Did your child ever have 'the Oxbridge talk' and did it work?

(72 Posts)
MrsMot Wed 04-Jun-14 22:45:47

Dd has let slip that she and her best friend are among 6 girls in their year (single sex grammar) who are being invited to a talk on Friday where they'll be encouraged to think about applying to Oxbridge for uni.

It's not something she's ever considered, she's very self-deprecating but has a very 'individual' way of thinking - asks questions all time.

As a background, dh didn't go to uni for various reasons but probably should have, I got a solid 2:1 but was the first in the family to do so.

I just wondered if anyone else has had this experience?

overthemill Wed 04-Jun-14 22:53:49

Son currently sitting A2s was one of 4 invited in to discuss Oxbridge and encouraged to do so. He went to one of the special Maths classes for aspiring Oxbridge candidates and none of the rest! He just decided he couldn't be bothered to do the extra work. He is now hoping to go to one of 2 very modest universities as he didn't really work hard enough last year and has changed his mind THREE times about course! I think he should have sat exams then applied for following year. Ho hum. DH went to Oxford in the Olsen days in two Es offer - though got 4 As and got double first... He is fine about sons decision but I think it's a missed opportunity....

overthemill Wed 04-Jun-14 22:54:52

Oh brilliant auto correct: OLDEN days!

And I think Oxford and Cambridge like 'different' thinkers

MillyMollyMama Wed 04-Jun-14 23:49:54

My DD was never recognised by her school as being Oxbridge. She was offered a place and did it despite the school championing several others. Only one of them got in. It's a bit of a lottery but if your DD has a stack of A*s at GCSE and will get at least As at A level, why not? We are not academic. I have not been to university. DD was motivated and can think around a subject. She decided to show her school she was better than they thought. They told her she got lucky!!

MrsMot Wed 04-Jun-14 23:57:51

What age were they? Dd's 14, going into yr10.

MMM - more fool the school! I think we're from a similar area from your posts, where did your dd go?

My son and a few others had "the talk" but we're in Scotland, and unless he wanted to study something that could only be studied there, it would be madness to spend the money on fees. He didn't fancy it anyway, than goodness too much like hard work.

BeckAndCall Thu 05-Jun-14 07:53:58

Wow, milly what rubbish support from school!

OP it sounds like your DD's school has got this right - talking to the children now while they've still got time to focus themselves for their GCSEs. They recognise it would be too late if they left it until they're choosing A level subjects. The other way the school could do it of course is to see who does well in GCSEs and therefore has the motivation and take it from there. But this way, your DD gets the chance to understand what is needed whilst she can still adjust her own approach, should she need to.

The thing to remember is that it's not the be all and end all, and your DD will need to not get too focused on just one possible path. But definitely the right thing to start seeing it as a possibility now.

Needmoresleep Thu 05-Jun-14 08:33:28

Britain is lucky in having a number of world ranged Universities and courses. Internationally Oxbridge does not have the same unquestioned status as in the UK. Product Design at Northumbria, marine biology at Southampton, automative engineering at Surrey, history of art at the Courthauld, agriculture at Cirencester, engineering at Imperial, or economics at LSE will all stand you inn equally good stead.

The message should be about aspiration. Decide what you want to do and then aim for the best/most suitable course possible. It is not necessarily harder to get into Oxbridge than other top courses. All competitive courses will require top grades and strong personal statements. Most will attract a lot of good applicants from elsewhere in the EU and overseas. Students planning to invest significant amounts of their own money (which is what student loans are) should be prepared to put in the hard work now to ensure they get on the best course possible and thus maximum return on their financial investment.

The focus on Oxbridge can be really damaging. Each year there are a number of surprises. Absolutely brilliant candidates don't get in whilst quite lacklustre ones sometimes do. There is an element of luck. Not getting into Oxbridge but gaining a place on an equally competitive course, is a success not a failure. Unfortunately with the continuing emphasis on Oxbridge, schools, friends and family may not see it as such, which makes it doubly tough on the applicant.

