Despite having the right grades, my child is not applying to Oxbridge because ....

(888 Posts)
TalkinPeace Thu 20-Aug-15 11:43:31

- she wants to live in self catered accommodation
- she does not like the small sizes of the colleges / social units
- having to go back to college for lunch while doing a lab based degree does not make sense
- the whole gown and formal dinner stuff smacks of coat tails rather than standing on own feet
- she does not fancy fighting through hordes of tourists while moving between buildings
- having a tutor picked by which college they are based in rather than their research specialism seems very odd to her

Also, for what she wants to do, the course at Oxford is not that well balanced
and Cambridge, despite having a fab course was not a place that felt like home when she visited for 2 days.

So she will be putting other Universities on her form and taking a great deal of stress out of this house.

For what its worth, those of her friends I've chatted to are also ruling out Oxbridge in favour of other Unis because of the first four points.

What are other people's reasons for ruling out Oxbridge, despite having the grades?

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VerityWaves Thu 20-Aug-15 11:44:39

Wow just wanted to say good for her she sounds v strong minded!

ImperialBlether Thu 20-Aug-15 11:49:59

Having the right grades isn't enough on its own, though, is it?

An awful lot of students have the right grades compared the number of places available.

It's fine to consider a place, anywhere, and find it's not what you want. She shouldn't turn that into her rejecting Oxbridge, though. She can only do that if they offer her a place and she turns it down.

cathyandclaire Thu 20-Aug-15 12:05:49

Do you have to go back to the college for lunch? That's not my understanding. I think you can cater for yourself a bit too and pick and choose if you want to go to formal hall.
However if she prefers other unis that's great, there are many, many fantastic Universities.
Good luck with the personal statement and the rest of the UCAS hell!

TalkinPeace Thu 20-Aug-15 12:14:48

Having read through the prospectus, the catering arrangements vary
- some colleges were advertising the fact that they only charge for meals actually taken. Which did not impress as a sales point
- others barely mention lunch
- some expect it to be taken at least once a week
either way, I had not realised that there was so little self catering and flexibility.

I'm not getting involved with her statement at all - saving my energies for DC2 who is much less self motivated grin

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Changeasgoodasis Thu 20-Aug-15 12:19:15

OP, my best friend went to Cambridge many years ago and I often visited and what you are describing sounds more archaic than what was going on then let alone today. Things vary a lot according to college, maybe your DD visited the wrong one for her?

Self-catering - my friend was in self-catering every year. 1st yr was in halls within the college and they had a small kitchen between about 4 rooms from what I remember. Next 2 yrs out in flats in town that were though owned by the college so no being messed about by dodgy landlords. There were controls though in visits when she was in the 1st yr. She needed permission for me to stay over. After that it was just the usual negotiating with housemates.

Lunch - No meals had to be had in college although we went down to the canteen sometimes when I visited as it was friendly and social (she was very tight on money and ate a lot lentils she made in her little kitchen :-) ) The college bar was subsidised and we would go down there after if we ate in her room, it felt a very safe environment for a woman.

She's quite lefty, never went to formal dinners etc apart from mandatory one at start I think, didn't go to to balls. I think the only time she wore a gown was graduation. She went to a college known for having high numbers of state school pupils compared to Oxbridge average.

I haven't been there for years but there are not hordes of tourists for most of the year as far as I know and as a student there you have access to walk through all colleges so lots of quiet short cuts. Cambridge is really cold in the winter so few tourists lingering! If you visit in the uni holidays it is banged full of language students and conferences so you won't get a clear picture. Some colleges have gorgeous private gardens that only college members can access.

She wasn't science so I don't know about that but she told me that one reason that she picked her college was it had a supervisor who specialised in her subject.

If she is going to get the grades I don't see the point in writing it off at this stage if she likes the course at Cambridge why doesn't she research a bit more about which college would have the best supervisor for her and give it a go? She doesn't have to go if she gets a place but if she doesn't apply she won't have the choice. Unless I suppose she is set on a uni that will turn her down unless it is number 1 on the form.

I'd hate to think of a bright young woman put off because they have perhaps visited the wrong college for them and got the idea that what goes for one college goes for all. It's good though not to think that Oxbridge is be all and end all.

NotCitrus Thu 20-Aug-15 12:20:54

From kids I've been mentoring over the last few years:
want to be near home where home is rural Wales/northern England
want a medicine course that's rated higher for people who aren't so interested in research
want a year in industry/abroad
want to be in a bigger city, often with more people of their ethnicity

Given that Cambridge has plenty of self-catered accommodation, you don't have to go back to college for lunch even if it is there, any more than you have to go back to halls at any other uni, and the gowns and formal dinners are likewise optional at almost all colleges, I'd encourage any mentee who mentioned those to do more research.

