realistic grades for oxbridge?

(61 Posts)
exgov Fri 26-Oct-12 10:58:16

My DS has decided to have a try for Cambridge, but I'm just musing now about whether it's a good idea or not. He's likely to get 3 solid As at A level if present progress continues, possibly an A* (or even 2 if he really gets down to it, but I think that's less likely). So I'd say he's bright but not super-mega-bright - is that likely to be enough for Cambridge?

Plus I've just heard about a lad who's left Cambridge after 2 weeks because he didn't like it - and didn't really like it at interview, but felt obliged to take the offer, I guess. I find it really hard to work out if I feel my DS would cope with Cambridge if he did get in - I'm hoping the interviewers can work that out better than me! Is that a realistic thought?

Lilymaid Fri 26-Oct-12 11:01:56

Does he have a passionate interest in the subject he wishes to study?

PerryCombover Fri 26-Oct-12 11:07:24

His gcse's need to be excellent and he needs to really have a genuine interest in learning

exgov Fri 26-Oct-12 11:24:28

Lillymaid, Perry, I'd say yes, he's very interested in the subject (does extra stuff around it in his own time) and is keen to learn about it. He got 5A* and 7A for GCSE, if I recall correctly.

Lilymaid Fri 26-Oct-12 11:38:56

Does he go to a comprehensive/grammar/independent? Does his school regularly send students to Cambridge? Does he want to do a subject that is more competitive (you can see Cambridge admission statistics to work that out)?
His GCSEs are probably below the average of the average Cambridge student and 3 A Grades would also be below average, for what that is worth, so he needs something extra to make his application successful.

exgov Fri 26-Oct-12 12:01:08

It's a comprehensive, but a pretty good one. They get a handful into Oxbridge each year, not more. I wondered about the grades - I thought perhaps it was borderline. He's been equally keen about some of the other unis we've visited; I'm wondering how different the experience would be at Cambridge. I suppose all he can do is see if he gets an interview, and then really try to get a feel for the course. Thanks for the link, I'll have a look at that.

sieglinde Fri 26-Oct-12 13:29:51

exgov, if he doesn't want an ultracompetitive course (like medicine or law) he'd have a chance with those grades, but no more. He'd need to do well in any pre-tests to be shortlisted. FWIW, Oxford is less worried about marks as such.

That said, he should def. try if he likes the place. It gives you a fabulous start in life and it's a good in itself.

Cahoots Fri 26-Oct-12 13:50:27

I guess he is in year 12. He has plenty of time to work out whether Cambridge would suit him. You should look out for their taster courses and open days. There are lots of things available, not all of which are that well advertised. My DS attended a half day taster course with only about 15 other students and lots of empty seats.
He also has plenty of time to see how he gets on with his A levels. It seems a little early in the day to be predicting either A's or A stars. You will have a better idea after the January modules.
The term times are shorter and the students generally work harder at Cambridge. This may or may not suit your son.

fraktion Fri 26-Oct-12 14:00:33

I would encourage him to try. He doesn't have to take the place. I didn't and the sky didn't fall in! The best you can do is let him know you'd support him and that it is HIS decision either way. You may well be disappointed if he turns it down but try not to let him see that.

exgov Fri 26-Oct-12 14:24:30

Sorry, I'm perhaps being misleading - he's in y13, and has actually applied. The school encouraged him to have a go - I'm just pondering, really, wondering whether he actually has a chance. But he's got 4 other choices, so nothing to lose, really, and I imagine if the student fits in and can cope with the pace it's fabulous. We shall see! How soon do we hear whether he has an interview? It can't be too long, I take it, as they are held in early December.

Cahoots Fri 26-Oct-12 14:32:09

Ok, I understand now as you can see I am not Oxbridge material myself grin
I don't think it is a wasted choice at all and, whilst yourson'e GCSE's are not completely brilliant they are still excellent and there is a lot more to an application than just the GCSE results. I am sure your DS's school would not have supported his application if they did not think he had a chance. It is always a bit of a gamble though.
Hope things turn out ok for him, he still has plenty of time to see what happens and firm up what he wants.

exgov Fri 26-Oct-12 15:00:07

Thanks, cahoots. I don't really mind either way - and anyway it's his choice. I just want him to find somewhere where he'll be happy and work hard.

