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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.

mynameisnotmichaelcaine Wed 27-Mar-13 06:10:13

This makes my blood boil. I was given SUCH a negative impression of Oxbridge by my school. It put me off applying. In the end I applied during my year out, with the help of my ex English teacher, who was the one positive staff member. I loved it, and at my college the majority of us came from state schools. I absolutely did fit in.

What has your dd got to lose? I was a ditsy drip at most things; awful at maths,lacking in common sense. If she has a talent in one area, she may be just what they are looking for.

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 07:07:32

I took my DD to an Oxbridge presentation at a local state school.

I thought they were very encouraging for everyone. They made a point that hard work was what you needed to offer - something that successful state school students may have in spades. (I knew about needing passion for your subject beforehand, but it was the hard work part that hit me from the presentations).

On the financial side, they said that Oxford or Cambridge was one of the best places to go, because the lodgings are cheaper, there are loads of bursaries and hardship funds. Also, the shorter terms means that you can get decent holiday work (although can't really work term time because of the intensity of the courses).

I came away feeling that they were very keen for anyone bright and hard-working to apply.

Why did your DD think she wouldn't fit in, Riverside?

lainiekazan Wed 27-Mar-13 09:46:13

Ds has expressed an interest in Oxbridge, and I tell him that it's a very, very long shot given the number of applicants BUT that if he is prepared to work hard and do the "passion" thing (groan, hate that word already) then he has a decent chance.

It is difficult to tread the fine line between encouragement and urging the need to keep one's feet on the ground. The Student Room has endless threads along the lines of "Am I good enough for Oxbridge?" and often the students have rather indifferent GCSE results and come across as not particularly outstanding. In these cases surely it would be kinder to say, "Look, mate, I think somewhere else would suit you better."

I thnk the very worst thing that can happen is people (parents as well as kids) setting their hearts on Oxbridge, when the odds of getting in - even for an excellent student - are not great.

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 10:08:40

But it's one of only five choices on the UCAS form, so nothing to lose either.

mumsneedwine Wed 27-Mar-13 10:44:32

The majority of students at Oxbridge are state school educated. See if you can get on a look round course (can't remember the official name) - potential students can spend a couple of days with a current undergraduate and see if they like the lifestyle. Most do !! My DS wasn't sure but did this and ended up working so hard he got his place. All but one of his friends are from state schools and all are lovely.

KittiesInsane Wed 27-Mar-13 10:51:12

The Cambridge open days have already closed for this year.

I only know this because DS has suddenly taken it into his head to try to apply. He has goodish GCSE results (all A or A* barring the MFL as he's no linguist) but is suddenly being predicted 3 A* for A level.

Frankly I don't think that would get him in when he'd be up against students with 10A* GCSEs but don't want to trample on his ideas.

I'm state-school-and-Oxbridge myself but from a boringly consistent A-grade throughout sort of basis.

Copthallresident Wed 27-Mar-13 13:16:56

Kitty Plenty get in with a mix of A/A*, it is the AS grades, predicted A grades and interview that matter. It is very hard to predicts who will get in, every year the candidates DDs school predicts success for don't get in , and those who they don't, do. You are interviewed by the academics who will teach you and all things being equal, sometimes it is whether you click with them.

OP Are you sure it was the school that put them off, seems a bit weird to fix an evening and then tell them they won't fit in. Are you sure it wasn't a peer reaction / something about the photos of gowns and ancient buildings which are not necessarily what most 17 year olds are tuned into these days? DD was adamant it wasn't for her until they actually visited and she talked to other students. Wouldn't exactly be surprising if whole hearted endorsement by the school provoked a reaction the other way wink perhaps the school should have targeted them with a message that they shouldn't try!

legallady Wed 27-Mar-13 13:20:54

Kitties, at the borough Oxbridge talk my DD went to earlier this month, we noted that for Cambridge, the average gcse grades for students who get offers was about 6 A* and the average who get in was 7.2, gcse A* so don't necessarily be put off by the 10 A* thing as it's not always true!

