Oxbridge and State Schools

(209 Posts)
RiversideMum Wed 27-Mar-13 05:49:02

Feeling a bit cross about a presentation DD attended at a local school for all the secondaries in the area. It didn't seem hugely encouraging given that the DCs there had been invited to attend by their schools and therefore had the potential to be applicants. Now in my heart of hearts I'm not sure that DD is Oxbridge material, but for her to come away for the presentation saying "I don't think I would fit in" is somewhat disappointing.

mynameisnotmichaelcaine Wed 27-Mar-13 06:10:13

This makes my blood boil. I was given SUCH a negative impression of Oxbridge by my school. It put me off applying. In the end I applied during my year out, with the help of my ex English teacher, who was the one positive staff member. I loved it, and at my college the majority of us came from state schools. I absolutely did fit in.

What has your dd got to lose? I was a ditsy drip at most things; awful at maths,lacking in common sense. If she has a talent in one area, she may be just what they are looking for.

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 07:07:32

I took my DD to an Oxbridge presentation at a local state school.

I thought they were very encouraging for everyone. They made a point that hard work was what you needed to offer - something that successful state school students may have in spades. (I knew about needing passion for your subject beforehand, but it was the hard work part that hit me from the presentations).

On the financial side, they said that Oxford or Cambridge was one of the best places to go, because the lodgings are cheaper, there are loads of bursaries and hardship funds. Also, the shorter terms means that you can get decent holiday work (although can't really work term time because of the intensity of the courses).

I came away feeling that they were very keen for anyone bright and hard-working to apply.

Why did your DD think she wouldn't fit in, Riverside?

lainiekazan Wed 27-Mar-13 09:46:13

Ds has expressed an interest in Oxbridge, and I tell him that it's a very, very long shot given the number of applicants BUT that if he is prepared to work hard and do the "passion" thing (groan, hate that word already) then he has a decent chance.

It is difficult to tread the fine line between encouragement and urging the need to keep one's feet on the ground. The Student Room has endless threads along the lines of "Am I good enough for Oxbridge?" and often the students have rather indifferent GCSE results and come across as not particularly outstanding. In these cases surely it would be kinder to say, "Look, mate, I think somewhere else would suit you better."

I thnk the very worst thing that can happen is people (parents as well as kids) setting their hearts on Oxbridge, when the odds of getting in - even for an excellent student - are not great.

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 10:08:40

But it's one of only five choices on the UCAS form, so nothing to lose either.

mumsneedwine Wed 27-Mar-13 10:44:32

The majority of students at Oxbridge are state school educated. See if you can get on a look round course (can't remember the official name) - potential students can spend a couple of days with a current undergraduate and see if they like the lifestyle. Most do !! My DS wasn't sure but did this and ended up working so hard he got his place. All but one of his friends are from state schools and all are lovely.

KittiesInsane Wed 27-Mar-13 10:51:12

The Cambridge open days have already closed for this year.

I only know this because DS has suddenly taken it into his head to try to apply. He has goodish GCSE results (all A or A* barring the MFL as he's no linguist) but is suddenly being predicted 3 A* for A level.

Frankly I don't think that would get him in when he'd be up against students with 10A* GCSEs but don't want to trample on his ideas.

I'm state-school-and-Oxbridge myself but from a boringly consistent A-grade throughout sort of basis.

Copthallresident Wed 27-Mar-13 13:16:56

Kitty Plenty get in with a mix of A/A*, it is the AS grades, predicted A grades and interview that matter. It is very hard to predicts who will get in, every year the candidates DDs school predicts success for don't get in , and those who they don't, do. You are interviewed by the academics who will teach you and all things being equal, sometimes it is whether you click with them.

OP Are you sure it was the school that put them off, seems a bit weird to fix an evening and then tell them they won't fit in. Are you sure it wasn't a peer reaction / something about the photos of gowns and ancient buildings which are not necessarily what most 17 year olds are tuned into these days? DD was adamant it wasn't for her until they actually visited and she talked to other students. Wouldn't exactly be surprising if whole hearted endorsement by the school provoked a reaction the other way wink perhaps the school should have targeted them with a message that they shouldn't try!

legallady Wed 27-Mar-13 13:20:54

Kitties, at the borough Oxbridge talk my DD went to earlier this month, we noted that for Cambridge, the average gcse grades for students who get offers was about 6 A* and the average who get in was 7.2, gcse A* so don't necessarily be put off by the 10 A* thing as it's not always true!

Certainly for Cambridge, the more important statistic is your AS level UMS scores. The average for those who get in is a staggering 95% at AS level. I have told DD that if she gets over 90% average then it's worth a punt, but any less than that come August she will be struggling to get a look in. This is particularly true as though she is at state school, she is at a very high achieving grammar so has no excuses.

The Cambridge open days were useful though - DD went to the MFL and linguistics session and found the whole thing quite inspiring smile

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 13:31:29


Oxford likes a string of A* at GCSE. Cambridge prefers good AS module results.

They are two different universities, and should be treated that way by students looking for a place.

For courses common to each university, prospective students should consider, among other factors, about what sells them better - their GCSEs or AS results.

Copthallresident Wed 27-Mar-13 13:41:53

Polly DD has friends at Oxford who did not get a clean sweep of A*s, indeed one even got a C at AS (uncertificated I suppose) It undoubtedly will depend on course though, they were Scientists.

lainiekazan Wed 27-Mar-13 13:55:31

I suppose it's the uncertainty that puts students off. There's all this hearsay about grades which I think does alarm state school pupils. Ds said someone said (and so it goes) that for some courses there is a "anything less than A*s and you're out" filter which, of course, is unfair to those who perhaps didn't go to a stellar school. Ds goes to a very good school, but Westminster it ain't.

I think it's a bit different for pupils applying to do science/maths as it seems allowable for them to muck up language or even English GCSEs.

Frankly I can't understand how admissions tutors can select applicants when they are faced with a sea of eager beavers all with excellent grades swearing that they ooze passion for their subject.

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 14:39:08

Polly Oxford tutors do like a clean sweep of A*s at GCSE on the basis that the evidence apparently suggest that these are a very good predictor of Distinctions and Firsts. Nevertheless, they don't always get them and apart from Oxford medics, who do mostly have that sort of number of A*s, most students don't have ten A* or above.

I find it odd that OPs DD came back from the presentation saying she wouldn't fit it. Perhaps she's just not confident in her ability, or perhaps she's telling mum that she really doesn't want to apply. I can't believe that any person representing either university would do anything other than stress very strongly that Oxford and Cambridge are for all comers, regardless of background.

Both places do require very hard work, that's not negotiable.

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 15:33:57

I'm only relaying what I heard straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Two horses, actually - one from an Oxford college (Brazenose?) and the other from Cambridge (Newham).

My info was that Oxford leaned towards GCSEs and Cambridge AS modules. These are screening tools, alongside spelling errors in the personal statement. There is an opportunity to be flexible, especially when Widening Participation is played as a trump card.

I don't think they are bothered about 10 A* though. They lose interest after 6 or 7. Same with A-level modules - they will look at the top few (that everyone will be able to show) rather than modules from 5+ subjects.

There's a lot to be said for tradition - 9 or 10 GCSEs (along the lines of the English Baccalaureate), 4 AS, 3 A2.

Copthallresident Wed 27-Mar-13 16:23:20

I was actually meaning a 70/30 mix, min 60 /40, relaxed for less well performing schools. I almost typed more A* than A.

However I stick with my point about clicking with the tutor, 10+A* certainly not a clincher, time and time again I hear of the ones getting in not being the brightest in a year, but having engaged the interviewers.

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 16:55:29

Polly Oxford does rate GCSEs over ASs and Cambridge does the reverse and in both cases they are more than screening tools....

Although they can't fill the place up with straight A* applicants, it's also not true that 'they lose interest after 6 or 7'. Where do you get that from? Oxford really likes full houses of straight A*s. That doesn't mean that that's a guaranteed place, but it's a very valuable weapon for an applicant to have in his arsenal. I'm also not clear what you mean about tradition confused.

lainiekazan Wed 27-Mar-13 16:56:44

When I was at school many, many moons ago I remember it was actually some of the quieter people who nobody had ever noticed who got offers, whilst some quite bumptious girls were unsuccessful.

DS1 and I went to an Oxbridge presentation at his state sixth form college last week. They had speakers from both places and former pupils who attend Oxbridge.
There was quite a lot about the style of study there compared with other universities and I could see that it would not necessarily suit everyone. It may be that the OPs DD was referring to that rather than not fitting in in a social sense?
DS1 has for a long time aspired to study Maths at Cambridge. He lives, breathes and dreams Maths.
I have always urged caution, and the necessity for a good plan B which he is happy with. That even with the best grades he may not get in.
He went to two of the subject Master-classes held at Cambridge and was enthralled. He had always thought that the interview process would be a major obstacle to him but the talks by the Oxbridge tutors have convinced him not only that the style of study there is right for him but also that he may be in with a chance.

KarlosKKrinkelbeim Wed 27-Mar-13 17:08:09

The average Cmabridge mathmo is not necessarily the most socially gifted person so I do not think your ds should worry unduly about the need to have the gift of the gab at interview, scwirrels. Cambridge cares about substance over style, on the whole. And I think it is probably desperate for good state school applicants. it was in my day, certainly, although that was longer ago then I like to think about.

Milliways Wed 27-Mar-13 17:12:06

My DD was encouraged by her State school to apply, and they went to an area wide event where they could have practice interviews too.

Once at Cambridge she became a "Cambassador" where she too would go back to State schools and encourage them to apply. (An "I did it, so can you" type talk.)

Can't speak for Oxford, but Cambridge seem to go to great lengths to encourage applicants. One of DD's friends was at one of the old (rich) colleges, and because she had been on free school meals - got Free 3 meals a day in her college! Even their points system allows for a "school factor" so favouring those from lower ranking schools and areas.

KarlosKKrinkelbeim not necessarily the most socially gifted person yes that would describe him. But boy can he talk Maths.

GoLadyEdith Wed 27-Mar-13 19:48:11

Cambridge definitely put a lot of weight on AS scores, but I think both Ox and Bridge will look closely at GCSEs too. My quiet and not hugely socially skilled ds2 has a AAA offer from Ox; he has 9A*1A at GCSE and an A at AS(other subjects are Pre U so no exam in year 12). That said, go to The Student Room and look, if it's still there, at the Oxford Applicants 2013 'stalking' page. You'll see that a lot of the multi A* candidates got offers but by no means all...conversely some of those with a less stellar array got offers too. What matters is an upward trajectory - good AS results and an excellent set of predicted grades at A2/Pre U. As an aside, my ds's A grade at GCSE was in one of his best subjects, which he's still studying. At our recent parents evening the teacher said he was on course for an A* this summer...

Whatever sort of school your kids attend, I'd encourage ambition and aspiration, and if they think they've a chance, then go for it !

ValentineWiggins Wed 27-Mar-13 19:51:29

From speaking to someone who specialises in advising teens on their university application form - you need a REALLY good personal statement - make the person reading it really know you - and why you will be an asset to their course. You want the tutors to want to teach you - and that isn't just about grades.

GoLadyEdith Wed 27-Mar-13 20:30:45

Yes the statement really matters. And tbh they don't care if you've climbed Kilimanjaro blindfolded or run a charity marathon across the Pennines. It's all about the 'passion' (ugh word). Ds read widely around his subject, went on a summer school etc.

