Getting into Oxbridge

(264 Posts)
PinkPeppers Tue 20-Jun-17 13:57:36

Can someone explained to me what is needed to get into Oxford/Cambridge?
Dc1 is decided this is what he wants to aim for (good for him to aim high - I wont stop him from doing that). He is only in Y8 so plenty of time to change his mind too.

However, Im not british and I havent gone through the system so have little idea on how things are actually working.
In particular, im not sure about what is needed. Obviously very good A levels in your subjects (maths/science for dc1). But do you also need a very good GCSE and/or a high number of GCSE with a level 8/9 (A/A*)?
Does doing more GCSE than you have to making any difference?

I know that you need to be able to talk about your subject and be hapy to deal with questions where you didn't know the answer etc...
But what else can be playing in your favour? Ive read for example very conflicting advise of having the right sort of experience/voluntary work etc... (some saying its essential, some not).

Im well aware that he might never get there and might change his mind. But atm, this is the one thing that is helping him focus on his studies and the one thing that makes him want to do well (as well as he can do rather than coasting if that).
So any advice on what would help him and what would make a difference is welcome! and if he changes his mind, he will at least have learnt the power of focusing your mind on something you real;l'y care about

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WishfulThanking Tue 20-Jun-17 15:02:33

Neither university has specific GCSE requirements but typically for Oxford you need a minimum 7 A*s at GCSE (not sure whether those will be 8s or 9s now that they've changed the grade system) if you want to study Medicine, or 5 A*s for other subjects. The rest should be As. Cambridge aren't as hung up on GCSE...obviously you should aim for the top grades but they are more interested in A Level performance.

Source: both university websites and forums such as The Student Room and websites about secondary school Oxbridge taster courses.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Tue 20-Jun-17 15:06:26

Work experience/voluntary work isn't important for most subjects but is for some--that is probably why you have heard conflicting accounts.
It's not likely to matter in maths and science. They're more interested in your ability and interest in the subject.

WishfulThanking Tue 20-Jun-17 15:11:40

Yes, that's true. In maths etc they are only interested in how clever and passionate about the subject you are, so only extra-curricular activities pertaining to the subject are of interest to them. Have a look on the Personal Statement section of The Student room for ideas of the kind of experience successful and non-successful applicants had.
I believe medicine may be different.

Chaotica Tue 20-Jun-17 15:13:13

Oxford are interested in GCSE performance because it is a good indicator of future performance. Voluntary work/extra-curricular interests are (usually) only useful if they're related to the degree topic in some way.

If there is a way for your DS to excel in the subjects he's interested in studying, that will put him in a good position (read more books, join clubs, go to lectures, take part in campaigns, take part in activities). (If you don't have such things locally, some of these can be online these days.)

Has he been for a visit? Depending upon the area/school he might get to go for a study afternoon in Y9/10. You could try Sutton Trust who may help you.

WishfulThanking Tue 20-Jun-17 15:14:14

Sorry, I was talking about Cambridge, bc that's where DS wants to go...not sure about extra curricular for Oxford.

PinkPeppers Tue 20-Jun-17 15:32:16

Thank you for all the advice.

Do you think the number of GCSE makes an difference? Or is it better to do less of them but better iyswim? So the required CGSE with more or less all A or more than that but with some that will a B?

Not a lot available as far as I know around where we are (it is a bit the back of beyond but i will see with the local unis if they do organise things he can go to, if not now, when he is doing his A levels)
Im sure they dont do anything in Y9/10 but they do have a small group who is going to visit Oxford in Y12 (a bit late imo).

Im also planning to take him to some open day for 6th form in September so he can hear from them (and not me - parents never know what is good to do of course) what he needs to do.

As rough guide, he needs a minimum of A/A* in maths and triple science for his GCSE and then an A/A* with his A level (maths and whatever science he is choosing - prob chemistry). Is that right?

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PinkPeppers Tue 20-Jun-17 15:33:03

Ill have a look too at the websites you suggested wish

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LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 20-Jun-17 16:15:08

With GCSEs I think there is more flex in the system, especially at Cambridge. They will look at several factors, including the sort of school/background the candidate has. They have statistics for the percentage of A*-C grades students at that school get, for example. They may also have data on the usual number of GCSEs students at the school take. So, a student who attended a highly selective private school where all students achieve A*-C passes, and many of them take 11 or 12 GCSEs, will be judged slightly differently from a student who went to a school where far fewer children get A*-C passes and most take 9 GCSEs.

