(31 Posts)
NotEnoughTime Sun 20-Jan-19 13:13:51

Hi everyone

I'm after some advice please.

My DS is currently in year 12 (taking 4 A levels) and looking at Oxbridge (totally his idea-not mine!) He likes both places and both have the course he wants to take (History and Politics). Oxford ask for AAA and Cambridge are asking for A*AA.

All his GSCE's were numbered except for History in which he recieved an A. His numbered grades were 4 8's, 4 7's and a 4 (the 4 was in French which he didn't want to take but he had to do a MFL).

Is it worth him to even think about applying to Oxbridge or is it totally out of the question as he received no grade 9's ie will everyone applying have all 8's and 9's? I don't want to 'pee on his parade' obviously but I know the Oxbridge process is very lengthy and rigorous and I don't want him to set his heart on it when there are so many other great Universities out there to aim for if he has no hope of getting a place.

Any advice would be gratefully received smile

OP’s posts: |
BringOnTheScience Sun 20-Jan-19 13:32:06

Oxford has the reputation of wanting higher GSCEs than Cambridge. Their official line is here...

Talk to school/ college about realistic grade expectations. Check out the various open days and lecture days offered by both, as these can be v useful. DC1 went to Cambridge taster days in relevant subjects even though they had no intention of applying there - it was still v interesting!

nojellybabies Sun 20-Jan-19 13:35:32

If you feel or if you discover that the lack of grade nines is going to Rule out Oxbridge for now what a positive way of handling that would be to say to him but it’s a lot easier to get into Oxbridge at postgraduate level than undergraduate level if you do really well in your 1st° Degree and have a passion for the subject. Good luck

For now though I think it would only be considered if you came from disadvantaged backgrounds

SeaToSki Sun 20-Jan-19 13:38:33

What are his predictd grades for his A levels. If he is predicted AAA or above, then they might overlook the GCSE s.

nojellybabies Sun 20-Jan-19 13:39:40

So sorry I dictated that due to repetitive strain injury and it’s almost nonsense!

Piggywaspushed Sun 20-Jan-19 14:52:54

You won't want to out yourself , so you don't need to be specific, but what kind of school is your DS at? This could have a bearing on many things in terms of application, and of success.

Fifthtimelucky Sun 20-Jan-19 15:05:47

Only one way to find out!

Where else is he interested in? With those grades I imagine he'll have other good options so it might be worth a try.

We were told by my children's school that Oxbridge expected candidates to be better than average for their school, so it might be worth checking how well the average student did.


zxcv123 Sun 20-Jan-19 15:09:55

So in old money, he has 4A*s, 5As and 1C. My DS has just received an offer from Oxford with similar GCSE grades, so it's not totally impossible.

However, you say your DS achieved an A in History which is the subject he wants to study at university. Was there a reason why it wasn't an A*? Does he have evidence of any achievement higher than GCSE in that subject - AS? an early A-level? national competitions?

In my opinion, Oxbridge will want to see a single-minded focus and passion for the subject. A child who chooses to spend their spare time watching youtube videos/blogs on their subject; attends lectures at universities; does related work experience in the holidays etc and therefore their eyes shine when they talk about it at interview.

SarahAndQuack Sun 20-Jan-19 15:14:25

There's no harm applying, but TBH those are not wonderful grades. Get him to contact Admissions at both places and see what they say.

Btw, a 'passion for the subject' is one of those phrases that tends to elicit a knee-jerk negative response. I know it's often used in innocence, but I'd say try to avoid it!

It may be easier to get a postgrad place at Oxbridge than undergrad, but funding is the competitive bit.

SarahAndQuack Sun 20-Jan-19 15:17:50

Sorry, double-posting.

In my opinion, Oxbridge will want to see a single-minded focus and passion for the subject. A child who chooses to spend their spare time watching youtube videos/blogs on their subject; attends lectures at universities; does related work experience in the holidays etc and therefore their eyes shine when they talk about it at interview.

- I can see that watching videos or reading blogs might (or might not) be good preparation.

- Attending university lectures is a nice sign of interest/commitment, but it would be understood that this often requires quite a bit of socio-educational privilege and it wouldn't count against an applicant at all if they didn't do this.

- related work experience, sure, but it does depend what's seen as related. For vocational degrees it's a good thing, but again, people are going to understand that not everyone can afford/has opportunities to do work experience in a relevant area.