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 21:57:38

I don't see the personal statement counting hardly at all for Oxford Edith, in terms of securing an interview. I think it's fairly key for the other four non interviewing universities though (I say non interviewing but that depends on subject of course). And I think it's of use at Oxford in a limited way, for sparking conversations at interview. I don't think one should overrate it's importance for Oxford though, generally.

nkf Wed 27-Mar-13 22:00:37

I don't,know. I think, with Oxbridge, there's a lot to be said for the "I want it. I'm going to give it a go" attitude. Both Oxford and Cambridge can be pretty withering places I think and a certain amount of steeliness and "I'll show you," doesn't go amiss. They're not places for the faint hearted.

nkf Wed 27-Mar-13 22:01:54

I looked up the Cambridge Maths requirements and it seems they want just about every type of Maths qualification possible and no gap year in case you go off the boil. I've never seen anything so focussed and uninterested in the whole person.

Welovegrapes Wed 27-Mar-13 22:05:22

River, if she thinks she wouldn't fit in because of being state, get her to read up a bit about St Catherine's, Robinson, Fitzwilliam and Churchill, Cambridge - all really welcoming to state school pupils in my day.

Welovegrapes Wed 27-Mar-13 22:06:11

Nkf Maths gap years have been a no no at cambridge for most colleges at least since the early 90s - never rely understood why

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 22:07:45

But conversely the colleges which used to be least welcoming are now the most, or at the very least are as welcoming Welovegrapes.

Welovegrapes Wed 27-Mar-13 22:09:20

Are you sure, yellow? Some still look less welcoming to me

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 22:11:46

I'm sure about Oxford Welovegrapes.

Welovegrapes Wed 27-Mar-13 22:14:08

Don't know the other place smile

nkf Wed 27-Mar-13 22:15:03

They're not welcoming places. They are exclusive and elitist and unique. If a child wants that experience then I would encourage them to consider it and go for it. But not to waste time scouting around for something that might make them feel at home.

Talkinpeace Wed 27-Mar-13 22:15:18

Thing with Oxbridge is that its excellent for contacts in later life, and fab for some courses, but by no means all.
Places like Imperial should be added into the mix, as well as other parts of the Russell Group, or even some of the Ivy League and others in the US that offer scholarships to really bright Brits.

Some love the College life, some hate it. Regardless of where they went to school.

VelvetSpoon Wed 27-Mar-13 22:22:20

I have to say this doesn't surprise me, it's a long time ago since I applied to Cambridge, but there was very much an attitude in a lot of state schools (mine included) of not encouraging certain pupils to aim too high; the head girl whose parents were both GPs was actively encouraged to apply, whereas because my parents had no formal qualifications and worked in low paid jobs, it was suggested I bear in mind that there were other unis, not put all my focus on Cambridge etc.

It's important to remember that there can be real divisions in state schools, the attitude at mine to those who had 'professional' parents and those who didn't was markedly different. It wouldn't surprise me that this sort of thing still exists, and might well come across at presentations etc - the only people I knew locally who had gone to Oxbridge before me were pretty much all horse riding, lacrosse playing v v middle class children, which I wasn't at all.

Indeed whilst most of my friends at Cambridge were state school educated, the majority were the children of doctors, teachers etc - being at Cambridge and growing up in a council house in Essex (as I did) was, in my massively upper class and right wing college pretty unique.

If I had my time again, and could choose any college, coming from the background I did, I'd pick Robinson.

BoffinMum Wed 27-Mar-13 22:28:52

I used to do Cambridge admissions until a couple of years ago, and the policy is to encourage anybody who expresses an interest. We don't want potential applicants to rule themselves out on the basis you have described. It's often helpful to go to the link college for your area to one of the open days, and also to read about the courses in detail on the internet. You can usually get reading lists and essay titles and so on for first year courses from the relevant departmental websites, and they are useful in helping applicants to get a handle on what is expected once they get there.

You would be amazed at the social mix at Cambridge - it's not as mixed as an inner city comprehensive, but Brideshead it certainly ain't. Don't believe all the myths!

RiversideMum Wed 27-Mar-13 22:29:45

She said one of the tutors said it was 3x the work of other courses and another said unless you are heading for A*AA then don't bother applying (fair enough, but that's why the DCs were there ...). Lots of photos of taking exams in gowns ... What she didn't feel that there was any encouragement - I guess she was expecting more of a "hard sell" given that they were supposed to be there to get more applications from bright state school kids.

BoffinMum Wed 27-Mar-13 22:31:15

My DD got in with AAB. The terms are only 8 weeks long so it is intense during term time, but if you go to all the lectures and supervisions, and spend the required time on the reading, it's well within the grasp of anyone reasonably bright. The fact you are getting small group teaching really helps in making sure people understand the material.

BoffinMum Wed 27-Mar-13 22:32:34

Gowns are great because you can have messy clothes on underneath and nobody need ever know wink

breadandbutterfly Thu 28-Mar-13 00:06:17

It is 3 X the work of other unis. It would be most unfair on potential undergraduates not to point that fact out. Noone told me, and actually, it would have been very helpful to have been prepared...

tiredaftertwo Thu 28-Mar-13 00:24:45

And surely emphasising that admission, and coping when there, are down to academic interest and aptitude rather than family background or whatever, is a good thing?

I think it would be very wrong not to point out the grades required or the workload once there, particularly when talking to people who may not know the system from the inside. They have to be honest - it is too important not to be, and there are loads of myths and rumours around so a "hard sell" would be completely wrong, IMO.

I'm sorry your DD was disappointed but I don't really understand the problem. I'd be really surprised if they were not encouraging to people with the required grades who liked the sound of lots of work.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 08:04:36

BoffinMum AAB is a massive exception to the ordinary rule, not the generality.

The Oxford guy who came to talk to the Y12's a couple of weeks ago at our (state) school was definitely encouraging but also very realistic about the extra workload and the standard required to get in. As he should be, obviously.

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 28-Mar-13 08:41:21

I only ever wore a gown twice. Once for matric, on practically my first day at Cambridge, and once when I graduated. Both times I borrowed the gown I wore. I understand the other place is gowntastic, but not Cambridge.

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 08:48:15

I would add that Oxbridge do not have a monopoly on high workloads and pressure, there is no simple 3x rule on workload, there are many courses at other unis that have similar workloads and some unis, especially the London ones have a testing culture that keeps up a relentless pressure on students, with regular hurdles that even the best students do get tripped up by. If you are going for a demanding course at an elite uni, especially medicine, architecture, Science, you do have to be prepared for some very hard work. Even in the humanities many students work considerably harder than I did back in the seventies, though generally you would be looking at 4-6 essays often bunched towards the end of term, last day of holiday versus an essay a week at Oxford but the days at other unis when you could get away with not doing the reading are no longer true, and an undergraduate who turns up at a tutorial at my uni not equipped with knowledge and opinions they are prepared to defend can expect to be challenged. It comes as a shock especially to overseas students.

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 28-Mar-13 09:10:53

I must say that I was never surprised by the amount of work and I never found it overwhelming. It just seemed, you know, fine, to me. But obviously I'd never been to another university so I had nothing to compare it with. But I think maybe people do overplay that a bit. The work was hard, sometimes, but it wasn't the workload that was hard, it was the subject matter(s). But most of the time it was just really interesting, which takes the edge off the hardness quotient, somewhat.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 09:18:53

I really don't think it's overplayed Russians. If you're clever but you're looking for an easy ride you need to be looking elsewhere.

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 28-Mar-13 09:24:58

But surely there's some middle ground between looking for an easy ride and 'don't go there it's too horrendously onerous'? Maybe things are different since my day but since people were saying exactly the same things then I'm not convinced. Or perhaps I just have a different idea of what constitutes an overly tough workload than other people do (this is possible, it's one of the distortions that music training gives you - the work never stops but you love the work so it's not work, rinse and repeat.....) grin Or maybe law and history and medicine at Oxford are more onerous than other subjects.

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 09:42:47

I wonder where these easy rides are though. From what I gather the less popular unis and vocational degrees work you hard because they have to justify themselves. You certainly have to work harder at a Russell Group these days, not only that but the days of a 2.2 being a respectable "Sportsman's" degree that enables you to waltz into a job are over. Most of the students I know are aiming for Firsts, and that was never easy. I don't dispute a History degree at Oxbridge will have a higher workload than one outside of the UCLs and Durhams but there are still no easy rides that I am aware of.

Welovegrapes Thu 28-Mar-13 13:47:07

I taught at a good Russell group Uni and was an Oxbridge undergrad. There were approx 3 essays a term where I taught and 8-9 essays a term when I was an undergrad.

I would say Oxbridge is at least twice as much work in most humanities subjects.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 14:33:07

There's no-one to hid behind in a tutorial or supervision either, so you can't simply arrange yourself in an interested way as you can in, say, a Durham type tutorial or seminar. At the moment DD3 has two essays/ tutorials a week for Law and DS1 has three essays/ tutorials for Medicine on top of all the lectures and practicals which he has to do every day. The eight essays a term which another DD does for History far exceeds the workload at both Durham or UCL, which have longer terms too - that also makes a difference. Exams at the start of each term is different again. You have to really, really like your subject, because there's not much let up outside the long summer vacation and it would be murder working like that if you only had a vague interest in the subject you chose.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 14:34:22

no-one to hide behind is what I meant to type.

GrendelsMum Thu 28-Mar-13 14:47:27

My friends and I agreed recently that because most students are fairly young when they study at Oxford / Cambridge, the work load becomes your idea of normal. Which is both a help and a hindrance in later life.

Welovegrapes Thu 28-Mar-13 14:56:40

Tbh most students who get to oxbridge have already been working similarly hard for a full sweep of a grades at a levels, so it is normalised for them.

scaevola Thu 28-Mar-13 15:05:26

Why didn't your DD think she's fit in?

Academic calibre? Socially?

Or, and this bit is too often overlooked, fitting in to a tutorial system in which the student must be almost entirely self-directed?

mynameisnotmichaelcaine Thu 28-Mar-13 15:11:56

It is hard work. I seemed to have to do the work that my friends at other universities were doing in one term, in a fortnight. It made my PGCE feel like a walk in the park, whilst others were moaning about excessive workload.

Re passion - I know it is a bit of a ugh word, but it is necessary. I was not a genius at school by any stretch, but I LOVED reading. I was sent to the junior school library to choose books from Year 1 as I had read every book in the infant school. I was offered a job in the local library at age 14 because I was in there so much, and had read every book in the teen section. You need that kind of commitment to your subject if you are going to keep up with the workload. You need to be very interested indeed in what you are doing.

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 28-Mar-13 15:17:57

Supervision s are great, though - a far more effective way of educating than a crowded seminar. Supervisions don't make life harder they make it better. I'll give you exams every term though, that must be a nightmare. Luckily Cambridge doesn't do that.

I guess perhaps the guidance that really should be being given is 'this is the workload. If it sounds too heavy to you then maybe this isn't the place for you'. Because I absolutely stand by my view that I wasn't worked horrendously into the ground while I was at Cambridge. It was fine.

RiversideMum they most certainly didn't give us the hard sell, far from it. It was made clear that the top universities select while others recruit.
It was also the workload and tutorial system that others describe that was not going to suit all students.

MTSgroupie Thu 28-Mar-13 17:27:15

My kids currently get about 90 min of homework a night at their private secondary. Often the requirement is to research a topic so that it can be discussed at the next lesson as opposed to the teacher spending lesson time introducing the material for the first time. There is a test almost every week with an end of term test in most subjects. I understand that 6th Form will be even more intense.

Not surprisingly many of the 6th Formers get to Oxbridge and find the place a logical progression from their previous school in terms of work load and pressure.

I mention the above because people often make the comment that Oxbridge is biased towards private schools because of snobbery. Could the 'bias' be because, in their experience, the academically pushy private schools produces students that are use to the Oxbridge way of doing things described in posts upthread?

