Preferred subjects for Oxbridge English admissons

(33 Posts)
doglover Sun 31-Jan-16 21:25:54

Our dd did really well in her recent AS mocks: Eng Lit A, History A, Media A and Music B. Her sixth form tutor has been talking about her possibly applying to Oxbridge to study English. This has come as a complete surprise to us - we knew she was a bright, motivated girl but didn't realise that she might have this potential - and we'll support her if she decides to follow this path. Her tutor did mention that her Media course - which she loves - may not be well-received by these establishments and she could consider continuing all 4 subjects for A2; she'd been planning to drop Music.

Would she be at a disadvantage applying with Eng Lit, History and Media?


OP’s posts: |
Puppymouse Sun 31-Jan-16 21:37:22

Dog - I was in this same position many years ago. I wanted to drop French and do Theatre Studies and still wanted to apply to Oxbridge to English. My dad called the English tutor (oh the shame!) and they confirmed it was fine. I got an offer. --Didn't get the grades but that's another thread.--
This was a long time ago so I'm sure things may have changed but hope this helps.

Puppymouse Sun 31-Jan-16 21:38:01

Had exact same other A-levels as your DD btw.

MadeinBelfast Sun 31-Jan-16 21:38:37

I'm sure someone will come along with more knowledge of English courses but here's a link I've used about 'facilitating' subjects for Russell Group universities. It might give you some helpful information.

MadeinBelfast Sun 31-Jan-16 21:39:15

Oops - here's the link:

Molio Sun 31-Jan-16 21:49:13

Even these days Drama is fairly standard for English Puppymouse.

I doubt it would be a problem OP, especially for English and especially at Oxford. Oxford is far more relaxed than a lot of other very good universities. It might be her second and third choices who're a bit more sniffy. I don't see an advantage in taking four if she has reservations about Music.

doglover Sun 31-Jan-16 21:55:56

Many thanks for your responses. I'll pass on your words of wisdom .....

OP’s posts: |


Molio Sun 31-Jan-16 22:14:08

Maybe give Oxford Admissions a ring?

horsemadmom Sun 31-Jan-16 22:16:12

DD has an Oxford English offer. I would advise dropping media but keeping Music if she can bring the B up. A2 music is tough but really interesting (DS did it last year).If keeping all 4 is possible, she'll only get an AAA offer (standard at Oxford but likely to be A*AA at Cambridge). How are her GCSEs?

doglover Sun 31-Jan-16 22:24:44

She got 5 A*, 5 A and 3 B at GCSE.

OP’s posts: |
bojorojo Sun 31-Jan-16 22:55:32

There is info available on the likely success of a 5A* candidate on a website called It is specifically about Oxford university admissions and GCSEs. Statistically only 15% of candidates with 5A*s get offered a place. Most candidates who are successful have more. That is not to say she should not apply. I would question why she took 13 GCSEs when just one or two more A*s and, say, 10 subjects would have been better advice. Quality not quantity.

This leads me to wonder if the school regularly gets children to Oxbridge. I doubt they would have recommended media studies if they did. However, the problem looks to be that media studies, however kindly you look at it, is not highly valued at Oxbridge. Oxford are not prescriptive but do mention a language is useful and science or social science A levels. Personally I would go with the music. Oxford also require candidates to take another test and submit work as well as the normal entrance procedure.

Oxford and Cambridge both offer subject open days. Attending one of these is vital in my opinion. English is a sought after subject. Oxford say you need to read 100 books a year. The difficulty you face is that very many other students will be very well qualified and will not have media studies on their list of subjects. The competition is fierce so I would ask the difficult question at the subject open day and gauge what you do after that. I feel I am being negative but I know of people with fantastic GCSEs and A levels not even get an interview for English so it pays to get all the facts before you start.

notagiraffe Sun 31-Jan-16 23:05:09

I agree that Media Studies might hold her back but call the colleges she's interested in and ask. Languages are always an advantage. Music and History will be taken seriously. Most of all she'd need to demonstrate a real passion for English - reading very widely around her subject, seeing lots of plays, reading some critical theory for fun as well as some philosophy. A good working knowledge of the stories of the Bible and Greek and Roman Mythology/Arthurian legends helps too, as would a strong critically informed interest in some modern authors. I got in from a lousy state school, with v poor GCSE results but I was incredibly geekily well read and knew all of the above and more.

HocusCrocus Sun 31-Jan-16 23:48:13

I would echo pps. Phone and ask. My impression is that Oxford put value on their aptitude tests, so if your daughter has a genuine talent for English - she is in with a chance.

alreadytaken Mon 01-Feb-16 07:11:09

the first question for her to consider is does she want to apply? The terms are short and intense. The tutorial teaching style does not suit everyone. The small city atmosphere of Oxford does not suit everyone. If she thinks she might like to do so then phone and ask and I suspect you'll be told Music is preferred. Does she want to go ahead with a subject she likes less and possibly with extra reading around her subject to give her a better chance at Oxford? If she would like to try plan a trip - to an open day if possible.

