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Oxbridge and State Schools

(209 Posts)
RiversideMum Wed 27-Mar-13 05:49:02

Feeling a bit cross about a presentation DD attended at a local school for all the secondaries in the area. It didn't seem hugely encouraging given that the DCs there had been invited to attend by their schools and therefore had the potential to be applicants. Now in my heart of hearts I'm not sure that DD is Oxbridge material, but for her to come away for the presentation saying "I don't think I would fit in" is somewhat disappointing.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 09:25:56

Welovegrapes I'm amazed at how many people say that they'll go to Oxford or Cambridge for postgrad 'instead'. Of course it's a possibility but it's worth bearing in mind that there are many home grown undergraduates, predicted Firsts, who are rejected each year.

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 09:45:06

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 09:45:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Copthallresident Sat 30-Mar-13 09:55:11

We had feedback from a Professor at Cambridge that the competition for first degree places had got so ridiculous that he would actually recommend that serious Scientists should seriously consider not even applying and go to another university for their first degree and apply for postgrad. We will never find out, DD would not go anywhere else but where she is now, even if they had not offered her a good deal.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 09:57:18

Obviously I don't know your subject Welovegrapes, or your age but I'll make the assumption that the job market for graduates when you graduated wasn't at it's current nadir. But looking at this year's cycle I can say with certainty that there's a glut of enormously talented home grown undergrads in the Humanities who are being rejected for post grad, likewise in Law. I don't know about any science subject though: I can see why the sciences might be far easier to get a place for post grad, not least because of sponsorship and funding etc. But again, that's just a guess.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 09:58:50

Sorry Copthall I think Sciences should have had a big S.... smile

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 10:02:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 10:22:12

There's a huge disparity between applications and offers, though not as marked between Humanities and Sciences as I'd have thought. Perhaps the huge number of Social Science and Humanities applications reflects the peculiar dodginess of the job market for those subjects at the moment.

HolofernesesHead Sat 30-Mar-13 10:30:59

Just nipping in quickly to ask if you've all heard of this free Oxford University summer school for state school students: Uniq. Applications are closed for this year but if you might be interested for next year, keep your ear to the ground and apply early.

I am state educated and Oxbridge educated, and I know people who are working really hard in Oxbridge to level the playing field. Oxbridge isn't the be all and end all but it is an amazing type of education for which I am personally so grateful, so I do tend to encourage people to go for it if they can / want to.

Welovegrapes Sat 30-Mar-13 10:32:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Copthallresident Sat 30-Mar-13 10:45:19

Yellowtip What you don't know is where those applicants are coming from. The Professor's comments rested on his despair that so many of the superbright undergraduates would be going off into banking etc. and be lost to Science whilst they might be losing in the scrum of entry some really good serious Scientists. It isn't even such an issue at postgrad level as there is so much good research going on at other unis and in partnership with companies and research foundations. It is more of a case of where to go to persue your interests than seeking the Oxbridge brand. In fact that is true in Humanities too. I have several peers who are Oxbridge graduates.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 10:51:04

My only point Copthall was that getting an offer is not a foregone conclusion by any stretch.

Copthallresident Sat 30-Mar-13 11:04:20

Nor is it anywhere. I feel for current undergraduates since a 2.1 seems to be the minimum for getting any sort of job / postgrad. Welovegrapes and I may have emerged in another recession (possibly the same one?) but then a 2.1 / First was rare enough to guarantee you some sort of job / postgrad, even for me wink. All of my friend's DCs who have graduated, Oxbridge or not, are back home competing hard for unpaid internships to build up the sort of CV that would even put you in with a chance of a job. Out of all DDs peers due to graduate this year one has an internship organised by Daddy and DD has her MSc sorted and that is it as they head into Finals.

slipshodsibyl Sat 30-Mar-13 11:14:34

For some of us, I guess pointing out to students / sons and daughters that postgraduate study is a possibility is a way of reducing pressure or assuaging disappointment after a rejection. Many will soon feel like Copthall's daughter once they have settled into their chosen institution and will fortunately believe the path they are on is the best one for them.

Yellowtip Sat 30-Mar-13 11:31:30

I get that slipshod, of course. But I wouldn't want any of my DC to hang on to the idea except as a very loose possibility, since I think too hard a focus on that might spoil their enjoyment of their undergraduate years, which fly by so fast.

