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Friday, 15 September 2017

WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT (AND AVOID) IN AN OXBRIDGE-GEARED UCAS STATEMENT

Emmanuel College, Cambridge

The secret of a good personal statement lies in the rewrite(s).  Creating your perfect academic selfie is a slow process, so don't even think of leaving version one for October. It will probably take  three or more drafts to convincingly show your abilities, as well as your interest in your future course.  Best not to rush it.  

One way to start is by stating what made you aware of an intriguing aspect of the course. Was it a lesson, a book, a school research project, an excursion, a talk or some TV programme?  How are you trying to learn more about it? Is there a science book, poetry collection or article on British history written for adult readers you have enjoyed? What you want to show here is that you are capable of intellectual activity beyond or  independent of school requirements. 

Next, you might want to mention some non-academic extracurriculars.  Have they taught you any skills useful for your course? Do they suggest particular strengths or character traits?  Also, are there any prizes you have won or  disadvantages overcome? Don't worry about length in the first draft. You can cut, paste and edit later.

Keeping the above points in mind will allow you to progress smoothly or at least keep panic at bay. It will also help admissions tutors to fairly assess your suitability for the course. Before you proceed to the final draft, though, make sure you have avoided the most common pitfalls:

1. Not making sure you have the right A-level subjects for your course: there are rigid subject rules when it comes to some Oxbridge courses, while others, including Law, accept quite a wide range. Unless you read the entry requirements first, you may be throwing away one of your four or five UCAS choices. 
  
2. Not bothering to read the full course description in the university prospectus: before mentioning a subject-related aspect you are particularly keen on (such as medieval studies), make sure it is actually offered in conjunction with the course you picked. At Oxbridge,  this would  probably be History or Archaeology.  Getting this wrong may count as laziness.

3. Thinking about your degree subject only in the context of your future career: far too many Oxbridge applicants write that they chose Economics because they are "hoping for a career in finance”. What admissions tutors want to know is which course-related financial, social or mathematical problems are of interest to you and how you are already exploring them.

4. Overdoing the extracurriculars: you just want to show that you are organised enough to keep up with two or three activities alongside your studies. It would be nice if one of these was also vaguely relevant to your course, has offered you some great insight or given you useful skills. Merely listing five different activities is pointless.

5. Being too impersonal in your UCAS statement: admissions tutors want to know about you as an individual. By mentioning personal strengths, concerns, achievements or life experiences you may become more convincing, as well as more memorable. 

6. Asking a well-educated relative or family friend to write your statement for you:  any admissions tutor can tell the writings of a middle-aged graduate from those of a sixth former. Also, the type of student Oxbridge seeks has somewhat changed over the years.

7. Copying a UCAS statement found online: admissions tutors have for several years had the software to identify such statements. Do you want to be marked down as a plagiarist?

8.Sloppy writing: there is no need for formal language, but applicants are expected to use proper subject terms. Also, your statement must be grammatically correct and without spelling mistakes. Make sure to reread it more than once, and don’t just rely on the spell checker!

Still unsure how to make a strong, memorable application? For more detailed and  course-specific advice, read OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

TIME TO WATCH SOME OXBRIDGE VIDEOS

Cambridge

Even Oxbridge hopefuls  whose teacher won't expect to see a draft personal statement written over the summer must now intensify their course engagement. Do you know what university  academics are currently excited about? Oxbridge video podcasts will tell you even more than audios about  their discoveries, ways of thinking and topical concerns. Watching a course-related video is a great way of both developing and showing your  subject interest. It will also make it easier to understand a course-related book.

Don't worry if you don't yet understand absolutely everything. The idea is that you will in time. While some podcasts are tailored to  a general audience, others are aimed at future applicants or fellow thinkers, but all convey a lively, inspiring picture of Oxbridge academic  life. Viewing a couple of them will help to reassure you about this slightly scary university choice and enable you to check you've picked the right   course.

Below is a selection based on the main Oxbridge degree subjects in no particular order.  If you want to save time, it's fine to skip a talk host's lengthy introduction of the speaker. 


(You can start at 7.12 minutes)





Keen to learn more? OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES has lists of key books for students eager  to read around their course subject or pursue new interests triggered by a podcast. Good luck!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

HOLIDAY PREP FOR OXBRIDGE HOPEFULS


Enjoying those weeks of marathon sleeps, music, hanging out with friends or making new ones? You've earned it all,  but Oxbridge hopefuls also need to give thought to their UCAS form, whether they are applying this year or next. To be really impressive, your personal statement must show evidence of an active interest in your future subject well beyond what you did at school. Sadly, each year some students discover that you can't create such evidence at the very last minute.

