Alumni Interview – Clara Schreiner 2019 Graduate

Hi Clara, 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!

What will you be studying there? Can you tell us a bit about what attracted you to this University?
I will be studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and at first, it was really the course that attracted me to Oxford. Having a broad range of interests made it very difficult for me to decide on one specific subject that I would want to commit to for the next three years. Oxford’s PPE course seemed like the perfect option for me: it is very flexible and provides lots of variety. Many other UK universities now offer PPE for undergraduate study too, but Oxford invented the subject in the 1920s, so studying it at the place of its conception definitely added to the appeal for me! Apart from that, I can’t deny that Oxford’s academic standards, its tutorial system, college system and sheer architectural beauty won me over as well.

Class of 2019 Abi Streik – Last official day of school before the exams start.

I hear the entrance programme is quite rigorous. Could you talk us through what it was like for you?
It is very rigorous, yes! Like all UK universities, Oxford requires a personal statement from its applicants, which is basically your opportunity to convince the university that you are a bright, wide-read and engaged applicant in 4,000 characters. This is not easy and demands a scarily large amount of time, effort and uses of the backspace key on your computer keyboard. Unique to Oxford (and Cambridge, I suppose), however, is that nearly all students need to take an entrance exam. There are different ones depending on the subject, but I had to take the “Thinking Skills Assessment”. This test is made up of two sections; in the first part, you have one hour to answer 50 multiple choice questions split equally between critical thinking and problem solving. In section two, you have to write an essay in 30 minutes answering one of four questions. For me, this test was definitely a source of high pressure because the TSA scores are a crucial part of the application, and as I only decided to apply to Oxford quite late, I didn’t have as much time to prepare for it as I would have liked. In mid-November, I then began to get very nervous because this was the time Oxford sent out interview invitations. I was absolutely thrilled when I eventually got the email, but found preparing for these interviews quite challenging, as I didn’t really have an idea as to what I would or could be asked. There are a few tips online, but each college does things a little differently. Something that helped me, however, was that Mr Smith, Mr Sands and Mr Bell kindly held a mock interview with me, which gave me the opportunity to practice the scenario to some extent. For the interviews themselves, I flew to Oxford in early December. I had one in Philosophy and Politics and one in Economics. With hindsight, I think they went fine. Much of the subsequent Christmas and New Years period was slightly overshadowed by January 9th (the big decision day) looming ahead. In the end, that day turned out to be an exhilarating one, and to be honest, it still seems surreal to me that I’ll be moving to Oxford in under a week. So, as clearly seen by the length of this answer, the entrance programme really was a rollercoaster rendition of the “long and winding road”!

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?
In terms of academic skills, my time at LIS taught me how to learn independently, which includes developing my own study habits and discovering techniques that work well for me. Through the Internal Assessments and my Extended Essay, I learned how to do well-founded research, while my various IB courses helped me to flesh out my note-taking skills. Communication-wise, I think that the many class discussions and presentations helped me learn to express my opinions confidently in spoken form and structure my thoughts. The close and supportive relationship with many teachers was also really important in giving me confidence in my academic skills, and the many extracurriculars LIS offered let me branch out in all kinds of ways, which made both my interests and my skill-sets more diverse. The best example for this is the opportunity to take part in the European Youth Parliament, where I learned to debate, put forward my opinions and take responsibility over and lead a group of people.

How did your family and mentors support or guide you in this respect?
My parents were extremely supportive and, what I really appreciate, never pressured me with regard to academics. They always helped me bring things back into perspective and supported me during “interview season” and near Oxford decisions day by calming me down and reassuring me. I am so grateful for this. There were also really special teachers at school (Dr Schleif, Ms Böhmer, Mrs Dindorf, Frau Börner and Ms Sacca) that continuously had an open ear, were eager to hear any news and were overall very encouraging and motivational with respect to my application, but also any other things that were going in my life at that moment.

Badminton GISST Tournament

What subjects did you take for IB? What extracurricular activities were you involved in?
I took English Literature, History and Maths at Standard Level and German Language and Literature, French B and Chemistry at Higher Level. Outside of academics, I was involved in the GISST badminton team and the LIS Student Council since Grade 6, and later joined the Politics Club. I helped to organise the project “Juniorwahl” and also played piano. The extracurricular activity that stands out most to me, however, was the European Youth Parliament. In Grade 11, our LIS delegation went to regional and national sessions in Berlin and Hannover and an informal session in Amsterdam. I integrated my passion for EYP into the CAS project I led with Henry, the Leipzig International School Youth Parliament (LYP). In Grade 12, the delegation represented Germany at the International Session in Rotterdam, and I moved beyond being a delegate and took on the role as committee chairperson at the
Regional Session held at LIS.

How did you deal with the pressure or stress of such a full schedule?
Absolutely key for me was managing my time properly, which let me avoid a lot of stress throughout the year and especially in Autumn of Grade 12. This included keeping an up-to-date planner, having an overview of various, perhaps seemingly distant, IB deadlines and tackling big tasks early, like writing the Extended Essay over the Summer Holidays. I think the extracurriculars I did, even though they added to my “schedule”, definitely helped me to relax and took my mind off schoolwork for a bit. Finally, I found that taking conscious breaks was more important than ever when things did get stressful or overwhelming.

What do you think is essential to your academic success?
Everyone has their own take on this, but for me, managing my time properly, doing assignments early, trying to take breaks and sleeping enough were definitely key. Especially the sleeping part is very important because I find that if I don’t sleep enough, I end up becoming unfocused and don’t do my work well.

Which college will you be in?
St Peter’s!

When does orientation start?
I’m moving into college on the 6th of October. Freshers’ Week starts on October 7th.

What are you nervous about?
The most daunting thing for me is the fact that I will be moving away from Leipzig and my family, friends and the school– a social environment that has, after all, been the centre of my life for nearly the last 10 years. This is undoubtedly going to be a very big change for me and I’m hoping everything will go well.

What are you really excited about?
I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the stimulating, academic and international environment at Oxford and doing a course that I’m really interested in. I’m also very excited about the non-academic parts, like taking part in all the Oxford traditions, having formal hall in my college (a biweekly formal dinner), participating in societies, visiting talks at the Oxford Union, joining a sports club and just generally experiencing life in college!

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

Have the confidence to apply, and, once you decide to, really commit to it. Submitting a good application is hard work, especially alongside all the IB stress that’s going on at the same time, but if this is really what you want, then do your best to get through it. At the same time, however, keep in mind that a lot of luck is involved in the process, and if things don’t end up going to plan, try not to blame yourself or take it too badly! Apart from that, make sure you meet (and exceed) the grade requirements and get engaged with your subject of interest, for example by doing extra reading.

What do you imagine you will do when you are finished with your degree?
I definitely want to do a Master’s, but beyond that, this is a question I can’t answer as I simply don’t know yet. PPE offers an extremely broad range of career opportunities, from politics to journalism to finance. I know I want to remain in an international environment, but I don’t know about specifics yet. For now, I feel so fortunate to have the chance to study this course at Oxford and am planning of making the best of the opportunities there.

What are your hopes for LIS for the future?
It would be great if the school consolidates and improves its academic performance and expands its range of extracurricular activities and opportunities so that it can persist as an institution that students value as both an educational and a social place. Most importantly, I hope that LIS continues to thrive as a tolerant, diverse and lively community that is characterized by warm-hearted relationships between students, staff and parents.

Valedictorian speech given by Clara Schreiner and Henry Fahrenkamp

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