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Oxbridge applications - requirements other than the academic

(121 Posts)
squashpie Tue 12-Apr-11 21:34:15


I know two friends' children who have offers from Cambridge. They are both great kids, one boy, one girl. They are obviously mega-bright and should do very well on the academic side of things. Also, the boy plays an instrument and rows and the girl is something like grade 7 on the piano.

Do you need to have all the 'extra' stuff to be accepted into Oxbridge. Is that how they distinguish between all the bright kids out there: by their extra curricular achievements?

mumblechum1 Tue 12-Apr-11 21:36:13

Partly it is extra-curricular achievements - it takes a lot of dedication to get to grade 7 in music, or to row for your school at national level, for example.

Voluntary work experience is also very helpful.

webwiz Tue 12-Apr-11 22:09:05

Useful article about it here:

Yellowstone Tue 12-Apr-11 22:36:15

There's been lots of stuff about this reported by the press in the past few months. And on the universities' websites too I think. The message seems to be very clear: extra curricular activities count for nothing and academic merit is all - being an international shot-putter doesn't in itself make you a chemist of note, etc.

I've heard two Oxford tutors mildly at odds about this: one said extraordinary extra-curricular achievement at least demonstrated good time management, the other tutor said pah (that he'd rather his students relaxed and played pool).

It does seem clear from those given offers over the past four years from my own children's school that the most academically exceptional students are also the most gifted in other fields too, but that's kind of beside the point.

gramercy Wed 13-Apr-11 12:36:03

Agree - usually if someone's academic then they are quite likely to excel in music. Not sure about sporting prowess, though. That is more rare and a clever student who is also a great rower/rugby player etc must have some extra appeal to a university.

laInfanta Wed 13-Apr-11 12:38:22

They don't really care that much about extra-curricular activities and sometimes it can count against you - they want someone who's going to work hard, not spend all their time in plays/at the Union/rowing.

Academic merit is the most important thing, dedication to the subject and showing you can think originally about your subject, and not just repeat what you've been taught in school. This last is crucial, and most people get rejected because they don't have it.

Butterbur Wed 13-Apr-11 12:42:32

We have recently had a meeting about this at DS1's school. Apparently, after academic achievements that meet the requirements for the course, a kick-ass personal statement is the thing. Extra curricular achievements might help here, and in particular, highlight what you have personally gained from them.

And if you are lucky enough to get an interview, a passion for your subject, and having read outside the A-level syllabus.

TotalChaos Wed 13-Apr-11 12:42:47

Agree with Infanta. tutors are more interested in a passion for the subject and being able to put forward your views constructively (i.e. also be responsive to tutors disagreeing with you!). IME most of my friends at Oxbridge had no great musical talent.

Gooseberrybushes Wed 13-Apr-11 12:45:15

Interview practice with an Oxbridge grad also well worthwhile.

BenignNeglect Wed 13-Apr-11 12:55:21

The ones that I have spoken to want:

1. High grades
2. Someone who, in interview, can hold their own in a debate - i.e. giving reasons and being willing to push back where they disagree (and also knowing when to concede points).

The extra stuff provides something to talk about in interview (and the personal statement at least gives an indication that the applicant is literate), but quite frankly every applicant these days has done the model United Nations thing, a debating society or four and/or something musical.

Yellowstone Wed 13-Apr-11 14:35:45

Butterbur you say a kick-ass personal statement is the thing: there's been lots written about this too. Cambridge last year made a splash with a statement on how little notice they intended to take of PS's. Along the same lines, I was told by an admissions tutor for medicine from one Oxford College that he personally declines to look at the PS's of interviewees; he says that's the fastest way to dislike them before they've even started to talk....

Don't underestimate these tutors. They know very well that students can be helped with PS's to a lesser or greater degree and the one thing they must hate is dissemblance.

Chaotica Wed 13-Apr-11 14:43:05

IME extra curricular stuff is irrelevant if it is irrelevant to the course. There might be a broad construal of this though: for example, classical music theory is very mathematical/logical and this might count for something (for example) if the student doesn't have any academic qualifications to show aptitude in that area. The applicant would have to back up this aptitude at interview though.

EvenLessNarkyPuffin Wed 13-Apr-11 14:47:15

What they look for is hard to describe - more a type of person than a list of qualifications.

aquavit Wed 13-Apr-11 15:00:43

Academic ability and potential, and being able to demonstrate passion for and commitment to the subject, are all that count. Look at the admissions criteria which are readily available online. These are what matter. Nothing is hidden. There are various ways of judging academic aptitude of course, and it is possible that some extra-curricular activities might contribute to the candidate's overall academic potential (this isn't at all common IME). But it ONLY matters insofar as it relates to the course for which they have applied.

Of course, the students with the drive to get the grades and do the kind of reading around their subjects that Oxbridge look for may also be ambitious and well-organised in their other interests, so there are plenty of successful Oxbridge candidates who happen also to be good at other things.

Butterbur Wed 13-Apr-11 15:21:37

Yellowstone, we were told this by one of the admissions team from Birmingham University.