It's not the be-all and end-all, but very worth knowing about, especially for people who worry that, if a child has any B or C grades, he or she has automatically ruled out Oxbridge. This isn't the case.

Elendon Tue 20-Jun-17 16:34:46

What's really needed to get into Oxbridge is a large bank account first and foremost.

You are told this as a parent when you visit with your child (we visited Oxford). Five years ago, I was told £27,000 per annum and though certain grants are available, they go to low income families only - which would have applied to my daughter. All the students are expected to be high academic achievers and to have numerous extra curricular activities. Three As are the minimum.

In the end, she went to the University of Manchester and got a first.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 20-Jun-17 16:42:33

What a load of nonsense from beginning to end.

Oxbridge is often cheaper than other universities, because its accommodation and meals are often subsidised, and because you only rent for short terms. Loans and maintenance grants are provided on precisely the same basis as at any other university - and then there are some Oxbridge-specific grants on top of that, at certain colleges.

All students are not expected to have numerous extra curricular activities. Many have none at all.

WishfulThanking Tue 20-Jun-17 17:03:31

Bollocks, you were told that, Elendon. Nice way to eliminate some competition , though!

We were told that it is actually one of the cheapest unis to study at, as there is a lot of subsidies available. And of course the tuition fees are the same whether you go to Oxbridge or a former poly, so better value for money if you want to think if it that way

WishfulThanking Tue 20-Jun-17 17:05:07

I'd like to know what the £27k per annum was supposed to be for wink

bridgetreilly Tue 20-Jun-17 17:43:23

OP, there's nothing much that you can do to improve your child's chances except keep them at their academic work and give them opportunities to expand their learning and thinking as much as possible. They'll need an excellent application with good grades, school references and personal statement. That might get them an interview. But mostly, it's down to the tutors deciding whether there's something interesting about each applicant, enough to make them want to take them on as a student for 3 or 4 years. You can't teach that.

He'll really need a minimum of 7 or 8 A or A* grades, I'd have thought, though possibly one or two lower ones in unrelated subjects might not matter too much. But you have to understand that there are usually five to ten times as many applicants as there are places, and they'll ALL be good.

Lancelottie Tue 20-Jun-17 17:49:46

He'll need to be very interested in his subject for itself and not as a 'learned at school' subject.

Cambridge interviews most of its applicants and weeds out that way (though if an offer is given, it will usually still require very high A-level results).

DS was rejected at interview and had a three-page personal letter explaining where he'd done well and where he hadn't quite come up with what was wanted. I don't think that's standard practice, but apparently the interviewer had particularly enjoyed discussing some obscure part of a steam engine with him and wanted to give him decent feedback!

mateysmum Tue 20-Jun-17 17:56:30

Elendon I don't know who told you that, but they were talking a load of bollocks! It is just the sort of rubbish that puts people off applying.

Fees at Oxford are the same as most other unis and accommodation is frequently cheaper as it is subsidised.

Numerous extra curricular activiites are NOT required - in fact for most subjects quite the contrary. The most important is love of your subject and not whether you volunteered at the food bank.

Bursaries are mostly given by the individual colleges and vary widely. My old college gives many bursaries up to levels of income of around £60k.

Of course you need good academics, but this idea that 3 A's is the MINIMUM is likewise crap. It is a fairly standard offer but there are exceptions. Many courses have tests which need to be passed before interviews take place. A good performance in such a test will negate less than perfect GCSEs and you don't need a huge number

There is masses of info on

Your son is still very young, but no harm looking ahead and choosing academic GCSE and A level options that fit the courses he may want to do.

Needmoresleep Tue 20-Jun-17 18:35:19

If he is interested in maths/sciences/engineering it is important to realise that these are very competitive subjects and small things like performance at interview can meant that you are in and out.

There is no harm in aiming for Oxbridge, but it is worth remembering that Britain boasts a number of other very good Universities and that there will be other places where you DS would get a first rate education. For example in the latest QS World University rankings for Engineering and Technology, Cambridge is ranked 3rd, Imperial London ranked 6th and Oxford 9th. (With Harvard sitting in 13th place.)