BlackandGold Fri 26-Oct-12 15:20:13

Don't worry. DS applied to Cambridge from an ordinary, local Comprehensive, went through the interviews and was offered a place.

He then decided he would prefer to go elsewhere so declined the offer!

I'm sure it all works out for the best in the end.

bachsingingmum Fri 26-Oct-12 15:34:02

If he loves his subject and wants to study it in real depth he should go for it. He should want to go there himself and not because his parents or teachers want him to. Don't worry about the drop out. I understand the drop out rate at Cambridge is the lowest of any university in the UK, something like 1.4% - the college system provides great support and pastoral care. My daughter is there and absolutely loves it despite the very hard work.

Yellowtip Fri 26-Oct-12 22:00:53

This all sounds a very sensible and healthy approach. Forget this stuff about 'passion'. At 17 or 18? Some very singular types perhaps, but I very much doubt that's the norm.

I asked a parent yesterday (making polite and mild conversation) whether their DD had taken the pre-test yet or not. I was nearly felled by the response: she's taken it yes, is determined to go to 'Oxbridge' to read Law come what may (her mother's old college) but has applied to the US for Business Studies as a very poor second best. Barely worth applying to the US because 'Oxbridge' is a foregone conclusion etc but good for the experience etc. And this is the eldest child.

I suppose supreme confidence is a good, but then what would I know?

MordionAgenos Sat 27-Oct-12 00:18:31

That sort of person scares me. Perhaps it's a Good Thing I rarely socialise with the other parents.

Betelguese Sat 27-Oct-12 09:41:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sieglinde Sat 27-Oct-12 10:32:50

Well, Yellow, I feel sorry in advance for this woman's children. Whether of not they get in.

(And for their interviewers... bet Mummy will be on the phone if the college of choice is so benighted as to turn them down sad. I get one like this every year by phone, and latterly several by email - how could you turn down dd? Dd is amazing. It's an admin error, isn't it? NO, IT ISN'T!)

Betelguese Sat 27-Oct-12 11:13:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sieglinde Sat 27-Oct-12 11:46:41

But we still have a lowish dropout rate, Betel.

Sometimes I actively urge flounderers to think of moving to another uni, and they most often absolutely refuse. (I had a woman a few years back who was so miserable she refused to leave her rooms..) I tell them - and it's true - that a degree from another Russell Group place will market almost as well, but they absolutely won't accept it. We kinda grapple them to us in hoops of ancientness, which is Not good. Again, Mum and Dad are sometimes the bad guys; mum would die of shame/rage/disappointment etc. Ack.

Betelguese Sat 27-Oct-12 12:44:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sieglinde Sat 27-Oct-12 13:02:38

But Betel, not all that endowment money translates into a trouble-free experience for students. sad

I too don't know why it happens, because at my college and in my subject, it doesn't.

duchesse Sat 27-Oct-12 13:25:57

In my limited experience of Oxford my sister went there and Cambridge I went there, the pastoral system at Cambridge is infinitely superior. That said, probably 3 (quickly totting up ancient figures) of my year at college ) year group 120 dropped out- one within the first fortnight. She was a very young (17yo) medical student and completely freaked out straight away. I suspect her parents had made her take up her place.

Betelguese Sat 27-Oct-12 13:36:23

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sieglinde Sat 27-Oct-12 14:17:32

Nobody said they didn't, Betel. I was just quarrelling with your notion that money for endowment equals good pastoral facilities. I think we are actually saying the smae thing... nope, it doesn't.

Not that I have much power, duchesse, but what exactly do Cambridge do that's so much better?

Betelguese Sat 27-Oct-12 17:11:53

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Yellowtip Sat 27-Oct-12 17:26:45

I'd be surprised if Cambridge was 'infinitely' superior duchesse, at least these days, given what I know of the Oxford pastoral system in action since that's been faultless - with the minor caveat that it's bound to be slightly uneven according to tutor/ subject/ college, though that's usually only the initial port of call.

