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DD1 determined to go to Cambridge - advice please

(48 Posts)
LovelyDaffs Mon 23-May-11 09:07:42

She's only in year 7 at a very academic grammar school, I know it's obviously very early days and she may well change her mind many many times but I could really do with some advice. There are two elements to advice I need really, one is how I deal with the more emotional side of this - at the moment she is being very black and white about it, it's Cambridge or nothing and clearly there are no guarantees that she's even cambridge material let alone get in. She has really flourished since starting at the grammar, it's so lovely to see her enjoying school and doing so well that I want to do everything to encourage her, but at the same time I don't want to set her up for a fall. Any pointers would be very much appreciated, she's the eldest of three so it's all new to me.

I'd also love to know what's involved in attempting to get into Cambridge, what kind of academic record they look for? what kind of student? are there things she could be doing now to help her in the future?

Oh she's thinking of English or History.

bemybebe Mon 23-May-11 09:23:16

I do not have experience studying at Cambridge, but I understand their current requirements are AAAA and having something else to offer (music, sports, activism of some sort) that will contribute to the college and the peers.
Also fwiw, I knew that I wanted to study medicine at XXX university at the age of 7 and I did. As my first degree. As my second I was offered a place in Cambridge but chose to go elsewhere for financial reasons.

DeWe Mon 23-May-11 09:55:59

Assuming the Fen Poly is similar to Oxford they won't really be interested in extra curriculum stuff (except top level rowing or possibly rugby) unless it has relevence to the subject.
For English and History she needs to be able to reason, discuss her point with a tutor possibly playing devil's advocate. Debating club/public speaking might help some.
It could be worth asking her English/History teacher their view. They've probably had candidates applying before, and may be able to give you some idea whether it's a reasonable aim or not. Obviously at year 7 it's not gospel, so do keep encouraging her to work at it. (My year 5 teacher said I was good but would be outshone if there were any potential Oxbridge entry candidates in the form. He said later it was something he was delighted to be proved wrong in) It's probably worth mentioning to her at a good moment that she can be very good and still not get in. There is an aspect of luck in happening to gell with the tutor at interview and them thinking "I'd like to teach them".

snorkie Mon 23-May-11 09:59:49

Above everything they look for enthusiasm and ability in the subject. Most applicants do have very good academic record across the board. It's a myth that you need extra-curricular stuff too, lots of applicants do, but this is just because people with the abilities they are looking for tend to be good all-rounders too with other stuff on their CV rather than because it's actually needed.

As to your dd it is early days. I would just tell her that if that's her aim (and it's a good aim to have) then she needs to work hard and achieve good grades, but that she shouldn't rule out looking at other places too as a) she may find she prefers another course somewhere else and b) she may not get in to Cambridge as it's very competitive and lots of very good applicants don't but many do go on the be very happy and successful elsewhere.

irregularegular Mon 23-May-11 10:13:19

I'm an Oxford tutor - but I don't want to own up to a college or subject. First, it's great that she is aiming high (though Oxford would obviously be better!) but I'm sure that you don't need me to tell you how much can change before she gets to 17.

Sheer academic ability and potential (backed up by a genuine, unforced interest in the subject) is really the only thing that matters. Extra-curricular really isn't very important as far as I've seen, whatever the schools say. She needs to be getting all As at GCSE and a good crop of A* too. From a very academic grammar school, I'd expect to see mostly A* at GCSE (if the system hasn't changed by then). At A-level she needs at least one A* as things stand. Doing large numbers of A-levels doesn't get you much extra credit. Better to do 3, or at most 4, in proper rigorous subjects, get top marks, and allow time to do reading beyond the syllabus.

That last point is really important for subjects like English and History. Read and read and read - and have something interesting to say about it! Any kind of societies/groups that involve discussing - and arguing - about her reading will be valuable, especially if you feel she's not getting that sort of experience in school.

And gently make sure she knows that lots of excellent students get turned down each year.

TheCowardlyLion Mon 23-May-11 10:15:02

All this is a long time ago for me, but my Gold DofE Award has always been a selling point on my CV, including my application to Cambridge.

The subject is absolutely crucial, obviously - your DD would need to be able to demonstrate an interest in it that went well beyond the parameters of what she had studied in class. So, if she chose English (my subject grin) - they would expect her to be able to talk about texts she had chosen to read (rather than having been told to by her teacher) to support her set texts, iyswim.

They also look for someone who will be able to fit well into the life of the college and cope with the massive independent study requirements, so think about things she can do to demonstrate independence - residential courses and so on. As others have said, it's not so much that they look for lots of extra-curricular stuff, more that those are the types of students who have the qualities they want - people who are interested in the world around them and play an active part in it.

LovelyDaffs Mon 23-May-11 10:29:15

Thank you all so much, I thought I might be flamed for being pushy when it's all coming from dd. I'm particularly pleased about the extra curricular aspect as she has so much homework that she has little time for the things she enjoys out of school as it is ie. Guitar, piano and more than anything reading. I was concerned that she ought to be fitting more in.

Fortunately her school has a lot of extra curricular clubs, so I'll encourage her to join some of the more relevant ones - dh and I are partial to a good debate, so she's in the right place grin.

