Going to Oxford University: A Dream Come True – Sahara Pandit

Ms Sahara Pandit was born in Nepal 19 years ago as the first child to Mr Bishwa Adarsha Pandit, a social activist and an entrepreneur, and Mrs Urmila Adhikari Pandit, a senior nurse who come from a prideful, decent Nepali family. They now live in Reading, UK. Having completed her entire schooling and A-Levels in the UK, Sahara has secured a place to study Medicine at the Oxford University. Trilochan Gautam recently spoke to her on behalf of ‘Londonkathmandu.com’ and she was happy to share her feelings and thoughts as follows.

Trilochan: You are going to start studies at Oxford. How’re you doing?

Sahara: So excited and just getting ready.

Trilochan: Did you start your schooling in the UK or in Nepal?

Sahara: I started nursery here in the UK but I also went to nursery in Nepal for a while before coming here.

Trilochan: When and what course are you starting?

Sahara: I will start studying MBBS this October. The whole course lasts six years.

Trilochan: So when, and what made you first think about Oxford?

Sahara: Of course, Oxford is a very well reputed university and it is one I have visited several times in my life. From the museums to Bodleian library and the town itself, I fell in love with it and so it became one my aspirations to attend the university. When researching different universities that did my course, I realised that the structure of Oxford’s MBBS was one that suited me most which was perfect.

Trilochan: Tell me a few words what helped you gain this place.

Sahara: I think it was very important that I believed in my-self and I also had such a strong support network surrounding me during the process, at home and at school, which encouraged me to apply. I also believe that I worked hard during the past 2 years which made me a suitable candidate to apply. Most of all, I was confident that I wanted to study Medicine and I hope that my passion to do so was obvious during interview.

Trilochan: Do you think this success has in some way connection to the type of school/college you attended?

Sahara: I did my GCSEs at Reading Girls’ School which is a comprehensive school and A-Levels at Kendrick School Sixth Form which is a grammar school. I do not regret having gone to a comprehensive school as it made me stand out from other applicants and it showed that I could do well with hard work regardless of circumstances. My sixth form did definitely help me with my application as they provided me with all the information I could need to make my decisions.

Trilochan: When and how did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?

Sahara: Getting an opportunity to study Medicine in the world’s number one university is a ‘dream come true’. From a young age, I have always had a strong interest in science and have always enjoyed learning. Studying Biology at GCSE and A-level strengthened my interest and I really came to appreciate the complexity of the human body. I decided that Medicine was the career for me if I wanted to further my knowledge on human anatomy whilst also having a positive impact on people’s lives. One of my strengths is my interpersonal skills and from volunteering at Sue Ryder, a care home and at a charity for autistic children, I decided that I definitely wanted to pursue a career where communication is key. It was only when I had the work experience, the guidance and the confidence that I was able to take the next step that was actually applying to read Medicine at university.

Trilochan: Whose motivation/inspiration do you count the most?

Sahara: Ever since I was little, my parents pushed me to do the best I could and motivated me to do even better. During my ups, they would praise and reward me but during my downs, they would console and comfort me. They had the most belief in me and I am very grateful. They reassured me that whenever one door closes, another door opens. My parents supported me every single step of the way through my application. Although it was a busy time for me, it was just as busy for them. They were the ones who had to drive me to university open days and interviews, helped me with interview preparation and provided me with all the resources I could need during my A-levels. Also, my sister Sarathi has been a full source of inspiration and I am ever so thankful for their guidance and aid.

Trilochan: How challenging was it to secure study at Oxford?

Sahara: The whole application process for Medicine on its own itself is difficult. There are several requirements that you have to fulfil for the course and at Oxford University, the chances of securing a place were even more slim just based on the acceptance rates. In fact, several people did try to tell me to reconsider as I would be losing the chance to apply to another medical school with a higher chance of acceptance. However, I decided to take the shot as it had been my dream university for many years. Firstly, I had to make sure I had the grades so I could actually apply. I worked really hard during Year 12 to come out with good predicted grades so that I meet the entry requirement for Medicine at all universities. This ensured I had plenty of choice as to where I could apply.

Trilochan: Can you tell us a bit of preparation and the entry exams you faced?

Sahara: In addition to the grades, I took two exams; the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) in August after Year 12 and the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) in November of Year 13. Balancing my preparation for the BMAT alongside with A-level work was definitely difficult but it was important to do this so that I didn’t miss my offer if I did receive one. I also kept going to my volunteering sessions to show long term commitment and found work experience at the hospital. After having submitted my personal statement and application with my scores and grades to my chosen universities, I received an invitation to interview at Oxford University in December. Preparing for Medicine interviews is a long process. Some of my friends doing other courses that didn’t require interviews had received offers in October, whereas my last interview was in February. It was important for me to stay patient and focus on being stable.