Unfortunately not all students can be helped adequately. I'm no psychologist but I expect it may be the case that those with the most profound problems may be amongst the slowest and most reluctant to seek help. Tragically there will always be suicides which with the best will in the world the system can't scoop up in time.

MordionAgenos Sat 27-Oct-12 17:32:48

I was very very sick while I was at Cambridge. Had to spend quite a long spell in hospital. My first hand experience of the pastoral care was that it was superb. However it was completely college based. So it's entirely possible that the pastoral care at other colleges was bobbins (although I'm guessing not at Duchesse's college either).

Yellowtip Sat 27-Oct-12 18:00:20

Did you need an extra year Mordion? Clearly you had a mountain to deal with around that time. Often an extra year makes it all come good and I know a number of students for whom that's been suggested at Oxford and they've been very well supported and it's worked.

By contrast I've heard some rubbish accounts about medics at other places being spat out with nowhere to go. All that hard work gone in a puff. Just awful.

Yellowtip Sat 27-Oct-12 18:01:40

Well, their dreams gone in a puff, which is probably more important than the graft.

duchesse Sat 27-Oct-12 18:06:02

Well, for a start, the personal tutor system was extremely effective. Each personal tutor only had about 25-30 UG to look after, plus a few postgrads. At my college at least they made every possible effort to look after their charges, kicking off with a drinks party in the first few days of term, through constant feedback from subject tutors, through personally checking up on a student's room if a student didn't surface for a day or so or was ill. All the documentation (college lists etc were released with info about who everybody's tutor was, so that if a friend was concerned, they could contact their friend's tutor directly).

At my college we had a sick bay where you could go to stay if you weren't well enough to look after yourself but not ill enough for hospital. The nurses made sure you were fed etc...

We had a women's tutor for problems you wouldn't want to take to your make tutor.

In our college pretty much every fellow knew everybody by sight at least, and many by name. They would say hello in the quads.Even the porters knew everybody by sight and would feed back if they though there was a problem. In my college we had compulsory hall so everybody was forced out of hiding 45 times a term at least.

All this sounds quite overpowering but it is a very stressful workload and many of us had mental problems to varying degrees. It was all handled very subtly and well imo.

In contrast, several friends of friends at Oxford got to the stage of committing suicide- either attempting it or succeeding sad before anyone noticed they were struggling.

sieglinde Sat 27-Oct-12 18:30:09

Um. Duchesse, my college does all that. Except we actually have fewer students per personal tutor.

Mine is a biggish college, so not sure everyone knows everyone, but after a first term they do. We also have a student mentoring system with College Parenting. I'm really sorry to hear about your friends at Oxford; the system is obviously very college-based, and perhaps practices vary? Hoping to pick up some tips form all of you.

MordionAgenos Sat 27-Oct-12 18:56:48

Yep, I missed a term and a half and so I had to retake half of the year.

Yellowtip Sat 27-Oct-12 19:36:25

Not surprised Mordion. It takes a very great deal to get back on track.

Out of interest duchesse, was it one of the all girls or formerly all girls colleges or not? I've no theory here, I'm just curious.

A Cambridge friend missed a term through glanduar fever and was not particularly well helped (a former mens college). She struggled badly to catch up. She did manage, just, but only through compromising other things and I can see she should really have been advised to take the rest of the year out.

I've known Oxford suicides too unfortunately. But then I've also known Bristol one. And Durham breakdowns. Really, this is all anecdotal. It proves nothing. Oxford doesn't have a monopoly of misery. I've certainly known tutors to go way beyond the call of duty to help students in trouble. I'd be very happy to name them, lovely people, evidently cared hugely about the students in their charge.

duchesse Sun 28-Oct-12 00:03:08

No, twas 1987 in a college that had only started taking women UG in 1983. If that doesn't "out" which college it was I don't know what will.

