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Oxbridge - how best to go about this?

(152 Posts)
GoodyGoodyGumdrops Wed 07-Dec-16 22:38:34

Ds (Y11 at a decent comprehensive) has his sights set on Oxbridge.

How best to support him?

How best to maximise his chances?

Bumpsadaisie Wed 07-Dec-16 22:54:42

There is not much magic to it.

For the moment the main thing he needs to do is work hard for his GCSEs.

Second, check he chooses appropriate A levels next year that will not exclude him from the subject he wants to do.

There is a wealth of information on both the Oxford and Cambridge websites, on the faculty pages, the college pages and so on. At some point in Y12 he will need to choose which one he wants to apply to (you can only apply to one or the other) and which college and subject. There will be open days and so on. For certain subjects you can apply to spend eg taster weekends there.

Remember that what they are really looking for is not hundreds of extra curricula activities, D of E awards, loads of school captain type positions, blah de blah. What they want is someone who loves their subject and will be interesting and fun to teach.

If he knows what he wants to do he should start taking it further and reading around the subject.

Try to tell him not to set his whole self esteem by the question of whether he gets in or not. At the end of the day there are lots of good candidates and there are just not enough places for them all. If he doesn't get in, but is still keen, he can still work hard for A levels and then apply again, or to the other one, post A level. I know lots of people who did that. In terms of maximising chances, I don't think there are any magic tricks. The interviewers are teachers and people, they choose those with the right academics, the interest in the subject and who they could imagine enjoying supervisions with.

bojorojo Thu 08-Dec-16 10:37:39

I would recommend going to a subject day at Oxford. This means you get answers to lots of questions about the subject and how to apply. I assume Cambridge does the same. You can't apply to both universities, so making a decision based on a visit is a good idea. You can go in the holidays and look around the colleges to get a flavour of them.

Also try not to big it up too much! Some subjects have about 1:10 chance of getting in and others it is 1:3. The subjects have ratios on the web sites. It just helps to be realistic. Or, if he is good at lots of subjects, what really excites him?

Personally I do think the lecturers like interviewing interesting candidates and ones they will enjoy teaching so being able to have an informed conversation at interview is a good idea. Reading and having reasonable subject knowledge is key.

At least 6 GCSEs at A* or the new high numerical grades is needed as a starting point but I do think confidence, ability to think through a problem as well as top A level predications are important. If it was just on A levels it would be impossible to choose between any of the students!

Crumbs1 Thu 08-Dec-16 10:42:43

He needs to do a bit of research to make sure he course is what he wants. My youngest turned down a place for languages after realising course was less linguistically based than she wanted.
Then good GCSEs -10 A*s usually, good four A grades at A level or 42 at IB. Relevant work experience or extra curricular - music play at county orchestra or above, Medicine do voluntary work.
Be aware of current affairs read a broadsheet.

bojorojo Thu 08-Dec-16 12:43:04

No, you do not need 10 A*s. Six is about the cut off point, but depends on course and college. You need three A levels , not 4. Only 4 if Further Mths is one. Most schools do not expect anyone to do four these days with the tougher courses. Do look at the requirements and heaps of information on the Department web sites, GoodyGoody. Also visit! You will then know the advice from Crumbs is wrong.

If you are studying for very many degrees, eg English, MFL, they are really unlikley to ask you anything about news. For an example, for MFL my DD had to translate a poem. Write down her thoughts on it and then disucss the poem with 2 lecturers. She had never seen the poem before. However, several lads from a very well known public school had read and discussed it with their teacher already. They were very happy. She got in - not sure about them. She could prove she had the intelligence to read, understand and discuss something that she had never seen before. The boys had had every advantage, but if you can prove you can do it just as well with no coaching , you can get a place. However,I do think this shows what Oxford are after. It is not just exam results - it is being able to do the extra and express yourself well and disucss something sensibly that you may not be familiar with- ie using your brain,not just repeating what you have been taught.

jaguar67 Thu 08-Dec-16 13:00:20

+1 Bojorojo

And to debunk myths around extra-curricular. You do NOT need to be county athlete, national youth orchestra, whatever. They are interested in academics and academics primarily. Super curricular interests that are relevant yes (maths/ science challenges, papers written, independent research undertaken) - and work experience for medics, absolutely.