Before everyone rush to tell me that private is not better by default, please note that I said academically pushy. I accept that many private schools take your money and offer little else apart from nicer facilities and smaller classes.

Apologies for the temporary hijack. As you were smile

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 17:31:20

Yellowtip I can only speak for my uni and department in detail but I would have assumed Durham and UCL would be as if not more demanding but our undergrads do 4 modules per term and would have one or two essays per term for each (depending on course marking structure) counting to their degree plus a tutorial presentation per term. i.e have prepared a presentation on the reading, or one aspect of the reading if shared. There is no hiding behind anyone for anyone in tutorials, I have seen my Professor challenge an overseas student who had clearly done the reading but tried to shirk offering an opinion in a way I felt bordered on culturally insensitive (and certainly provoked some misogynistic remarks on the way out) Not all tutors have the personal qualities to exert their authority to that extent but that is the culture, and most would go around the room asking each for an opinion. Anyone not contributing in tutorials can expect to be summoned by their personal tutor and have it taken into account in the assessment of their final mark if it is borderline. Contact time isn't high, a lecture and tutorial (in groups of around 10) per module per week. An Oxford undergrad faces a relentless workload of an essay a week whereas the essays in our uni tend to stack up for completion by end reading week /first day of following terms but how our students manage their workload is up to them. I think a 2X / 3X comment on workload is a difficult generalisation because I suspect some of our students do 2x or 3x what others do.

That is very different to what I remember from the 70s which is very like described, around 3 essays a term, lectures you didn't have to sign into and tutorials where you could nurse your hangover reading the titles of the books on the shelves whilst the tutor droned on. However I would have really enjoyed the challenge of the undergrad tutorials I now witness, lively and full of engaged students which can often go off on interesting tangents, it is a very healthy learning culture and I am impressed. And I would never have got a 2.1 now based on the amount or standard of work I did then, or with a principle of never getting out of bed before 11am.

Of course DDs Science course is another kettle of fish entirely and she works relentlessly hard with constant testing, with last term around 36 contact hours and many hours of work required on top, particularly if you are aiming for high marks but the nature of the work means you cannot shirk if you are to keep up with understanding it. Students regularly fall and have to redo hurdles, and even years. Her Science peers at Oxbridge do not have an appreciably different workload though a tutorial or lab group of ten would be the closest to personal attention she recieves. I worry about her, as she often ends up sleep deprived but she thrives on it because she loves it but I suppose another issue those contemplating Oxbridge have to think about is not just is it for them but are they for it, in terms of coping?

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 17:47:15

Sorry I forgot to qualify this with comment that all of this is EXCEPT <mounts soap box> the third term. I wonder when in the last thirty years it became not only acceptable but usual for non Oxbridge unis to only run courses for two terms. Now there is often nothing apart from exams but a few revision tutorials in the third term even for my DD, after all the hard unremitting graft crammed into two terms. She is still working hard to revise for exams but in what universe is it alright to have only 6 hours contact time in a term (and that exams ) as is the case for one of her Humanities peers, when students are going to be paying £3000 a term. It must be my Northern Protestant Work Ethic but not in my universe...........

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 17:51:19

MTS by and large the numbers getting offers from Oxford or Cambridge at any one school reflects that school's level of selectivity at the age of 11 or 13. No particular magic there and I'm surprised that anyone these days could honestly believe that 'snobbishness' plays a part.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 18:05:13

Russians I'm sure that the tutorials/ supervisions are far superior as a method of learning, I don't think there can be any doubt, can there? Other universities have simply never had the resources. I think what you said should be the guidance is pretty much the guidance (well it was pretty much the guidance that the guy from Oxford gave to the Y12's a couple of weeks ago). But you may be coming at the concept of workload from a different angle to many, for the reasons you yourself gave. I think it is necessary to give a health warning to students who are thinking of Oxford or Cambridge so that they can take a step back and ask themselves whether that's a set up that they'd really enjoy.

Welovegrapes Thu 28-Mar-13 18:09:28

I think the length of the essays is another issue. I taught at an excellent RG Uni and the essays were much shorter than we wrote for my Oxbridge course.

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 28-Mar-13 18:12:28

yellow I think that basically I agree with you, I just would always suggest framing it in neutral terms - this is what it is (honestly), if you think that sounds like the sort of environment you want to be in, then hooray - rather than in doomladen apocalyptic 'it's really hard, you'll hate it' terms. But honesty is key.

Eeeeeowwwfftz Thu 28-Mar-13 18:47:21

I think I now understand why every single personal statement I have read had the word "passion" in the first paragraph. Not sure what Oxbridge are looking for in the statement but the ones that stand out for me (a) sound like the applicant wrote it themselves instead of copying it out of a book or off a website (b) sound like the applicant actually believe what they've written and (c) demonstrate some kind of ability for deep and critical thinking along with an enthusiasm for learning and being able to deal with ideas that challenge their existing understanding of the subject area. It is wry unlikely that someone who does not do (a) or (b) will somehow pull off (c).

Oh, and other Universites are available. Some of them are even quite good.

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 18:51:22

*Welovegrapes" 2,500 words, are Oxbridge essays longer?

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 19:14:19

Eeeeetc which university do you work at that only has applicants that use that word and nothing but that word in each and every first paragraph of each and every personal statement? I'd be looking for a transfer myself. If only because I assume I'd have no students to teach (having declined them all). Is yours a uni well known for taking Oxbridge rejects? smile

BoffinMum Thu 28-Mar-13 19:33:42

I've taught on fairly identical courses in the same subject at Oxbridge and a 1994 group university. They did the same number of essays and went to the same number of lectures. They got roughly the same number of tutorials as well, but in the 1994 group Uni they were 30 mins in groups of 2, compared to 60 mins in groups of 4-6 at Oxbridge. Our external examiner was from Oxbridge. The main difference was that ours did placements and went in lots of visits during the course, and were taught less often by PhD students. But they didn't get the college experience with gowns and posh dinners, so their social aplomb was not as polished.

Yellowtip Thu 28-Mar-13 19:58:10

Slightly confused BoffinMum. At your 1994 the tutorials were shorter but with only two students and at Cambridge you had 4 to 6 to a supervision lasting an hour? Neither sounds quite right. In fact a 30 minute tutorial seems odd. But someone with your experience must recognise that there's a little more to it than social aplomb (in fact that's just silly). What is your subject BoffinMum?

VelvetSpoon Thu 28-Mar-13 21:06:36

I don't think an Oxbridge degree is astonishingly hard work tbh - it's more subject dependant; as a law student I had more to do than some other subjects at my college, but compared to others studying the same subject at other universities, I don't thing there was much, if any, difference.

It also depends on what you are aiming to get - everyone I know who got a First put in HUGE amounts of time and effort, not just at exam time but all through the year. I didn't - I found A levels easy and coasted through them, I couldn't be bothered to work hard at Cambridge once I got there and did the minimum, which got me a 2:2.

Copthallresident Thu 28-Mar-13 21:53:01

Boffinman A 30 minute tutorial does sound a bit strange, are they in the nature of discussions on progress? Often our tutorials stretch well beyond an hour if the discussion is going that way, subject to timetables, even being adjourned to the bar.........

Eeee and yellowtip I disagree with yellowtip in that I do believe that passion is alive and well and residing in our teens, in fact without being stalkerish I have seen evidence of it in the motivation and achievements of her DCs too and suspect it is a matter of definition, and a willingness to define it thus in a world where the word may have become ubiquitous and devalued. However whilst it crops up from time to time in less polished statements anyone with decent advice will have made wise use of their words demonstrating passion through reading etc. It is an empty word without that?

Yellowtip Fri 29-Mar-13 00:26:32

VelvetSpoon I've seen your own degree from both sides and while I don't think Law requires any more work than an English or History degree I do believe that more is demanded of Oxford (and presumably Cambridge) students than of others such as those at Durham/ Bristol etc. Indeed if that wasn't the case, why would those degrees be valued more highly?

Copthall quite right: it's the word which has become hugely devalued, not the thing and it's merely the word which I really don't like. And yes, mine do like their subjects a lot, mercifully, as does your own DD, clearly (without being stalkerish smile).

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 29-Mar-13 09:15:44

Yellow It's the quality that myself, my close colleagues, and now my kids blush refer to as 'arsedness' or, occasionally if we are being posh, 'possession of a sufficient appropriate quantity and quality of arse'. grin Unfirtunately I doubt that will cut it in personal statements. Passion was always the wrong word to describe how people feel about what they want to study and maybe make their life's work (except possibly when talking aout music art or dance and even then I think it's a real stretch). Most very very committed people have something they love way more than 'their subject' which puts the concept of 'passion' into context. Whether that's a hobby, a football team, a participatory sport.......

Welovegrapes Fri 29-Mar-13 12:28:06

Definitely had a passion for my subject and miss it sad

Copthallresident Fri 29-Mar-13 13:28:08

I am afraid I do think what I feel for my subject is what I define as passion as in endlessly fascinating, a joy to discuss and explore, hugely exciting when I uncover some new truth or evidence.... I was at an evening discussing my subject with lots of bright clever people last night, best evening for a long time (and I am married wink) I know my DD feels the same, had a very bouncy excited 20 year old discussing the contents of a museum full of stuffed animals the other day hmm and watching the film about Richard Feynman's involvement in the Challenger enquiry (well worth watching, should still be on iplayer) I suddenly got it too (if only I could add up, and didn't faint at the sight of blood)

Arsedness doesn't do it, no romance, too much doggedness, I don't need doggedness, just to make the time I need.

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 29-Mar-13 13:39:35

If all you care about is the thing you are studying, or your work, then that's a real shame. I'm delighted my kids have wide ranging interests and the better students and staff I have seen through the years are the ones who care (and, crucially, know) about more than just their field.

Arsedness isn't doggedness at all. Quite the reverse. Doggedness is necessary when you don't have sufficient appropriate arse. grin

If I read an application stating that the writer has a passion for their field (as opposed to their hobby) then I assume they have a limited vocabulary and poor written communication skills. And also that they are no stranger to cliche. I know I'm not alone in this. smile

Yellowtip Fri 29-Mar-13 13:44:50

My father used to put those who applied for a job in his department with Firsts at the bottom of the maybe pile, on the grounds that they may be too limited in other spheres (this was Firsts dating back to the Fifties and Sixties mind you).

Copthallresident Fri 29-Mar-13 13:54:05

Russians wasn't that the point I made, better to use the words in the PS to demonstrate passion, arsedness, whatever, by what you have achieved and learned through it than waste them on an empty word.

I make no apology for carving out time from all the other demands on my life, wife, mother, daughter, friend, carer, counsellor, entertainments officer, chauffeur, cook, dogwalker and trainer, hiker, decorator, art appreciator, knitter, patient, gym bunny etc etc etc for this one bit of personal indulgence wink which hopefully will add to the world's store of knowledge and understanding.......

Copthallresident Fri 29-Mar-13 13:55:03

Traveller, mustn't forget traveller...

Copthallresident Fri 29-Mar-13 13:55:23

and local campaigner

lainiekazan Fri 29-Mar-13 17:26:50

Feel sorry for kids writing personal statements. Must have sore fingers leafing through the thesaurus looking for synonyms for "passion". And where does this need for fervent appreciation leave the very clever student who is merely very interested in a subject and would like to explore it further? I mean, I don't believe Oxbridge are looking for the prodigy who has already published three papers on Richard II's body hair. Isn't a fine mind better than a mind which has already firmly decided at the age of 18 what its "passion" is?