Maybe some admissions tutors ignore PSs, but I'm not sure anyone should take the chance, and end up fast-tracking their application to the reject pile.

mummytime Wed 13-Apr-11 15:31:59

Yellowstone and Butterbur, one of you is talking about Oxbridge the other about Birmingham. These are different things. A PS is important for most Unis, however Oxbridge is giving less importance to it than others, at least that is what they are saying publicly. If you can prove you have good extra curricula activities, which never get in the way of your studies (and obviously do not) then it may not count against you.

On the other hand the message Oxbridge is giving out is that if you are an all rounder maybe you should now be looking elsewhere (such as Ivy League, who want all rounders).

trixie123 Wed 13-Apr-11 16:30:19

one of our expupils who is currently at Cambridge came back for a visit and said basically, unless you are of a sporting standard to be a "blue" ie represent the Uni they are not going to be swayed by that. What they want is genuinely academic, possibly slightly obsessive, who can demonstrate that their interest in the subject goes beyond what they have learnt at A level and the city career it will give them. Per. St. needs to be about that and how the extra reading you have done informs your view of xx, not just that you've read it.

Oxbridgemum Wed 13-Apr-11 16:39:48

IME Oxbridge admissions tutors don’t tend to favour applicants with exceptional extra-curricular achievements. They are looking for applicants with an interest and commitment for the subject they are applying for. Having said that, extra-curricular activities should feature on the personal statement as they are important for other universities and to a certain extent, if they are relevant to the course, they can be really impressive for Oxbridge too. Things like debating, mooting, high standard drama and volunteering are closely linked to subjects such as PPE, Law, English and Medicine, and can be very impressive in a personal statement, particularly when backed up by further reading and experience, but otherwise (and in most cases), academics take priority.

Kez100 Wed 13-Apr-11 16:42:35

I wonder if extra curricular might help if you haven't got the perfect grades. For those who have been to dire comprehensives but still managed to get a A (or slightly lower) in A level Latin by studying it themselves and running a after school course in Latin for interested younger students. That sort of thing.

They may not have a A* but they haven't had the same opportunties as everyone else. However, they have a complete passion for the subject.

I've always thought this is one of things they are looking for interviews. Getting under the exam results and to the heart of the students reason for application.

squashpie Wed 13-Apr-11 17:05:44

Thanks for all those replies.

trixie123 do you mean that the students have to be thinking ahead about the city career that an Oxbridge degree would give them, when they are reading beyond A'level requirements?

Oxbridgemum what is 'mooting'?

Feel incredibly thick asking those questions on this thread, but not sure I understood!

Chaotica Wed 13-Apr-11 17:38:58

Kez100 - you're right that someone who has self-taught an A level (and has maybe done a little worse because of it), and/or has taught others the subject will impress. But that goes towards passion for the subject (or learning in general), so might be counted as not really being an 'extra curricular' activity strictly speaking.

Such students should take heart and apply: they do get in. Some also get in with (slightly) lower grades (or missing further maths/latin/greek if their school doesn't do it, say) if they show the tenacity to teach themselves and be able to bridge the gap. Many (but not all) colleges will give extra help once a student gets there.

Chaotica Wed 13-Apr-11 17:40:30

squashpie trixie123 means that the prospective student must not be solely interested in the job they'll get in the city as a result of being at oxbridge.

gramercy Wed 13-Apr-11 17:49:00

I think (or would hope) Oxbridge admissions people realise that building orphanages etc is the preserve of privileged students and although it might provide a topic of conversation would not be a deal breaker. Likewise stellar job placements.

squashpie Wed 13-Apr-11 17:54:41

Chaotica thanks for that.

Missingfriendsandsad Wed 13-Apr-11 18:05:27

no wonder I didn't get in - my school HATED children who disagreed, knew more than the teacher on a subject or who would debate an issue. In fact though, the biggest thing you can do, statistically, is just apply - oxbridge don't really recruit the best - that is a myth - there are more people suitably qualified to go to both who don't apply and there are better students at other universities who just didn't apply to oxford or cambridge.

In extra curricular, make it sound as conventional as possible but try to show drive, responsibility and participation eg 'I go to oxfam at the weekend to get retail experience' is better expressed as 'I have a passion for world issues, and I regularly volunteer for Oxfam and have done so for three years where I have been given reponsibility for pricing, stocktaking and now I am working on a project to get all the valuable donations onto an online selling site'

After that at interview. show a willingness to listen hard, be genuinely interested and to summarise and confirm throughout (eg 'I see so what you mean is this?') and then add a solution or progression (eg' but wouldn't that mean that you couldn't do x' or 'I see so that is similar to the way the goivernment in the US works today, only with more people being able to vote)...

Practice techniques like that a lot so that they can be done under massive pressure and it will help a lot and get them comfortable in the clothes they will wear - don't buy a new 'borrowed me mum's'suit for them and make them wear it - be smart, and presentable but don't be afraid of showing personality - one girl I knew who got in wore a lovely black dress, stripy leggins and a big silver ankh necklace but felt really comfortable and blew the newly-dressed away. - most kids fail interviews etc because they are nervous, thinking 'is my blouse still uncreased' etc rather than being engaged - and if you are engaged and listening an academic doesn't care if you are sitting there naked with a monkey on your shoulder.

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