Inevitably they have such a wealth of candidates applying, they'll pick up budding actors, rowers, rugby players, tiddly winks champions along the way - and of course these are all great things to offer from a college/ uni' life perspective, but it's not a selection criteria.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 08-Dec-16 14:27:43

I agree, extracurricular activities are not necessary and interviewers are aware that they can be measures of parental income/involvement as much as anything else. Likewise current affairs (unless you're doing something like PPE or SPS).

It's worth applying even if GCSE grades aren't as good as bojo says, though she's right there's a point after which you're likely to struggle, because they can only say no, and they will pay attention to other factors if they're relevant (eg., reasons for struggling at the time, a very poor school).

AtiaoftheJulii Thu 08-Dec-16 15:11:10

Early in y12 start looking at masterclasses and other access opportunities (useful Oxford page - www.ox.ac.uk/about/increasing-access/widening-access-and-participation# and there's also a Twitter account, OxOutreach I think, which tweet and retweet opportunities from different departments - there must be a Cambridge equivalent but I haven't looked). Look at summer schools - UNIQ in Oxford is fantastic, the Sutton Trust run courses at loads of places including Cambridge. It's worth applying even if you don't think you'll get a place - my dd got turned down for a Sutton Trust course at Cambridge but got invited to an unadvertised two day thing in Cambridge.

But tbh, it was my dd who didn't end up applying to Cambridge (because she wanted a different course) that did all that extra stuff. The dd who is at Oxford 'just' did a good amount (not excessively much!) of wider reading and showed her interest and knowledge.

(I wrote this this morning when there was only one other reply but just realised I didn't post it, so apologies in advance if it repeats stuff other people have said!)

AtiaoftheJulii Thu 08-Dec-16 15:14:11

And yy to not needing ten A stars, not needing four A levels, and not being expected to discuss current affairs! (Well, maybe for PPE!)

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Thu 08-Dec-16 15:53:26

Thank you, this is interesting.

I had no idea that you can only apply for either C or O.

The access courses that we have found have been for families were the parents have not gone to uni, which excludes us. Thanks for the other suggestions.

Crumbs1 Thu 08-Dec-16 16:01:40

I will disagree having been through process quite recently 2016 for youngest. Of course, depends on course but minimum requirements will not get you a place and yes, you need relevant extracurricular - not DofE and rowing but for music you need, well musical activity at high level and for medicine you need lots of work experience. 4 A levels is quite normal in many schools. IB scores need to be 41plus and higher for some courses.
Academics is key but dependent on course you need wider evidence.

Chaotica Thu 08-Dec-16 16:07:59

Lots of good advice on here. I'm another one who would suggest reading around the subject and participating in a lot of activities relevant to the subject. (There is a lot online now which is free which gives you access to lectures or talks so that your DS can broaden his knowledge; he can also find out what really interests him about the subject and investigate it further.) Interviewers want to find out if you can think about the subject (not just remember what you've been taught) and are teachable (you can pick up/work out new things with guidance).

And everybody is right about extra-curricular activities: it doesn't matter and I've never known it play a part in selection process.

MrsBernardBlack Thu 08-Dec-16 16:35:41

Eton run university summer schools for state school students, which might be worth looking at. Details here.

FatherJemimaRacktool Thu 08-Dec-16 16:47:08

Inevitably they have such a wealth of candidates applying, they'll pick up budding actors, rowers, rugby players, tiddly winks champions along the way - and of course these are all great things to offer from a college/ uni' life perspective, but it's not a selection criteria.

This can actually count against applicants, if the people doing the interviewing think that an applicant is going to end up just scraping a 2.1 because they've spent all their time rowing and no real time studying.

StripedTulip Thu 08-Dec-16 17:02:20

but for music you need, well musical activity at high level and for medicine you need lots of work experience

But they're not "extra-curricular" activities like ballet or rowing. To learn Music at HE level you need an instrument & training; and Medicine degree programmes everywhere require relevant work experience.

Tarttlet Thu 08-Dec-16 17:08:20

What StripedTulip said. For subjects like Mathematics or English, no admissions tutor cares whether you've got Gold DoE or whatever. All they care about is the candidate's passion and aptitude for their subject - and their ability to think independently and originally about it too.