GoLadyEdith Fri 29-Mar-13 17:34:23

The word 'passion' appeared nowhere on ds's statement. Nor did 'enthusiasm' or any other synonym. He got into his first choice college.

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 29-Mar-13 17:34:40

I was always told, and see no reason to disbelieve, that most interviewers at Cambridge are looking for students who they will find it interesting to teach. So I guess some of them might go for presumed passion. And others (like the director of studies who interviewed me) will be more interested in an encyclopaedic knowledge of Sci Fi. grin

Yellowtip Fri 29-Mar-13 17:50:48

Edith that's not remarkable.

GoLadyEdith Fri 29-Mar-13 17:56:18

I know...just saying there are numerous ways to show the cliché P word without writing it.

So,for the benefit of those of us without Oxbridge backgrounds, but with DCs who yearn to go there, they must under no circumstances use the P word in their PS?
You see it's hidden rules like this that perpetuate the elitist nature of Oxbridge for those without public school education.

Copthallresident Fri 29-Mar-13 19:17:39

secret It will depend on the academic who interviews them, they may think passion is indispensable. or they may think it entirely dispensable, as the views on here show. However the Oxbridge admissions process is fraught with the unknowable, best to just be themselves, that is one thing that sometimes shines out of a personal statement, making it stand out from all the ones that have been written based on websites, parental advice etc. The best schools know that, DDs' school sent back any that sounded as if they had not written it themselves, thwarts many parents wink

Yellowtip Fri 29-Mar-13 19:20:34

secret it's not a hidden rule. It's called common sense and not being a creep. How do tutors know a student is genuine if they just declare something is so: they want substance. But that's easy for someone if they're genuine.

Yellowtip Fri 29-Mar-13 19:35:01

Absolutely completely right: they should be themselves (hence not claiming a 'passion', like the rest of the herd).

I was asked to comment on someone's History ps for entry 2013, clearly written by Dad. I didn't have the heart to savage it. 8A*/3A at GCSE but still the outcome hasn't been good. I was amazed that the (indie) school didn't see the issues. Moral: don't do clichés and just be yourself.

GoLadyEdith Fri 29-Mar-13 19:43:21

Yes, they should absolutely be themselves and the P should speak for itself - my ds's statement wasn't IMO notably elegant but it was all 'his' and did the job...

Copthrall they don't all go to "the best schools" though. That's my point. DS's secondary was in special measures while he was there and his sixth form is also under OFSTED scrutiny.
They will be guided by the advice given by the school good or bad unless their parents know better.
I do my best by haunting lurking on threads like this on MN.
To be fair I have over the last 3 or 4 years had fantastic advice from many posters.
This thread has been a bit demoralising though.

snowballschanceineaster Fri 29-Mar-13 19:55:46

Friend of mine has a son at state school who has a clutch of A*s from last year and is sitting more this year. He got an invite to Cambridge but didn't get through the interview. He was downhearted, but is heading for a London school instead?? Not sure which one. He is one of the brightest, most well rounded boys of his age I know! So I'm not completely sure what they're looking for there!

Yellowtip Fri 29-Mar-13 19:57:42

Why demoralising? It's surely good that the winning formula appears to be students being themselves, with no magic formula and no hidden rules. That's a system based on merit, and it's right that it should out. I've watched certain MNers agonise over ever last aspect of their DCs app and mastermind it from start to finish (albeit offering masses of advice to the plebs all the while) - and then get seriously bitter about a rejection. Really, really nasty and bitter. They'd invested too much and been overly smug. Maybe they should have left off with the heavy duty research on TSR and left the DC to speak for himself; that might have produced the desired result.

Demoralising because, as I said early in the thread, DS had been persuaded that his love of his subject, together with his huge knowledge of it outside curriculum, would be the most important thing in his PS and interview. That his background wasn't a handicap, that, as you say the winning formula appears to be students being themselves, with no magic formula and no hidden rules.
Maybe I have misunderstood here but there seems to be some sneering at the idea that passion enthusiasm is as important as grades.That others don't agree with you Yellowtip.
I won't be writing his PS for him either, he's much more capable than me of doing that.

RussiansOnTheSpree Fri 29-Mar-13 20:31:53

I haven't detected any suggestion that enthusiasm for a subject isn't as important as grades. I've detected - and made - suggestions that being too narrow in outlook is unlikely to win friends and influence people, and that inappropriate use of cliche is unlikely to go down well either. That's all. A student saying 'I have a passion for my subject' is the same as a miss world competitor saying she loves children and animals and wants world peace. That's all.

I hope your DS retains his enthusiasm, secret, and that he follows, and achieves, his dream. It sounds like he deserves to do that.

Welovegrapes Fri 29-Mar-13 20:55:10

I said passion and I got in, from a state comp.

Someone here said just let them write it themselves - I think do that and then proof read it for them as a second pair of eyes. If they want to say passion, I would let them.

Copthallresident Fri 29-Mar-13 21:47:46

secret Sorry "best" was a throwaway term but I am (another "passion"wink) involved in a mentoring charity and we find Oxbridge more than eager to find good candidates from poorly performing schools. Forgive me , if you haunt these threads and have seen this before, but I think this is great for counteracting all the wishful thinking Chinese whispers www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/10/how-cambridge-admissions-really-work I am sure your DS will get more than a fair crack at the whip.

However at the end of the day Oxbridge can not take all of the very bright students who would be of a standard to go there, Cambridge admit as much in having a formal pool of students who do not get their choice of college but are judged of Cambridge standard. snowball lots of pupils like your friend's son come into that category but there are other elite unis where they will do equally well. DD hated her Cambridge interview because she found one of the interviewer's (one of the academics from the college she applied for, who would teach her) dismissive, arrogant and rude. When the feedback came back it was only negative in that area of interviewing, ironically since it was her "passion" and, it was the interview testing her thought processes on the unfamiliar, yet the co -interviewer whose specialism was not her passion raved. She was adamant she did not want to go near a college where she would be taught by that person, it was never tested because the feeling was mutual and DD was pooled. I don't know the reality but I know from my institution that there are members of our academia who I admire tremendously, who are internationally recognised but I would never submit to being a graduate, let alone undergraduate on one of their courses. Sadly our undergraduates never have a chance to learn that before signing up sad. Universities have no more access to perfection in terms of selection methods, personnel, etc etc etc than the rest of us humans

Crucially DD was absolutely won over by her interview at a London school, absolutely loves it, is doing well and is off this summer on brilliant internships alongside Cambridge graduates.

Cream rises....

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 07:05:19

If my dc want to apply to Cambridge I will say something like this (mine will be at a state comp):

So proud of you that you really enjoy your subject and have done so well and put in so much hard work that you want to try to apply. It is a great Uni and it would be lovely if you got in. But please always keep in sight that every year they reject countless very talented DS and it's important not to take it personally. You can always go there to do a masters if you don't get in at undergrad and still want to go later.

I used to have a lot of students at my rg Uni really disappointed they hadn't got in. I used to say it is like going to the Olympics and coming 4th. Those people are still amazing athletes, but on the day someone pipped them to it.

Another thing I would always emphasise to dc right from the application stage is the quality of the other alternative unis - eg my sister studied an arts degree (joint honours) at Edinburgh. She had an amazing time and the lecturing and teaching was outstanding. She had a bit less work than I did so more time to have fun and has gone on to have a great career.

nkf Sat 30-Mar-13 08:25:00

I think it's probably how that passion and enthusiasm is demonstrated. Not just stated but shown. Wide reading, self teaching, seeking out people to discuss your subject with. It's when the subject is your hobby as well as something to study. It's when it's what you do in your free time. It's the difference between doing all your homework and reading a chemistry book in bed. For fun.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 09:25:56

Welovegrapes I'm amazed at how many people say that they'll go to Oxford or Cambridge for postgrad 'instead'. Of course it's a possibility but it's worth bearing in mind that there are many home grown undergraduates, predicted Firsts, who are rejected each year.

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 09:45:06

In my subject all really good grads (ie v good 2:1/1st) that I knew who applied from my rg uni got in - I think it is getting easier to get in for postgrad. May be different in other subjects but I never knew anyone from my year who applied to do a masters to get rejected - we all got places and I had a 2:1.

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 09:45:57

Sorry that was unclear - by in my year I mean home grown applicants. I and others applied to do a masters internally. No one I know was rejected.

Copthallresident Sat 30-Mar-13 09:55:11

We had feedback from a Professor at Cambridge that the competition for first degree places had got so ridiculous that he would actually recommend that serious Scientists should seriously consider not even applying and go to another university for their first degree and apply for postgrad. We will never find out, DD would not go anywhere else but where she is now, even if they had not offered her a good deal.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 09:57:18

Obviously I don't know your subject Welovegrapes, or your age but I'll make the assumption that the job market for graduates when you graduated wasn't at it's current nadir. But looking at this year's cycle I can say with certainty that there's a glut of enormously talented home grown undergrads in the Humanities who are being rejected for post grad, likewise in Law. I don't know about any science subject though: I can see why the sciences might be far easier to get a place for post grad, not least because of sponsorship and funding etc. But again, that's just a guess.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 09:58:50

Sorry Copthall I think Sciences should have had a big S.... smile

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 10:02:02

I am ancient and graduated in another recession but not as bad as this one.

This lot will graduate in 2016/2017 - I think even the B of England thinks things should be a bit better by then. Fx !!!

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 10:22:12


There's a huge disparity between applications and offers, though not as marked between Humanities and Sciences as I'd have thought. Perhaps the huge number of Social Science and Humanities applications reflects the peculiar dodginess of the job market for those subjects at the moment.

HolofernesesHead Sat 30-Mar-13 10:30:59

Just nipping in quickly to ask if you've all heard of this free Oxford University summer school for state school students: Uniq. Applications are closed for this year but if you might be interested for next year, keep your ear to the ground and apply early.

I am state educated and Oxbridge educated, and I know people who are working really hard in Oxbridge to level the playing field. Oxbridge isn't the be all and end all but it is an amazing type of education for which I am personally so grateful, so I do tend to encourage people to go for it if they can / want to.

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 10:32:38

Very interesting - no statistics that show what % of home, RG students with 2:1 or 1st are accepted.

Copthallresident Sat 30-Mar-13 10:45:19

Yellowtip What you don't know is where those applicants are coming from. The Professor's comments rested on his despair that so many of the superbright undergraduates would be going off into banking etc. and be lost to Science whilst they might be losing in the scrum of entry some really good serious Scientists. It isn't even such an issue at postgrad level as there is so much good research going on at other unis and in partnership with companies and research foundations. It is more of a case of where to go to persue your interests than seeking the Oxbridge brand. In fact that is true in Humanities too. I have several peers who are Oxbridge graduates.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 10:51:04

My only point Copthall was that getting an offer is not a foregone conclusion by any stretch.

Copthallresident Sat 30-Mar-13 11:04:20

Nor is it anywhere. I feel for current undergraduates since a 2.1 seems to be the minimum for getting any sort of job / postgrad. Welovegrapes and I may have emerged in another recession (possibly the same one?) but then a 2.1 / First was rare enough to guarantee you some sort of job / postgrad, even for me wink. All of my friend's DCs who have graduated, Oxbridge or not, are back home competing hard for unpaid internships to build up the sort of CV that would even put you in with a chance of a job. Out of all DDs peers due to graduate this year one has an internship organised by Daddy and DD has her MSc sorted and that is it as they head into Finals.

slipshodsibyl Sat 30-Mar-13 11:14:34

For some of us, I guess pointing out to students / sons and daughters that postgraduate study is a possibility is a way of reducing pressure or assuaging disappointment after a rejection. Many will soon feel like Copthall's daughter once they have settled into their chosen institution and will fortunately believe the path they are on is the best one for them.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 11:31:30

I get that slipshod, of course. But I wouldn't want any of my DC to hang on to the idea except as a very loose possibility, since I think too hard a focus on that might spoil their enjoyment of their undergraduate years, which fly by so fast.