Equally I'd ask them what they thought the social units at other unis would be - halls are similar sizes to colleges and both vary a lot, and tutors for first and second years are going to be assigned for any subject on a pretty arbitrary basis, so college location is as good as any. Course size would be a useful piece of info. Whether you will eventually get tutored by someone with a relevant specialism is a good question, though (whether or not that person is your 'personal tutor', whose job it is to have a general oversight role)

She has a point on the tourists, though they swarm in very particular places and generally avoid labs!


namechangeforissue Thu 20-Aug-15 12:21:43

My Oxbridge friends and relatives didn't go and have lunch in hall every day, especially not scientists. And at most universities, you won't get a "tutor" from among the academics, you'll get a postgrad in your first year who is just as little a specialist. They would be from your subject at an Oxbridge college though, and you don't specialise that early - by the time you're doing detailed stuff e.g. final year research project you'd have someone who was into the same things as you.

Most colleges have a kitchen for students though at some it's only available to final years.

Not having such a good course, and not really liking the atmosphere, are both very good reasons.

My DB went to an Oxbridge college with a very hothouse reputation and he has some MH issues and it was the wrong place for him. He wasn't happy and needed a lot of help to scrape through. I have also seen other friends/relations in this situation. It is very much the kind of place where students who either a) genuinely make little effort and still get great grades and have a fabulous social life or b) are very good at pretending they do both, tend to choose. If you don't think you're astronomically bright, actually need to do work, and maybe are a bit unsure how "popular" you are, it might not work for you.

If you are a hard worker, not self-conscious about admitting that you are, and secure in your friendships without wishing to appear like a social butterfly, it could be great. I knew a lot of the latter among friends and relations that thrived at Oxbridge.

MythicalKings Thu 20-Aug-15 12:22:29

DH wanted to live in London so went to UC

spinoa Thu 20-Aug-15 12:22:38

Up to her but not all of her reasons are accurate:

- Some colleges do offer cooking facilities in their accommodation. I used to cook for myself 20 years ago, albeit with rather basic cooking facilities of a 2 ring hob, fridge and microwave/slow cooker.

- Some colleges are extremely large (think Trinity, St Johns etc at Cambridge) so you typically don't know most people in your year and it doesn't feel claustrophobic. As a scientist it is a non-issue as you get to know students from other colleges in practicals.

- You definitely don't have to go back to lunch in your college. Again colleges vary but in most you pay a fixed kitchen charge but are not committed to eating all or most meals there. In the first year most Nat Sci lectures/practicals finish by lunchtime and so students could go back to their college for lunch but it's equally common to grab a sandwich, take your own lunch or in later years to eat in the canteen of the science department.

- There is lots of variation between colleges about formal dress etc. Modern colleges like Robinson, Churchill don't tend to go in for a lot of formal occasions and you don't have to engage with it much in the old colleges either. In any college you will find a wide range of student backgrounds and you can find your own social group. If you don't want to go to formal hall you'll find other students who don't want to either. No big deal.

- Tourists aren't there much in the winter; tourists are only offered access to parts of the college and they tend to go to the big name colleges in the centre (Kings, Trinity, St Johns) rather than colleges further from the centre or newer colleges. Even in one of these colleges I was never bothered by tourists during term-time.

- I'm not sure whether you mean tutor or director of studies. The former is for personal affairs primarily and is not from the subject discipline. I assume you mean the latter but I still don't really see what the problem is. I think she would be doing biological sciences? In which case she would be offered a director of studies from biological sciences. She wouldn't "specialise" until the final year anyhow, and at that point her project supervisor in the department would become her main advisor. Note that in sciences any member of a department would be perfectly capable of guiding any undergraduate - this is the norm at all universities, not just Cambridge. Outside Oxbridge your director of studies would also not usually be an expert in what you specialise in during your final year.

TBH I think it's a bit sad to rule out any top university on such minor reasons. Cambridge is extremely strong in sciences. It takes extremely strong students and can hence do more with them than almost all other UK universities. It has huge science departments so covers more fields than most other UK universities. There are lots of state educated students in the sciences, lots of international students, and definitely no public school culture. Etc etc.

shockthemonkey Thu 20-Aug-15 12:25:22

She can self cater as much as she likes using the college kitchenettes. A student on my corridor did just this for all three years

From 2nd yr she can opt to rent a house in town, fully self-catered.
There are some very large colleges... and some small ones. She can base her choice of college on size if that's important

As for "social unit", she will find herself mixing with students from other colleges too!

She can have lunch where she likes -- either at another college (with a friend from that college), or in town, or at her own college/ its nearest annexe

Formal dinners are not compulsory... and nor are gowns very often required at supervisions/tutorials (depends on supervisor)

Students are not there at the height of the tourist season

Your supervisor/tutor can be from any college and will indeed be picked based on criteria such as research specialism...

Of all her reasons, Oxford not having the right course and Cambridge "not feeling right" are the only valid ones I can see, and sufficient in themselves to rule out the two universities. As pp said, plenty other unis to choose from.

spinoa Thu 20-Aug-15 12:25:50

Unless I suppose she is set on a uni that will turn her down unless it is number 1 on the form.