Takver Thu 05-Jun-14 08:51:10

Good post Needmoresleep, but I think it is about information that most schools (hopefully more than in my day?) just don't have. DH & I met at Cambridge, & ironically both of us would have been much better suited to the slant on our respective subjects at Warwick. But certainly at my school no-one would have had a clue that if you were interested in one particular aspect of the subject, then that was the place to be.

Nocturne123 Thu 05-Jun-14 08:55:16

A good few years ago now db had this talk at school . He found that the school put a lot of pressure on them to attend for interview . He got in and left after a term to go to another university. Not sure he was used to all the work they wanted him to do .

I guess it's just a different university experience to most at which some people thrive and some don't.

The school never asked me to interview ....

antimatter Thu 05-Jun-14 09:04:19

Takver - interesting comment about slant on our respective subjects.
I wanted to ask you if it is possible to learn in advance what they are.

My dd is sitting GCSE's this year. I hope she will be able to have choice of unis to go to.
How do you get to know those differences in courses?
Is it possible to do it just by reading prospectus and visiting Open Days?

I am not sure how good Career Advice department is at my dd's future 6-th form is but would like her to make informed choice about future courses.

lljkk Thu 05-Jun-14 09:10:04

REF result (a league table for research quality) will be single most important indicator, in terms of prestige.
but prestige isn't everything.
Course structure & emphasis should count for a lot.

Needmoresleep Thu 05-Jun-14 09:22:37

We were lucky in that DS' school don't seem to put particular emphasis on Oxbridge over other good institutions. (They get around 50% into Oxbridge so it is a luxury they can afford.) DS was strongly encouraged to research course content. What however worked best was asking an acquaintance who had recently graduated from UCL to talk to DS. He took him through the strengths of the various courses (Cambridge being described as "slightly old-fashioned" in their approach) leaving DS feeling that achieving a place at any of his top four choices would be fine.

Perhaps a better approach would be to pull students together by subject rather than institution and go through the slightly different approaches used by different courses. This might say, for example, help prevent students finding themselves on overly mathematical economics whien they might have preferred a more policy/development slant.

Wider family can also be a problem. My mother was quite shocked when I said DS was applying to Warwick, which she considers to be some sort of Poly in a field outside Coventry. Tertiary education has changed hugely since my day, and some newer Universities have really risen to the challenge of educating in the modern world. Oxford and Cambridge are both obviously top institutions, and Cambridge in particular has a number of courses which are highly rated. Both are beautiful cities. Putting them of a pedestal might do more harm than good, with some students reluctant to fail. Much better to work hard to get the right grades, then pitch your UCAS at the right level. If this includes Oxbridge along with Warwick, London, Lancaster, Sheffield or wherever, so be it. Then if you get more than one offer, decisions might be made on the basis of which institution suits best. I certainly know more than one student who has taken a gap year to have another go at Oxbridge and then find that they wished they had gone somewhere else.

MagratGarlik Thu 05-Jun-14 09:46:24

The REF results say little about teaching quality, actually. They are very important for PhD students, but for undergraduates, less so. Sometimes to the contrary, at institutions were the pressure is on staff to perform research-wise, they have little time to spend with undergrads, who will consequently be expected to be much more self-sufficient in their studies. Further, the big "research stars" who are bringing in the huge grants and bumping up the REF credentials for a department will usually be assigned significantly less teaching than more junior members of staff.

In terms of determining slant on a subject, this comes down to individual members of staff and their own take on a subject. Degrees are not taught to a pre-prescribed curriculum, unlike GCSEs and A'levels, so the content and emphasis of particular modules will be determined by the member of staff designing and subsequently teaching that module. This allows staff to draw on their own personal expertise within the subject and not simply regurgitate stuff that the students can already read themselves in text books.

