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Oxbridge FAQ!

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    (Original post by H&E)
    Following my complaints against persistent repetition of the same questions about Oxbridge, F. Poste and I decided to attempt to construct a document containing the basic information for those in the early stages of the application process. Ultimately, we hope it'll get placed in the announcements section of this forum. In the meantime, however, we thought the best way to fine tune it would be to post it here, where all users of the forum can make their own comments. By far of background, F. Poste and I are from the opposite ends of the school spectrum - I'm at a public school, whereas she was the first applicant ever to Oxbridge from her school. We are both presently in the U6th, holding offers from Oxford, so there may be Cambridge specific information we have missed. Anyway, constructive criticism please - we have worked quite hard at this.


    Embryonic Oxbridge FAQ:

    This is only a most general guide, attempting to deal with some of the questions which have been repeatedly asked on UKL. It is not definitive! At the end of the day, there is no alternative to doing your own research, reading the prospectuses, visiting the colleges and speaking to students. As a starting block, however, we hope this proves useful.

    Firstly, if you are still studying for your GCSEs, it's probably too early to think about university in general and Oxbridge in particular. Do what you enjoy, and do it well - you'll have plenty of time to worry about university later on!

    Is it worth applying?:
    i) The decision to apply to Oxbridge may be difficult, particularly if you are from a background that is not experienced with the universities. The best way to decide whether you’re “Oxbridge material” is to do your research. It’s important to ask yourself whether you’d be happy there, even without the glamour and reputation that the Oxbridge name carries.
    ii) If you think you’ll fulfil the grade requirements, you like the university, don’t mind or enjoy challenging academic work and you have a genuine interest in your subject, then go for it! All you’ll lose is the application fee. Believe it or not, most people actually enjoy the application process!

    GCSE Grades:
    i) Attainment at GCSE varies considerably among Oxbridge students, as this can depend very strongly on factors beyond ability. Generally, however, you will be expected to be near the top of your school.
    ii) If you don't have an A* in subjects related to your course (for example, a PPE applicant with an A in Maths GCSE) tutors may well ask you about this. You should have an explanation!
    iii) If there are genuine outside factors which adversely affected your performance make sure you inform the tutors - they will take things like illness, school mess-up or exam board failures into account. The best way to let them know of these problems is to ask the person who writes your reference to include them; there they'll probably hold more weight.

    AS and A2:
    i) Doing more than 4 AS's and 3 A2's is not required in any way.
    ii) High grades are expected - aim for straight A's; most successful applicants will have at most one B.
    iii) For some courses, certain A-levels will be expected - Medics often need Chemistry, Biology and either Physics or Maths, for example. However, subjects described as "recommended" in prospectuses (a modern language for history, or history for English) are far from essential. If you are interested in a subject, choose it - you will enjoy it more, and probably get a better grade.
    iv) Studying untraditional A-level subjects, such as business studies or sociology, is fine so long as you can show you took them because you were genuinely interested in the course, rather than because they are viewed as easy. However, it’s generally thought that it’s best to be taking the majority of your A-levels in more of the established academic subjects.

    Non-standard qualifications:
    i) Tutors are happy to are happy to accept candidates studying qualifications other than GCSE's or A-levels.
    ii) If you suspect tutors will be unfamiliar with the qualifications you are studying for, contact them and clarify their position. Be aware that most tutors will be familiar with IGCSE's, Scottish Highers, Baccalaureat(both French and Intl.), Abitur and SAT's.
    iii) Whatever you are studying, tutors will expect you to show academic promise.

    Extra-Curricular activities:
    i) The primary consideration for admissions is academics. Thus you will not be rejected, nor accepted, on account of the fact that you played Tiddlywinks for Middlesex U17's. However, remember tutors will have to teach you, and may prefer to see a bit of individuality, or at least an ability to do something other than academic work.
    ii) There are no specific requirements - if you aren't a prefect or didn't make the 1st XV that really isn't a problem. As before, do what you enjoy and do it to the best of your ability.