Iregularregular - reading between the lines are you saying that as she's at a high achieving school she will be expected to have higher grades then if she were at a comp?

Fortunately her school are very geared up for preparing them for Oxbridge and RG universities. I didn't go to university at all and dh is a media type rather than academic, so we are going to need help.

Once again thank you it's amazing how much better I feel with a little more information.

GrendelsMum Mon 23-May-11 11:32:35

re. the emotional side of it - I'd try and play the whole thing down as much as possible. It is a very long time off, she's awfully young, and there are never enough places for all the wonderful, talented young people who apply. If she talks about it, I'd just nod and go along with it, but remind her that the important thing is to enjoy her life now, not to spend her teenage years preparing for University interviews. If she's still keen in a few years, then it might be worth pointing out to her that English degrees cover very different subjects at different Universities, and does she really think that Cambridge covers the subjects that she wants to do. Does she want to cover film, for example? Creative writing? Modern languages? Old English? Old Norse? 18th century? 'Post-colonial' fiction?

I'd agree with IrregularRegular entirely, but the one thing that is also worth mentioning is that some of the books she reads should be reasonably challenging, perhaps with a mix of classics and contemporary literary fiction. I'm afraid there are some students who come to University interviews for English who love to read, but it's largely along the lines of Harry Potter.

darleneoconnor Mon 23-May-11 11:54:45

There are a couple of 'getting into Oxbridge' books on the market, you could try having a look at those.

There is a thread about challenging books, albeit for boys, in G&T if you want to look there.

worldgonecrazy Mon 23-May-11 12:07:02

I was told by an admissions person that during the interviews they are looking for how the applicant thinks - are they free thinkers, have they read widely in their chosen area rather than just what is necessary to pass the exams, can they debate and see information from new angles and viewpoints. Can they debate their point, etc. Are they motivated within their subject?

LovelyDaffs Mon 23-May-11 12:09:03

Lol GrendelsMum dd would love to do a degree in Harry Potter or Twilight. Fortunately she reads a wide range and has my love of classics as well as the usual teen fodder. I ought to find out about some more challenging contemporary fiction I'm probably a bit out of date.

Yellowstone Mon 23-May-11 12:35:23

The first thing I did when the subject of Oxford came up (when the eldest was Y11) was to take the three eldest girls (then Y11, 9 and 8) to Durham for the weekend and said look, here's a really good very beautiful alternative.

ElephantsAndMiasmas Mon 23-May-11 12:37:34

Hi LovelyDaffs, I decided at a nuaseatingly young age that I wanted to go to Cambridge (albeit for rather odd reasons) and didn't - but went to somewhere rather similar. I think there's no harm at all in having high hopes/aims - you can't get in unless you try, and having a vision of the future for yourself gets teenagers through a lot of difficulties IMO. Not sure you need to worry too much about thinking about other unis, she will realise as she gets older that there are loads of good options out there - especially if her friends' older siblings start to go. If you want, you could buy something like the Times University Guide which (I think) lists all the unis in the country with some info about each one. I used to love flicking through my brother's copy and dreaming about being a cool student (some hope).

Definitely enourage her to read a lot, and pursue any specific areas that she is interested in (drama, medieval history, satire, modern poetry) by either buying her books (if you can) or encouraging gifts of book vouchers etc.

Agree not to go on about it - she will soon be at the stage where she will be actively put off doing things that YOU want her to do. If she is at a state school/your family has no history of going to uni, you could have a look at the Sutton Trust, who do summer schools and other things to broaden the spectrum of people going to good universities.

If you study at a university like this you need to be able to come up with your own original perspectives on books/events, week in week out. Plenty of discussion and chat about the news/history/books/whatever around the house will stand her in good stead. Also I would say that not having TOO much respect (to the point of awe) for authority is probably good, she will need to be undaunted at holding her own against Professor Whoever in the interview without cowering.

Good luck to her.

Yellowstone Mon 23-May-11 13:11:24

Elephants clearly the point of my taking my kids to Durham was to reduce any self-imposed pressure, not because there was any idea of 'thinking about other unis'!

LovelyDaffs she can't apply for a Sutton Trust Summer School until Y12, so a long way off (limited chance of a place too, coming from your school). Plenty of ordinary Open Days though, when you're nearer the time.

ElephantsAndMiasmas Mon 23-May-11 14:00:04

Ha yes Yellowstone, x-post with you smile

breadandbutterfly Mon 23-May-11 14:58:32

I knew I wanted to go from Oxford from age 5 after visiting my eldest brother who was a student there - and I did. I read History too. My DD (Yr 6) has said she wants to follow me, and is easily bright enough BUT if anything, I have tried to dissuade her, pointing out that Oxbridge is not the be-all and end-all of education and that at other universities you may well have more fun as the workload is less.

Whilst what others have said is right - in that she needs to be geeting good scores across the board before A Level, so having motivation at this stage is good if she keeps her end goal in mind when doing other exams eg GCSEs - she shouldn't rule out other options.

By the way, I hated History at Primary School and didn't get into it until I was 14 - much may change before A Levels!