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:00:55

In the Oxbridge admissions teams I have worked with, we have been looking for proof of students enjoying mulling over intellectual problems, thinking out loud and being able to structure an intellectual argument while they are doing it. Those students score 8 or 9 out of 10 in interviews and go through to the next round. Students from less selective schools who have had little contact with intellectual peers to practise these skills might be given the benefit of the doubt.

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:04:48

Typical question: Take a story on the news, you choose which one, and explain how your chosen subject might offer insight into this issue.

Need beginning, middle and end to answer, and about half a dozen correlations or examples of synthesising information to form some sort of analysis. All shows higher order thinking.

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:06:29

Another typical question: how would you develop a scientific experiment to test that concept, and how would you make sure it was a fair test?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:07:56

And another:

Why do you think Oxbridge designed this particular degree course in the way that it did? Is anything missing that should be there, in your opinion?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:09:35

And another: if you wanted to design an education system that ensured it would fail as many pupils as possible, what do you think it would look like?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:10:30

Do you all get the thought processes required to do well in the interview now?


How would you weigh the earth?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 20:55:03

Hahaha just asked DD that last one (she went to Cambridge) and she started off by saying she'd drill a sample all the way down to the core, weigh that and multiply it by the total surface area of the earth. She is not taking the resultant teasing well. grin

KittiesInsane Mon 01-Apr-13 21:14:16

God knows how I ever got in, Boffin!

I can remember my interview: it started, 'Come in. Sit down. Tell me the difference between an aldehyde and a ketone.'

BoffinMum Mon 01-Apr-13 22:04:13

Bloody hell!

If it's any comfort to anyone, I didn't get in as an undergrad. I completely panicked at interview and spoke rubbish, I had no clue what was expected. Later I went there for postgrad degrees, won lots of prizes and things, and did fine. I also ended up working there! I think that's what makes me sympathetic to the whole undergrad admissions thing. I have seen the situation from both sides.

Propitious Sat 06-Apr-13 12:19:18

From own experience with state school educated dc who won a place at Cambridge, the personal statement seemed to be regarded as a way of conveying to the admissions tutors that you got 'involved' at school and took some responsibility. But above all it seemed to be about showing your commitment to your chosen subject and that you looked forward to a pretty stiff intellectual challenge over the course of the next 3 years.

Like some other posters have commented, our local state school's attitude to Oxbridge was, 'why do you want to go there?' To be fair to the teachers, they were ignorant (in the nicest possible way) about what Oxbridge offered & clueless about the difficulty of entry.

What we learned about Cambridge entry for state school applicants:

1. Choose the subject and college very carefully. Popular subjects at the better colleges are heavily oversubscribed so choose a college which offers your subject but with fewer applicants per place. (College/subject application numbers are freely available online)... Health Warning! Not all Oxbridge colleges offer you the same quality of undergraduate study experience. The better (aka wealthier) colleges attract/can afford better tutors, which translates into better supervisions/tutorials for undergrads.... We were told that by a professor of an esteemed Cambridge department who happens to be a friend.

2. Best not not to make an 'open' application. Choose your college (playing the percentages as above) then if unsuccessful you'll go into the Xmas 'pool' & other colleges then have a look at you. It's a bit like UCAS 'clearing'.

3. There are a lot of wealthy/privileged/independent school educated students at Cambridge which can make social life limiting for shy/insecure state school types. Of course, a lot depends on what dc is like.

4. The undergrad workload is huge at Oxbridge and comes as a great shock to some. One approach is to treat Oxbridge like a hectic/demanding 8am to 5pm six day a week job where you fit in a social life around work (and not the other way round like in many other univs).

5. In preparing for entry/interview: network furiously. Find Oxbridge friends who studied a similar subject and get them to do mock interviews with dc. (The school should of course be doing this but most don't have the time/inclination/resources.) Luckily, we had a really co-operative friend who was more than willing to do this. DC came out of these hour-long sessions ashen-faced and exhausted but fully prepared the real interview.

6. As a parent, network. It seems to be a common theme for those who succeed in gaining entry. Ask Oxbridge friends for advice and direction. We were lucky in that I have a background in ed and have several Oxbridge connections of various different sorts.

7. The sacrifices and hard work are worth it in the end. Our dc struggled to fit in at first and we wondered whether it was the right choice but after graduating dc breezed in to a top profession with barely a ruffled feather. The professions and best employers all seem to understand the worth of an Oxbridge degree and gaining employment, for these fortunate graduates, presents few problems.

BoffinMum Sat 06-Apr-13 18:50:49

Propitious speaks a lot of sense.

FWIW one of those elite institutions commissioned me to carry out internal research on variations in the quality of UG teaching.

The quality varied massively so they sat on the report and certain people blocked publication.

In ancient colleges, you are often taught by professors; in young ones you are often taught by overseas postgrads who can barely speak English some of the time, let alone teach.

Yet you all pay the same fees.

State school applicants, student parents and minority ethnic groups are often herded via the pool into the younger colleges.

Many people internally are not happy about this, as you can imagine.

Rookiebfcounsellor Sat 06-Apr-13 19:01:26

My now DH was at a different college from me doing the same subject at the same time. Mine was very old, monied. His new and poorer. Mine high in academic league tables, his at the bottom.

I got taught by an ex Princeton prof, someone who now has a chair at Yale, someone else who is now a Prof and several other 'names' in the particular areas concerned. His were often people who had done research tangential to the area, not known for the area at all and/or young.

Seems a bit unfair - we have the same A level grades and degree class!

RiversideMum Sun 07-Apr-13 08:26:44

Isn't part of what Propitious describes the crux of the problem? What if a child/school/parent does not have a "network"? If that is what is really necessary, then why was that not talked about at the outreach presentation? The DCs know what the entry requirements are, and they know it will be hard work. What they need is the inside track. Or do they assume we already all know this?

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 09:28:49

RiversideMum, are you seriously suggesting that the privileged give away anything but the most tokenistic amount of their power? wink

I am of the mindset that everyone who has 3 As or higher at AL should be put in a lottery for Oxbridge places, and it should be decided on that basis. Why even attempt to distinguish between the top nano percentages of ability? If people with top grades can't cope with the 'system' then more and better supervisions need to be provided for them, rather than the students perceived as failures.

I also think all college endowments should be pooled and/or students allocated randomly by lottery to colleges.

The present system is not fit for purpose, but there are some very determined vested interests propping it up.

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 09:30:23

Anyway MN people, you have a built in network with me and other people on here who have experience of working within the Oxbridge system and/or being admissions people. So make the most of that. I have a very good idea of how to navigate the system to improve chances. Ask any questions you like.

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 09:39:28

BTW when we read the personal statements they look pretty scary to most of us. As academics we often were quite nerdy and spent time on intellectual tasks rather than joining clubs, doing D of E and so on. One thing we all did have in common was setting ourselves spontaneous personal intellectual challenges and seeing them through, quite separate from anything going on at school.

For example at one stage I sat down and wrote a book of Lieder translations from the German to English because I felt like it. The translations were pretty good, but the ability to do this was not recognised in my terrible A Level grades!!

Another example. DD won some money from school to do a journalistic article of her choice. Later I found she had infiltrated a group of (male) graffiti artists and basically carried their gear while they carried out their 'work'. This allowed her to gather sociological data of the type and quality of some of the early sociological urban research projects (before ethics committees!) She did this entirely by herself, not least because I would have had a fit. The article was amazing. Oxbridge were quite gobsmacked she had done this and seen it through, and analysed her findings in the way that she did - completely on her own.

That's what Oxbridge wants. Thinkers.

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 09:45:11

Another useful thing to bear in mind. There are two kinds of Oxbridge person, machers and schmoozers.

Machers make things,or make things happen.

Schmoozers network, and get on that way.

Machers look like this.


Schmoozers look like this.

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 09:53:11

At least Varsity are onto the supervision gap thing.

Supervision article

The picture in the article looks very like a typical supervision, by the way.

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 09:54:11

But without the tea and sometimes it has to take place in a coffee shop if the supervisor is too junior to actually have a study or workplace.

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 10:57:13

I think the most recent advice on this thread is Cambridge centric and doesn't apply to Oxford. There can be a tendency for those from Cambridge to generalise from their particular. I've no idea if it applies to Cambridge but some of it certainly sounds very odd.

I find the whole idea of networking to facilitate getting in faintly absurd and certainly not necessary - possibly not desirable either. There may be a danger, as there seems to be with mad and excessive tutoring for the 11+, that those who network furiously/ shell out hundreds for 'expert advice' etc. etc. believe that this is what helped secure an offer, when in reality their child would have secured an offer in any event.

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 15:00:45

The best networking is for kids to join subject associations, eg the Young Archeologists' Club, and become keen members, and be spotted doing things consistently and with great passion by the very people who are likely to be teaching them at university in the same subject later on.

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 15:01:51

Oxford centralise funding more than Cambridge, Yellowtip, but it is still not perfect.

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 15:24:21

Oxford appears to centralise more full stop, which is why comparisons frequently aren't valid Boffin. And I don't think even those in charge of the admissions process yet claim that it's perfect, but it isn't all bad.

And do you really believe that 'networking furiously' in the sense that Propitious meant it is necessary or even a good thing to do? I can't think why anyone would emerge from a mock interview 'ashen faced' either - even the real thing isn't that onerous, surely?

Propitious Sun 07-Apr-13 18:05:17

Networking may indeed not be necessary if you are white, middle class, university educated and your offspring go to a school with a history of getting their charges into Oxbridge. If you're none of the above (or even can't 'tick' just one of those 'pre-qualifiers') then you're on your own to face a subtle and sophisticated admissions procedure about which you know little.

Networking shouldn't be necessary (or desirable?) if, as Boffin suggests, there was a logical selection procedure which was fair to the truly able irrespective of their background.

Bear in mind there was a Russell Group hoo-ha fairly recently over the 'correct' A-levels to take if candidates were to stand a chance of gaining a place at one of these better universities. There are many parents out there whose only guidance on 'A' level subject choice comes from the school who want to shunt a fair number of pupils into hopeless Media Studies-type 'soft' subjects because it improves the school's strike rate in the league tables. Educated and discriminating parents already know these subjects are hopeless for Oxbridge, but there are many who don't have the same explicit knowledge (or ability) to de-code the whole 'A' level/Oxbridge entry puzzle.

If the school is of no help to potential Oxbridge candidates then where do you turn for help? Networking levels the playing field for the uninitiated.

Yellowtip: The Cambridge 'mock' interview. I took DC to Cambridge for the interview when the interview process was in full swing out of term. It can be a hugely anxious time for candidates and certainly the atmosphere in the corridors etc where the interviews took place was a bit like the dentist's waiting room when awaiting root canal work. There were a lot of extremely anxious young people there - most of them ashen-faced.

My DC was sixteen at the time of interview and after the event commented that the stressful nature of the preparation did help on the day. No doubt supremely confident candidates from privileged backgrounds will have had plenty of 'high table'-type discussions (where you're forced to think on your feet, make sense, and defend your position etc) so might even enjoy a bit of verbal/intellectual 'fencing' with the admissions tutors. If however your background is less exalted then you might find the interview a bit of a shock to the system, clam up, or blabber on making no sense at all.....for these candidates intense/semi-realistic preparation will be vital.

