So how do you get your child into Oxford or Cambridge? We asked Sofia Carlson, Director of Tutoring at Bright Young Things, a tutoring agency that runs special Oxbridge classes.
Q. How can you tell if my child has Oxbridge potential?
A: Oxbridge look for students who perform well academically, so if your child is gaining top grades at GCSE and A level, or performing at the top of their class, it is a good indication of potential. However in addition to academic attainment, Oxbridge professors are looking for students who have an interest in their chosen field of study and can demonstrate this interest. The ability to think logically and formulate an argument and are also sought after attributes. Most of the teaching at Oxbridge is tutorial based and the emphasis is on interactive learning. Students are expected to engage with the subject as well as their tutors and peers through discussion and debate. As such they need to enjoy building and expressing their arguments and be ready to defend their views in a convincing and coherent manner.
Q. How can you get my child into Oxbridge? Do I have to join the Royal family… or is there another way?
A. No one, apart from your child, can get your child into Oxbridge. That said, there are certain things to do to increase a student's chances and with planning and guidance you can have a pretty good shot at it. While many think social privileges such a royal connections or a public school background automatically equate to an Oxbridge entry ticket, this is not the case. In fact, around 60% of Oxbridge students have a state school background. The most important thing is to develop good study habits and an aptitude and interest for learning from an early age. Establishing a good understanding and interest in your chosen field of study is crucial and this can be done through engagement with the curriculum as well as wider reading and going beyond classroom learning. With knowledge comes confidence - an important attribute in the Oxbridge process!
Q. How can my child prepare for their grilling?
Some schools offer university preparatory courses which are design to equip students with the skills needed to make a successful application for a specific subject. Such courses might include guidance in terms of course and college selection as well as personal statement and interview techniques. If your child's school does not offer university preparation, or perhaps does not have a history of sending students to Oxbridge, it can be a good idea for a student to seek help elsewhere. Drawing from the experiences of others is hugely beneficial.
Q. What sort of questions do students get asked at interview?
A. The interview section of the application process if often the most dreaded part by prospective students. Many students have heard horror stories about the types of questions asked and the way in which interviewers want to put a student on the spot. You get the usual apocryphal tales of someone walking into their interview, the don looking round a newspaper and saying 'get my attention', and the successful candidate sets fire to the paper, but the truth is actually a whole lot more prosaic.
Q. Have you heard any funny interview stories?
One of our students managed to sleep through his first interview, and burst into someone else's to ask if he could re-schedule. Fortunately that was arranged, and they spent the first few minutes of the interview cheerfully discussing the late night that had caused him to miss his alarm. After that though, it was just a straight grilling on his subject, favourite authors, reasons for wanting to study at that college, and so on. Interviewers really want to assess a student’s ability to think laterally and see evidence of their academic potential and passion.
Q. What sort of hobbies go down well with the Oxbridge dons? My son wants to put down ‘watching TV and playing on the X-Box’ on his personal statement.
A. Remember, the dons actually read your personal statement before they interview you, so you need to make it as interesting as possible. You should aim to have your personal statement jump out the page with enthusiasm for the subject you are applying to. If you can make a legitimate case as to why TV and X-Box are worthwhile pursuits in relation to the course you are applying to, then go ahead. You sure will need to back it up with some pretty intelligent discussions though.
Top Oxbridge tips from Catherine at SchoolGuru…
Many years ago, I turned up at King's College, Cambridge, for an interview to read Social and Political Sciences - the Don peered at me and then barked out 'tell my why should I take you?'. I indignantly blabbered away… and won a golden ticket.