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Oxbridge Application Help

(27 Posts)
AlwaysHungryAlwaysTired Tue 09-May-17 10:43:40

Does anyone have any personal experience of paying what seem to be extortionate amounts for using Oxbridge Application support packages from private firms? I would be very interested to know if anyone has used these and found them useful and worth the money. I have a very academic son, marked as Oxbridge material by his school, but he is likely to need assistance in preparing himself for the interview/application process. We have no experience of this and his state secondary offer limited and rather lacklustre support it seems. We want to support him in the best way we can but money isn't plentiful so would like to spend it wisely. Thanks in advance for any advice.

Allthebestnamesareused Tue 09-May-17 10:46:17

Look at using Sutton Trust rather than someone you pay?

Allthebestnamesareused Tue 09-May-17 10:50:50

Oops posted too soon - look at Oxford Pathways Programme - tasters from year 10. Also they have separate law or STEM programmes too if of interest to him.

mousymary Tue 09-May-17 10:53:32

I (or rather ds!) was in your position. Little help from his school, and we had no Oxbridge "history" to draw on.

I had a look at those Oxbridge application places and, frankly, thought I could do the job myself. I can see the value for some foreign students who are completely unfamiliar with the process, but for a home-grown student it is unnecessary to pay out.

What is your friend is The Student Room. Join up (you can pretend to be a student if you want!) and there is masses of help there, from choosing a college to how to write a personal statement to interview help etc etc etc.

Then MN is a great help. Bypass all the argumentative/bragging/jealous stuff and look at the support threads for applicants in past years. Lots of tips and advice.

No. 1 is to have great grades and to be able to write/speak enthusiastically about chosen subject.

Ds was successful and he is a comprehensive all the way boy.

Chaotica Tue 09-May-17 10:55:08

Allthebest is right. You could get the support for free.

What sort of support are you after anyway? What subjects is your DS interested in? The reason I ask is that you can do it on your own. He needs to extremely well-educated in his subject, and thoroughly enthusiastic and committed to it, and this needs to come through in application and interview. (Over-prepared students are usually obvious.)

Also, has he been to visit? Admissions tutors of individual colleges might be willing to help if you explain the situation.

AlwaysHungryAlwaysTired Tue 09-May-17 11:02:35

Thanks Allthebest. Just had a quick look at their website and didn't know about them so thank you very much.

Allthebestnamesareused Tue 09-May-17 11:44:51

You're welcome and good luck to DS.

Notmyrealname85 Tue 09-May-17 11:50:02

just one point: make sure they know he's applying not for prestige, not as a stepping stone to a corporate job etc but that he really loves his subject and that he loves they have the best facilities (obviously tailor it for his subject, whether science labs or primar source material for history), one on one teaching etc - he needs to find ways of showing he's not there for the name but what the uni has to offer smile they want to take on kids they can teach, who have an insatiable appetite for learning amongst other things

thesandwich Tue 09-May-17 16:39:50

There are quite a few study days for different subjects at Cambridge and oxford- for sciences headstart are very good courses.

ILikeBeansWithKetchup Tue 09-May-17 16:50:12

Contact colleges direct , too.

I work in a state school and Pembroke College (Cambridge) are by far the most proactive at encouraging sate school applicants. They have an Outreach Programme which you could mention to your DSs school.

Churchill College and Wadham are also good.

I took some year 10s on a fab outreach day and five got into Oxbridge three years later:

Contact details and ideas below

Amber Cuttill
Senior Schools Liaison Officer
Pembroke College
University of Cambridge

Pembroke College Open Days
Pembroke is delighted to be hosting a range of Open Days again this year for prospective year 12 students. Individual bookings for these are now open on our website. Some of our open days are subject specific, please see the dates below for further details:

Thursday 6th April - Arts, Humanities and Social Science
Friday 7th April - Engineering, Sciences and Mathematics
Saturday 6th May - Mathematics
Wednesday 5th July - Law
Saturday 23rd September - All subjects (bookings not yet open)