Oxford selection process compared to Cambridge. A very good friend is an admissions tutor at a middle ranking Oxford college. When comparing notes/experiences with them there was little substantive overall difference, with similar outcomes. If anything Oxford more likely to select its traditional demographic compared to Cambridge. (I think recent independent studies back this up?)

GrendelsMum Sun 07-Apr-13 18:15:17

Re. supervisions - I still remember my (very experienced and elderly) Director of Studies turning to me and saying "If you want to study X, there are two supervisors, Dr A and Dr B. Dr A is mad, and Dr B is a drunk. Think about whether you still want to study X, and then choose which one you want."

In the end she tracked down the very young but very good Dr C, and I studied with him instead.

RussiansOnTheSpree Sun 07-Apr-13 19:02:30

Yellow to be fair, I have observed just as much generalising from the particular from the Oxford people, you know. grin However, I must say that a lot of the more recent views on this thread seem completely alien to my own experience and that of the family friend who is currently in his first year at Cambridge. So, maybe things have changed massively, or, maybe not. There were certainly many many people who did do the whole networky shmoozy thing while I was there. But I personally knew far more who, like me, didn't. As for supervision hours - yes, they could vary massively in my time, too. The reason for this was sometimes that a college chose to buy in more but cheaper (eg PhD student) time, and sometimes that people actually opted to have more, or less, supervisions. It was certainly much pretty up to me, in my third year, what supervisions I had and with whom I had them. I shared many with a friend from a different (very ancient) college - some were organised by her DoS, some by mine, some by ourselves, all were signed off by our respective DoSs. Maybe things are more restrictive these days, which would I think be a shame. But certainly all those years ago there was a definite supervisions gap not just between colleges but between different students within the same course at the same college.

RussiansOnTheSpree Sun 07-Apr-13 19:09:30

Propitious did you really take your DC to their interview? I did get a lift to Liverpool Street, I admit, because although there were trains all through the night from Croydon even in those days, we all felt it was a tad early for me to be setting out from home completely on the train system (from memory my train from Liverpool Street was at about 6am ish). But once I was turfed out of the car (nicely) at the kerb, that was it, I was on my own with my walkman and my book. By the time I reached my future college, I already felt like I had conquered Everest, and it felt like a rest cure to be sitting in a lovely warm room talking about interesting stuff rather than interfacing with British Rail. grin

RussiansOnTheSpree Sun 07-Apr-13 19:12:03

Mind you I'm not saying we won't end up chauffeuring our DCs to their interviews/auditions wherever they may be. The trains from here are beyond atrocious. But I don't think we'd actually, you know, come within 50 feet of the actual venues. There will be some sort of discreet turfing out within reasonable-but-not-lazy walking distance.

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 19:15:24

Propitious so on the tick box exercise, how many boxes did you yourself not tick out of white, middle class and university educated? And I'm interested as to what sort of a state school your son or daughter attended up to GCSE? Was it markedly under performing? Average? High performing? Or a grammar? Clearly there's an inherent conflict in this notion of needing to 'network' since it's precisely those who need to boost their chances by networking (according to you anyhow) who are least likely to have 'useful' acquaintances to network with. I don't think it's necessary at all; just another perceived barrier, or deterrent.

Likewise I don't see hours of interview prep being a particularly helpful idea, even if your home lacks 'high table' (!) level discussion. I can personally vouch for the fact, several times over, that it's entirely possible to come from a home where absolutely no 'high-table' discussion takes place on a regular basis, if ever, and yet still get offers from perfectly acceptable colleges in reasonably competitive subjects.

I also disagree that students with ability should aim low, by playing some sort of numbers game with applicants per place. They should just choose a college they like the look of and apply. Have faith in the process, it really is not so bad.

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 19:18:11

Ah hello Russsian smile You managed to do three posts in the time it took me to type out one. I was idling too long wondering just how far our supper conversations are adrift from those at high table (conclusion: very far).

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 19:24:45

Hang on, I've just re-read your post Propitious: you took your son or daughter as far as the corridor where the interviews were taking place ?! [fainting emoticon which goes well beyond shock].

RussiansOnTheSpree Sun 07-Apr-13 19:30:28

Yellow Fast typer, me. grin All those scales in my youth had to bring some fringe benefits, right? Also - so much more interesting noodling around on here than the work I am actually supposed to be doing. grin

When I was applying all those years ago my parents ticked the box of white, although my mum also ticked an ethnic minority box (although it wasn't recognised as an ethnicity in those days, legally). And that was it. Not middle class, not university educated (although both easily clever enough to have been and indeed my dad (who was quite old) did pass his higher cert at school which in those days was the sort of thing you did if you were going to go to uni but poverty and parental death and war stopped him ever going.) And as for 'high table' conversations - we didn't have a dining room in our council flat let alone a dining table, we used to eat off our laps in front of the telly. And talk about stuff that was important to us. Thus I was as it turns out more than adequately prepared for an interview which was approx 4/5ths about the relative merits of various TV sci fi shows. Possibly my interviewee thought that I was relatively incapable of talking about anything else (not entirely the case but perhaps then, as now, not as far from the truth as I might pretend to my professional colleagues). Or, possibly, it was a standard interview. I was told after I joined the college that they always tried to offer places to people they thought they would enjoy teaching. And that can't really be prepped for.

RussiansOnTheSpree Sun 07-Apr-13 19:32:52

InterviewER not interviewEE.

Although, people who I interview these days for jobs etc are always well advised to get on to the topic of culture (ie sci fi) as early as they can. And I do have a slight suspicion that the person who interviews them first tips them the wink about this if they have done ok in their first interview.

JessieMcJessie Sun 07-Apr-13 19:54:35

Cambridge law degree here, 1996. State school, Scotland. RiversideMum, please assure your DD that nobody at Cambridge does any exam in a gown (though I believe that Oxford do finals in theirs).

I found a lot of time for drinking, lounging about my friends' rooms for hours on end, parties, meals out, being a college student Union officer, playing in the third hockey team and rowing in the fourth ladies' boat, and a fair bit of casual sex too. grin

I got a 2:1. The thing is that it's all so compact and rent is cheap and there's no living in dingy shared houses and all your meals are cooked for you and your room is cleaned daily, so you can easily fit in both work (of which there is a manageable amount, I work a hell of a lot harder now) and play.

I was at a very old and rich college and it was extremely diverse, I never once felt socially out of place and in fact I quite enjoyed meeting people from public school backgrounds who were by and large extremely pleasant- don't forget the upper class twits no longer get in as the academic criteria are too strict.

Glad your DD got the opportunity to go to the talk- when I was an undergrad the "target schools" office askede to talk at a school in Cumbernauld but the Sixth Year head teacher told me not to come as none of them were interested...and she wasn't having it when I suggested that that was perhaps the best reason for me to come...

Propitious Sun 07-Apr-13 20:12:42

Yellowtip In answer to your questions:

#We tick all the boxes.

#DC's school was a very small rural comprehensive, middle to lower order with greater than average free school meals take up. No history of Oxbridge success. Low output to other universities.

#Networking. Yes, there is an inherent conflict. Point is that those who aren't connected must try to network in the best way they can..perhaps a distant relative went there etc. For those who aren't effortlessly superior it's a strategy that might pay. Ditto 'high table' talk & interview prep.

#Numbers game. I have no faith in the selection process & it is that bad! Oxbridge has been favouring the privileged for generations. Us lesser mortals have to 'game' the system in order to get past the gatekeepers. A bit like question 'spotting' at 'A' level (probably not necessary for the effortlessly superior?)

If there was a reliable and fair selection system designed to select those with the greatest raw intellectual horsepower, then all of what you say would be true.

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 23:12:24

Well tbh my cockroach issues appear to have garnered the same sort of success at interview as your encyclopediac knowledge of Ford Prefect's idiosyncrasies and Dr Who's too Russian. Although I think I was skating around the fact that I knew little of the subject in hand, whereas you quite evidently could have knocked them for six.

Jessie that response from the teacher was bad. Oxford does do living in shared dingy houses though, even if Cambridge students are above it. That said, many seem to warm to the dingy house experience, as an enjoyable rite.

Propitious I'm sorry but I can't help feeling that maybe you didn't need to try so hard and I do believe that the system is fairer and more discriminating than you think. Dismissing all those who get offers without being so try hard as 'effortlessly superior' is good tactically, but only up to a point. The reality is, your very young DC was probably pushed very hard by a very well positioned parent, but all your efforts probably made not a jot of difference to the final result. Why did s/he go forward at 16 btw? I'd hate any of mine to up that young - so young (especially if they need chaperoning to the corridor of interview).

BoffinMum Sun 07-Apr-13 23:25:22

Believe me, some of the accommodation is pretty dire in the shared houses. wink

To get an idea of the sheer diversity of the place, go to the Freshers Fair. Beagling Society next to the Anorexics next to the Rock Climbing next to the Assassins' Guild (I was in that one) next to the Chocolate Society etc etc etc. Student Societies

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 23:31:21

I really hope that's not true, that there was an Anorexics stand at any recent Cambridge Freshers' Fair. That's sick, isn't it?

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 23:35:46

At a quick glance on your link Boffin I can't spot it, not an Anorexics' club. So why say it?

Yellowtip Sun 07-Apr-13 23:43:03

Nope, can't see one anywhere Boffin. For a heavily self proclaimed intellectual you've just been incredibly insensitive to lots of posters on other threads where parents are despairing about their DCs' mental health. An apology is due I think? That sort of stuff makes one wonder about your credentials tbh.

BoffinMum Mon 08-Apr-13 08:36:22

It may be in abeyance (you have to persuade a member of academic staff to be in place to check accounts etc annually) but there was definitely an Eating Disorders group, and I know this because one year they took the stand next to the Family Society at Kelsey Kerridge and were very keen to help the student parents with babysitting and general support, which was lovely. I am honestly not making that up, folks, and you don't need to doubt my credentials, seriously.

FWIW that year there was then a three way spat amongst the pro lifers, the Family Society and the Eating Disorders people, worthy of a TV sitcom, with the pro-lifers' plastic foetus model being defaced with post it notes, but we won't go into that. wink

BoffinMum Mon 08-Apr-13 08:39:56

The mental health support and Student Counselling Service is brilliant, btw, if anyone on here is worried about their DCs. Students get free counselling sessions subject to the readily given approval of their personal tutor, and there are loads of support groups run by the service.

BoffinMum Mon 08-Apr-13 08:41:21

LOL at heavily self-proclaimed intellectual. Wish I could retweet that. wink

JessieMcJessie Mon 08-Apr-13 08:42:24

Yellow, a bit unfair to suggest Cambridge students think themselves "above" shared house living. It just isn't necessary in many cases due to colleges having lots of good accommodation (which they make good profit on for conferences in the vacations) and if I recall correctly you weren't allowed to live out if College had a room for you- all part of creating a community. Mature and married students excepted. I have dredged up a dim memory of friends at other colleges being in shared houses, however I think that the colleges owned the houses.

alreadytaken Mon 08-Apr-13 09:21:34

The best article I have seen about Oxbridge is here www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9601544/Why-Oxford-and-Cambridge-might-not-be-for-you.html and is something anyone thinking of applying should consider.

Cambridge gives more weight in selection to AS grades, Oxford to GCSEs. Perhaps as a result Cambridge recruits more of the people who go on to get 3A*s at interview. Oxford seems to make some rather odd choices about who it will interview and that inevitably gives rise to suspicion about how genuine a commitment it has to widening access.

When my teenager was considering Oxbridge they looked at the different colleges and where they might like to live, that was quite a large number of colleges. They then tried to identify admission tutors with whom they felt they could have a dialogue based on shared interests. They visited those colleges at open day to make a final choice of college. Maybe that wasn't necessary to get a place but it wasn't going to do their chances any harm and it does mean that if they make the grades they have more prospect of enjoying themselves later. Of course that process would be much easier at some public schools where the teachers may know the tutors personally and be able to suggest a good match. If we'd know about varying levels of supervision they would probably have looked at that, but we didn't.