Certainly for Cambridge, the more important statistic is your AS level UMS scores. The average for those who get in is a staggering 95% at AS level. I have told DD that if she gets over 90% average then it's worth a punt, but any less than that come August she will be struggling to get a look in. This is particularly true as though she is at state school, she is at a very high achieving grammar so has no excuses.

The Cambridge open days were useful though - DD went to the MFL and linguistics session and found the whole thing quite inspiring smile

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 13:31:29


Oxford likes a string of A* at GCSE. Cambridge prefers good AS module results.

They are two different universities, and should be treated that way by students looking for a place.

For courses common to each university, prospective students should consider, among other factors, about what sells them better - their GCSEs or AS results.

Copthallresident Wed 27-Mar-13 13:41:53

Polly DD has friends at Oxford who did not get a clean sweep of A*s, indeed one even got a C at AS (uncertificated I suppose) It undoubtedly will depend on course though, they were Scientists.

lainiekazan Wed 27-Mar-13 13:55:31

I suppose it's the uncertainty that puts students off. There's all this hearsay about grades which I think does alarm state school pupils. Ds said someone said (and so it goes) that for some courses there is a "anything less than A*s and you're out" filter which, of course, is unfair to those who perhaps didn't go to a stellar school. Ds goes to a very good school, but Westminster it ain't.

I think it's a bit different for pupils applying to do science/maths as it seems allowable for them to muck up language or even English GCSEs.

Frankly I can't understand how admissions tutors can select applicants when they are faced with a sea of eager beavers all with excellent grades swearing that they ooze passion for their subject.

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 14:39:08

Polly Oxford tutors do like a clean sweep of A*s at GCSE on the basis that the evidence apparently suggest that these are a very good predictor of Distinctions and Firsts. Nevertheless, they don't always get them and apart from Oxford medics, who do mostly have that sort of number of A*s, most students don't have ten A* or above.

I find it odd that OPs DD came back from the presentation saying she wouldn't fit it. Perhaps she's just not confident in her ability, or perhaps she's telling mum that she really doesn't want to apply. I can't believe that any person representing either university would do anything other than stress very strongly that Oxford and Cambridge are for all comers, regardless of background.

Both places do require very hard work, that's not negotiable.

PollyEthelEileen Wed 27-Mar-13 15:33:57

I'm only relaying what I heard straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Two horses, actually - one from an Oxford college (Brazenose?) and the other from Cambridge (Newham).

My info was that Oxford leaned towards GCSEs and Cambridge AS modules. These are screening tools, alongside spelling errors in the personal statement. There is an opportunity to be flexible, especially when Widening Participation is played as a trump card.

I don't think they are bothered about 10 A* though. They lose interest after 6 or 7. Same with A-level modules - they will look at the top few (that everyone will be able to show) rather than modules from 5+ subjects.

There's a lot to be said for tradition - 9 or 10 GCSEs (along the lines of the English Baccalaureate), 4 AS, 3 A2.

Copthallresident Wed 27-Mar-13 16:23:20

I was actually meaning a 70/30 mix, min 60 /40, relaxed for less well performing schools. I almost typed more A* than A.

However I stick with my point about clicking with the tutor, 10+A* certainly not a clincher, time and time again I hear of the ones getting in not being the brightest in a year, but having engaged the interviewers.

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 16:55:29

Polly Oxford does rate GCSEs over ASs and Cambridge does the reverse and in both cases they are more than screening tools....

