Map Oxbridge Applications. 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

This resource points out many alternative options to the ‘orthodox’ courses, and explains how the disciplines in them overlap with the ‘Big Six’.

I have wanted to study this subject since before I was born….

HurdlesThese words (or ones like them) have cropped up on the first drafts of thousands of personal statements up and down the country, year after year, written with complete honesty by students that may have been determined to study their subject long before UCAS appeared on the horizon.

Perhaps it’s because Oxbridge encourage more ‘traditional’ A levels

…that gives the impression that its own courses are similarly orthodox. This belief is reflected year after year in the application statistics; whilst Medicine, Economics, PPE, Engineering, Law and Maths have the most daunting ratios of applications to places, many other fantastic courses, often with surprising amounts of topic overlap, go unnoticed.

The range of possible combinations available within Oxbridge goes very far beyond the six options above and can offer, crucially, a better fit for a prospective student- not only strengthening their application but, should that application be successful, guarantees a more productive, fascinating and altogether academically happier undergraduate experience. 

 

Success Rate stats for ‘The Big 6’ 2016 entry:

Maths-buttonEconomics (Cambridge) / E&M (Oxford): 13.9% / 7%

Medicine: 21.1% Cambridge / 9% Oxford

Engineering: 14.3% Cambridge / 20% Oxford

Law: 20.7% Cambridge / 9% Oxford

HSPS (Cambridge) / PPE (Oxford): 17% / 14%

Maths: 19.5% Cambridge / 14% Oxford

These subjects are not necessarily the most competitive. For example, at Oxford, Computer Science is one of the most competitive subjects at 7%. However, this is skewed due to there being a relatively small number of places available.

What are your students interested in? They might be more suited to these courses than you realise…

Library-in-colourDo you have students interested in both Law and Economics? Land Economy at Cambridge offers a fascinating mix of both. Maybe you have students applying for Medicine, but the reason behind their interest has more to do with the intricacies of molecular biology and neuroscience than talking to patients: consider Biomedical Sciences (Oxford) or Biological Natural Sciences (Cambridge).  Languages students looking for a new challenge outside of Europe, or a Historian wanting to reach beyond a rather Euro-centric curriculum, should try Oriental Studies at Oxford which offers courses in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Ancient Near Eastern Studies (including Akkadian and Sumerian), Egyptology and Sanskrit. Many of these can be combined with a modern European language in the European and Middle Eastern Languages course, also offered by the faculty.

Our Oxbridge consultants can give you detailed advice and talk you through the statistics and the individual courses to help you make a decision. Meet us for a Private Consultation over Skype, or in our Central London offices.

Guiding your students towards the best future for them

Trinity College Quad Door

The problem

Believe it or not, not enough top students are applying to Oxbridge, and, worryingly, teachers can be part of the problem.

Oxbridge hit the headlines in 2012 when it emerged that only 44% of teachers in the state sector would encourage their brightest students to apply for Oxbridge; half the number that would have done so five years earlier. It’s no surprise then, that Oxford and Cambridge have extensive access programmes, and in May 2014 launched the Inspirational Teachers Award – drawn from those nominated by their own successful state sector students.

It’s not just state schools struggling: students from Ireland and Wales are dangerously under-represented. A recent report from Paul Murphy MP found Welsh students are five times less likely to apply to Oxbridge than students just across the border in Hertfordshire, and ten times less likely to receive an offer; even fewer apply from Northern Ireland, but do at least have a higher success rate, beating all other regional success rates with a stonking 28.6%, compared to the average of 19-22%.

So what’s going on? Ultimately, the teachers and students we speak to express the same concerns: they’re not good enough; they should focus on more achievable universities; Oxbridge is simply out of their reach. Increasingly, teachers seem to feel that to encourage their brightest to apply to Oxbridge is to set them up to fail – one of the most dangerous attitudes facing the UK Higher Education system today.

We have to remember that the universities can only accept candidates who apply, and something’s got to be done to encourage talented school leavers from schools who are not used to sending candidates to Oxbridge, to do so.

Barry Webb, former Admissions Tutor for Oxford and member of the board for Oxbridge Applications.

 

So why encourage your students to apply?

