Oxford University

Madeleine White - Perkonian at Oxford University

Madeleine at her Prom
Madeleine at her Prom

If you had asked me two years ago what my plans for university were, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. After the lingering effects of COVID and cancelled GCSEs, Sixth Form became some of the most transformative years of my life so far, both personally and academically. Deciding to pursue an intensely competitive academic path by applying to study History at the University of Oxford inevitably presented its own challenges, including an earlier personal statement deadline, an admissions test and an interview, all alongside my other commitments to A level studies, an EPQ, grade 8 piano and learning to drive. However, the support and guidance that I received from my teachers not only helped prepare me for the challenges of applying to university, but also helped me feel self-confident enough to invest the time and work required to apply. My first challenge, the infamous personal statement, was particularly eventful, with both my form tutor and head of subject isolating with COVID while I was attempting to submit it. Luckily, both Mrs Synge and Mr Peel were able to give me advice and corrections during the process, and I submitted my UCAS application in October. My next hurdle was the Oxford admissions test, before which I bombarded my poor History teacher with practice papers I had written and Mr Willis was kind enough to mark them and offer me feedback, even over the October half term. Sitting the Oxford admissions test was my first experience of any kind of external exam, as my GCSEs had been cancelled due to COVID, which was a very surreal and intimidating experience - it definitely made me grateful for those hours spent practising! Finding out I had an interview with Oxford was a huge milestone for me and, while I was obviously very nervous, I was reminded by my teachers of how much of an achievement this in itself was, so preparation for the interview was a lot less intense than it had been for the application and admission test.

I had two important mock interviews at school: one with Dan Jones the historian and one with the head of History, Mr Willis. My actual interview was online, due to COVID restrictions, which did make it less overwhelming, despite a bit of constant worry over potential technical issues! The experience of having two separate mock interviews at school with two different people was extremely helpful and made me feel a lot more comfortable when I was eventually faced with two unknown professors, as I had already gotten used to sharing my ideas in a formal interview setting, to people who I wasn’t familiar with.

Even after being accepted into Oxford, choosing to go was still a huge decision. I knew that it would be hard work and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take on the challenge after slaving over A levels, but my teachers really encouraged me to go for it and not let my own fears hold me back. Now that I’m here, I never realised how much I would appreciate the preparation that SWPS gave me for life at Oxford. The vast number of essays I wrote in both History and English (which I then nagged my teachers to mark!); the opportunity to contribute in lessons, especially with Mrs Payne's and Mrs Holden’s encouragement in English lessons; the seemingly endless mock exams - all of it has allowed me to manage, and enjoy, work at university as I am much better equipped at balancing essays with my social life, as I had to in school. My time at SWPS Sixth Form also allowed me to prove to myself that I was so much more than my academic achievements, something that I always struggled with growing up. I gained a lot of confidence in SWPS Sixth Form, through pursuing my own passions, such as assemblies on animal welfare and period poverty, magazine articles, and performing in the School Choir and Annie production, but also by being part of a close and loving community of friends who always made me feel valued.

Uprooting your life to go to university can be so overwhelming and it’s very easy to start to feel lost and let self-doubt or insecurities take over. Being given a safe and nurturing space in Sixth Form to grow and develop into a young person that I can be proud of is something that was fundamental to adjusting to university life for me. It allowed me to make friends, manage my workload and adapt to an extremely overwhelming and intimidating change. I am very grateful for the teachers and people at SWPS who made my time there so valuable and gave me the support and confidence I needed to pursue the university path I chose. 

Madeleine W

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