'I went to a small state school in Liverpool that was nonselective. We hadn't really sent very many people to Oxbridge before.'
Ellie’s road to Oxford
I'd always thought about applying to Oxbridge, but never really thought about it as a realistic possibility. I had a conversation with my Head of Sixth Form in September before the application process started, and she said, 'Why don't you just throw your hat in the ring?'. I made my application in Year 13 and then went straight to university.
Were you nervous about applying?
I was nervous about the potential of failing, of being rejected. If I were to go back to my 17-year-old self and say anything, it would be, 'There's no point in being nervous, but also it just shows that you care about it'.
What was the biggest challenge?
The main challenge I faced during the application process was the fear of not getting in, or not being seen as good enough because of my regional accent or where I came from. I remember standing in the little tiny corridor outside my tutor’s office before my first interview and saying to myself, 'Okay, Ellie, you need to turn your accent off now'. Then I was amazed to find that the tutor who interviewed me was from near Liverpool too, and recognised my accent. It immediately made me feel at ease. I felt like I could just talk the way I normally talk without being judged.
What do you wish you had known?
I wish I had known there was no point going in with particular biases about the kind of people that would be there or the kind of institution it is. I would have relaxed and not had the nerves or imposter syndrome that I had at the beginning. People come from all across the country and from all types of backgrounds, and there are mechanisms to find them, like clubs and societies. Most colleges will have an Access Officer, and that person will provide support for first-generation and working-class students.
What was surprising about Oxford?
Firstly, I was surprised that it's incredibly inclusive. I didn't feel like I stuck out or that I was excluded because of my background. Of course, Oxford and Cambridge have issues with inclusivity but it wasn't as big of an issue for me.
Secondly, I was surprised by the culture of ‘work hard, play hard’ as I thought it would be hard to balance studies and social life. But I was surprised that Oxford students do have fun!
Did you get any financial support?
I have been able to access financial support from Oxford. I was offered the Oxford University bursary, which is means-tested like your student loan. If your household income is below a certain amount, you might be eligible for scholarships like the Crankstart scholarship.
I can't speak for all colleges but at my college we have an academic grant system. Every year, every student can access up to £300 of funding for academic purposes and up to £100 of that for books.
You can also access hardship funds from the college and university if needed.
What do you love most about Oxford?
One of the best things about Oxford is that it's gorgeous in the summer. There's loads of green space and great activities like punting along the river.
Academically, I've had tutors and professors who are world experts in what they do. Being able to sit and talk to them and write essays for them has been fantastic.
I've also worked on several widening participation and access projects, like InsideUni. So I've been able to give back and support students who are from a similar background to mine.
Words of wisdom
It can be really easy to say no to things because you're scared or think it's not for you. I think saying yes to things is so important, as you never know what doors it can open. The reason I’m at Oxford is that I just said, 'Oh, go on then, I'll give it a go'.
Secondly, while you might encounter obstacles along the way because of your background, you are strong-willed enough and talented enough to overcome them. You just have to really take everything in your stride. Advocate for yourself and say yes!
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