This is often said on this board but worth repeating: universities cannot see the other choices of the applicant. The numerical order of the choices on the form is not the order of preferences of the student and cannot be treated as such by any university.

TalkinPeace Thu 20-Aug-15 12:25:56

Equally I'd ask them what they thought the social units at other unis would be - halls are similar sizes to colleges
The others in the pile of reading matter I'm wading through have hall/college sizes in the 800-1000 range

She's coming from a 6th form college with 1800 per year group ....

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spinoa Thu 20-Aug-15 12:27:05

Gowns are never required at supervisions in Cambridge, nor are they worn in exams.

Haffdonga Thu 20-Aug-15 12:27:59

There are many good reasons for not choosing Oxbridge.

Where you eat your lunch does not seem to be one of them. confused

WhereDidTheYearsGo Thu 20-Aug-15 12:28:54

My DD didn't want to go there either (despite top grades) as she felt the English courses were old-fashioned and she preferred to be in London.

TalkinPeace Thu 20-Aug-15 12:33:15

You are correct that it is the Nat Sci route that would have been the option.
She just did not like the feel of the town - not sure what, partly that it is so small I guess.

The important thing to me is that she has a fantastic 3/4 years and comes out of it with a great degree and a good set of friends and widened opportunities.

I am not convinced that Cambridge is the best route to that so will put no pressure on her at all to change her mind.

If her perceptions are wrong, then those who write the prospectus should really read it from outside their gilded towers and get editing grin

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UhtredOfBebbanburg Thu 20-Aug-15 12:33:52

Tourists are an issue for those who don't like tourists. There are other drawbacks to Cambridge too - it can be bloody freezing, whatever people say about how much there is to do its not London and if you are used to London it just is sleepy in comparison. And different people like different things, I can quite understand someone visiting and thinking no way, this isn't for me.


Many of the things you listed as con points are either not correct or not correct for everywhere.

It is possible to be 100% self catering at some colleges.
It is possible to never attend a formal hall.
You do not have to go back to college for lunch anywhere as far as I'm aware.
Supervisors can be (and often are) selected by research specialism not 'who we always use/who is a member of this college' (this is more true in 2nd and 3rd years than in the 1st year, granted). Supervisors can also be selected based on just preference - in my 3rd year I had a friend at Jesus who couldn't stand her tutor for one particular paper even though she acknowledged he was very good. They had a personality clash. She switched to the supervisor I had (who was not a member of my college but who my director of studies had recommended because she thought he was good). Her director of studies was fine with that.

spinoa Thu 20-Aug-15 12:39:24

If her perceptions are wrong, then those who write the prospectus should really read it from outside their gilded towers and get editing.

Academics don't write most of the prospectus at any university. (We already work ludicrous hours, we don't have time to take on anything else on top.)

Did she go to an open day and talk to current undergraduates? I would be really surprised that none of them challenged some of the points above.

Not liking the place is another issue. Plus Nat Sci is very competitive and (from what is written on other threads) her grades are on the low end, so maybe it would be lots of stress for not a high chance of an offer.

Gruach Thu 20-Aug-15 12:39:45


Has Cambridge changed so much in 30 years? I do not recognise even one thing on your list. grin

Kitchens on every staircase. And of course you self cater when you live out.

You can make friends across the entire university. It's not as if you only have lectures with people in your own college, or indeed take part in any extra curricular stuff with only those people.

No compulsory lunch.

Formal meals entirely optional.

I like tourists. But they were never a nuisance anyway.

I also am unclear whether you mean personal tutor or Director of Studies or supervisor. At either place you come into contact with an innumerable number of teaching staff (and you can generally change any you really don't get in with ...)

Not my business - but these are terrible reasons. Are you sure she has completely understood what she was told? (It's a shame because Cambridge and Oxford are both lush ...)

JaneAustinAllegro Thu 20-Aug-15 12:40:35

if she's going into an area in which employment opportunities are limited / competitive, is she likely be compromised by not having an Oxbridge degree, or will eg Imperial be of (near) equal standing? is she going to find herself passed over for long term opportunities over worries about lunching venue? If for eg it was law, I'd be inclined to tell her to make a packed lunch and get on with it because it's an opportunity and a calling card that will more or less guarantee training contract interviews, but I've no idea if that's the case with her area - has she looked into that?

TalkinPeace Thu 20-Aug-15 12:40:49

Which Cambridge Colleges are fully self catering for Undergrads?

Which have over 500 undergrads?

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JaneAustinAllegro Thu 20-Aug-15 12:41:06

(PS tourists are just as irritating in South Kensington!)

Changeasgoodasis Thu 20-Aug-15 12:42:59

I didn't know that Spinoa that unis can't see your choices. Did that change at some point? When I was applying for unis back in the dark ages I was told not to bother putting one of the unis down unless it was no 1.

TalkinPeace Thu 20-Aug-15 12:43:15

Imperial is not on the list : no desire to live in London because too many family near by. I know South Ken very well.

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