Information and Bookings: Further information and a link to the booking form can be found on our website at

mateysmum Tue 09-May-17 16:54:20

Depending on the subject, your DS may have to take a separate entry test which shows the particular aptitudes Oxford look for rather than the rather tick box A level approach. The Oxford admissions website provides plenty of info / past papers etc. Don't know re Cambridge I'm afraid.
Also as Oxford applications are generally college specific, DS should start looking at the colleges. All have their own websites and often student led pages as well. The Oxford site also has admission statistics about rate of application to interview and acceptance rate. There is now a much improved pooling system to make sure that if you're good enough, you will get in even if not to your first choice college.
Last year we investigated the admissions companies and did not pursue - partly because of the cost and also as I am an oxbridge graduate I felt there was not much value they could add for their fees.
Depending on subject, encourage your DS to explore beyond the A level syllabus to demonstrate academic enquiry and interest. Don't worry about lots of extra curricular.
There have been lots of threads on MN in the past about Oxbridge admissions and I know there are some Oxbridge staff on her, so worth a search.
Also, research all the outreach activities that go on and the many subject tasters and open days. In the summer hols, you can go to Oxford for the day and if you are a prospective student they will usually let you in the colleges for free - just ask at the lodge and you can bypass the hordes of tourists.

What year is your DS in and what subject is he considering?

AlwaysHungryAlwaysTired Wed 10-May-17 14:53:05

Thanks to you all for your time and help. My DS is in Year 10 so has some time. It's just that since day one at secondary school he has been told he is Oxbridge etc. and we don't know anything about it all. I've started looking on the Oxford and Cambridge websites and it is so overwhelming, there's the University information, the college information for every college, the course information....I seem to get lost in it all.

I have emailed the Sutton Trust to ask about any schemes he can apply for. I am going to take him to Cambridge in the summer holidays and just walk around the town and some colleges to see if we can get in for a look around and get a general feel for them.

He doesn't know what subject exactly, yet. He is consistently top of his year of 200 in Maths, History, English, Latin and French and they say he has huge natural ability in all of these. He is talking about Maths or Law, but I'm not sure where Law came from.

Once again thank you.

mateysmum Wed 10-May-17 15:17:28

I would honestly start with the course. Get him to think about what he would really enjoy studying day in day out for 3 years. This is a good idea whatever uni he goes to. It's no good hankering after Oxbridge if the course is not what your DS wants. Oxbridge courses are intense and in depth and if you are not enjoying it, it would be very difficult to cope. There are many other excellent universities that have courses your Ds might prefer and might be just as highly rated. Just because he's bright, explore, but don't fixate on Oxbridge.
Cambridge for maths is hugely competitive as is Warwick and other unis. Maths and Law are polar opposites.
As he is doing latin and history, has he considered classics? The % applications to places is very good - much higher chance of getting in than for either maths or law.
Once your DS has decided on course, then look at colleges. What is important to him? Historic buildings? In college accommodation for 3 years? Numbers in college doing that course? Small college/big college? EG the difference in atmosphere between (at Oxford ) Christchurch and say Somerville is significant. However having said that, if he was offered a place he would love whatever college it was once he was there!

ILikeBeansWithKetchup Wed 10-May-17 15:18:21

Remember the Sutton Trust particualry deal with kow income families.

I am finding it bizarre that a school that offers Latin is not geared up to at least vaguely assume they might have some Oxbridge types who they might need to support.

My strongest advice would be to contact Amber Cuttill (see post above and see what she can do to help)

Good Luck.

mateysmum Wed 10-May-17 15:21:30

One idea - when my DS was trying to decide on unis, I got him to do a spreadsheet listing courses/unis/colleges and their pros and cons. My DS can be a bit of a muddled thinker and this really helped him focus and be objective and remember what his impressions were after each open day or visit. After a while they can all blur into one big lump of timey whimey confusion!

Chaotica Wed 10-May-17 15:23:41

By all means contact the person at Pembroke above. But on my understanding (or, at least, how it used to be organised) each college has outreach responsibility for a particular area of the country, so be prepared to be forwarded on elsewhere. (College outreach don't have a say in the matter I don't think.)

ILikeBeansWithKetchup Wed 10-May-17 16:40:03

I think you are right chaotica, hadn't thought of that : hopefully Amber will point her in the right direction. I am not sure but I thinks she is the person who oversees all the other people, possibly...

Jng1 Mon 15-May-17 11:53:42

Other posters are right - there is lots of free advice out there.


Also all the public schools tend to have Oxbridge Co-ordinators and with a bit of googling you can often find their own documents of recommendations for timetables/links / information...
Schools that 'prepare' kids are really just collecting information which is freely available and re-packaging it for time poor/ cash rich parents!