Betelguese Sun 28-Oct-12 12:00:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

creamteas Sun 28-Oct-12 13:48:20

Whilst all universities have clear policies on welfare, the extent to which they are effective depends very much on individuals IMO. If a Personal Tutor takes their role seriously and is pro-active in monitoring and supporting students they are likely to have a much easier time if things go wrong than if their tutor is just going through the motions. The amount spent is not always the issue

In my experience, two students encountering very similar issues at the same place will result in very different experiences simply because of who their personal tutor is.

sieglinde Sun 28-Oct-12 14:43:46

Yes, quite right, creamteas. (or quite wrong, if you will.)

And Betel, bear in mind that most of us do try :0. I've often tried to help you, and you're not even on my patch grin

However, it's often quite hard to draw a line between due care and constant interference.

I have a funny story to tell; when I was a graduate student, I had moved in with another graduate, who - wrapped no doubt in the fires of passion - had forgotten to answer his college tutor's dinner invitation (or forgotten to check his pidge, maybe). Said tutor was Very Concerned, got a pass key, and burst into the guy's private room, finding us - erm - in flagrante delicto. It was not a happy moment for the pastoral care system. grin

Same college had a domestic Bursar who I once found rummaging through my underwear. I don't know if he was looking for drugs or jollies. But he was a notorious perve, and the women in college would never ever wear a skirt to tutes with him.

Do try to remember that university undergraduates are ADULTS, not toddlers. THEY are responsible for ASKING for help. I always give it if there's a problem, and am willing to spend hours on any kind of issue, but I don't think I should dog their every footstep.

Tressy Sun 28-Oct-12 14:52:36

Someone I know had an offer and was from a comp that very rarely gets anyone going up to Oxbridge (this goes in their favour, I reckon). It wasn't medicine or law but something like English ( I cannot remember the exact course) and I know that they didn't get straight A* and A's a GCSE there must have been a few B's. Also didn't meet the offer and they were prepared to accept a grade B for one A level. I would say definitely apply.

Betelguese Sun 28-Oct-12 16:25:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Betelguese Sun 28-Oct-12 16:49:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

creamteas Sun 28-Oct-12 17:39:31

Betel having worked in HE for many years I am well aware of the similarities and differences grin

I think maybe see how he feels after the interview? He will get to meet people and will probably have a feeling one way or the other. I have lived in and around one or other university for most of the last ten years, and it's really strange how you can just see some interviewees who are walking around ten foot in the air, loving it ... and others who look so miserable.

Maybe he could have a think about questions he has for the interviewers - they'd need to be brief and relevant but I bet they would love a genuinely interested question. Then he could use that to help decide.

Re. pastoral care: people talk a lot of rubbish about Oxbridge pastoral care, and yes, students need to be proactive and sometimes get surprised they can't rely on mum and dad. But I get the impression that (unless you hit a remarkably corrupt/wankerish individual as a tutor, which could happen anywhere), it is just a matter of what suits you. If you like lots of close personal contact with the people who're teaching you, Oxbridge works well. If you are more independent and like hearing plenty from your fellow students, you might prefer somewhere else.

His grades would be absolutely fine, btw, but I think after a bare minimum it's not really very much about grades? This is what they insist and what seems to be true based on who gets offers and who doesn't.

Betelguese Sun 28-Oct-12 21:04:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

I think most colleges do the exam during the interview process.

Not sure if all do, but I think it's the norm.

Betelguese Sun 28-Oct-12 21:35:31

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

betel, you started a thread about this before and everyone disagreed with you then.

A student at university is an adult. To say 'nothing is left to the willingness of the student' is simply not true. Students are adults and have responsibilities.

I don't think it has any bearing on whether or not the OP's son will like Oxbridge or somewhere else better - anywhere he goes, he will be expected to take responsibility for his own learning. It is normal.

Betelguese Sun 28-Oct-12 21:41:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

A 'DSA' is a 'disabled students' allowance'. A student may be deemed to have a disability.

But that student still needs to be proactive. The college or university has responsibilities, but so does the student.

I think you're derailing this thread - what does it have to do with the OP?

