Stupid question about Oxbridge

(37 Posts)
WaysintoUni Tue 23-Mar-21 20:40:52

As a working class graduate of a very ordinary Polytechnic (now a University) I have a child who might be applying to Uni for 2022 entry. He’s a bit overwhelmed about what to do Uni-wise as are we.

We live in Scotland but are not averse to him leaving Scotland if he finds a course he likes. He did well in his exams last year (8 As at Nat 5) and is hoping to get awarded 5 As in his Highers - but we have no idea what’s happening in terms of testing/exams so that could all go pear shaped.

I’ve been looking at Oxbridge but thinking he’s got no chance because he’s not very confident and/or obsessed with a subject in that driven way that I see many private educated or well educated kids are. But he’s bright and I don’t want him to discount anything.

I know nothing about Oxbridge - none of my immediate family have connections. I was the first in my family to go into Higher Education but I don’t want that to hold him back.

He’s interested in philosophy and psychology (although his school don’t do either as a subject) and he’s also going to be Grade 8 in Music in 2 instruments by end of next year (fingers crossed). I looked at Cambridge and don’t understand something. As an example, for Psychological and Behavioural Sciences it says that ‘Applications per place - 6, Number accepted - 96’. Does that mean that only 576 people apply to do this subject at Cambridge? Surely there are more than 6 applications per place on this course? Or am I misinterpreting what this means? Does this only include the people they interview or who pass a test. Is there an additional test they have to do on top of exams?

He might decide to do a Music course instead but is not sure a 100% Music course would be suitable and would like to mix it with something else like philosophy, politics, history?

Of course he’ll be looking at Scottish Universities too but I’m asking on here because I know his school will give him lots of information on these but not on studying at Oxbridge. I think a couple of kids have gone there each year from the school but they are very exceptional.

OP’s posts: |
Malbecfan Tue 23-Mar-21 20:48:57

I can't directly answer your question because I'm not familiar with Scottish exams. However, I teach secondary aged students and have one DD at Cambridge. Each area has a Cambridge college affiliated with it. Find out which one is yours and contact them. If you or your DS uses Twitter, each department has a student who is responsible for tweeting about their daily life. My DD ran the physical Natural Sciences one in her 2nd year and then asked them to set up one for her subject specialism last year. They deliberately ask for approachable students to run them, and encourage prospective students to get in contact.

Hoghgyni Tue 23-Mar-21 21:00:49

It sounds as though he has a wide range of subjects he's interested in. Oxford does a philosophy, psychology & linguistics degree course which he might find interesting. They also have a range of music scholarships.

Around 2/3 of students at Oxford have a state school background. DD is studying PPE, although she didn't take philosophy, politics or economics at A level, she's not obsessed in the way you describe and her exam results would make some faint in horror.

I'm not great with which exams take place when in Scotland, but Oxford runs a scheme called UNIQ for state school students in the equivalent of year 12. If he was lucky enough to get a place, it would give him a taster of the courses on offer and what it's like to live & study there.

Jet888 Tue 23-Mar-21 21:13:27

I studied philosophy there a while ago now and don't worry, I didn't meet anyone there obsessed with their subject but he will have to speak in an engaged way about it in interview. From my distant memory the tutors were interested in seeing whether you had an open, enquiring mind that could consider both sides of a debate and present well reasoned arguments. They like well rounded and articulate applicants so his interest in music will serve him well! Questions can be deliberately weird to make you think. I remember a one being 'a clock had stopped at 10. It's actually 12. What time is it?' And logic puzzle type ones of the '/there are 3 people in the room. The Italian can't talk to the Russian. The Russian says he can only talk to the French man but he's lying. The French man says the Russian can talk to him. Who can talk to xxx" or along those sorts of lines if you get what I mean! Main thing is, tell him to go and visit a few colleges on open days if possible because you get a really good feel for them and they're all very different.

