9th June 2014
The sun is shining, AS exams have begun, and Oxbridge applications are probably the last thing on your mind. After all, admissions season is months away, so what’s the point of worrying about it in May?
Well for one thing, the deadline for Oxbridge applications is October 15th, three months earlier than for other UK universities, and if your students don’t start thinking about it until the Autumn term, you’ll have just a month to oversee everything, making an already busy period pure chaos for you. More important, however, is giving your students plenty of time to make key decisions about their applications: what do they want to study, where do they want to go, and how are they going to give themselves the best chance possible? Last year 72% of applicants surveyed started writing their personal statement before the September term, meaning they’d already decided on their course and university well in advance.
It can seem like an overwhelming process, but if you encourage your students to put a few simple things in place now, you’ll find life so much easier when September draws near.
Step one: Oxbridge or not?
The first thing students need to decide is whether they want to apply to Oxbridge at all. If you have an image in mind of the stereotypical Oxbridge student, and are wondering whether Oxbridge is a good idea, please put that image out of your head. You don’t have to have come from a certain background or have attended a specific type of school to go to Oxbridge, and there’s no such thing as a ‘typical Oxbridge student’. We surveyed both successful and unsuccessful applicants in 2013, and got some very interesting results. For one thing, more than half the places at both universities went to students from state schools. Also, regional statistics proved surprising. Stats Oxford released last year showed that, by region, Northern Ireland received the fewest places in the previous application cycle, a tiny 27. At first, this appears to confirm stereotypes of a homogenous Oxford. However, if you look more closely, when compared to how many students actually applied from the region, it turned out applicants from Northern Ireland were actually very welcome at Oxford – getting the highest success rate of all the regions at a stonking 28.6%, compared to the average of 19-22%. Remember: Cambridge and Oxford can only accept students who apply.
One thing Oxbridge students do all have in common is an extremely strong academic background. A grades at GCSEs aren’t enough – the average successful applicant last year had 8 A*s. As for AS levels, 82% of successful applicants had 4 or more A grades when they applied. That means that if your students want to have the best chance possible, focusing on their studies and performing well in their exams is crucial.
Aside from impressive grades, Oxbridge students are united by one thing only: they are talented academics who love their chosen subjects.
So if that’s the case…
Step two: understand what admissions tutors are looking for
Oxbridge tutors want to find out one thing about each applicant: can they be taught? It’s not what you know, it’s how you think – is this student enthusiastic about their subject? Do they show an interest in it outside of the school curriculum? How do they respond to being challenged or facing daunting new material?
74% of applicants in 2013 were given unseen material to discuss at interview, to test exactly this. The admissions tutors want to observe how applicants approach new concepts, not hear answers memorised by rote.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s no way to prepare or that you and your students can just shrug your shoulders and leave it up to destiny. Your students need to feel confident both in their choice of course and in their ability… and that’s where you come in!
Step three: choosing the right subject
Now is the time to get your students thinking about their university plans. Some key questions they need to ask themselves are:
- What are my favourite subjects?
- What subjects am I strongest in? (…not necessarily the same thing!)
- What is it about those subjects that I love so much?
Remember that Oxbridge students are taught in one-to-one meetings or very small groups (‘supervisions’ at Cambridge, ‘tutorials’ at Oxford), to give as much contact time with specialist academics as possible. This is a fantastic way to learn, but it can also be very intense, so your students need to consider whether they would thrive in a highly communicative and active learning environment.
Students should also look at admission requirements and course statistics. For example, although Maths A-level is not compulsory for applicants to Oxford’s highly competitive Politics, Philosophy & Economics course (PPE), 100% of successful applicants we surveyed took Maths. In contrast, only 24% had Philosophy or RE, and a tiny 10% had Politics! A student who is interested in this course but who does not have Maths might have a better chance at History & Politics or Philosophy & Theology. Detailed information on course structures and recommended subjects can be found on university websites (and Unifrog gives students the appropriate links at the right time, so it’s easy to start researching).
Both universities hold Open Days (some general, some subject-specific) between now and September. It is worth keeping in mind that some of these require booking in advance. They’re an invaluable chance to meet current students and faculty members, learn about the courses, and get a taste of life at Oxbridge. Again, Unifrog steers students towards links to booking Open Days for the universities they are interested in.
Step four: start asking the right questions - Open Days
There’ll be lots of information handed out, but to really make the most of these days, here are some good questions to ask current students:
- What’s it like studying here?
- What are the best things about studying this course? What don’t you like so much?
- What should I think about when applying?
- What do you wish you’d known when you were in my position?
If your students start thinking about these questions now, they’ll also have the opportunity to visit over the summer to look at individual colleges – a chance they’ll miss out on if they wait until September, when they have schoolwork and personal statements to think about.
…and speaking of personal statements…
Step five: Personal Statements
This 37-line document is likely to be an anxiety-inducing headache for your students, but you can help minimise their panic if you encourage them not to wait until Autumn. If your students can write a first draft and receive feedback before school ends, they’ll have the whole summer to read around their subject and attend events, so they can perfect it by October. A good way to make that blank sheet of paper look a little less blank is to make a list of reasons why you love the subject and specific topics that interest you. If there are gaps, don’t worry – summer is the time to fill them! But your students won’t know until they get writing.
As a teacher, you’ll want your students to be as well-informed and confident about their applications as possible, without turning September into a nightmare of deadlines for you. The last thing you want is a class of stressed year 13s panicking about what they want to do the day before you need to submit their forms, but if you start planning now, you’ll find the process goes a lot more smoothly, for everyone.
Olivia Haywood is a consultant at Oxbridge applications. For more information please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.oxbridgeapplications.com/
Established in 1999 as the first of its kind, Oxbridge Applications is now the leading international consultancy providing guidance, information, and practical support services for students applying to Oxford and Cambridge Universities, as well as the top UK medical and law schools. Over 14 years, they have supported 60,000 students in over 120 countries and annually work closely with a global network of over 400 schools
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(c) Francisco Osorio, flickr