TheCollieDog Sun 28-Oct-12 22:46:49

Whilst all universities have clear policies on welfare, the extent to which they are effective depends very much on individuals

And let's be sure to include students in that. They have to want to be helped. They have to turn up, they have to ask for help, they have to make changes to help themselves. They have to take the anti-d's, or stop drinking, or whatever.

And frankly, if someone is going to commit suicide, they may well do it, whatever the interventions made. That is not an easy thing to accept or understand, but it is a necessary thing to realise.

sieglinde Mon 29-Oct-12 13:40:08

Yes, I agree, LRD. Op, don't be put off by all this. Oxbridge collectively devotes more bucks ot student welfare than most.

slhilly Mon 29-Oct-12 13:54:05

Hi exgov. I went to Cambridge (20 years ago, mind you - bloody hell, when did that happen?!)

I'd say your son is in with a perfectly reasonable chance, given his grades so far. You have to be bright, you don't have to be super-mega-bright. But you do have to be interested in your subject, and you do have to have a definite view on the world, which you are able to advocate in a challenging discussion. (Or at least, you did when I was there, and I doubt this has changed very much.)

When I applied, I had had a chance to have quite a good look round the colleges, having gone up for a visit, and the application process itself was a really helpful opportunity to get the feel of the place. I enjoyed it greatly - the learning, the friends I made, and above all the college life - close-knit friendships in a town you can walk and cycle around really easily. It was a gentle and happy time.

There are quite a few videos you can watch that give you a sense of the application process:,mod%3D0&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=w1&gl=GB

Yellowtip Mon 29-Oct-12 23:09:48

That's very harsh CollieDog. And I'd like to think not true.

Yellowtip Tue 30-Oct-12 09:41:55

Many apologies CollieDog I misread your post (thought you wrote ^they may as well do it^).

I'd been in Oxford all day and one of the DC told me about another student friend I know who's having real problems, so the imagined wording hit a nerve.

larrygrylls Tue 30-Oct-12 09:49:31


Why on earth should he not apply to one of the best unis in the world if he has even a small chance of getting in? I don't think the drop out rate at Cambridge is higher than most unis, in fact I believe the reverse. And the experience he will have there, the friends (and network) he will make plus the degree itself will all stand him in good stead for the rest of his life.

I went to Cambridge and absolutely loved it. It was a true cross-section of people from all walks of society; good brains the only thing they had in common. And, of course there were a fair few brilliant people. The majority, however, were just very bright people who genuinely enjoyed their subjects.

Musomathsci Tue 30-Oct-12 09:58:25

Just wanted to say good luck to your DS. You probably won't hear about interviews until about 3 weeks before, so don't hold your breath. My DS is there and loves it. Pain in the arse to travel to and from, depending where you live, but the terms are short so long holidays (generally filled with lots more work from what I have seen!)

exgov Tue 30-Oct-12 16:48:28

Many thanks for all the advice, even if it got a little derailed! It's over 3 hours by train from here, so I'm hoping if he gets an interview he can stay overnight and get a real feel for the place. Depends what time and how long they'd want him. Larrygrylls, that's how I felt - why not have a go at one of the best unis in the world. I'm pleased that in general you think he'd cope without super-mega grades as long as he's got a passion for the subject and is willing to work - both of which apply, from what I can see.

Yellowtip Tue 30-Oct-12 19:03:39

exgov he's far, far more likely to have an interview at Cambridge than he would be were he applying to Oxford (slightly depending on subject). So he's got that extra shot at showing what he's got to the people making decisions, which doesn't apply to Durham, UCL, Bristol etc. With his particular GCSE grades that increased likelihood of an interview may well help.

Milliways Tue 30-Oct-12 21:02:22

Good Luck exgov. My DD graduated from there this year and loved it, and she too went from an ordinary comp. (She was also pooled but fished out in a day - but that is another drama!) She was her Colleges access officer so passionate about getting people from ordinary schools to apply.

socharlotte Sat 24-Nov-12 00:00:32

I think you need to be looking at being predicted at least A* A* A unless you are doing something very obscure and unpopular

Almostfifty Fri 07-Dec-12 14:10:46

Just wondering if he got an interview OP?

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