Chilldonaldchill Tue 23-Mar-21 23:26:15

I don't think there are any stupid questions when it comes to Oxbridge. Everything about the applications seems a little different from everywhere else.
I can't answer all your questions but fwiw...
I was also the first in my family to go to uni and DD has an offer from Cambridge this year.
She really wanted to go there and had visited a few times with friends. She liked the concept of the supervision system. She is genuinely passionate about her subject but she also plays an instrument and has lots of other interests and likes to play hard as well as work hard (back in the days when you could!) On some forums it seems as though parents got hugely involved and invested in their children's Oxbridge dream - we were supportive but largely left her to it, just learning about it as she went along.
I think you are correct that the number of applicants is smaller than you would expect. For dd's subject I think it's about 5:1. I think what's tricky about those stats is that everyone is like your ds or my dd - they're all high achieving, they all do extra things so, although you have a 1:5 or 1:6 chance of getting a place, you're competing on a playing field where actually it feels as though it's down to luck whether or not you impress them on your interview day. DD found the feeling stressful that if she didn't get an offer, everyone would think she had interviewed terribly as they all expected her to get an offer. Dealing with other people's expectations was the hardest bit.
There were a lot more applicants to O/C this year than normal.
My understanding is that Oxford interview fewer people (reject more pre-interview) whereas Cambridge interview more and therefore reject more afterwards.
For dd's subject there's an additional test at Oxford but not at Cambridge although they had to do an "at interview assessment". It seems very subject dependent.
Not sure if any of that is helpful but good luck to your ds whatever he decides!

Ohnomoreno Tue 23-Mar-21 23:37:50

I studied there 20 years ago. I was not that interested in my subject, but I had a little spiel prepared and ultimately I was both very fast and very interested in the tests they gave me. I was convinced I hadn't got in but in fact it was all the others I met at interview who bragged about how great they were who didn't get in.
You've had good advice on here. Just one more thing, he will need to be very good at either self-discipline, or all nighters. I wanted to do all the fun stuff, so the two essays I had to submit each week (about 4000 words each) were both all nighters. Also, the short terms are hugely pressurising, and I sometimes struggled to handle the stress. Think carefully.

Soma Tue 23-Mar-21 23:59:02

@WaysintoUni , this thread on The Student Room - Cambridge demystified might help.


WaysintoUni Wed 24-Mar-21 01:08:28

Thanks so much everybody - all really helpful. I think the stress levels are something to bear in mind for sure - you’ve got to really want it. My worry is that he’s never done any of the lateral thinking/verbal reasoning stuff that I see people talking about on the grammar school/private school threads. He was a very articulate child as a primary school pupil - even as a young child adults used to comment on his articulacy and vocabulary. Unfortunately when he went to secondary, in an effort to fit in, he’s dampened himself down, almost seems embarrassed to use long words - uses all the slang and speech that is fine on the streets and the football pitch but doesn’t work so well in interview situations.

His music interests are conducted completely separate to school - he would die if he had to carry his musical instrument into school for instance. I am glad that he has kept his music going as it involves him working alongside a different mix of kids in orchestras from all sorts of schools from across the city and his out-of-School music teachers are fab too. All I can do is get him to watch some videos/virtual tours, and hope we’re allowed out of Scotland one day to try and visit. We’ve got excellent Uni options in Scotland of course and he might go for one of them but I want him to know that it’s perfectly possible to aim high and go anywhere.

OP’s posts: |
AlexaShutUp Wed 24-Mar-21 01:18:46

OP, I don't want to discourage you at all, but have you looked into student funding at all? My understanding is that your ds won't have to pay fees at a Scottish university, whereas he'll need to pay £9k a year if he studies in England. Obviously, he could get a loan to cover that, so it isn't an upfront cost, but still something to think about. I wouldn't be keen to take on nearly £30k of debt if I didn't have to!

MarchingFrogs Wed 24-Mar-21 07:12:52

Whilst considering the issue of fees and student loans, please do consider them in the light of the way that they are repaid - as a percentage of income above a threshold, namely 9% of income above a threshold of £25 000 pa for those takingout a loan through SAAS. Its a graduate tax, not a commercial loan.

Posdibly more pertinent (depending on your own financial circumstances) is how much in the way of maintenance loan / bursary your DS would be entitled to.

Aurea Wed 24-Mar-21 07:41:16

Hello there to a fellow Scot!

My son is second year law student at Oxford from a Scottish state school which did not assist (in any way) with applications.