Aiming high does not exclusively mean aiming for Oxbridge.

Elendon Tue 20-Jun-17 18:37:15

I was told that in a lecture room in Oxford matey. I'm not making it up. Oxford university students are required to eat in the halls and are charged for it. Yes fees are the same but there are added extras that are a requirement. Apparently. This was five years ago, it may well have changed and is going all socialist and equal. Please enlighten me.

They do not take into account GCSE results, but if you had all As and preferably a mix of A*s and As (though this would probably be 9s now), then given a over subscription of pupils that year, the GCSE results would be taken into consideration.

Elendon Tue 20-Jun-17 18:41:41

I did say that I would not have to pay that. Were you not paying attention?

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 20-Jun-17 19:04:04

We were paying attention.

We just think you may perhaps have 'misremembered' what was said to you.

Hall food is subsidised - it is much, much cheaper than self catering would be for all but a very few skilled and unusually lucky students, able to 1) rent somewhere with cooking facilities and 2) cook to a strict budget.

What 'added extras' would be a 'requirement', then? Are these those 'extra curriculars' you're talking about? Or something else, like subsidised food? If the latter, then yes: I am afraid I must confirm that Oxbridge students have not yet cracked the mystery of surviving on fresh air.

PinkPeppers Tue 20-Jun-17 19:13:35

Tbh I, personally, int fussed about oxford or Cambridge as such. Nor am i put out by that level of competition (I, myself, have done something just as competitive, albeit in a different country).

My aim though is different. If this is what ds wants to do, then I want to support him the best way possible.
I also want to be sure that he isnt going to chose 'the wrong option' even for GCSE because there woud be nothing worse than not getting what you want because you chose x subject and not y (and you had the choice to do x well).
Also if this is what is going to drive him (and he thrives on competition), then thats OK too.

But he will never disappoint me for not getting it iyswim, nor will I push him to do that if he doesn't want to.

There is a good point about the fact that Oxford or Cambridge might not be the best anyway or that there is a lot available around. We'll get to that closer at the time I think smile

bridge 7 or 8 subjects with A/A* is a good aim and one I can give him (up to him to get on with it if he chose to - he certainly has the potential)

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titchy Tue 20-Jun-17 19:15:31

Yer a daft sod Elendon - Oxford's catered fees are a lot cheaper than most! £27k sounds remarkably similar to 3 years of fees to me, which you'd be paying anywhere! Suspect you've misremembered wink

OP - top A level predictions, the right subjects (maths and one science wouldn't be enough for a science degree - they'd prefer maths plus two sciences), and GCSEs graded probably 8s. I'd say a minimum of 8 GCSEs, maybe 9. But don't do fewer. And don't take them over more than one sitting.

Extra curricular not necessary. Evidence of genuine interaction with subject is. Go to Lectures, join royal society, read academic articles, be able to have an opinion on anything he might be asked around the subject. Some subjects will have extra assessments (e.g. Maths, law)

BertrandRussell Tue 20-Jun-17 19:19:55

"They do not take into account GCSE results"

Yes they do-especially Oxford.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 20-Jun-17 19:24:09

pink, you sound great.

I am basically with titchy, except to say I think many (most!) students don't come up having read academic articles and are none the worse for it. I think people do recognise that it takes a certain amount of educational/cultural privilege to access some of these things, and it wouldn't be fair to discriminate against people who don't have that.

kirsty75005 Tue 20-Jun-17 19:30:32

I went to Oxbridge in maths about eighteen years ago.

At that point, we were told that the main criteria were a) predicted grades at A level and b) interview performance.

We were also told that the number of applicants with predicted straight As was about three times the number of places, so the interview performance was extremely important.

We weren't given the impression that, for that subject, they particularly cared about extra curriculars. My interview certainly concentrated exclusively on academic matters.

All of this may have changed since then.

At that point there was absolutely no requirement to eat in halls, but if you did so it was substantially cheaper than cooking for yourself. This may also have changed since then, but I'd be astonished if it were mandatory to eat in halls, given that some student accomodation can be a long walk away.

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