    College Choice:
    i) Admissions statistics are hard to interpret, for a multitude of factors. Competitiveness should certainly be considered, but only as a minor factor. Choosing a college because it has a 3:1 ratio of applications to places over one which has a 4:1 is not advisable.
    ii) Colleges are not the same! It is worth spending a bit of time walking around them, talking to students, trying to get some feel for the atmosphere. Colleges are not the be all and end all of your university experience, but you will probably spend at least two years living in them.
    iii) Do not choose a college because a friend or relative went there - make the right choice for you, not your parents! Never, ever mention that you chose a college due to a family link, it will extremely unimpressive.
    iv) College stereotypes will rarely be applicable to the majority of students. Merton students may work harder, on average, than LMH students - but these are only small, relative differences. Colleges are big enough to ensure you will probably find people you can relate to wherever you apply.
    v) Unfortunately, some colleges are much more expensive to live in than others. Accomodation costs are listed in the alternative prospectus (see bottom for links).

    Interviews:
    i) The best preparation for interview is to get as good at your subject as possible. Read around the subject, revise your a-level materials, go through any prepared essays and, finally, just spend time clarifying your own thoughts in your mind.
    ii) Remember that generally the interviewers are on your side - they want to give you a chance to show what you can do, not trip you up in some childish way.
    iii) A useful way of gaining confidence before interview is getting used to talking about your subject. Find a couple of friends or a teacher, and discuss your subject for 20 or 30 minutes. If you can find someone who capable of asking some difficult questions about what you say, that's a bonus. Also try practicing talking to people you don't know, as this will simulate interviews best.
    iv) More and more subjects now require candidates to sit tests at interview. You can check if your course involves a test at interview by looking at the course description in the prospectus. There is plenty of information online, including past papers, designed to familiarise you with the format of the exam to ensure you can do yourself justice.

    The extra form:
    i) Copies of this should be available from your school, if not, then it’s your school’s responsibility to call up the admissions office and get some copies.
    ii) You are not expected to fill in the extra information box; only include something directly relevant to your Oxbridge application which could not be included in your UCAS form.

    Useful links:
    Oxford Admissions - http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/
    Oxford Alternative Prospectus - http://users.ox.ac.uk/~wadh1305/ousu/pubs/ap2003.pdf
    Oxford Open Days - http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/opendays/
    Cambridge Admissions - http://www.cam.ac.uk/cambuniv/courses.html
    Cambridge Alternative Prospectus - http://www.cusu.cam.ac.uk/publications/altpro/
    Cambridge Open Days - http://www.cam.ac.uk/cambuniv/ugpros...welcome12.html
    Database of previous applicants' experiences - http://oa.waveflex.com

    If you're not at college (say you're post a-levels and on a gap year) where does your reference come from?
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    Very good work so far.
    I would add a link to www.bmat.org .This contains all the information anyone can need about the medical admissions test at Oxford and Cambridge. Also a guide to the range of GCSE results attained by Oxbridge students might be in order.
    Aside from that, looks v.good!
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    (Original post by H&E)
    If you're taking a gap year and applying post A-levels, I believe your college will still write a reference for you. I'm less certain of the situation for mature students who have been outside education for a long time.
    Colleges will do for gap year people. I think that an employer might do for matures, or even people at evening classes if they have been going there. Check with the college would probably be the best advice.
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    (Original post by H&E)
    If you have any statistics about that, I'd love to know. I've not seen any thus far.
    I've seen some on the Merton website - though perhaps they were medicine specific. I also heared that 60% A* was average. I will look into this.
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    (Original post by Faboba)
    No! No! No! No! ( Thankfully ) English Universities by and large recognise that while Advanced Highers are of the same standard as A-Levels ( maybe... um... even slightly higher? ) that far fewer students sit Advanced Highers than sit A-Levels. It varies from place to place of course but in my school it was exceptional enough to do one. Oxbridge are pretty much inflexible on their rules about A-Level requirements but as far as I can see they are a lot more considerate when it comes to Advanced Highers.
    Hear hear! x a big number

    Nobody does 3 AHs at my school. I'm the only person I know of in my entire year. I also know somebody who got conditional entry into second year at Aberdeen on getting AB at advanced higher (and she practically had the A already in geography).
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    (Original post by deianra)
    Medicine last year was average of 80% A*, I think Lucy said this after getting an offer.