GeorgeTheHamster Tue 16-May-17 16:51:34

My son has an offer this year. All the information you need is online, you just need to take your time with it. There's no need to pay.

Your son needs to have a genuine love for his chosen subject in order to stand out, lots of extremely good candidate with straight A stars at GCSE plus excellent extra curricular activities don't get offers. To be honest I am astonished his school have told him he is "definitely Oxbridge material".

titchy Tue 16-May-17 17:04:10

Not pissing on chips but no way a school can tell if a year 10 kid has any chance of a place at Oxbridge.

Study hard and get top GCSEs (mostly top - 8s fine wink), pick the right A levels - I cannot stress this enough - PICK THE RIGHT A LEVELS! Demonstrate genuine interest in subject.

No need for paid for advisors or a host of irrelevant extra-curriculas.

SheepyFun Tue 16-May-17 17:45:26

As someone with friends who are admissions tutors at Oxbridge, please please don't pay for one of the application support packages. Almost all applicants are interviewed (and I know some applicants with not entirely stellar GCSE results), and admissions tutors are looking for enthusiasm and aptitude, not preparation. They really do want to find the best students, not the best prepared ones, and are doing their best to see past the bluster and polish. Your son wants to focus on getting good results, checking what A levels are actually needed for what he wants to study, and reading around his subject. Hope that helps!

Booksandcrocheting Tue 16-May-17 18:01:12

obviously as with any advice from internet sprites, feel free to take this with a pinch of salt, but as an Oxbridge graduate pre 2000 I'd say - at y10, it would be nice but not essential for him to have an idea which course, and even less important to focus on an individual college. I don't think it's even necessary to visit at y10. I didn't visit till y12 subject Open day. It's not unheard of to apply to one college but be passed onto another. But I'ld recommend he acquaints himself with local libraries/museums and the sections relevant to maths and law/criminal justice system. (not the academic degree level works but accessible but well written popular works). So the sort of books whose back blurb interests him.

But most of all, I'ld stress that Oxbridge isn't the be all and end all. Plenty of other good courses out there, and arguably some subjects are better taught/have a better content elsewhere.

AlwaysHungryAlwaysTired Wed 17-May-17 08:01:14

Thanks so much everyone for your advice. I am heartened to hear that he doesn't need loads of extra curricular activities as his school don't really offer many and we can't afford for him to do a lot outside of school. He loves sport and runs a lot and captains a team so that's something.

We are definitely not hung up on 'Oxbridge'. If he goes to any university (or if he doesn't) we will be massively proud of him. He is just very, very academic and very interested in learning so I think that is why the teachers are saying it. If they can't tell this early then they shouldn't be saying it all the time really since it does get everyone thinking, including him. But he's a sensible, practical boy and isn't likely to get hung up on any one thing. I'm sure when he decides what, if anything, he wants to study at university he will do a lot of research on courses. I just wanted to try to plan our family's money and time so that we could take him to visit some of the university towns. It seems strange to me to think of living somewhere for three or four years if you haven't visited it first and got a feel for the place - towns and cities have such different personalities.

Thank you all once again.

mateysmum Wed 17-May-17 13:57:57

OP Contrary to urban legend, Oxford certainly can be much cheaper than many other unis. Many colleges provide subsidised accommodation for 3 years and there are a lot of bursaries and financial support packages available. Worth adding this to your list of things to investigate.
I suggest you look at St Anne's College, Oxford - not a glam place, but really friendly, welcoming with superb pastoral support and despite being one of the "poorer" colleges, offers I believe more bursaries than any other college not that I'm biased of course.

Sheepyfun it is sadly not true that "almost all applicants are interviewed", even more so since more pre interview tests were introduced and the % varies greatly between subject.

Booksandcrocheting Thu 18-May-17 06:53:19

You really don't need to visit the university towns before y12 open days. In fact if he isn't set on a course I think it will be a waste of time and money, as the course as well as location is an important factor in preferences. Oxford, Cambridge and Durham all have interviews and a few nights stay for candidates as part of the application process. I agree with Mateysmum that Oxbridge can be cheaper, as some colleges can provide subsidised accommodation for the whole course. Also college bars are subsidised, and the college bars and libraries can provide very civilised evening work that won't interfere with studying.

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