There are a myriad of reasons for suggesting students apply to Oxbridge. The Oxbridge system can appear opaque to many, and it is essential to appreciate what the system provides in order to understand how to support your students.

The teaching system

LibraryIn short, the teaching system and academic environment promotes independent scholarship. The opportunities for students to develop self-motivation and intellectual curiosity help to explain why the alumni go on to become leaders in their fields, often on an international stage.

All students are taught through tutorials at Oxford or supervisions at Cambridge. These are formed of a tutor, whether a senior fellow or a junior researcher, and anything from one to three students. Some papers may make use of supplementary seminars, which resemble A level classes more closely, and usually all courses have accompanying lectures. Generally, each student takes a paper or two over the course of a term. A typical humanities student would be expected to produce between six to sixteen c.3000 word essays in each eight week term; whereas a science student would have problem sheets for each tutorial alongside sessions in “labs” for which they must produce “lab reports”. Tutorials or supervisions are focused on the work each student has produced: a humanities student may be expected to email their essay a day in advance then be prepared to discuss their arguments in depth with their tutor.

Although this may sound somewhat gruelling, the tutorial system offers a rewarding and personal teaching medium. Even the most shy academics are nurtured into communicating effectively, and the most headstrong are challenged to deconstruct their arguments. Furthermore, the abilities of students to balance extra-curricular activities with academic life develops individuals with strong time-management skills alongside outstanding sporting, dramatic or musical talent.

The teaching staff

The prestige of Oxbridge attracts many of the greatest thinkers in the world as tutors for the university, allowing passionate young students to speak face-to-face on a weekly basis, about a subject they love, with the best academics worldwide.

The flexibility of many Oxbridge courses allows students to choose from often dozens of different papers, all designed and run by a leading scholar on that topic. The collegiate system does not confine people to their college: although broad papers will frequently be taught in college, more specific papers may well be taught in another college. As such, there is no need for a student to make their college choice on the basis of a single tutor, and they may even find that the tutor is on research leave when they arrive!

Careers

Man wearing a suit is unsureThe competition, though gruelling, is a mark to any employer that the candidate is outstanding. Oxbridge not only denotes intelligence, but also crucially, drive, perseverance, stamina and the ability to thrive under pressure. Where most universities require around two essays to be completed per term, at Oxbridge, two essays are expected as standard per week.

Scientists work in some of the most famous and best resourced laboratories in the country, and often under internationally famed tutors. Many courses use the combined undergraduate and master’s course structure that allows students the security to stay on and focus on a single topic, helping them to enter the job market ahead of other candidates.

The application system

NotesThe difficult admissions process actually treats a student as an individual better than any other more simple system – working to ensure that each student can represent their unique mind in an interactive conversation, rather than in 4000 characters on a UCAS screen. As the teaching system revolves around tutorials, the interview system offers more than any other universities can, as it essentially constitutes a taster of the university experience.

Of course, there are many steps before the interview. The most demanding of these is the admissions test, which is as much a filter for the candidates with the requisite academic potential as it is a chance for the best students to achieve an outstanding score. If admissions tutors are forced to decide between two similar candidates, often their test score is a factor in making that all-important decision: the admissions test is therefore far more than a simple hurdle to clear.

Overall, dissuading academically excellent pupils from applying to Oxbridge as it’s ‘too competitive’ is to do them a disservice. Applying to Oxbridge seem daunting, but even those who do not apply can benefit from the process of reading widely, putting together their application and considering challenging topics at interview. Our access work, alongside the unversities’ access programmes, may help to change the situation for a limited number of students, but the real ambassadors are you, the teachers, so we hope you encourage all of your best students to apply. 

Courses Fact Sheet DownloadThis helpful guide sets out by course what the grade requirements are, how many applicants per place on average apply for the course and how many places there are overall.

Armed with this information, you will be able to guide your students choices, ensuring they have the data they need to be able to make an informed choice.

 

Chess-button

Maths Puzzle: A Game Of Chess

A chess board is 8 squares by 8 squares. How many squares are there on a chessboard?

(We’ll give you a clue… it’s not 64!)

