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My girl has set her heart on Oxford or Cambridge. Encourage or ignore????

(293 Posts)
Ilovemyrabbits Tue 04-Jun-13 20:47:56

DD is 12...I know, it's very young and she's got a long way to go before we seriously need to consider this BUT...she is a very determined young lady who becomes very focussed when she has a goal in mind. She is academic and does well at school but she's not always top of the class. She's not overly outgoing, but she mixes well when she needs to. She has told all her friends she wants to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Her Y6 teacher told her she could do this if she wanted to. In the teacher's defence, she has two daughters who have gone through the Oxbridge process successfully and I think she was trying to be encouraging.

I am torn here between wanting to encourage dd in her aims, because it's good to aim high, and wanting her to be grounded. She's quite a sensible girl, even at 12, but I'm trying to figure how to deal with this. Part of me thinks, keep's a long way before the decisions need to be made and she may well adapt her plans by then. Another part of me thinks, she's stubborn and what do we do if she sticks with it?? Should we be encouraging her now? Asking teachers if she's capable? Or what????

Neither her dad nor I went to university, so I guess we're a little out of our comfort zone here. Does anyone have any advice for me????

superbagpuss Wed 05-Jun-13 07:54:12

encourage her to write down where she wants to be in 5 years, 10 years time and how to get there to focus her

at 12 I wanted to go to oxford
at 16 I realised I wasn't clever enough and not committed enough so only ended up going to a ex poly

gave me the kick I needed, I had a ten year plan at 15, achieved it all by 25, now have the life I want at 32.

there is nothing wrong in having a plan, as long as she knows that plans have to change sometimes and there is more than one easy to skin a cat.

good luck to her

MammaMedusa Wed 05-Jun-13 08:04:07

One of my relatives did a PhD at Cambridge. She is a normal person, IYKWIM, you don't look at her and gasp "Elite! Incredible!". There is no particular reason why it should not be your daughter, too.

If it were me, I would be encouraging your daughter to develop a deep and wide knowledge in her subjects of interest. As it is English, she should read widely (including Victorian and earlier authors), see plays of what she has read, join book groups, go to author talks.

My relative says that for English a good working knowledge of the bible, Greek, Roman and Norse myths and also traditional fairy tales is a big help. These should all be quite fun to read around.

Doing this should be pleasurable for her anyway, and will certainly identify whether she is targeting the right subjects (especially in terms of enjoyment) and mean if she does get to interview she will have lots to say.

BeckAndCall Wed 05-Jun-13 08:05:06

The problem is, you've no idea at all as to whether its achievable for her or not until you get her GCSE results - nothing before that will give you the indication you need.

By all means encourage her to think of her long term options but if she's mentioning it more than a couple of time as year, it's too often at this stage.

UptheChimney Wed 05-Jun-13 08:12:38

I completely disagree, Yellowtip. Oxbridge is always inundated with applications from the creme de la creme from around the world. If your personal statement can show leadership skills, team work, sports and still achieve the top grades that will set you aside from the candidates who cannot show social skills, the ability to multi-task

You might disagree, but yellowtip is largely correct. In the UK, at the elite university level, we're chiefly interested in potential academic ability and excellence: usually demonstrated by achieved results. This is by no means a perfect system, but it's what we work within now. How a better system of selection to university might work is another thread. US teen movies & television series tell another story, but that;'s the US.

What you're doing is confusing results with causes. High achieving children, in families that value the development of human potential, are usually involved in all sorts of things, and generally excellent in a number of them. In a family where learning and doing -- beyond the usual round of eating, sleeping, working, and watching television -- are valued and encouraged as a part of life generally (ie not just limited to schooling) for all family members will often also be families where there is a high level of school-based achievement.

And so it might look like universities select with extra-curriculars in mind, but it's not usually the case (well not in the RG universities I've worked in all my life). It's that the "best and brightest" are also just generally more energetic, more interested in the world around them, more engaged in pursuing a range of activities generally.

* if the uni is trying to decide on their last spot between two straight A candidates, surely the one with extra-curricular activities is going to get the place?*

I can answer, No.

There are always differences between candidates, and ways of ranking them via interview, and other selection activities. Having the DoE badge, or being school captain, are nice, but IME in the UK they don't get you a university place. It is different in the US at the Ivies, but for example, in Australia, in a post-qualifications admissions system, it is the numerical score at matriculation (HSC or similar) that gets you in. Little else.