- 'eyes shining' - erm, no. Moreover I can't think of many more inappropriate ways to assess someone.

zxcv123 Sun 20-Jan-19 15:46:21

Did I use the wrong expression when I said "eyes shining"? I just meant a genuine and thorough love of the subject. Certainly my DS lights up when he talks about his subject. What's inappropriate about that?

goodbyestranger Sun 20-Jan-19 15:53:38

What subject did your DS get an offer for zxcv123?

The HAT could get him an interview.

disneyfan83 Sun 20-Jan-19 15:55:36

A friend of mine had 9 A* 2A and predicted 4A in her a levels (politics, economics, double maths) She went to a school that was put into special measures while she was studying so out performed them on a massive scale. Made no difference. Working class female, from the north, not educated in grammar or private school. She didn't need it though, she went a different uni, then on to. Post grad and is now incredibly successful and fulfilled. I don't know much about your background but I do remember my friend quickly realised that without the support others had got she wouldn't make it. The kids from grammar and private schools are given lots of preparation for the interview process and knew what to expect and how to act, she had no such support from her state school and 6th form college

Enidblyton1 Sun 20-Jan-19 16:05:41

Yes, he should absolutely apply to Oxbridge. GCSEs only form part of the picture for admissions.

From my experience with the application process, the tutors place more importance on A-levels and showing a high potential in the particular subject you want to study. As others have said, a real ‘passion’ for thé specialism. Any extra curricular interests associated with the subject are always a bonus. Showing knowledge of being widely read is crucial - does your DS read history books in his spare time? Does he have a sound knowledge of current politics and can hold an informed discussion about this with a tutor he has only just met? These sorts of things are far more important than GCSEs. As long as he has the minimum requirement (which he has), the Alevel predictions will be far more important.

WorriedMutha Sun 20-Jan-19 16:11:21

I agree GCSEs are only part of the picture. My year 13 has a mixture which convert to 3 A* 5 A and 1 B. She has an offer.

Piggywaspushed Sun 20-Jan-19 16:14:14

Michelle Obama was told not to apply for Princeton. If you want it enough, you should cock a snook, get on with it, and see what happens.

ErrolTheDragon Sun 20-Jan-19 16:40:12

* will everyone applying have all 8's and 9's?*

Not necessarily, but I'd guess most of them will have some 9s/A stars, especially in the subjects related to the course they're applying for. (fwiw my DD had 6Astars, 3As, 3Bs which was a bit but not much above average for her school)

Cambridge puts less emphasis on gcse grades and more on their aptitude test and predicted grades than oxford.

* I know the Oxbridge process is very lengthy and rigorous*

I don't think it is really that onerous. The differences between applying to Cambridge and anywhere else are:

1) they have to get their application in quite early - but that's a good thing IMO, concentrates their mind to write their PS in good time, ideally get it mostly done before the start of yr13.
2) they might want to write a supplementary PS but that's really only relevant if the course is a bit different to the others they're applying for elsewhere.
3)they have to do an aptitude test. This should not require lots of preparation- just a good grasp of the A level material so far and the ability to think a bit outside the box.
(I think some of the arts subjects might require submission of some written work)
4) an interview (My DD was interviewed at all her 5 choices). There's no real way to prepare for this - you can find articles about what they're actually like, but essentially they're likely to look for how you think about something you don't know the answer to.

So, I'm not sure there's that much more versus applying anywhere else. The only guaranteed way to not get a place is to not apply, and they've got 4 other options. So, provided he's realistic about his chances - the number of applicants per place is such that most won't get an offer - then if he really wants to have a shot then 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'.

SarahAndQuack Sun 20-Jan-19 17:12:24

@zxcv123, I don't think there's anything wrong with loving a subject (or having a passion for it), but I think there's often a belief that this is a really important thing that'll get you in to Oxbridge. TBH, I can count on the fingers on one hand the candidates who conspicuously don't exhibit a passion or love for their subject. They all seem passionate. What's less common is the right sort of intelligence and thought process. I get the impression that schools often think saying 'I am passionate about x' is a good thing, but it doesn't actually tell someone reading a personal statement anything at all.

I know 'eyes shining' is an expression, but TBH it sounds a bit weird in this context. I can't imagine writing 'candidate x's eyes were shining as she discussed Shakespeare' any more than I'd write 'candidate y had a nice stacked rack and enjoys Dickens'. I can see the second statement is much worse, but still!