I'd agree with Needmoresleep though, Britain has a range of world-leading Universities and courses and the emphasis should be on finding the best course for the career the student wants to follow, not focusing on two individual institutions alone. I have to say, too, that when it comes time for my ds's to go to University (if they chose to go), I'll be encouraging them to compare courses not just within the UK, but further afield too.

With respect to strong candidates not getting in/lacklustre ones getting places, IME, having interviewed candidates for a highly competitive course at a RG university much of this comes down to interview performance. We interviewed straight A* students that we rejected from the course on the basis of not wanting to teach that student for 4 years, whilst OTOH lowered our standard offer for some students who just seemed a perfect match for the course, the university and the profession they were hoping to enter, but maybe were expecting lower grades at A'level. A'level grades, whilst important (particularly in getting to that initial interview) were far from the only criteria used to select the best/most suitable candidates for the course.

Needmoresleep Thu 05-Jun-14 10:13:11

I should add that the recent graduate my son spoke to was originally from mainland China. His family had invested a lot for him to study overseas and so to him it was entirely logical to look in detail at courses in the UK, US, Australia and elsewhere.

It is a big decision and this approach helped. That said there will always be unknowns. Who will offer you a place, will you make good friends, are your lecturers inspiring? Advice might be: work hard, do your research, aim high and Oxbridge is not everything.

DougalTheCheshireCat Thu 05-Jun-14 11:03:46

I did, our school offered a talk in first year 6th form (also girls state grammar). Anyone could go, but teachers encouraged those they thought should. I really wanted to and was pleased my subject teacher encouraged me.

IMO year 10 is a bit young for it, though Oxbrdige probably was mentioned in the round during our GcSE years. Having said that, if you aspire you will need more or less a clean sheet of straight As (I was before A stars) at GCSE. Students the are capable will find GCSEs (probably too) easy anyway. Too easy in the sense that Oxbridge requires hard work on top of the talent.

'Did it work?' Is probably the wrong question. Yes, in that I applied, got in, went, loved it, did well there in a v prestigious course, made life long friends, and find in adult life it is the gift that keeps on giving. It has allowed me several career changes, both the cache, the teaching I received there and the confidence. The network you build is incredibly useful.

Does you daughter like the idea? If so, support her without making a big thing of it. As she's young, look for and enable her to visit, perhaps do the odd summer course there (I went on a couple of nights residential thing at some point). Encourage her to keep her options open and look at other places too.

I visited one of the two on a guide summer camp when I was about 14. I fell in live with it and secretly aspired to go from then. First in my family to do so. I don't know why I wanted it, or how I knew it would be right for me, but i did and it was. I did lots of extra work to prepare for the admissions process, the school supported me, motivation was easy, I wanted it. In fact that term my mum questioned it several times, she was worried I was working too hard.

So listen to you daughter, support her in finding out more over the next few years. Many 'normal' people from normal backgrounds go to Oxbridge and I she'd like to pursue it, it is an amazing opportunity.

lljkk Thu 05-Jun-14 13:05:18

The REF results say little about teaching quality, actually.

Sadly, prestige is almost only thing people mean when they talk about desirability of Oxbridge, Oxbridge material etc., REF is how most people will decide what's best/most prestigious.

DD claims to want to read a subject which my Uni-dept teaches. She said she'd go to our dept (2/3 down the league tables); DH said aim higher like Oxbridge. I said, "Oxford is good for theory but our course is superior for a hands-on people-skills approach."

MNers say that the usual Oxbridge approach to every subject is lots of small tutorials and huge emphasis on isolated intense self-driven study. I think I would have absolutely loathed that. Has nothing to do with my raw academic talent.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Thu 05-Jun-14 14:54:24

How are people taught at other universities lljkk?