Concert-buttonEconomics Puzzle: Ticket Touts

Your favourite performer is play a concert but it is sold out. On the night of the concert, you go anyway to try and find a ticket tout. You find one who has her last ticket to sell but lots of people want to buy it.

She says she will sell it to the highest bidder, for the price of the second highest bid (and all buyers must bid secretly in a sealed envelope). You think the ticket is worth £60. Should you bid less than £60, £60 or more than £60?

Mouse-downloadMedicine Puzzle: Experimenting With Mice

Mice are used in many important experiments for human medical health, but one of the main challenges is working out if they experience non-visible side effects.

How would you design an experiment to see if mice experience tinnitus in response to aspirin?

 

Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

Historians may expect to have to take History, and English student may expect to have taken English – but maths?

Surprisingly, this may be the case. Over half of successful arts, humanities, and social science applicants studied Maths at A-level. While this doesn’t mean that maths is a course requirement, studying it at A-level does demonstrate to admissions tutors a student’s ability to study an academically rigorous subject at a high level.

Medicine

Vials of medications.To study Medicine at Cambridge, students have to have studied Chemistry and at least two subjects from the following choices: Maths, Physics, and Biology.

Our data shows, however, that 100% of successful applicants studied Biology – so while it appears to be an option to not take Biology according to the admissions criteria, the reality is that Biology is as good as a required course for medicine applicants.

Of interest is also the benefit of taking Maths over Physics out of these two remaining options – 92% of successful applicants studied Maths, while only 51% studied Physics.

Law

Law is an essay-based subject and as such, essay based courses at A-level are a good choice for making a successful application. 72% of successful applicants had studied English Literature, while 60% had studied History.

Economics, Economics and Management, and PPE

Fellows-studyWith yet another case of unstated course requirements, all three of these subjects show massively skewed success depending on which courses were chosen at A-level.

All successful Cambridge Economists who worked with us last year took Further Maths at A-level, and while the Oxford website does not state Maths as a required subject, all PPE applicants we surveyed had studied Maths at A-level.

With PPE in particular, we can see that studying the subject you’re taking at degree level should not be an indication to take this subject at A-level. Prior knowledge of Philosophy or Politics is necessary, with only 10% of successful applicants studying Politics and 24% studying Philosophy or Religious Studies.

Other subjects

Oxford and Cambridge already have literature on which courses to take at A-level. This is a vital starting point for any student who is wondering which A-levels to choose, or which course to choose based on the A-levels he or she has.

However, for the highly competitive subjects like the ones above, it is valuable to undergo more advanced research to ensure that a bad course or subject choice doesn’t harm a good application.

Both Oxford and Cambridge have fearsome reputations. Deciding whether and how to encourage a student to apply can be a difficult decision. The Oxbridge system can appear opaque to many, and it is essential to appreciate what the system provides in order to understand how to support your students.

The teaching system

Traditional Chesterfield armchair

The world-famous one-to-one teaching systems – supervisions at Cambridge and tutorials at Oxford – are perhaps the most significant elements in explaining why alumni go on to become leaders in their fields, often on an international stage. The teaching system and academic environment promotes independent scholarship and the opportunities for students to develop self-motivation and intellectual curiosity are enormous.

All students are taught through tutorials at Oxford or supervisions at Cambridge. These are formed of a tutor, whether a senior fellow or a junior researcher, and anything from one to three students. Some papers may make use of supplementary seminars, which resemble A level classes more closely, and usually all courses have accompanying lectures. Generally, each student takes a paper or two over the course of a term. A typical humanities student would be expected to produce between six to sixteen circa 3000 word essays in each eight week term; whereas a science student would have problem sheets for each tutorial alongside sessions in “labs” for which they must produce “lab reports”. Tutorials or supervisions are focused on the work each student has produced: a humanities student may be expected to email their essay a day in advance then be prepared to discuss their arguments in depth with their tutor.

Although this may sound somewhat gruelling, the tutorial system offers a rewarding and personal teaching medium. Even the most shy academics are nurtured into communicating effectively, and the most headstrong are challenged to deconstruct their arguments. Furthermore, the abilities of students to balance extra-curricular activities with academic life develops individuals with strong time-management skills alongside outstanding sporting, dramatic or musical talent.