He had to do his own research regarding applications. The outreach for Scotland is pretty poor as I understand there is only one college that covers the whole of Scotland. There are no outreach events in our area - just Edinburgh/Glasgow.

He is also a talented musician (also grade 8 x2) but he did not even mention this is his PS as it was purely focused on law (his subject).

He managed to show interest in his subject through reading, entering Oxbridge essay competitions (Google this), visiting a court and shadowing a solicitor for a few days. We don't have any legal work connections so he wrote to many solicitors asking for the opportunity so this was all his doing.

He had an admissions test that he had to organise himself.

Entry requirements are based on advanced highers, rather than highers. It's normally AAA-AAB depending on the subject. (Law was AAB).

Regarding the interview, the college paid for his train fare down and gave him three/four nights accommodation free of charge. He did have to ask for this though.

Regarding tuition fees, you can take out an additional loan through SAAS which has more favourable terms than the loans for English students.

In summary, it's not easy and your DC will have to be proactive, but it is certainly possible.

Good luck!

AlexaShutUp Wed 24-Mar-21 09:00:31

Its a graduate tax, not a commercial loan.

Sure, but it's still a tax that the ds will have to pay if he studies in England but not if he studies in Scotland. I do think that's worth considering.

PresentingPercy Wed 24-Mar-21 09:46:07

A tax isn’t the same as paying off a loan. For most it’s not onerous. For the experience of Oxbridge, I hope it’s worth it. If not we may never see Scottish students attending who come from modest backgrounds.

I am never sure that any degree holder (op) remains working class. Degrees confer a move to middle class and opportunities that go with that. Were there ever miners with degrees? Or factory workers?

IM0GEN Wed 24-Mar-21 10:01:51

I guess I’m a little unclear as to why YOU are looking at Oxbridge for him when he doesn’t seem to know what he wants. Can you say more about why you think this is a good choice for him ?

Because if he does want to apply , HE ( not you ) needs to be a lot clearer about what course he wants to study, and then research the best universities for that course. Which may or may not be Oxford or Cambridge.

If he wishes to apply for Oxbridge he will need to have his completed UCAS application with his school by the end of September this year. So he needs to get a move on.

What are his subject choices for S6? As a PP said, he will need probably AAA or AAB.

Does he ( or his teachers ) think that his music is good enough to study at uni? Does he play in NYOS?

goodbyestranger Wed 24-Mar-21 10:40:35

IM0GEN plenty of very bright kids are polymaths. All credit.

Oxford and Cambridge in provide great value for money. It costs far more than the current fee to educate a student there, even in a humanities subject.

IM0GEN Wed 24-Mar-21 11:25:40


IM0GEN plenty of very bright kids are polymaths. All credit.

Oxford and Cambridge in provide great value for money. It costs far more than the current fee to educate a student there, even in a humanities subject.

I know they are. But I’m not sure if we know that the Ops child is very bright or why she wants to him to to Oxbridge ( whereas he doesn't know what he wants ).

She says he’s interested in psychology and philosophy but he doesn’t appear to have ever studied them ( there’s plenty courses online ) or read about them.

No one is disputing that a university education is usually worthwhile. The Op is wondering about which universities and which courses.

Fifthtimelucky Wed 24-Mar-21 11:51:44

On the question about applications per place, yes the figures mean what they say so only 576 will have applied. The stats are not too bad for many Oxbridge courses - but of course the popular ones are more competitive. One of my daughters did music at Oxford - at the time there only about 3 applications per place for that course. One of the issues is that many don't apply, because they don't think they will fit in or get in.

You say that your son is considering music, and I can only say that Oxford (and no doubt Cambridge) are brilliant places for music - whether or not you actually study it. There are masses of orchestras and choirs - many serious and many just for fun.

If he enjoys singing it's worth trying for a choral scholarship with one of the chapel choirs. My daughter had one. It was quite time-consuming but it gave her great singing opportunities, including foreign trips, and a close and supportive friendship group. It also gave her a small financial award, free singing lessons and free dinners after services.