Trilochan: So a vital part of preparation is also, as you said ‘it was important for me to stay patient and focus on being stable’.

Sahara: Yes it is.

Trilochan: What was the actual interview process like? How exactly you felt proportionate to the gravity of your interest? Nervous, excited, confident?

Sahara : The interview process at Oxford University is different to most universities and lasted two days. For other courses, it could be even longer. As Oxford is a collegiate university, I had interviews at two different colleges which I had applied for. My first choice being The Queen’s College and the second being Magdalen College. I arrived in Oxford on a Saturday morning and was given a room at The Queen’s College to settle down. The college was very friendly and inviting and I didn’t feel excluded at all. I had one interview in the afternoon and one in the evening. I spent a lot of the day in my room, going over my notes on the NHS, any global medical advancement and even my science and maths notes from school. I recalled any scenarios from my work experience that had stood out to me and what they had taught me about being a doctor. The interview itself was very different to any other medicine interviews I had done. I felt nervous but I couldn’t wait to actually get it done because a lot of preparation had led up to that interview.

Trilochan: What kind of questions were you asked and any additional experience to share?

Sahara: The questions the tutors ask were very random and I believe they wanted to test how I think rather than what I know. I was told prior to the interview that the interviewers are looking for someone they can see themselves teaching; someone who can think out of the box and ask questions. After the interviews, I had dinner at the dining hall of Queen’s College where I met and spoke to other interviewees who applied to a range of courses and we shared our thoughts. It was comforting to know that the other applicants were also slightly nervous. The next morning, I had breakfast in the dining hall and headed over the Magdalen for my second set of interviews. The vibe at the different colleges were different, so I would really recommend people to research and visit the colleges at open days if you are considering applying! Although the interviews were supposed to be quite a nerve-wracking experience, I was saddened when I had to go home because the university had made sure I also had a good time.

Trilochan: This means you were less hopeful?

Sahara: After actually spending a weekend at the University for the interview, I got a real taste of what it would be like. This made me want an offer even more but I did become less hopeful having seen the number of brilliant applicants that I was competing with. The interview was also difficult and unalike others so I wasn’t sure how well I had handled it.

Trilochan: To your knowledge what percentage of applicants like you failed to secure a place? Or the rate of unsuccessful applicants if you have researched?

Sahara: In 2017, there were 19,000 applicants for 3200 undergraduate places for all subjects at the university so the overall acceptance rate was 16.8%. However, in my invitation to interview email, I was told that for medicine, they had 1547 applicants and gave out 425 interviews for about 150 places this year. This means that about 90.3% of applicants to Medicine at Oxford University were unsuccessful.

Trilochan: What speciality of medicine are you interested in?

Sahara: From my volunteering experience, I have realised that I really enjoy talking and working with children and this has sparked a slight bias towards paediatrics. Of course, this could change completely in the next 6 years as I start to experience and learn more about the profession.

Trilochan: So you’ve so far based your speciality goal to part of your past work experience?

Sahara: Yes.

Trilochan: What goals do you want to achieve, having become a doctor?

After having become a doctor, my ultimate goal would simply be to treat and care for patients. It will be amazing to witness someone’s health improve under my care. My other goal would be to look after my parents and finally be able to give back after all the years that they spent working relentlessly for me and my sister. I’m saving my first paycheque for them!

Trilochan: Well done, Fantastic!

Sahara: Thank you.

Trilochan: How many years do you have to study and what is the course like?

Sahara: The whole Oxford course is 6 years long, is divided into two parts and earns a student two degrees. The preclinical course is 3 years long and includes studying towards the extra degree in addition to the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree. In the preclinical course, I will learn more about the science behind medicine and the research that lays a foundation for the advancement in medicine. The clinical course is the next 3 years and puts more focus on to the patient contact and includes placements where I will be able to apply the knowledge I will learn in the first 3 years, to a practical situation. I understand that is a very long pathway but I am very excited to get started.

Trilochan: What suggestions do you have for your fellow friends and students who may be going through the application process?

Sahara: It is very important to put your course first before your university. Make sure you choose what you would actually like to study before deciding where. If Oxford or Cambridge provides the course that you can see yourself being devoted to, then certainly do apply! Do not undermine yourself because if you don’t try, you won’t succeed. A-levels may seem like the hardest years of your life but remember that it is all worth it in the end if you have an aim in mind that you are adamant in achieving.

Trilochan: Thank you Sahara.

Sahara: You’re welcome!

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