Her chance of a place doesn't look on the surface to be very good but if she really loves English don't let that put her off.

EricNorthmanSucks Mon 01-Feb-16 07:39:51

OP I'm involved on admissions.

A few questions.

Is it Oxford or Cambridge? The admissions processes are different.

Is she going to sit AS in summer? Some of those AS courses have been decoupled.

Molio Mon 01-Feb-16 08:22:59

It really is striking just how much less stuffy Oxford is than a great number of other good unis. English is going to be one of the subjects which is more accepting than most, but even in some subjects - say Law - where the usual response, and the response of say Durham and MN, would be oh that subject is 'soft' and therefore a problem, Oxford will take a far more enlightened view, although with the important caveat that can be college dependent and therefore slightly in the lap of the gods. I also think that even someone who ticks all the boxes on paper can't rely on an Oxford offer, so she does need to think about the attitude to Media of the stuffier places.

Obviously there would be no problem with an offering of English, History and Music but there is a problem with dropping a subject you love for a subject you're quite keen to drop. And writing on your form that you're taking four A2s is a problem if you then drop one which leaves you with an offering that might not be acceptable to some of the unis lower down your list. At least one Oxford college also insists in its offer letter that if you've said you're taking four, then they expect you to sit exams in all four, which can be be a blow to some DC smile But perfectly fair.

Molio Mon 01-Feb-16 08:25:27

that that can be college dependent etc.

bojorojo Mon 01-Feb-16 11:26:30

Do not just go on a standard open day - go on an English open day! You will get far more chance to talk about A level subjects then and begin to judge which colleges might be better.

JeanneDeMontbaston Mon 01-Feb-16 11:34:56

I agree with advice to talk to admissions.

Just wanted to say, re. colleges: I did Cambridge admissions last year, and it was drummed into us that candidates must not be disadvantaged (or advantaged) by their initial choice of college. Ie., if they are worth a place they are worth a place.

disquisitiones Mon 01-Feb-16 12:18:41

There is info available on the likely success of a 5A candidate on a website called It is specifically about Oxford university admissions and GCSEs. Statistically only 15% of candidates with 5A*s get offered a place.*

I think this is misleading.

Admissions take into account students' schools, so 5 A stars from a top independent school is viewed differently to 5 A stars from a grammar or 5 A stars from a non-selective low achieving school.

Some subjects at university are also more over-subscribed than others. The average is 15% but it varies considerably.

Finally it matters a great deal which subjects are A stars and how these relate to the university subject. If the A stars are in subjects such as Business and Communication Studies and the Bs are in humanities, it would be much worse than the other way round.

doglover Mon 01-Feb-16 13:09:05

This is fascinating stuff - really appreciate all your words of advice.

Her GCSE A* were in: Eng Lit, Eng Lang, History, RE, Media and Music.

Our dd went to an inner-city girls comp (but their results were great this year) and is at an 'average' sixth form college with only a couple of previous Oxbridge applicants. Now that the 'seed' has been planted, she needs to start researching colleges and the whole Oxbridge experience to see if it might be a path that she might like to follow.

I'm unsure if she'd achieve an A for Music A2 whereas she (almost!) certainly would for Media.

We obviously have a lot of thinking/research to do over the next few weeks!

OP’s posts: |
Molio Mon 01-Feb-16 13:15:05

disquisitiones how differently are A*s and As at GCSE viewed in your experience?

Molio Mon 01-Feb-16 14:10:30

And also As to Bs. So an applicant with 3A* and 9A compared to an applicant with 5A* 2A and 5B? (endless permutations!).

Molio Mon 01-Feb-16 14:12:41

OP that's six A*....

disquisitiones Mon 01-Feb-16 14:22:37

As you know Oxford and Cambridge have different takes on this issue and it also varies quite a lot by subject, so I am not sure my answer would be relevant for Oxford humanities.

Certainly getting A star versus A is not a big difference in any given subject (especially given flaky marking!) but the overall number of A stars would imply some difference. I would worry about an applicant for maths who didn't have almost all A stars for maths, sciences and computer science at GCSE.

The odd B is not a deal breaker - it's not uncommon for somebody who is strong in humanities to be weaker in e.g. physics (if taken as single subject IGCSE) or for a scientist to be weaker in an MFL. More than one or two Bs would suggest that there were issues with either work ethic or overall ability to handle their workload. I would discount GCSEs taken early in making judgements about Bs.

But as above one would always look at the school results to benchmark. I would be less forgiving of As rather than A stars in very selective schools which get a lot of A stars, than in comps for which the top sets are getting a mixture of As and A stars, for example. (In the latter they often aren't pushing the top candidates enough and teaching to the depth required to guarantee the A star.)

In your example above neither candidate would easily make the cut for my subject unless they had very strong AS results/aptitude test results. The first doesn't have enough A stars and the second has too many Bs. But neither would automatically be out: you would look at other factors.

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