WaysintoUni Wed 24-Mar-21 14:38:19

I’m very of the mind that Scottish students shouldn’t be put off studying elsewhere because of finances. Yes, there will be a bigger debt but I see it as more of a graduate tax.

Im0gen My son plays in 2 external orchestras but not the NYOS. He has been playing in these orchestras and has been on residentials and really enjoys them. He’s probably capable of playing in the NYOS but never ended up on that route because the City schools Orchestra was the one his in-school teachers encouraged him to go for.

He hasn’t studied Philosophy or Psychology in school but I never said he hadn’t read about them. He reads a lot about those subjects online hence his interest in them. But no lessons or seminars (probably lots of online Ted Talks and YouTube videos!)

Thus is my first tentative research into the whole idea. I just felt I wanted to get some idea of what’s required and how exceptional you need to be. Even learning about the practicalities of going down for an interview has been informative (if you’re lucky enough to get an interview)

Aurea the key seems to be that self-directed motivation and the enthusiasm to get the work experience. You must be very proud of your son.

I feel better equipped to at least have a more informed conversation with him. I know he’s already looked at videos of ‘interviews’ for University and knows how impressive you have to be so he’s not completely clueless.!

I’ll have a conversation with him and see what he thinks. Certainly won’t push him if he feels it’s not for him because I understand it’s not for the faint hearted!

Thanks for everyone’s input smile

OP’s posts: |
Malbecfan Wed 24-Mar-21 16:58:11

OP, I asked my DD about the project she has helped with and it's called The Clydeside Project. I presume it's confined to the Glasgow area but am happy to be proved wrong!

SeasonFinale Wed 24-Mar-21 17:13:02

There is a big push for Scottish student at Oxford so it is definitely worth a look at the courses that are on offer there. Perhaps request copies of the prospectuses and let him have a read through.,students%2C%20their%20teachers%20and%20families.

WaysintoUni Wed 24-Mar-21 19:54:17

Thanks again - details of UNIQ and the Clydeside Project particularly welcome SeasonFinale and MalbecFan. Could kick myself though as we’ve missed the deadline for the application to the UNIQ S5 summer school and other events for entry next year by 9 days sad. My son has had no Uni guidance from his school yet because of Lockdown, hasn’t been asked about his Advanced Highers choices yet - obviously they’re not thinking Oxbridge entry for anyone. I guess we’ve missed the boat for some initiatives. I’m still reading through the stuff about virtual open days and the mentoring scheme is an option. Not read everything but will look tonight and then forward onto him and we can discuss and ascertain whether he wants to give this a shot.

OP’s posts: |
SeasonFinale Wed 24-Mar-21 19:57:28

@WaysintoUni definitely speak to Oxford. The admissions people are really helpful.

I was going to tag @Aurea but see she has already commented

Hoghgyni Wed 24-Mar-21 21:17:16

I wasn't sure which year group your DS was in when I suggested UNIQ, so that's a blow. My next suggestion is to take a look at the HE+ pages at Cambridge. HE+ is one of the Cambridge outreach schemes, but anyone can follow their suggestions. They also have lots of info about the application process. They are full of ideas for the types of activity which your DS could do to demonstrate his interest in the subjects he would like to study which would enhance his application to either Oxford or Cambridge. DD did History HE+ at Cambridge and PPE UNIQ at Oxford when she could decide which she preferred. I think in an ideal world she would have applied for History & Politics.

readsalotgirl63 Thu 25-Mar-21 00:05:47

I was also going to suggest you tag @Aurea so glad she's responded. I don't have experience of Oxbridge but a friend of dd's did consider it (from a state secondary) and many years ago the sister of a friend of mine did actually apply and received an offer - again from a state secondary. So it's really not impossible/unheard of. Good luck.

IM0GEN Thu 25-Mar-21 00:17:26

@WaysintoUni - has your son looked at the s6 options on his school website ? Or asked one of his teachers ?

What subjects is he planning to do?

I have to say He sounds very passive in all this. A lad of his age should be capable of doing more himself.

It’s unusual that he plays orchestral instruments but doesn't play in school because he is scared someone will see him.

Has he been having any private lessons this year ( by zoom)? I assume his city orchestra hasn’t met fit the last 12 months .

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