StripedTulip Thu 08-Dec-16 18:01:35

I would also say that you need to be prepared in the interview to be pushed. Sometimes young applicants think that if we keep on pushing a topic, keep on asking further & further questions - the "Yes, and?" method, they sometimes think that they're failing, and get flustered. They should be assured that we only push if it's worth pushing and we are trying to get to the nub of what the applicant really thinks. And how they can extend and develop their thinking on the spot.

Caveat: I don't teach at Oxbridge but do interview similarly qualified applicants.

And I interviewed a slew of young people last week. We send out information about the interview, and include a topic we want them to be prepared to answer questions on. Great . But ...

I had a couple of candidates who took my first question as an opportunity to launch into their prepared "answer" to the set question.

No no no, that is NOT a good way to respond. I had then to push & prod to get them to think on their feet, rather than parrot.

RedHelenB Thu 08-Dec-16 18:01:47

My daughter did the UNIQ summer school at Oxford and said that was really useful . She wants dentistry though so no Oxbridge for her!

threemoregoals Thu 08-Dec-16 18:08:38

Here's a thing. You apply to specific colleges. So you may find it's really hard to get into trinity hall for geography, but hardly any competition to get into, say, maudlin for the same subject.

Also, they don't like to be seen to go into clearing, but if you aren't offered a place, phone the college you want as the results come in. You may well get a place if the timing is right.

You don't need loads of extra curricular stuff, just good grades and to interview well. Ultimately admissions tutors are thinking 'would I want to teach this kid'? Encourage them to read widely and be able to talk about their subject with passion. It's the ability for quick thinking and critical thought - and enthusiasm they want.
Good luck.

AtiaoftheJulii Thu 08-Dec-16 18:17:14

The access courses that we have found have been for families were the parents have not gone to uni, which excludes us.

Yes, Sutton Trust courses have "first in family" as one of their criteria, but dd2 applied anyway because, well, why not, and didn't get a place, as expected, but did get invited to this Experience Cambridge thing with a bunch of other Sutton rejects. So everything is worth trying smile UNIQ have various - transparently published - criteria, but parents with/out degrees isn't one of them.

And my experience is recent too grin Dd at Oxford (arts subject) went from a very high-achieving grammar with eight A stars at gcse (not at all impressive for her school) and three A levels. Four A levels is pretty common, especially for those with double maths, but not necessary.

Manumission Thu 08-Dec-16 18:20:50

Yes, Sutton Trust courses have "first in family" as one of their criteria, but dd2 applied anyway because, well, why not, and didn't get a place, as expected, but did get invited to this Experience Cambridge thing with a bunch of other Sutton rejects. So everything is worth trying

I'm blushing and clenching furiously just from reading about such pushiness! smile

You know a lot of people just wouldn't do that, don't you?

AtiaoftheJulii Thu 08-Dec-16 18:22:44

Here's a thing. You apply to specific colleges. So you may find it's really hard to get into trinity hall for geography, but hardly any competition to get into, say, maudlin for the same subject.

I think it is true that some colleges are more oversubscribed than others. BUT they do talk to each other! A duff candidate won't get a place at Magdalene, they'll just take some of Trinity Hall's worthy excess. I honestly don't think it's worth trying to game the system. Pick a college, but be prepared to get a place at a different one.

Manumission Thu 08-Dec-16 18:25:42

Why are open applications not more popular? There must be enough freewheeling, extrovert applicants who would benefit.

AtiaoftheJulii Thu 08-Dec-16 18:27:24

manumission seriously??? The criteria are for ranking candidates, not excluding, so it was worth applying just in case her preferred course wasn't hugely oversubscribed. And the Cambridge thing was run by Cambridge, not the Sutton Trust, so completely up to the university who they invited. I certainly don't have an ounce of fucks to give about that - sending in an application is NOT pushy, ffs!

RoseValleyRambles Thu 08-Dec-16 18:28:54

Agreed: they usually pool good applicants and send them on to another college. However, it's certainly whether getting a feel for what a college might be like, vs just applying to the obvious ones. Get college prospectuses and be prepared to answer the 'why this college' question.

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