Applying to Oxford: History and Modern Languages

Hello, and welcome to our new guest series on the blog: applying to Oxford for various subjects. There will be a guest contributor every day writing about their personal experience of applying to Oxford for their own subject.

Today’s post is written by Lara, who is currently reading History and Spanish at Hertford. This post is also a little different to the other posts we’ve had – as there is already information in previous posts about applying for History and for MML, this post is shorter and concentrates more on what sets History and MML apart from other degrees.

For more information about applying for History and sitting the HAT, click here.

For more information about applying for Modern Languages in a Joint School, click here.

History and Modern Languages is a degree that essentially splits Oxford’s history degree in half and combines it with a modern language. You won’t be studying half of one language though! Oxford’s Modern Languages degrees are usually the study of two languages, so history just replaces one of the languages.

I studied English Literature, Spanish and History at A-level. I absolutely loved the breadth of this combination and didn’t really want to give anything up so History and Modern Languages seemed like the right choice for me as it is essentially a continuation of that combination of subjects. Oxford’s Modern Languages degrees are heavily literature orientated, so I knew that I would still be studying lots of literature, just in another language. It opened my eyes to a whole world of new material that I would have never come across otherwise but taught very similar analytical skills to English Literature. There’s also a strong translation element to Modern Languages which adds a nice variation and helps you get to grips with the language itself. At A-Level I was definitely stronger at History but I still really enjoyed Spanish and didn’t want to give it up. This is really important: you don’t actually have to apply to the subject that you are best at, but the one you enjoy most (although being good at it makes life a lot easier!)

The variety is what I enjoy most about my degree! I never get bored because I am constantly doing something different. If I get stuck on something I’m doing in one subject, I can always switch over and do another. I also get to be part of two departments in my college, and so I get to meet a broader range of people just by going to tutorials, seminars and lectures. The degree itself is also a challenge, it definitely isn’t an easy option. However, this can also be very enjoyable.

The Application

My application tips are quite broad, and probably crop up in a couple of the other guides on this blog! Since both History and Spanish are such broad subjects there is no one way of applying. The most important thing is that you follow your interests when you’re writing your personal statement, or sending example work. I did both the subjects at A-Level so the wider reading I did was largely geared towards topics that I was studying at the time. For example, I read Andrew Marr’s ‘A history of Modern Britain’ and a biography of Margaret Thatcher to broaden my understanding of the British Politics, the topic of my A-level history exam. That’s a real positive about the application process, even if you don’t get in, you’ve learnt a bit more about the subjects you like which will come in very handy for the A Level’s themselves. You can also put the wider reading to good use in your HAT exam, a key part of the application process. HAT is a history aptitude test that asks very broad questions where you can apply any historical period you know about. (The sample papers are all online too.)

For more information about applying for History and sitting the HAT, click here.

For more information about applying for Modern Languages in a Joint School, click here.

But it doesn’t have to be about broadening just your school work! If you’re really interested in something that you haven’t been studying, pursue your interests! It seems a bit obvious, but in the application process the tutors are fundamentally looking for someone very enthusiastic about the subjects and the interview is just an opportunity to show your enthusiasm! I read ‘The Story of Spanish’ by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, which is a pretty new book that charts the history of the Spanish language and is really interesting but also quite easy reading! I’d recommend it for an aspiring History and Modern Linguist, and there is also a similar book about the French language. The books you read really don’t have to be heavy and challenging, you just have to enjoy them and take something from them. I am pretty forgetful, so I jotted down my immediate thoughts from the books I read so that I could remember them for my personal statement, interviews etc without feeling the need to re read them.

My interviews themselves were actually surprisingly relaxed. I only interviewed at my college, Hertford. The Oxford application process is a long one, so by the time you make it to the interviews, the tutors already have quite a good idea of what you are like academically. So it’s more about them meeting you, and seeing whether they would enjoy teaching you. It is so stressful at the time, but really try to just enjoy the experience of chatting to someone who is genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say.

Good luck!




I hope this helped, and please comment below if you have any questions! Don’t forget to share this post if you found it useful (the Facebook and Twitter share buttons are below) and subscribe to the blog for more application tips!


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