NotEnoughTime Sun 20-Jan-19 17:19:19

Thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts and opinions flowers

I will try and answer some of your questions:

My DS was 'gutted' (his words) that he didn't get an A* for History at GCSE-in his mock GCSE he did confused

He attends a well regarded State Grammar school (he is very lucky I know). I think his results were in the top third-I'm not certain but as he was 'allowed' to take 4 A levels then I am presuming so (you are not allowed to take 4 unless the school think you will do well in ALL of them. You are not allowed to drop one). I would have much preferred him to take 3 but there you go.

He is very interested in History/Politics and he does read around these subjects and watches historical documentaries and films grin

He hasn't taken any A level mocks yet so obviously hasn't got any results.

He doesn't have any relevant work experience.

Hope this sheds further light smile

OP’s posts: |
Piggywaspushed Sun 20-Jan-19 17:24:25

In my opinion, he might as well try. They get 5 choices so he wouldn't exactly be burning his bridges. However, there are no contexts to consider here (unless you live in a certain postcode yourselves) so he wil be considerd alongside everyone else who applies, wherever he applies.

ErrolTheDragon Sun 20-Jan-19 17:45:16

* I get the impression that schools often think saying 'I am passionate about x' is a good thing, but it doesn't actually tell someone reading a personal statement anything at all.*

DD's school banned the word 'passion' from PSs - they had to find a less hackneyed and more concrete way to demonstrate their engagement with their chosen field.

bengalcat Sun 20-Jan-19 17:46:55

If you want something then go for it . At the end of the day it’s one of his five choices . If he reaches interview stage then great it any kid who gets that far needs to bear in mind that everyone offered an interview could feasibly be offered a place but they’re simply aren’t enough places - overall 1:3-4 of those interviewed get an offer so generally not getting an offer is no bad reflection on you . As with all things in life ‘ nothing ventured nothing gained ‘ . Good luck . Aim high but have a plan B and that’s directed at all Oxbridge hopefuls .

NotEnoughTime Sun 20-Jan-19 18:21:28

Thank you-I guess my role is to help and support him whatever path he takes. I won't put him off applying for Oxbridge but I will try to make sure that he is realistic and doesn't focus entirely on Oxbridge being the be all and end all. As a few of you have said 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' but it is a long shot...

I'm sure I will be on the HE threads over the next couple of months so look forward to 'speaking' to many of you again soon.

Thanks again everyone smile

OP’s posts: |
goodbyestranger Sun 20-Jan-19 18:27:10

OP I wouldn't read too much into your DS being allowed to take four A levels. At our school - also a state grammar (and I have a DC in Y12 too) - all students have to take either four A levels or three plus the EPQ. For some reason there's still an idea floating around at some grammars that Oxford like four. But actually it really doesn't set any store by four rather than three, at least that's what all my DCs' tutors have told them very firmly when they've discussed the previous curriculum at school which was four as mandatory. The tutors always seemed to view that as nuts.

Given that you've now said he's at a state grammar, and a well regarded one at that, then while I don't think you should piss on his parade I think you should manage his expectations, because those grades are fairly rocky in terms of Oxford, for Hist/ Pol. I think there will be a lot of students applying with straight 9s (40% of all grades at our grammar were 9s this year and I know for certain that a good clutch of grammars shared that level of results). Approximately the top quarter achieved seven or more 9s. And I'm unconvinced that Oxford discriminates hugely between types of grammar. If anything it conflate them with independents, in terms of educational advantage.

I would apply giving the HAT his best shot and hoping to come in the top cut for that, which should give him an interview. But I'd be realistic that he'll probably end up at another choice, so an interview would be a bonus rather than a probability which it would be for someone with all 9s.

ErrolTheDragon Sun 20-Jan-19 19:21:59

* For some reason there's still an idea floating around at some grammars that Oxford like four.*

DD was fortunate enough to go though this a couple of years ago when they could start 4 and drop one after AS. While some did carry on with 4, her school was on the page of maximising grade in 3 because that's what most university offers are based on. She got a Cambridge offer based on the 3 she continued with... others on her course who'd done 4 had to get the same plus an A in the 4th. However, if you look at the average points attained by students most probably have done (at least!) 4 so maybe it's harder to get an offer with 3. swings and roundabouts!

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