Alumni Interview – Henry Fahrenkamp Class of 2019

Henry Fahrenkamp graduated with his International Baccalaureate Diploma from LIS in 2019 with a faultless maximum score of 45 points. An enormous achievement, which cemented his acceptance to his first choice of university – Oxford University. Before he set off on this new chapter of his life, he gave us an interview and some insight into his achievements and motivations.

Hi Henry, firstly congratulations on your excellent IB Results and on getting into Oxford University. It has recently been ranked the number one university in the world for the fourth year in a row. 

Thank you so much! Oh, and „take that, Cambridge“ 😉

What will you be studying there? Can you tell us a bit about what attracted you to this University?

I’ll be studying for a BA in Jurisprudence, which is Oxford’s version of a three-year undergraduate law degree. I can’t say that I was passionate about wanting to study law ever since I was a child (few people are, I think), but in my final years at LIS, I became more and more interested in the subject, since it’s incredibly relevant to how the world works on both a large and a small scale. Why Oxford? Well, I’m afraid I don’t have a particularly unique answer to that question, but I did choose to apply there as opposed to Cambridge since Oxford tends to be described as larger and more lively.

Henry as part of the Big Band performance at the Christmas concert 2018.

I hear the entrance programme is quite rigorous. Could you talk us through what it was like for you?

The admissions process itself isn’t too different from other UK universities, actually. Like all of my peers going to the UK, I applied using UCAS, an online admissions service that lets you create a single application for the several institutions you’re considering. While that does save quite a bit of paperwork and patience, I remember that I felt lots of pressure to get this one application exactly right – i.e. to make it engaging, relevant, convincing, and, most importantly, no longer than 4000 characters (in essence, a UCAS application is something of an extended twitter post). At the same time, I was preparing for an aptitude test that Oxford requires all of its law applicants to complete, which involves answering 42 fiendishly difficult multiple choice questions as well as writing an essay on an unknown prompt, all within a rather tight time limit. 

How did your mentors support or guide you in this process?

I’m very grateful to Mr Smith and Mr Sands, who helped me in completing my UCAS application and prepared me for the part of the Oxford admissions process that might well be the scariest – interviews. We managed to fit in a practice interview before I left for the ‘real deal’ in December last year, and I genuinely believe that those few minutes had a great impact on my performance. I got a taste of what the interviewers might ask, and let me tell you, the real interview did not disappoint in terms of creative, startling questions that really tested my ability to think on the spot. 

What are some of the things, academic and otherwise, that you learned at LIS that prepared you for getting into a University with such high standards?

I’ve been a student at LIS ever since I joined as a three-year-old in pre-school, so I think it’s fair to say that I learned quite a bit in the fifteen years I spent here. Unfortunately, the subject I chose to pursue now doesn’t overlap nicely with any of those I took at LIS, so I’m afraid I’ll have only few opportunities to impress with my knowledge of the mitochondrion being the powerhouse of the cell. Instead, I think that LIS prepared me for Oxford by allowing me to develop some crucial skills that the admissions tutors look for in an applicant. The IB taught me how to be not only a student, but an inquirer (to quote the IB Learner Profile we all know and love) and an independent thinker – valuable traits to possess at university. Extracurriculars, however, have had a profound influence on my academic life too: for example, flexibility and spontaneity are but two of the many skills that I have developed as a member of the LIS big band, and I have come to realise that both are highly applicable to the work I did in the IB. Taking part in activities such as the European Youth Parliament brought out the competitive side in me, and the hours I spent at this particular event debating with fellow participants made the interview at Oxford less of a daunting prospect than an intellectual challenge to look forward to.

What subjects did you take for IB? What extracurricular activities were you involved in?

I sat examinations in seven IB subjects, those being German literature, biology and music at higher level and English language and literature, business management and mathematics at standard level with French B SL as an additional subject. In terms of extracurriculars, I was a member of the LIS big band, the politics club, student council, EYP, and I took part in the International Award programme as well as in several GISST sports. 

How did you deal with the pressure of such a full schedule?

I don’t believe that my extracurricular activities were a source of stress, because I thoroughly enjoyed them; after all, they did, each in their own way, help me cope with the IB programme. As for dealing with academic stress, however, I’m afraid I wasn’t exactly a model student: when larger pieces of work were due in the foreseeable future, I, not unlike many other IB students, harnessed the power of concentrated procrastination. Although that didn’t usually do much good, which is why I don’t endorse leaving tasks for the last minute, I think that it did allow me to come to terms with my own capabilities and limits when dealing with a high workload and tight deadlines. 

European Youth Parliament

What do you think is essential to academic success?

Well, I guess there’s some truth in Woody Allen’s remark that “80% of success is showing up”. A number of people in my grade have been very successful academically, and as far as I know, they have very different approaches to learning. That’s why I don’t feel qualified to give advice on academic success, because individuals differ in what helps them perform to the best of their abilities. Whether it’s long study sessions, beautiful handwritten notes, or simply raw talent in a given subject, it’s all about finding your personal way to fill those remaining 20% once you’ve managed to show up.

What are you nervous about?

To be honest, I’m still slightly nervous about my university accommodation. During interviews, I stayed in one of the student rooms at my college in Oxford (Magdalen College), and a monstrous hairy spider showed up in different places around the room on a regular basis. I’ll let you know if it comes back to greet me in October…

What are you really excited about?

At Oxford, students are expected to wear an academic uniform, known as ‘sub fusc’, on formal occasions and when sitting exams. It consists of several parts, including a suit, a bow tie and a gown, all of which must conform to the university’s strict regulations. I just ordered mine, and I’m very excited to find out how the outfit looks on me. If you are too, follow me on Instagram @henry_fahrenkamp! 

Do you have any advice for other students who are aiming at a similar goal?

First of all, I’d advise students not to be afraid to aim at such goals, because there’s nothing to be lost in taking a chance at being accepted to a top university. I’d be happy to offer specific help and advice if anyone’s keen on it, but generally, it’s very important that you begin boosting your application as early as possible. That means, firstly, keeping your grades high, and secondly, showing enthusiasm for the subject you intend to study (think work experience, reading books about the subject, etc., but also making the most of the extracurriculars available at LIS).

What do you imagine you will do when you are finished with your degree?

I haven’t a clue. Brexit isn’t helping, to be honest.

What are your hopes for LIS for the future?

I’d be delighted if LIS were to do even more than it already does to motivate and support its students to aim high academically, since I believe that the potential for success is definitely there! I hope that the school also continues to offer the vast range of extracurriculars that give students the opportunity to enjoy themselves while developing skills that may come in handy later on. And finally, I’m very happy that the school is now keeping in touch with its alumni, because it is the community surrounding LIS that makes it so special to me. 

Henry and his siblings, who also attend Leipzig International School.

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