Boffinmum I wouldn't waste time defending your credentials, It isn't necessary. My teenager is attracted by the Assassins' Guild too. They were slightly put off by Cambridge freshers being shorter than Oxford's though and by Cambridge laying on less activities for those attending interviews.

Rookiebfcounsellor Mon 08-Apr-13 09:36:53

When I was at Cantab there were plenty of dingy shared houses to live in - they just happened to be owned by the college so no extortionate rents. My wallpaper was peeling off, curtains were from c 1980 and carpet stank. I don't know whether this is different now with tuition fees, but I certainly didn't miss out on that part of the student experience grin

Yellowtip Mon 08-Apr-13 10:16:10

Don't be silly Jessie I don't for a moment seriously think that Cambridge students are above shared house living. It's very common in Oxford, that's all.

Boffin I'm definitely not interested in you defending your credentials, despite what alreadytaken suggests. Nevertheless any academic tutor worth their salt at either Cambridge or Oxford should probably think twice before being too flip about eating disorders ('Anorexics Society' is certainly flip). I don't usually get heavy, but that remark was pretty lightweight, so I assume from it that you may be too.

Copthallresident Mon 08-Apr-13 13:49:29

I have to say I am not sure what has happened to this thread, a few people seem to be trying to generalise their own experience in a way that doesn't reflect the experiences of the people I know who have gone through the admissions process either now or in the 70s when my northern grammar sent quite a few pupils there. Or to be suggesting there is some magic bullet for success? Of course amongst able people you will get all sorts of personality types and interests but apart from having been able to demonstrate ability and an inclination /enthusiasm/passion /Arsedness (delete as is your inclination wink for a subject I don't have any sense amongst those who succeed, that you have to be a particular type or to have networked in a certain way to get in, or to have a particularly proactive parent or even think in a particular way.

There is the random factor in that interviewed by those who will teach you an element of subjectivity creeps in (and it works both ways, a tutor might want to teach you but you might not want to be taught by the tutor) and in any given year your subject at your chosen college may be very popular and pooling isn't a perfect way of levelling out chances (nor is looking at the statistics for past years since a less popular subject at a less popular college one year may well attract more applicants the next. ) Any applicant has to be prepared for that randomness, it may sound a tired old cliche but it is true many bright people don't get in and some surprising people do.

If your DC is thinking of applying from a state school then there are good outreach courses which will enable them to get some sound advice rather than the extreme subjectivity that seems to have taken over this thread.

Copthallresident Mon 08-Apr-13 15:47:39

On the other hand in the interests of supplementing the subjectivities I offer the experience of my friend in the 80s, from large family with problems, underperforming rural comp, bounced into the interview (as indeed she bounces everywhere), Tutor said "Do you want to come here?" She said "Yes" and he said "You're in" and she was given a 2 E offer presumably on the back of having achieved so much from such a beleaguered background. No networking, no parent herding her down corridors, certainly no high table discussions, no great independent studies, projects or memberships of societies, just being herself, spectacularly bright and charismatic. As they say "it takes all sorts"

slipshodsibyl Mon 08-Apr-13 15:51:06

It is natural to make a narrative out of experiences I suppose and to think we have found the formula when we or our children succeed. Things have changed massively over the last twenty years too.

I have however. Been browsing the Cambridge prospectus and have counted AT LEAST 5 usages of ''passion' or 'passionate' just in the few pages I read. No wonder the Yellow twinkies are all marched towards Oxford&#128516;

slipshodsibyl Mon 08-Apr-13 15:52:09

Oops meant do a smiley smile

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 08-Apr-13 19:00:01

Even with a smiley that doesn't look like a terribly friendly comment, really. I get far more of a sense of young people being marched towards particular destinations from other posters than I do from Yellow.

slipshodsibyl Mon 08-Apr-13 19:29:26

No, definitely meant with a smile as she often asks how such young people can routinely be expected to know their 'passion'. I hope she understands that is how I intended it.

slipshodsibyl Mon 08-Apr-13 19:39:58

But thank you Russians, for allowing me to clarify,since my attempt at a gentle tease is perhaps too clumsy.

Yellowtip Tue 09-Apr-13 10:56:14

Agree again Copthall and thank you Russian, quite right, although I imagine having children amenable to being marched anywhere would simplify life quite a bit smile

As far as Cambridge goes, only DS1 out of my elder four ever seriously considered it. Arguably, he was the only one with the AS scores to merit it. But they all actually far preferred Oxford anyhow, so that choice simply played to their strengths. It wasn't about passion or lack of it. I didn't (and wouldn't have been able to effectively) put any pressure on DS1 but I have to say I'm glad he chose as he did: it makes logistical sense (it would make even more logistical sense if they agreed to come home and go back on the same day, instead of four and five days apart).

On this subject of passion, I think one of the DDs would have been equally happy reading History and the real passion of another was Art. What I find interesting is that they've all developed what others might term passion for their subject as they go through, largely thanks to exceptional tutors, which each has been lucky to have.

alreadytaken Wed 10-Apr-13 11:24:55

Copthallresident it's inevitable that people post their own experiences and sometimes without thinking about whether the system has actually changed since they applied/were admitted. There seem to have been attempts to make the process slightly less idiosyncratic but the decisions can still seem quite random. It's natural to want to try and see some order where perhaps there isn't any.

Within the universities there seem - based on the experiences of my teenager and their friends/facebook offer holder acquaintances - to still be differences between colleges. Therefore your own experience may be misleading even about the rest of the university, never mind the other one. The only people who really know why decisions are taken are those who have sat through the process. For anyone else to consider themselves expert would be arrogant.

slipshodsibyl Wed 10-Apr-13 11:45:45

It is the case that individual Directors of Studies no longer have the same level of autonomy/power to admit whomsoever they wish as they did in the 80s.

Yellowtip Wed 10-Apr-13 13:02:01

How on earth does merely 'sitting through the process' give 'expert' knowledge?

You do seem to have quite a downer on the Oxford process though *alreadytaken'. Why so?

Copthallresident Wed 10-Apr-13 13:10:26

alreadytaken totally agree. I was simply offering up antidotes to some posts that might result in some parents thinking it would be of benefit to put in place some fairly scary bootcamps for DCs, as well as putting off some candidates who are have all the qualities needed to get in because they don't have those sorts of parents, or the resources to build up stella CVs. The fact is that a personal statement that demonstrates the candidate has the necessary qualities through what they have gained through the wide reading that is accessible to all coupled with academic success, especially if not gained at what the unis would regard as good schools (state as well as private ), will be as impressive as it needs to be. Then the application is subject to the randomness of the interview process and the college system. (and that is based on my current experience within a university and my DD and her peers' recent experience of the Oxbridge process)

anInspectorcalls Wed 10-Apr-13 16:04:35

especially if not gained at what the unis would regard as good schools
How do they judge what is a good school? Is it based on the current OFSTED or the one 3 or 4 years ago when the child was approaching GCSEs?
My DCs school was put into special measures when DC1 was in year 8, so presumably things were in decline from the day he started there. It's since been reinspected as good but my DC didn't necessarily get the benefit of that.

Copthallresident Wed 10-Apr-13 17:28:45

anInspectorCalls It isn't consistent but most unis and certainly Oxbridge will use some measure of a pupil's performance in exams against the average for their school, and the school's overall exam performance too, and there is an qualitative element to the judgement in that it is sometimes glaringly obvious from the school's reference that there are problems, either because changes in staffing and shortcomings in teaching are highlighted or because it is, sadly, just glaringly obvious from the standard of the reference. No uni is going to hold against a student the fact the teachers don't even give them a decently written reference. It was all apparent in the link I posted earlier on Cambridge admissions. I would have thought if the Ofsted rating was taken into account it would only be in the sense that it was highlighted as evidence of contextual information by the school i.e the school's present or indeed past Ofsteds highlighted particular problems which had placed the pupil at a disadvantage.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 10-Apr-13 18:25:42


I was simply offering up antidotes to some posts that might result in some parents thinking it would be of benefit to put in place some fairly scary bootcamps for DCs, as well as putting off some candidates who are have all the qualities needed to get in because they don't have those sorts of parents, or the resources to build up stella CVs.

Exactly. I do always wonder what can possibly be the motivation behind people claiming that such brobdignagian efforts must be made to have any hope of getting in, when we have such a wealth of evidence that this simply isn't the case.

Propitious Wed 10-Apr-13 19:09:59

I do always wonder what can possibly be the motivation behind people claiming that such brobdignagian efforts must be made to have any hope of getting in, when we have such a wealth of evidence that this simply isn't the case.

Meanwhile, the independent schools are selecting & finessing their potential Oxbridge candidates:


Also, 'hard-wiring' their Oxbridge networks: just a handful...








...there are many more examples. This symbiotic relationship in some cases has been going on for centuries.

So is the MN consensus that state school candidates should?:

....just rock up to interview 'as you are' because it's all a bit random and you might get lucky and get in, or not.

Don't bother networking because...well, that's trying a bit too hard and just not done...not very P.L.U.

Or could you learn something from the independent schools' pretty 'focussed' (to put it mildly) approach?

(Something to get your teeth into here Yellowtip and Russian......Comment?)

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 10-Apr-13 19:37:27

What is P.L.U?

Propitious - did your parents do loads of networking before you went to Oxford or Cambridge? Do you genuinely think you wouldn't have got in had they not done so? Do you genuinely think that telling people who have zero experience of networking, and therefore haven't had - and cannot now manufacture - the years of experience necessary to hone that black art, that unless they get networking pronto their kids are dooooomed is anything other than incredibly unhelpful and off-putting?

If you're an established successful networker then, sure, network your socks off. Why not. It won't actually help, but if it makes you feel better then go on. But if someone can't do it, hasn't had years of practice, or feels intimidated by the prospect then they shouldn't be made to feel like they have failed their child. They haven't.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 10-Apr-13 19:40:03

Incidentally I am certain there is zero possibility of DD1 or DS wanting to apply to either place or even being in the ballpark for such an application to be a fair enough option. So while one might ask - and I am asking myself - why I'm bothered with this thread (there's always DD2 though), I certainly don't have any particular agenda to push for a good 9 years yet. grin

Propitious Wed 10-Apr-13 19:40:06

People Like Us

Copthallresident Wed 10-Apr-13 19:52:58

propitious DD went to one of the powerhouse London schools, though perhaps none of the girls' schools perhaps quite penetrate the golden circle hmm but from a very selective intake many bright girls did not get in, in spite of being prepped and even having parents who went to Oxbridge themselves (and there is no parent thwarted by a DCs failure to get into Oxbridge like one who went to Oxbridge themselves). The reason? that they were, quite rightly, not cut any slack. Of course some of the thwarted parents moan that it was their DCs who were discriminated against. Please read the link I posted earlier to the article on the Cambridge admissions procedure, that gives some facts amidst all this ill informed parental speculation. My DDs peers went to all sorts of schools and I can honestly say that in the end the ones that got into Oxbridge were the bright well read ones from whatever their background, many from state schools who were not put through the scary bootcamp you advocate (not least because I know few independent bright DCs who would submit to such a regime, my DD would certainly have told me where to get off). However many bright well read ones, including from the schools you highlight, did not get in. All I can read into the process is that if you are bright and well read you have a chance of getting in but there are NO guarantees, and lots of other great unis.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 10-Apr-13 20:20:00

Well, DD1 wants to do music so in her case I suspect that being well read wouldn't necessarily have much impact. And I'm not entirely sure whether her list of books read (which must be well over 1000) would count at all as being 'well read' in Cambridge terms. Although her knowledge of contemporary and classic multi media sci fi is, of course, top notch. grin She is 'well listened' though. And she has certainly seen significantly more decent theatre than anyone living where we do has any reasonable expectation of seeing. But still.