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:00:55

In the Oxbridge admissions teams I have worked with, we have been looking for proof of students enjoying mulling over intellectual problems, thinking out loud and being able to structure an intellectual argument while they are doing it. Those students score 8 or 9 out of 10 in interviews and go through to the next round. Students from less selective schools who have had little contact with intellectual peers to practise these skills might be given the benefit of the doubt.

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:04:48

Typical question: Take a story on the news, you choose which one, and explain how your chosen subject might offer insight into this issue.

Need beginning, middle and end to answer, and about half a dozen correlations or examples of synthesising information to form some sort of analysis. All shows higher order thinking.

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:06:29

Another typical question: how would you develop a scientific experiment to test that concept, and how would you make sure it was a fair test?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:07:56

And another:

Why do you think Oxbridge designed this particular degree course in the way that it did? Is anything missing that should be there, in your opinion?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:09:35

And another: if you wanted to design an education system that ensured it would fail as many pupils as possible, what do you think it would look like?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 13:10:30

Do you all get the thought processes required to do well in the interview now?


How would you weigh the earth?

BoffinMum Sun 31-Mar-13 20:55:03

Hahaha just asked DD that last one (she went to Cambridge) and she started off by saying she'd drill a sample all the way down to the core, weigh that and multiply it by the total surface area of the earth. She is not taking the resultant teasing well. grin

KittiesInsane Mon 01-Apr-13 21:14:16

God knows how I ever got in, Boffin!

I can remember my interview: it started, 'Come in. Sit down. Tell me the difference between an aldehyde and a ketone.'

BoffinMum Mon 01-Apr-13 22:04:13

Bloody hell!

If it's any comfort to anyone, I didn't get in as an undergrad. I completely panicked at interview and spoke rubbish, I had no clue what was expected. Later I went there for postgrad degrees, won lots of prizes and things, and did fine. I also ended up working there! I think that's what makes me sympathetic to the whole undergrad admissions thing. I have seen the situation from both sides.

Propitious Sat 06-Apr-13 12:19:18

From own experience with state school educated dc who won a place at Cambridge, the personal statement seemed to be regarded as a way of conveying to the admissions tutors that you got 'involved' at school and took some responsibility. But above all it seemed to be about showing your commitment to your chosen subject and that you looked forward to a pretty stiff intellectual challenge over the course of the next 3 years.

Like some other posters have commented, our local state school's attitude to Oxbridge was, 'why do you want to go there?' To be fair to the teachers, they were ignorant (in the nicest possible way) about what Oxbridge offered & clueless about the difficulty of entry.

What we learned about Cambridge entry for state school applicants:

1. Choose the subject and college very carefully. Popular subjects at the better colleges are heavily oversubscribed so choose a college which offers your subject but with fewer applicants per place. (College/subject application numbers are freely available online)... Health Warning! Not all Oxbridge colleges offer you the same quality of undergraduate study experience. The better (aka wealthier) colleges attract/can afford better tutors, which translates into better supervisions/tutorials for undergrads.... We were told that by a professor of an esteemed Cambridge department who happens to be a friend.

2. Best not not to make an 'open' application. Choose your college (playing the percentages as above) then if unsuccessful you'll go into the Xmas 'pool' & other colleges then have a look at you. It's a bit like UCAS 'clearing'.

3. There are a lot of wealthy/privileged/independent school educated students at Cambridge which can make social life limiting for shy/insecure state school types. Of course, a lot depends on what dc is like.

4. The undergrad workload is huge at Oxbridge and comes as a great shock to some. One approach is to treat Oxbridge like a hectic/demanding 8am to 5pm six day a week job where you fit in a social life around work (and not the other way round like in many other univs).

5. In preparing for entry/interview: network furiously. Find Oxbridge friends who studied a similar subject and get them to do mock interviews with dc. (The school should of course be doing this but most don't have the time/inclination/resources.) Luckily, we had a really co-operative friend who was more than willing to do this. DC came out of these hour-long sessions ashen-faced and exhausted but fully prepared the real interview.

6. As a parent, network. It seems to be a common theme for those who succeed in gaining entry. Ask Oxbridge friends for advice and direction. We were lucky in that I have a background in ed and have several Oxbridge connections of various different sorts.

7. The sacrifices and hard work are worth it in the end. Our dc struggled to fit in at first and we wondered whether it was the right choice but after graduating dc breezed in to a top profession with barely a ruffled feather. The professions and best employers all seem to understand the worth of an Oxbridge degree and gaining employment, for these fortunate graduates, presents few problems.

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