Have any of your students thought about applying to Oxbridge?
As Access Officer for the University of Oxford’s Geography Society, I’m keen to sow the idea in students’ minds that it is possible for them to study Geography and other subjects at a top university.
Having delivered several talks to years 9-13, I’m starting to understand what students want to know about university applications. However, Oxford’s support for teachers isn’t always sufficient or easy to access, despite teachers being gateways to the kind of student that we want to attract. Therefore, I’ve created a quick guide for busy teachers and educators about supporting Oxbridge applicants.
1. Talk to keen students
An email from my teacher was enough for me to consider Oxford as a university choice. I may not have considered this otherwise. Why does the student want to go to Oxford/Cambridge in particular? If you teach them fairly regularly, it may be easy to tell if they’re applying based on the name alone, or if they’ve done their research. If a student can apply to Oxbridge, there’s no reason they shouldn’t. If you’re sure there’s a genuine interest in their chosen subject, then I suggest raising the question.
2. Be positive
If you’ve been through the gruelling cycle of unsuccessful UCAS applications, you will understand how hard it is to remain positive. Remember that students pick up on your body language and, for teens like myself who lacked confidence in their academic ability, this can be discouraging. You may have opinions about Oxbridge, but if a student asks for your advice, it shows how much they respect your opinion. Do not discount these universities, regardless of student background.
3. Mock interviews
Mock interviews can help develop a student’s areas of interest. Interviews don’t have to accurately reflect the Oxford experience, but they can give a taster to students who likely have never sat an interview before. Start off by asking broad questions – examples can be found on Google (e.g., The Student Room or YouTube) or by emailing the faculty, and once you work out their broad aims and structures, it isn’t impossible to construct your own. For example, as a Geography student, my teacher showed me an image captured in the wake of the Beirut explosion and asked me to describe what was happening and where I thought it was.
The goals of these questions are less about the actual decision the student makes and much more about their thought process – indeed, interviewers often like to see applicants changing their minds and going off on long (coherent) rants. However, it’s not just about the interview; many courses require entrance exams, which need researching early on to avoid disappointment.
4. Feedback is vital
If you can, aim to deliver your feedback on mock interviews and personal statements in person. This could be quite awkward since some students simply do not perform well during interviews. If this is the case, be honest and remind the student not to conflate their self-worth with the outcome of the interview process – even getting to that stage is a big achievement and good practice for their working life. Try to make your feedback ongoing, if possible. Keep checking up on students as the date of the interview or exam approaches, and let them know that you’re there to answer questions. No one’s expecting you to be an expert, so check out our list of the best Oxbridge resources and guides.
5. No spoon-feeding is required
I can’t stress this enough: students must guide themselves through Oxbridge applications. Whilst this can be intimidating, independent work is a skill that must be developed rapidly, especially if their course has few contact hours (i.e., most humanities courses). If students aren’t willing to research their future university, they probably shouldn’t be applying. Conversely, if a pupil has found their “niche” within the discipline – the thing that makes them want to read and watch everything available on the topic- your role is to be a gentle voice of encouragement.
So, whilst this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, if you adopt these practices, Oxbridge students are likely to find the application process just a little smoother. I say this because, ultimately, it’s filled with hurdles and reliant primarily upon the student having worked incredibly hard during their A Levels and throughout their secondary education.
The best thing you can do as a teacher is to be a sounding board for questions and ideas, whilst trying to share in their excitement. Students will remember that you were there for them.