The good news is that that you can get still quite a lot done without leaving your deck chair or bed.  To a student still struggling through their (perhaps very first) academic book,  audio podcasts in which experts reflect on their field offer a gentle transition. Lively and often short, these can painlessly familiarise you with concepts, ideas and issues relevant to your course, as well as conveying the  speaker's excitement about their work.

What you should listen to obviously depends on your course. Academics may use the medium to outline our current knowledge of genetics, interpret economic developments or challenge the accepted causes of a historic event. In any case, try to take in more than just the bare facts. A good listener will note the methods by which the speaker's insights were arrived and perhaps a problem encountered.

There's a growing range of such audio podcasts, found not just on You Tube and TED talks, but also created  by the BBC, literary magazines, science journals, political periodicals and broadsheets. Oxford and Cambridge have put some of their more accessible lectures on iTunes, where you can down-load them for free. Many Oxbridge academics also regularly contribute to other publications or events. Below are a few useful examples:

LAW: SHOULD YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO DELETE YOUR DIGITAL PAST?
http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/delete-0

RELIGIOUS STUDIES: HOW DID THE DEVIL BECOME  A KEY FIGURE IN CHRISTIANITY?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005494p

CLASSICS: IS THE BATTLE OF THERMOPYLAE TRULY IMPORTANT TO THE STORY OF DEMOCRACY?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004y278

ENGLISH LITERATURE: IS SHAKESPEARE STILL RELEVANT TODAY? http://www.festivalofideas.cam.ac.uk/event-recordings

ECONOMICS: WHY HAVE ADAM SMITH AND HIS TREATISE ON "THE WEALTH OF NATION" REMAINED SO INFLUENTIAL?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b052ln55

PHILOSOPHY: WHAT DOES FREE SPEECH MEAN FOR THE MEDIA?
https://www.sms.cam.ac.uk/media/2447806

ARCH & ANT:  WHAT HAS BEEN THE LINK BETWEEN ARCHAEOLOGY AND IMPERIALISM?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9gt

HISTORY: HOW DID A GOVERNMENT DECISION TO KEEP GRAIN PRICES HIGH CHANGE BRITAIN? 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03dvbyk

COMPUTER SCIENCES: HOW MIGHT SOCIAL-MEDIA OBSESSION MAKE US A TARGET FOR CRIME?
https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/how-do-we-stop-our-social-media-obsession-making-us-target-crime

PHYSICS: WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF MAKING SCIENTIFIC EQUIPMENT SPACE-PROOF?
https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/how-do-you-make-scientific-equipment-space-proof

CHEMISTRY: WHY AND HOW WOULD YOU TURN AN ORANGE INTO A GRAPEFRUIT?
http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/how-do-you-turn-orange-grapefruit

MEDICINE: FORGET CSI. WHAT DO PATHOLOGISTS REALLY DO?
http://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/event-recordings (Cambridge Festival Podcast 98)

BIOLOGY: HOW MIGHT SUN EXPOSURE CHANGE YOUR DNA?
http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/light-part-3-how-does-sunlight-damage-dna

Feeling inspired and just a little more confident that you're up to  Oxbridge standards? Great, this means we shall next  week explore some video podcasts  which can move 
you further towards an Oxford or Cambridge place. Meanwhile, you'll find the very best general advice for Oxbridge applicants in OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE THE REAL RULES

Friday, 23 June 2017

WHY GO ON AN OXBRIDGE OPEN DAY?

Cambridge

Weary from all those exams and unsure if an Oxford or Cambridge  Open Day is really worth the bother? Well, it is, and not just for students still wondering if either university will really suit (or want) them. Even those dead keen on a degree course there still have much to learn: what Oxbridge offers and expects may be quite different what you thought. By finding this out three months before the October 15th application deadline you can much improve your chances of a place.

Coming face-to-face with the sheer beauty of the two towns can be both an advantage and a distraction. Both have palatial old buildings and lush formal gardens which will seem far less scary if you don't encounter them first at the actual interview. So, even if you have booked yourself into an event (not all require booking), it  can seem worth spending most of your time taking selfies outside or to roam the streets until each member of your group has found their perfect turreted college.  A student who has arrived alone, or from a not Oxbridge-geared school may feel a bit intimidated and want to leave straight after the official part.

The thing to remember at this point is that you’re mainly there to suss out your course. So, don’t rush off yet. Be brave and ask for personal advice. Which book, journal or website could help you at this stage? Is there a similar course more suited to your ambitions or abilities? There might even be a master class or online talk designed to deepen your understanding. Are there any course-geared skills you could be honing in the meantime?

Try to think whether you have any burning questions before travelling up. Getting answers  at this stage matters because many Oxbridge dons admit that what characterises successful applicants is not just natural brightness but also  a willingness to engage with external (non-school) sources already in Year 12. This makes the transition to a challenging Oxbridge course much less painful for both tutor and tutee.