(Genuine question btw...)

mummytime Thu 05-Jun-14 15:13:12

Sorry but:
"Britain is lucky in having a number of world ranged Universities and courses. Internationally Oxbridge does not have the same unquestioned status as in the UK. Product Design at Northumbria, marine biology at Southampton, automative engineering at Surrey, history of art at the Courthauld, agriculture at Cirencester, engineering at Imperial, or economics at LSE will all stand you inn equally good stead"
Is rubbish!
Yes there are other UK universities that have as good/better courses than Oxbridge. However for international recognition Oxford and Cambridge win hands down. You can go pretty much anywhere in the world and those brands are recognised. Even some Science organisations recognise and value them, where they may not recognise even "Imperial". Just as everyone in the UK recognises "Harvard" but may not recognise "Dartmouth" or "John Hopkins". Or even recognise "The Sorbonne" but not "Paris IV".

lljkk Thu 05-Jun-14 16:04:33

The Brand thing makes me want to scream. The value of getting a degree is greater than what brand it allows you to stamp on your CV. My first degree is from an American Uni none of you ever heard of, BUT if you live in the region & know my field, it's very respectable dept.

I dunno, Zero. I guess I'm saying that the structure of courses varies from Uni to Uni & the emphasis & teaching modes vary, too. There was a local girl who got accepted to an Oxbridge vet school but turned the place down to study somewhere in Scotland instead. Because she preferred what she would learn and how she would learn on the Scottish course. That mattered much more to her than the Brand.

mummytime Thu 05-Jun-14 16:19:25

lljkk - the Brand thing may be unfair but it is a fact of life!

I have degrees from 3 Universities and have worked at two others, but the Brand thing can be crucial for certain employers. You have to be very determined to overcome it.
The same happens in the US. I had friends who worked part time for a major Chemical company whilst studying for their degree (in the US). They knew however they had no chance of being recruited ono the graduate programme as it only recruited from certain big name universities.

Lots of people I know have turned down Oxbridge (especially for Medicine), others may not apply because it doesn't do the right "flavour" of degree. Others don't apply from prejudice - which is sad, because it might have suited them.

Actually the best bit of advice that probably most young people should see at least once; in in Glee. Where Rachel and Kurt go to the school counsellor, having a whole future mapped out, which depends on doing a degree which isn't even taught at their chosen "big name" university.

I think we may need more education on applying to college in the UK - few schools (if any) employ a qualified "school Counsellor" for this advice.

lljkk Thu 05-Jun-14 16:39:06

I wouldn't want to work for anyone who values that Brand above all other factors. I would think very dimly of any employer who does that.

MillyMollyMama My experience very similar.
DC went to a local bog standard comp which gets good enough results. DS1 was always quite talented at his subject but got no encouragement at the school.He wanted to go to Cambridge from as young as I can remember (didn't get the idea from me, I am uneducated).
The local 6th form though, did taster days for a few G&T from each local school. DS went along on trips to both Oxford and Cambridge and was inspired. His comp head teacher muttered about unrealistically raising expectations.
Two years on has an offer at Cambridge, a very tough offer, but fingers crossed.

mummytime Thu 05-Jun-14 16:55:56

lljkk fine, but others might not take the same attitude.

Oxbridge teaches differently from other universities, but how degrees are taught varies from place to place and course to course. Even between Oxford and Cambridge there are differences (actually there it is more complex, as the college within the University is an important choice).

Oxbridge put money into events such as the one the OPs DD went to because they are under a lot of pressure from Government to recruit more students from State schools. They also want to recruit "the best" and in some schools in the UK there is real prejudice against sending students to Oxbridge. For some students Oxford or Cambridge might "fit" them far better than anywhere else - for others their learning style, future ambitions or whatever might be far better suited at another institution.

I did my doctorate at Oxbridge, and at least half the post graduates came from other places - including not especially highly ranked Universities.

RiversideMum Thu 05-Jun-14 17:09:03

My DD went to a talk and it really put her off. Mainly because the whole setup seemed very alien to her - she thought the whole exams in gowns thing was bonkers and said the tutors constantly went on about how it was 3x more work than other degrees. She did apply in the end as she only had 4 choices filled. Got an interview but no offer. She was the only state school candidate for her course at the college she applied to.

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