Also, on a more serious note, I suffered clinical depression at Oxford - putting myself under pressure to go there and achieve once there was v stressful, which is why - although there are lots of things I do like about Oxbridge - I'd be wary of encouraging anyone to get too obsessive about it. I did get over it and got a 2:1 in the end; but I wouldn't want anyone else to go through that stress.

By all means let her apply, as long as she realises that (a_) luck and hard work both play a part in entry and (b) that Oxbridge is superior to other universities in some ways, yet other universities have advantages over Oxbridge in others.

Other universities are not inferior, just different.

ElephantsAndMiasmas Mon 23-May-11 15:14:37

I agree, breadandbutterfly. There's no way I would encourage going to Oxford/Cambridge over another place as you miss out on a lot of good things, as well as obviously getting a huge amount of other good things IYSWIM.

LovelyDaffs Mon 23-May-11 15:29:30

All good points thanks all.

Although I didn't go to university I knew what job I wanted to do by 11, which is why I didn't go to uni (think films) and sure enough I did do that job and loved it. I was certainly ambitious so I do want to encourage without presurising her.

Interestingly dh was telling me the other day that hr were talking to him about working with the under 30's who have often been brought up to believe that they can have anything they want if they work hard. He was being instructed to tread very carefully when delivering negative feedback on performance as they place so much importance on their careers that they take negativity very very badly. Not sure we are helping our children bringing them up in the way we are, but then again 'know your place' isn't an attitude I want to foster either. Not easy trying to be the perfect parent.

cymruoddicatref Mon 23-May-11 18:04:39

A couple of months ago, I started a thread on the Childrens' Books page of mumsnet asking how best to support my 14 year old who loves reading and writing and wants to study English at university. I got some terrific tips and pointers towards different sources I had never heard of. Have a look.

cubscout Mon 23-May-11 18:08:38

There was a really interesting radio prog (Radio 4) a few weeks ago about this very subject- sorry can't remember the name, as I was in the car!

A point was made about 1:1 interviews with a tutor which take the form more of less of what a tutorial would be. The tutors were looking for people who could function in quite an intense environment, debate a point, and generally display critical thinking skills.

Good on your dd though! Just encourage her to work hard.

LovelyDaffs Mon 23-May-11 21:29:07

Cymru thanks, I'll go and have a look.

5VO1 Tue 24-May-11 13:10:06

I have had daughters at both Oxford and Cambridge. The Oxford one was trying to get in reading Human Science and in her interview remembered a fact about monkeys from her much younger twin brothers baby board books (monkey using a stick to scrabble around for ants or something) - the other was trying to get in for medicine at Cambridge and had to imagine she was a pea in the interview. They were never under the slightest pressure from home to go to either establishment and consequently treated the whole occasion with as much anxiety as a trip to Starbucks. It gave them a relaxed approach to any off the wall interviewing techniques.

menagerie Tue 24-May-11 16:26:43

Well good for her. She'll probably change her mind 1000 times between now and then.

Personally, I'd not focus on it much right now, in case she goes off the idea. Instead of homing on Cambridge, help her develop the key skills and knowledge to get her in there. My DH read English at Cambridge - but that was last century, and I was at Oxford, so our info is outdated, but the key ingredients for us were:

read incredibly widely - way beyond the curriculum and related texts.
Show interest in literature that isn't covered at A level but would be at uni (e.g. if she read's Armitage's Gawain translation and Heaney's Beowulf and some of the original texts too.)

Go to the theatre, as much as possible, especially to see classics and Shakespeare.

Make sure she knows her classical mythology and Bible stories. Kids versions of these are fine for now.

Most important - encourage independent thinking and independent critical reasoning about a text. That means she doesn't trot out what Brodie's notes says about Romeo and Juliet or The wasteland, but has her own original views and can back them up with examples and scholarly, logical reasoning.

Modern languages help enormously - as would Latin or Greek.

Stick to pure subjects at A level: English, French, History, Maths, Music, maybe Drama rather than Media Studies or similar modern blended subjects that are seen as soft options.

Excellent GCSEs needed in all core subjects - including Maths.

You could take her to visit too, - go for a punt and wander round the colleges. And take her to Oxford too, just in case...


alittlebitpregnant23 Thu 26-May-11 19:31:19

She could do what I did: swing slightly out of the very popular subjects she's interested in now and choose something a bit more peculiar esoteric where the competition isn't so fierce. She'd get just a good degree, have just as good a time and as a bonus in later life she'd get all the 'ooh, that's unusual, you must be really clever' comments that everyone pretends to hate but secretly doesn't. Plus she'd only have to fight off 20 people per place rather than 90 (or whatever it is now for English or history - it won't be far off that). Plus, she should choose her college carefully.

Please don't think I'm saying that your DD couldn't fight off the 90 - I just loved and was inspired every day by my peculiar subject (not that peculiar, really - I did Classics, but I came from a state school and had never done Greek or Latin so it seemed pretty leftfield to me) and have never regretted not applying for English.

intertoyz Thu 26-May-11 19:37:20

Choosing your college carefully is a bit of a challenge, though, isn't it, a littlebitpreggers? We are a bit confused about it.

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