Sausageeggbacon Wed 05-Jun-13 08:13:38

She needs to be encouraged, the actually uni may change depending on course choice but DD is going to Uni and DS2 probably will. Encourage them to be the best they can and don't be seen as the one who killed the dream before it started,

QueenoftheHolly Wed 05-Jun-13 08:16:20

"Always aim for the moon, even if you miss you will land amongst the stars"

Yellowtip Wed 05-Jun-13 08:25:24

Thank you Up. One top university is currently giving extra points to those with proven ability at national level at in either the sporting world or the arts, but it t isn't Oxford or Cambridge. And the kind of talent they're seeking is light years away from milk monitor and DoE Bronze.

wordfactory Wed 05-Jun-13 08:25:36

OP, I'd encourage, but with lots of caveats.

Gaining a place at Oxbridge is like any other dream where the chances are statistically against you.

The reality is that too many fab applicants apply. Someon ehas to be rejected. And often it's all a bit arbitary, or if not arbitary, based on things the applicant cannot control eg the personality of the admissions tutor!

I know a couple of girls (why is it usually girls?) who set their heart on it and have had their hearts broken. I do wonder why their parents and schools didn't manage expectations better. The reality is they are exceedingly clever girls who will have wonderful university careers. The rejection is in no way a reflection on their ability!!! Sigh.

As for personal statements, I would say that the ones I've seen have been highly impressive, but mostly discuss the applicants interest in the subject. There might be the odd mention of extra currics, but even these are included in connection to the subject IYSWIM.
I also think they might be popped in there to help applications elsewhere, where admissions might be more interested.

tiredaftertwo Wed 05-Jun-13 08:28:43

Ilovemyrabbits, you have had lots of sensible advice here. Assuming she is reasonably bright, I really doubt teachers at this stage will be able to say whether she could be a candidate or not - and I wouldn't trust the ones who thought they did, tbh. Children develop in all sorts of extraordinary ways.

I agree with others: work hard, throw yourself into school life, and other activities (not because they will get you in but the pursuit of excellence, development of stamina, organisational skills etc etc are all useful), read widely, do interesting things. Then you will be in a position to decide what it is you want, and have a better chance of getting it.

I would not discourage her at all - but I think I would try and shift her away of having this as her "dream". She can't really know what is involved, or what will be the best choice for her, and you don't want her say ending up reading maths at Warwick (which would mean she had done extremely well) and feeling like a failure because it didn't fit her dream. So I think I would try and steer her towards the idea that there are lots of very good options out there, but for the moment it is best to keep as broad a base as possible. Be ambitious, but don't narrow your aims or focus. Be open to new ideas, experiences, subjects and interests.

senua Wed 05-Jun-13 08:29:36

If she is clever enough to think about Oxbridge then she should be clever enough to understand paradoxes.
"Wanting to go to Oxbridge" will not get her in. There are no degrees in "wanting to go to Oxbridge". Admissions tutors are not interested in people who "want to go to Oxbridge".
What does attract the attention of admissions staff are people who are really interested in their subject, who are focused on it.
So, to get to Oxbridge, she shouldn't concentrate on Oxbridge but on her academic aspirations. Getting to Oxbridge shouldn't be the aim; it should merely be a natural by-product of her drive, of her love for her subject.

MissMarplesBloomers Wed 05-Jun-13 08:30:43

my DD1 was exactly the same, I am from a similar background to you OP. I encouraged & supported her to apply & she got an interview at Cambridge for Classics. I emphasised to her how proud I was of her to have got that far, as so many don't & that if they didn't offer her a place it was no reflection on her just they can cherry pick.

Ultimately they didn't offer her a place, despite a great interview (from her perspective being the first proper interview she's ever had) mainly due to her disappointing AS results.

She was gutted for a while but used the opportunity to turn her grades around, has worked bloody hard & is now on course for 3 A*'s (please god) & Warwick Uni, which she loves & is so excited about.

DD2 wants to be an astronaut...we aim high in this house grin

Lastly I always remember my wise old Mum saying "It doesn't matter if you want to be a dustman, as long as you are happy & you are the BEST dustman there is"

Good luck to her she sounds a determined young lady !

Yellowtip Wed 05-Jun-13 08:32:56

word an applicant would look fairly arrogant if their personal statement was very obviously solely directed towards Oxford/ Cambridge. For that reason alone those extra currics should go in.