The competition, though gruelling, is a mark to any employer that the candidate is outstanding. Oxbridge not only denotes intelligence, but also crucially, drive, perseverance, stamina and the ability to thrive under pressure.

The teaching staff

vecchio libro con stilografica

The prestige of Oxbridge attracts many of the greatest thinkers in the world as tutors for the university, allowing passionate young students to speak face-to-face on a weekly basis, about a subject they love, with the best academics worldwide.

The flexibility of many Oxbridge courses allows students to choose from often dozens of different papers, all designed and run by a leading scholar on that topic. The collegiate system does not confine people to their college: although broad papers will frequently be taught in college, more specific papers may well be taught in another college. As such, there is no need for a student to make their college choice on the basis of a single tutor, and they may even find that the tutor is on research leave when they arrive!

Careers

Man Wearing Suit unsureThe competition, though gruelling, is a mark to any employer that the candidate is outstanding. Oxbridge not only denotes intelligence, but also crucially, drive, perseverance, stamina and the ability to thrive under pressure. Where most universities require around two essays to be completed per term, at Oxbridge, two essays are expected as standard per week.

Scientists work in some of the most famous and best resourced laboratories in the country, and often under internationally famed tutors. Many courses use the combined undergraduate and master’s course structure that allows students the security to stay on and focus on a single topic, helping them to enter the job market ahead of other candidates.

The difficult admissions process actually treats a student as an individual better than any other more simple system – working to ensure that each student can represent their unique mind in an interactive conversation

The application system

Oxford, EnglandThe difficult admissions process actually treats a student as an individual better than any other more simple system – working to ensure that each student can represent their unique mind in an interactive conversation, rather than in 4000 characters on a UCAS screen. As the teaching system revolves around tutorials, the interview system offers more than any other universities can, as it essentially constitutes a taster of the university experience.

Of course, there are many steps before the interview. The most demanding of these is the admissions test, which is as much a filter for the candidates with the requisite academic potential as it is a chance for the best students to achieve an outstanding score. If admissions tutors are forced to decide between two similar candidates, often their test score is a factor in making that all-important decision: the test is far more than a simple hurdle to clear.

BarryOne of the famous questions asked by confused tourists to Oxford and Cambridge is “Where is the University?” The answer is, “all around you”, as the university is the combination of all the individual colleges. The university works on a federal system like the U.S.A. (where the 50 states are independent in most matters yet still governed ultimately by Washington). So the colleges organise their own finances, have their own traditions, are responsible for the teaching of the members of the college, but are still governed by the faculties (consisting of all the teachers in each subject, who are members of individual colleges). The faculties set the syllabuses, set the exams, mark the exams, and the university awards the degrees.

Most undergraduates will live in college or college annexes throughout their university life so the colleges become their social centre, their “home from home”, where they can eat, study, play sport etc. Though they are first and foremost a member of Oxford or Cambridge, their real loyalty lies with their college. There is more significant importance in the collegiate system: there are no undergraduate colleges which specialise in any subject, so students are constantly mixing with those studying a very wide variety of subjects, a most rewarding intellectual experience. The medieval colleges were deliberately designed to encourage this inter-social life, being built around squares (quadrangles in Oxford; courts in Cambridge), with living quarters (staircases) leading off them. Thus when leaving a staircase one was almost always meeting someone entering or leaving another staircase and thus building contacts and friendships. Not all modern colleges have the traditional design but the principle of encouraging social and intellectual mixing remains firmly in place.

This is further emphasised by the tutorial system whereby each undergraduate is assigned a tutor who is also a member of the college, and will teach the students in his or her subject for at least some of the undergraduate’s career, with tutorials being held mostly in college. Thus a student may find he is living in a staircase with other undergraduates on either side from different faculties and a tutor’s room on the same staircase as well.

 

Thus the combination of social, intellectual and academic interactions flourishes under the unique collegiate system.

Oxbridge Applications Logo

Our Oxbridge-graduate consultants are available between 9.00 am – 5.30 pm seven days a week, with additional evening availability when requested.

Oxbridge Applications. 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR


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