    "Most candidates have a long string of As and A*s at GCSE. The average of the current student population at Merton is 5A* and 3A, although the range is from 11 A* to maybe 3B 3A and 2 A*. We endeavour to take into account the different school backgrounds of candidates which may lead to lower overall scores for some cases . The most important factor is that candidates should be moving in an upward direction in terms of their potential for academic achievement, rather than having peaked at age 16." - Merton College's FAQ.

    I knew I could be useful for something, one day!
    Excellent. Deianra, you've saved me going to look for that stuff!
    80% A* wouldn't supprise me, although i did it with a bit less (60). The critical thing, IMO, was getting the interview on the basis of the BMAT and the GCSEs - 2:1 weighting - BMAT:GCSE is this is any ise to anyone.
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    (Original post by deianra)
    I was just curious as to why St John's (Oxford) gets so many state school applications? Anyone?

    Self-perpetuating stereotype probably; people see it has a large number of state school students and are either deterred (if they went to a private school, assuming this will hamper their application) or encouraged (if they went to a state school, as they think the college is 'state-school friendly').
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    (Original post by deianra)
    Ahh, fairly logical answer really. I thought it might have been one of those oh, hundred year old myths or whatnot. :rolleyes:

    Anyway, thank you for satsifying my curiosity. It's actually a shame that St John's only has one place per year for my subject...it was quite high up on my shortlist (yes, state school )
    What subject are you going for?
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    (Original post by Sophetta)
    Umm, not the geography people at Oxford. They told me that since I was able to do 3AHs I should do all 3. I could have gotten away with 2AHs and 2Hs if timetabling didn't work out. Also, i'm sure i read in either a college or the uni's prospectus that 3 were neccessary, as they were considered equal to A-levels (even though we all know AH are better- well according to cambridge anyway).

    I suppose it may depend on your school, places where you can't do more 1 they may let you off. People coming from schools like mine which offer lots of AHs are expected to do the 3 AHs. Its very common for people in my school to do at least 1 or 2- I can't really think of anyone who didn't. I can think of about 10 off the top of my head who did 3 tho; it really wasn't uncommon, especially if you were applying for english unis/vet/medicine.
    I heard that about Oxford and advanced highers. Any last shred of thinking of applying there went right out of the window after that .
    And they wonder why more Scots don't apply to Oxbridge.
    And re the timetabling difficulties - I managed to get 3 subjects in one column, and I haven't dropped any of them :rolleyes:
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    (Original post by Sophetta)
    Umm, not the geography people at Oxford. They told me that since I was able to do 3AHs I should do all 3. I could have gotten away with 2AHs and 2Hs if timetabling didn't work out. Also, i'm sure i read in either a college or the uni's prospectus that 3 were neccessary, as they were considered equal to A-levels (even though we all know AH are better- well according to cambridge anyway).

    I suppose it may depend on your school, places where you can't do more 1 they may let you off. People coming from schools like mine which offer lots of AHs are expected to do the 3 AHs. Its very common for people in my school to do at least 1 or 2- I can't really think of anyone who didn't. I can think of about 10 off the top of my head who did 3 tho; it really wasn't uncommon, especially if you were applying for english unis/vet/medicine.
    At my school practically no-one does them - of my 3 subjects, 2 others did chemistry, 1 other did maths, and no-one else did physics.

    Content wise they are considered equal to A-level, although from looking at A-level material there are areas where AH goes into more detail, such as AH pure maths containing a large amount of A-level further maths in addition to "ordinary" maths, though no doubt the opposite is true in other subjects.

