Applying to Oxbridge for a state school student: my top tips for teachers advising students (and for students themselves!)
For many prospective applicants, Oxbridge can seem intimidating and it is no doubt more intimidating when you are up against pupils who have been training for Oxbridge their entire life. I came from a state school and achieved my childhood dream of attending Oxford University. My time spent reading English Literature and Language at Jesus College will stay with me my entire life. I loved every moment of my Oxford experience and I am keen to demystify the application process and give students an insight into student life.
Here are a few of my tips to get you started:
So many pupils have brilliant grades but do not believe that they could be ‘Oxbridge material’. Pupils need to be reminded that this is only one choice on their UCAS form, so they really have nothing to lose.
Attend the Oxford University Open Days
These are a fantastic way for students to decide whether Oxford life is for them. They can look around the colleges, visit the faculties and attend talks.
Ensure that their personal statements doesn’t open with a boring statement such as ‘I love English…’. Mine opened with ‘On 29th of February a brutal murder was committed…’ I then went onto discuss how Robert Browning’s poem ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ about a cold-blooded murder sparked my interest in poetry. My tutors at Oxford later reflected that this stood out because it was different.
Pupils need to get used to facing unseen material. Suggest that they print off articles, journal entries, maths equations, poetry, newspaper articles, graphs, basically anything related to their subject and get them to annotate them and think of the key points and how they could relate them to other areas of their subject.
Familiarity with the papers will definitely help so ensure that they check out the past papers
Ensure that pupils hand in work which shows off their writing skills and their knowledge of their subject.
Try to make them look at the essay from an interesting perspective, so it stands out.
Make sure they proof read it for mistakes
Interviews are always deemed the scariest part of the application process.
Ensure that students revisit their personal statement and make sure they know everything they have written about in minute detail - I had written in depth about Virginia Woolf in my personal statement but was totally panicked when the tutors focused on my brief reference to Macbeth in my interview
Get them to think about why they want to study at Oxford and why they are drawn to the course. They should look up their course online and see which parts excite them.
- Most of my interviews opened with ‘Why English at Oxford?'
Encourage them to live and breathe their subject by reading outside of the school curriculum and reading new texts once they’ve handed in their personal statement.
- If for instance, they have learnt the Keynesian theory of economics at school, suggest that they look at economics from a different angle, for instance the more psychological side of behavioural economics
They should see everything as an opportunity and talk about their subject with anyone and everyone who will listen. Vocalising their thoughts will help them to form opinions.
If you are able to offer prospective applicants a mock interview, this will be great practice.
If you have pupils applying to Oxbridge, tell them to check out my website https://www.thatoxfordgirl.com and Instagram page thatoxfordgirl for free top tips!