Yes I've seen a number of people setting their heart on it and being gutted when told no. Expectations do need to be managed and they can be managed without putting a damper on the idea.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 05-Jun-13 08:33:51

At 12, I'd be saying 'that'd be good, yeah. Better crack on with your maths homework then!'. And then probably not worrying about it too much for a while.

kelticwitch Wed 05-Jun-13 08:36:12

As Queenoftheholly says (more poetically), aiming high is good so encourage her and don't start saying things like "are you sure you're good enough because I hear Keele has a good gym".

I went there because I really wanted to go there (albeit not from 12, more like 15) and it was the desire to get in that made me work hard to get top grades.

If I had failed to do so I would have been v disappointed but I would still have had the grades to get in anywhere else. Without that aspiration I would have got the Bs and Cs that my equally gifted but much less motivated peers did.

wordfactory Wed 05-Jun-13 08:37:09

nit that mad eme laugh out loud grin.

It is just the sort of thing I would say!!!

BeckAndCall Wed 05-Jun-13 08:37:27

yellow - if you pop back here - which is the uni that is giving credit for national level representation, as a matter of interest? I hadn't picked that up anywhere and it would be relevant for us, potentially.....

wordfactory Wed 05-Jun-13 08:39:17

yellow I hadn't thought of it that way!

I've just seen a few as part of this widening access stuff. I tell you what though, I was bloody impressed by them!! I don't know if I could have put somehting like that together at 17.

Wishiwasanheiress Wed 05-Jun-13 08:43:01

I'd be trying to find out what it is she wants to study. Those are fab unis but they excel at certain subjects. For example if it turns out she loves art history, she won't be going there as others are better at that subject. Equally if its medicine, it will be elsewhere.

Does she know or is she just presently aiming for what she's heard of? That's fine, she's 12, plenty of time to work it out and reassess. I would however start saving. She will love it if she loves her subject.

UptheChimney Wed 05-Jun-13 09:23:17

So, to get to Oxbridge, she shouldn't concentrate on Oxbridge but on her academic aspirations. Getting to Oxbridge shouldn't be the aim; it should merely be a natural by-product of her drive, of her love for her subject

Brilliantly put! If you don't mind, I'll pinch that to say to my undergrads, who tell me that "they really want a First" -- not "I really want to learn a lot about this subject and read a lot and really think about my writing"

It's a tragedy that students are encouraged to be so instrumentalist nowadays. I could strangle the parent that told one of my personal tutees that if she got a First, he'd pay for her Masters degree.

wordfactory Wed 05-Jun-13 09:27:29

upachimney I think that might be a very nice prospect, but one has to be relaistic too.

At the stage when Oxbridge appears on the radar, it's highly unlikely that the child will know what they want to do in life. It's highly unlikely that they will have yet developed a deep passion for a particular subject.

This comes in time, no?

UptheChimney Wed 05-Jun-13 09:34:26

Oh well, I knew what I wanted to do at the age of about 13 or 14. And I'm doing it. As did several of my siblings -- I guess we were a very serious family in some ways (but no, mine were not pushy parents, at all! Neither are we now as parents in the next generation).

wordfactory Wed 05-Jun-13 09:38:50

Ah, you see I had no idea.

Oxbridge was simply suggested to my Mother. Eventually I settled on a subject. But frankly, it was one I'd never studied before and though I fancied it, I'd hesitate to say I had a grand passion for it!

Corygal Wed 05-Jun-13 09:40:53

I got into Oxford (the no-college pool) but went to St Andrews if that helps - lots of people prefer other places. Depends what subject you want to do, to be honest.

Artesia Wed 05-Jun-13 09:48:26

I decided I wanted to go to Cambridge to read law when I was about 15 (two of my older siblings had already got places there- all of us from a northern comp).

The one thing I think helped me most with the interview, and once I was there, was joining the school's debating society. Possibly not the coolest pastime for a 17 year old, but taught me how to form and articulate rational, reasoned arguments, and how to think and respond on the spot, even on subjects I might not know lots about. Also did a lot for my confidence. Might be worth looking into if your daughter's school has something similar.

spiderlight Wed 05-Jun-13 09:48:50

My DS has set his heart on Oxford as well. He's just turned 6. His reasoning is that there's a really big Eddie Stobart depot there grin

I think TheOriginalSteamingNit has it about right. She's got plenty of time, so don't let her obsess about it but don't dismiss it either.

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