I am an undergraduate geographer at the University of Oxford, with special interests in feminist geographies, colonialism and development theory. Currently, I’m Oxford Geography Society’s Access Officer and a Geography Ambassador for the School of Geography and the Environment.
Read more about E.Luxton
Have any of your students thought about applying to Oxbridge?
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
For me, 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, then 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 is able enough to apply to Oxbridge, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Providing you’re sure that 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 this can be discouraging. You may have your own 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 be really helpful in developing a student’s areas of interest. Interviews don’t have to accurately reflect the Oxford experience, but 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 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 required
I can’t stress this enough: students need to 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 a student isn’t willing to research their future university, then 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, then your role is simply to be a gentle voice of encouragement.
So, whilst this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, if you adopt these practices then Oxbridge students are likely to find the application process just that tiny bit smoother. I say this because, ultimately, it’s filled with hurdles and reliant primarily upon the student having worked incredibly hard not just during their A Levels, but 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.
You can access further resources and support using this link.