Copthallresident Wed 10-Apr-13 20:57:34

propitious the corollary of your belief that a pupil has to be prepared in a "pretty focused" way is that a pupil who comes from a disadvantage background with parents and a peer group who may give working hard pariah status, let alone not be encouraging, or provide "pretty focused" preparation, should have no chance. Yet Oxbridge goes out of it's way to help the pupils that are helped by the mentoring charity I am involved with, which provides them with positive role models and the encouragement to work hard to achieve their potential. Not least because those pupils, as the evidence shows all pupils who have overcome real disadvantage (by which I mean succeeding in spite of poorly performing schools, difficult home backgrounds and SLDs), actually perform better than their peers. Do you believe your DC was given the same advantages over those pupils that you perceive private school pupils gain over your DC?

Russians For music substitute CDs /downloads for books, obviously. Whatever is accessible..........

Copthallresident Wed 10-Apr-13 21:00:33

Also, always evaluate your sources, the London Standard? Really?

Propitious Wed 10-Apr-13 21:20:42

Re. The London Standard. Isn't the most important thing the veracity of what's said/reported by (whatever) the publication/source?

Yellowtip Wed 10-Apr-13 21:35:27

Propitious tbh with a strike rate like mine (assuming that I set out to strike, which actually I didn't) then the answer is that clearly that no, as a state school parent, I didn't need to learn anything from the independent schools' 'focussed' approach. Nor did I network. At all. That sort of stuff is absolute absolute rubbish in the modern Oxbridge world. You've admitted that you tick all the advantaged boxes and that yet, despite that, you still prostrated yourself to network on behalf of your accelerated child and that you now attribute his success to those efforts. I don't think you should kid yourself overly: give him the credit instead. Poor kid, that's surely the least he deserves after all those wasted hours of ashening in front of your friend and being marched humiliatingly to the interview room by an exceedingly ambitious mum.

Yellowtip Wed 10-Apr-13 21:36:01

Delete a that.

Copthallresident Wed 10-Apr-13 21:44:05

propitious You are clearly not a historian. A journalist from the Evening Standard is peddling an agenda and will hear, and print, selectively, what they want to print.. I can assure you they have no interest in the success stories of the mentoring charity I am involved in or my unis outreach programmes. It is not what they think their middle class readers want to hear, or indeed what their proprietor wants them to hear.....

Also, what Yellowtip said. Sad sad

Propitious Wed 10-Apr-13 22:20:19

Wondered when Yellowtip would wade in!

Yellowtip: You're presuming quite a lot about me, my motivations, actions, and my DC...based on a few bare snippets of info garnered here.

Did I march DC down the corridor to the interview? The bedroom DC had been allocated when we arrived could only be reached via the corridor where said interviewees were waiting (and was accessible to anyone else in the college that day, to boot). Why not escort 16yr old DC up to the room for a look at part of the college DC may one day inhabit? You no doubt have your own reasons for spinning my early comments about that into the stilted image all too clear in your most recent comment. Ditto 'high table' talk, ditto interview prep etc. etc.

Your comment seems a little hysterical..?

Ok. Back on subject...

You're right, not a historian! (Are you?)

You have my genuine thanks for the outreach work you do. There's definitely not enough and the reach across the country needs to be greater..but you probably know that already. There are parts of the country where your work is unknown (mine, certainly!) and hope your funding body has further plans...if so, not before time.

(Your DD: NLC or St.P's? Both excellent schools.)

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 10-Apr-13 22:52:20

Propitious You didn't answer my question.....

Yellowtip Thu 11-Apr-13 09:40:37

I'm returning to the thread Propitious not 'wading in' and you appear to have asked me a question directly, and it's that to which I'm responding confused.

Goodness knows where you get hysterical from: I'm as unhysterical about this sort of stuff as it's possible to be I'd have thought. Indeed I'd go so far as to say that obsessive parental 'networking' of a statistically already advantaged child, physically draining mock interviews and chaperoning of the order you describe would count as significantly more hysterical than anything I've ever done. I mean, I'm quite enthusiastic when the offer letters come through but even then it falls massively short of hysteria.

Yellowtip Thu 11-Apr-13 09:44:22

My reasons for 'spinning' are fairly straightforward. Suggesting a need to network, especially furiously, or alternatively a need for 'high table' debates over supper is very off-putting to those who have access to neither. Simple.

Copthallresident Thu 11-Apr-13 13:32:01

Propitious A historian now involved in cross disciplinary studies of another culture which makes me all the more aware that the perspectives that journalists take on issues can result in them writing about things in a way that is not just one sided but downright ignorant and misleading. I can count on the fingers of one hand the journalists that write about the culture I study with any real insight and knowledge, the rest write equipped only with easy stereotypes and prejudice that have you shouting and throwing things at the wall.................the same applies when it comes to fair admissions, Telegraph "Private school pupils discriminated against" Mail "4A* star student from state school rejected". Obviously they are not going to balance their stories with the finer details of the use of contextual data in admissions processes.

Outreach is just what it says, Oxbridge especially target their outreach activities everywhere, to all state school pupils. The mentoring charity is by dint of it's mission London centric but my uni offer study weeks etc. to all state school students and will fund travel if necessary. I agree that the unis have not yet reached the point where the playing field is entirely level, we know that because of how much better the disadvantaged do when enabled. However unis want the best students and are constantly fine tuning their processes to ensure they get them. That is why the Fair Admission Tzar (another bit of soundbite politics) abandoned his plans for State / Private quotas when he came to appreciate that unis had long moved beyond such crude measures of disadvantage.

As far as Yellowtips comments go, perhaps you are unaware of just how off the wall your original post sounded, and even your watered down version. They would most certainly deter applicants if taken seriously (hopefully they too evaluate sources). My DD and her peers were determined, quite rightly, that the whole UCAS process was their business and parental advice was only to be given when asked for. A few parents who tried to be controlling got short shift, and even were counter productive. Good, that is as it should be as they take the first step to adult life. By far the most common reason for students dropping out is that they were influenced by parents into choosing courses and unis that were not right for them.

Chauffeuring was allowed of course wink

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 11-Apr-13 14:20:49

Although I suspect now that they were more invested than I realised at the time, had I even dreamed that my parents were as invested in me going to Cambridge as some MN posters appear to be about their kids doing the same, it would have had a very negative impact on me.

I constantly worry that I'm over invested in my kids' education. But compared to some MN posters I'm positively delinquent. I don't know whether to take heart from this, or worry about that too!

Propitious still hasn't answered my question, I see.

nemno Thu 11-Apr-13 14:42:47

Just another anecdote but it supports that Cambridge entry doesn't depend on massive (or even very much) preparation. My niece was offered a place. She was from a middle ranking comp, mostly Bs (some As) at GCSE and only applied right on the Oxbridge deadline because it was one of very few places to offer her course (History with/and something). Her dad drove her to interview and sat chatting with other parents outside the interview hall (in some sort of waiting room.) She didn't make her offer though.

Copthallresident Thu 11-Apr-13 15:53:11

Russians Don't worry. I am delinquent too, they have clearly achieved in spite of me...........

Yellowtip Thu 11-Apr-13 18:31:04

I'm firmly in the same category though I did chauffeur to interview and would do so again: I'm given a fairly safe exclusion zone and work around that to do my own stuff. If called, I respond and we meet for tea or coffee or in the Parks and I'm usually expected to commiserate and tell them how stupid they are and how could they possibly have said that. Apart from DD1 (who I'd food poisoned on the eve of her interview) there's always been another sibling around, helping at interviews themselves (and observing extremes of parental behaviour....) which is nice. And then of course it was quite reassuring for DD2 to have DD1 and myself around to accompany her to the police station for the evening the night before her last interview, since we had to be there quite a while.

Copthallresident Thu 11-Apr-13 22:34:13

Yellowtip Police station? Is that then something that prospective parents should arrange to ensure success wink

Yellowtip Fri 12-Apr-13 11:22:19

I'd strongly counsel against it Copthall. Oxford Police Station is definitely not my nick of choice (dreadful overhead lighting and incredibly busy).

I'm wondering about something you said earlier about your DD being given a good deal for her MSc? Is that in the sense of easily attainable offer or funding or something else or a combination of two or more?

Copthallresident Fri 12-Apr-13 17:27:38

"yellowtip" started off as unconditional offer with fee waiver but just heard she has landed an internship which assuming she doesn't mess it up will access her funding as well. Completely different environment to the humanities.

Yellowtip Fri 12-Apr-13 18:31:34

I'm interested in the difference in environment. DD2 has an offer but with conditions (lower than she'd feared however). I don't like this point when they emerge from their undergraduate years. Law seems very straightforward from that point of view.

Yellowtip Fri 12-Apr-13 18:32:06

Should have added that your DD must be hugely impressive.

Copthallresident Sat 13-Apr-13 08:52:03

Agreed, DD one of only three of her peers, both those emerging from her uni and those who went to her school, both highly selective, and including Oxbridge graduates, with anything at all lined up (and one has an internship organised by Daddy and the other a clinical masters.). Friend's DCs are still building up CV s of unpaid internships 3 or 4 years out of uni. It is a very difficult environment. Isn't even Law a problem now with so many emerging from the hugely expanded Law College courses and too few places to do articles available?

Our graduates seem to do well but they have a language that is in demand and tend to be going overseas to work.

MrsFrederickWentworth Fri 07-Jun-13 18:58:37


Ilovegeorgeclooney Fri 07-Jun-13 19:48:24

My DD2 should start at Oxford in September she seems to have got in on her answer to the question "What would you rather be a circle or a square?".

Happymum22 Sat 08-Jun-13 13:40:59

DDs went to a very academic girls school, probably 60% applied to oxbridge and about 40% got in. There were a fair number of surprises in who got rejected or offered. When I look at it, it is the ones who aren't necessarily the outgoing, incredibly all-rounded, fabulous at everything types. It was more the very focused, very passionate types who had done lots extra- but all very focused to their field.
A lot who were expected to get in were the ones who couldn't talk endlessly and articulately about their subject, showing they had a real interest in it.
It is also very dependent on the tutor as well.
Generally, though, with the ones who didn't get in - a few years down the line- they have realised (not in a bitter way) that oxbridge probably wasn't for them and they are much happier and better where they are. The ones who go almost always seem to fit in instantly and find themselves amongst very like-minded people with similar personalities.

Whatever it is they do- they do seem to do it right!

stephtbrown Wed 12-Jun-13 17:34:01

My daughter applied last year (successfully- to Oxford) and said that no one had even looked at her personal statement at interview. Interviewers know that those personal statements can be written by teachers or parents and are therefore hardly ever a good reflection of the student.

She was the same when applying, petrified that she would be surrounded by geeks, in the end we got her a tutor who was fantastic. He was from the college she wanted to apply to so coached her for interview for 4 months, which gave her an incredible amount of confidence!

For anyone still unsure about Oxbridge I can highly recommend a tutor (we did a lot of research and went with a small company run by Oxbridge graduates, beware there are a lot of scams out there!), if it means the difference between them getting in and not I think having Oxbridge on their CV won't do them any harm in the future!
If anyone has any questions about Oxbridge I've been through two lots of applications with my daughters, one to Cambridge and one to Oxford, and I know how stressful it is!

lljkk Wed 12-Jun-13 18:09:14


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