    However, in other ways they are generally valued higher than A-level, not least because very few actually do them - for example, in 2002, almost 20 thousand people sat Higher maths, but only 2500 of them went on to do AH in 2003. The structure of them also makes them harder, as it's generally the "old system" of a single big paper at the end of the year determining your grade - though to make things even worse there are unit assesments which must be passed, but count for nothing in your grade. Getting an A in AH is definately going to be harder (and "rarer") than the equivalent A-level.
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    (Original post by Acaila)
    I heard that about Oxford and advanced highers. Any last shred of thinking of applying there went right out of the window after that .
    And they wonder why more Scots don't apply to Oxbridge.
    And re the timetabling difficulties - I managed to get 3 subjects in one column, and I haven't dropped any of them :rolleyes:
    I first thought of applying a week before the closing date, having not even started my personal statement or UCAS form, and went for it, not even expecting an interview. I did get one though, but I though I did terribly so didn't expect an offer - but a fat (always a good sign, unless it's a bill!) envelope came on Christmas eve, and I got one.

    Timetabling - apart from maths, I didn't really have a timetable in 6th year, as nobody taught my other two subjects. Higher chemistry and physics was in the same column so that was my opportunity to do practical work (PPA's and investigation) if need be, but I rarely went as there was little point.
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    I think I might end up teaching myself Advanced Higher Computing. I'm getting 3 periods of it, but in the same class as those studying Int 1 and Int 2 PC Passport . Plus Higher Music I'm getting 2 periods of, just the theory work for the exam, but my piano teacher has pledged to get me my A. Geography I'll probably end up missing some stuff in the last term to go to music. Drama I'm missing days here and there for weddings, holidays etc. So I might just get one full subject as I don't think there's any problems with AH maths
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    (Original post by Sophetta)
    My school must just be odd in the way that lots of people do lots of AHs. I suppose the large 6th year contributes to this though.

    AH art subjects are also considered to be better as the coursework involved prepares the student for university essays/projects/seminars, prepapring us, among other things, for the joys of footnotes.

    Also, i've heard from somewhere that AHs are considered better because they ahven't been dumbed down (yet), whilst some people, think A-levels have. I don't know if this is at all true though. Certainly, getting As in AH is difficult and lots of work.
    Everything I've heard about most AHs seem to suggest they're much more like university work. And there aren't any "Teach yourself AH Maths in a week" books unlike A-level :rolleyes:
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    (Original post by Sophetta)
    My school must just be odd in the way that lots of people do lots of AHs. I suppose the large 6th year contributes to this though.
    Possibly - there was only 34 in my 6th year, which was actually on the large side by it's standards!
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    (Original post by Sophetta)
    They orginanly put all the subjects bar maths that I could do in one column- which included history, english, modern studies, geography- generally all social/art subjects.

    I think they changed it after art/social science people complained that the timetable was biased against the arts (as you were able to do all sciences).
    In ours, you can combine all 3 social sciences or all 3 sciences, plus music art and PE etc. All in all its a good timetable, until this year :rolleyes:
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    (Original post by calumc)
    Possibly - there was only 34 in my 6th year, which was actually on the large side by it's standards!
    So about 150 is quite big then?
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    (Original post by Acaila)
    Everything I've heard about most AHs seem to suggest they're much more like university work. And there aren't any "Teach yourself AH Maths in a week" books unlike A-level :rolleyes:
    The science subjects investigations easily had the scope to become university level stuff. My physics "teacher" (who didn't teach me physics, but did give me a hand with practical stuff) commented that my investigation report, despite me having cut 1/3 from it, was actually longer than the dissertation he'd just written for his degree!
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    (Original post by Acaila)
    So about 150 is quite big then?
    150 in a 6th year is massive. There were 80 in my first year and the school got a shock with that!
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    (Original post by calumc)
    The science subjects investigations easily had the scope to become university level stuff. My physics "teacher" (who didn't teach me physics, but did give me a hand with practical stuff) commented that my investigation report, despite me having cut 1/3 from it, was actually longer than the dissertation he'd just written for his degree!
    Yeh definetly- i forgot about the science investigations.

    One of my friends in modern studies wrote about 10,000 words for her dissertation (max word count was 5000) which is the length of a university level one. (She then cut it down to 3000 which was too short, before settling at 4500.)
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    There were 169 in my year at the start of 5th year. I think there were 182 when I was in S1. And we were the smallest year for a while (Current 3rd year is about 225 I think)

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