Although they can't fill the place up with straight A* applicants, it's also not true that 'they lose interest after 6 or 7'. Where do you get that from? Oxford really likes full houses of straight A*s. That doesn't mean that that's a guaranteed place, but it's a very valuable weapon for an applicant to have in his arsenal. I'm also not clear what you mean about tradition confused.

lainiekazan Wed 27-Mar-13 16:56:44

When I was at school many, many moons ago I remember it was actually some of the quieter people who nobody had ever noticed who got offers, whilst some quite bumptious girls were unsuccessful.

secretscwirrels Wed 27-Mar-13 17:01:47

DS1 and I went to an Oxbridge presentation at his state sixth form college last week. They had speakers from both places and former pupils who attend Oxbridge.
There was quite a lot about the style of study there compared with other universities and I could see that it would not necessarily suit everyone. It may be that the OPs DD was referring to that rather than not fitting in in a social sense?
DS1 has for a long time aspired to study Maths at Cambridge. He lives, breathes and dreams Maths.
I have always urged caution, and the necessity for a good plan B which he is happy with. That even with the best grades he may not get in.
He went to two of the subject Master-classes held at Cambridge and was enthralled. He had always thought that the interview process would be a major obstacle to him but the talks by the Oxbridge tutors have convinced him not only that the style of study there is right for him but also that he may be in with a chance.

KarlosKKrinkelbeim Wed 27-Mar-13 17:08:09

The average Cmabridge mathmo is not necessarily the most socially gifted person so I do not think your ds should worry unduly about the need to have the gift of the gab at interview, scwirrels. Cambridge cares about substance over style, on the whole. And I think it is probably desperate for good state school applicants. it was in my day, certainly, although that was longer ago then I like to think about.

Milliways Wed 27-Mar-13 17:12:06

My DD was encouraged by her State school to apply, and they went to an area wide event where they could have practice interviews too.

Once at Cambridge she became a "Cambassador" where she too would go back to State schools and encourage them to apply. (An "I did it, so can you" type talk.)

Can't speak for Oxford, but Cambridge seem to go to great lengths to encourage applicants. One of DD's friends was at one of the old (rich) colleges, and because she had been on free school meals - got Free 3 meals a day in her college! Even their points system allows for a "school factor" so favouring those from lower ranking schools and areas.

secretscwirrels Wed 27-Mar-13 17:15:54

KarlosKKrinkelbeim not necessarily the most socially gifted person yes that would describe him. But boy can he talk Maths.

GoLadyEdith Wed 27-Mar-13 19:48:11

Cambridge definitely put a lot of weight on AS scores, but I think both Ox and Bridge will look closely at GCSEs too. My quiet and not hugely socially skilled ds2 has a AAA offer from Ox; he has 9A*1A at GCSE and an A at AS(other subjects are Pre U so no exam in year 12). That said, go to The Student Room and look, if it's still there, at the Oxford Applicants 2013 'stalking' page. You'll see that a lot of the multi A* candidates got offers but by no means all...conversely some of those with a less stellar array got offers too. What matters is an upward trajectory - good AS results and an excellent set of predicted grades at A2/Pre U. As an aside, my ds's A grade at GCSE was in one of his best subjects, which he's still studying. At our recent parents evening the teacher said he was on course for an A* this summer...

Whatever sort of school your kids attend, I'd encourage ambition and aspiration, and if they think they've a chance, then go for it !

ValentineWiggins Wed 27-Mar-13 19:51:29

From speaking to someone who specialises in advising teens on their university application form - you need a REALLY good personal statement - make the person reading it really know you - and why you will be an asset to their course. You want the tutors to want to teach you - and that isn't just about grades.

GoLadyEdith Wed 27-Mar-13 20:30:45

Yes the statement really matters. And tbh they don't care if you've climbed Kilimanjaro blindfolded or run a charity marathon across the Pennines. It's all about the 'passion' (ugh word). Ds read widely around his subject, went on a summer school etc.

Yellowtip Wed 27-Mar-13 21:57:38

I don't see the personal statement counting hardly at all for Oxford Edith, in terms of securing an interview. I think it's fairly key for the other four non interviewing universities though (I say non interviewing but that depends on subject of course). And I think it's of use at Oxford in a limited way, for sparking conversations at interview. I don't think one should overrate it's importance for Oxford though, generally.

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