As a result, students willing to slightly curtail their sight-seeing can pick from an increasingly large  menu of subject tasters, library tours, lab visits  and lectures, depending on the course. If an event does not include a Q&A session, it's fine to approach one of the speakers directly at the end. What you'll find out is likely to inspire you to work hard towards an impressive application.

If the sheer amount of information given has left you feel swamped, it's worth asking one of the friendly Oxbridge student volunteers about their own course. What is it they like best about it? Does it match any of your own interests? What did they do to prepare, and what are their Oxbridge friends studying? A subject you never considered before may turn out to be just up your street.

Sixth formers feeling encumbered in this quest by their accompanying parents can usually send them off to separate events. There they will be able to not just discuss the perils of young people leaving home but also to explore the financial side. As fees everywhere are now worrying high and the real cost of an Oxbridge course is quite hard to calculate, being told about the substantial  Oxbridge grants available can be reassuring.

This should leave you free to spend some time chatting to sixth formers from other schools, Don't worry about their accents. You'll discover that prospective Oxbridge applicants come from all over the country and the world. Some are certain to share your enthusiasm for geography, French literature or maths. Chances are that they, too, like Ed Sheeran. This could be the start of a life-long friendship.

Meanwhile, relax if you find that a prospective applicant has read utterly obscure books or done a Mandarin course in Beijing. Most admissions tutors accept that there are other, cheaper ways in which a smart, hard-working student can prove their ability. 

Above all, don't make college choice the sole focus of your visit: you may well be allocated a college other than the stunning one you picked. Also be aware that even two equally beautiful colleges can have rather different entrance standards. So, try to keep an open mind until you have consulted a teacher or done some research. You´ll find lots more tips on Open Days and colleges, as well as detailed preparation checklist, in OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

EASTER IS THE TIME TO PICK YOUR OXBRIDGE COURSE

Magdalene College, Cambridge
 
Like the challenge of an Oxbridge course, but can't decide which one to pick? If so, set aside a few hours during the Easter break for a recci of this year’s Oxford or Cambridge prospectus. Each of them is full of tempting, well described courses: now is the time to look beyond those familiar from school. Even if you’d never heard of Norse or Archaeology before you might well excel at it later.
 
Attending an Open Day at Oxford or Cambridge  held in July is another step forward. Aim for course-specific  or departmental events, rather than those offering mainly college info. While most of the former need to be booked in advance and some are full by Easter, others are run on a drop-in basis. The friendly undergraduates helping out on Open Days also often have useful advice.
 
While there are also Open Days in September, students who focus on Oxbridge only then tend to have a much poorer success rate. This is because you need to embark on  some course-related reading well before the October application deadline. Summer is the obvious time, but if you nail down your course choice fast, you could start this Easter. Unsure what to read? My best-selling guide, OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES, lists  a range of inspiring, course-specific books and websites.
 
If you cannot make it to any Oxbridge Open Day, subject tasters at other (preferably Russell Group) universities will help you with choices and preparation. While courses of the same name offered by different universities are not quite identical, they are likely to have the same core.  
 
What's crucial next is to double-check the entry requirements of any appealing course, which can be quite detailed. To stand a good chance of an Oxbridge place, you may need to meet every single one. These currently include A-level grade predictions ranging from AAA to A*A*A*, sometimes but not always in specific subjects.
 
The university may also mention an additional school subject (often AS Maths) as  “useful” though you might still get in without it. If a third A-level science or Further Maths is “recommended” your chances of a place are not quite so good. Course applicants without a “highly recommended” or “highly desirable” subject need to know that some 90 per cent of those admitted may have it.
 
Students should also note that while such course rules tend to apply to all colleges at Oxford, some Cambridge colleges have different ones. So, having chosen your course, you may want to click on a few college web pages  to see which AS or A-level grades and subjects they seek. Colleges high up on the Cambridge league tables may have added entry requirements.
 
Remember, too, that even if a course page does not list any required subjects, applicants will still usually need at least two “hard” A-levels to get in. And although you won't need an A-level in Law to study Law, or A-level Economics to study Economics at Cambridge (or Economics & Management at Oxford), their admissions tutors do expect some proof of subject interest, academic ability and hard work.
 
Evidence of good writing skills is also important for these and quite a few other courses. Admissions tutors may therefore wish to see one of your classroom essays. If you don’t have any essay to show, ask your form teacher to set you one well before your application.  
 
Oxford and Cambridge, in short, are on the hunt for more than just cleverness. A wise  applicant, therefore, will steadily build up their course-appropriate skills, qualifications, and interests. Teachers may want to note, however,  that for students from very disadvantaged backgrounds or regions some allowances may be made.

 
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HELP FOR SCHOOLS NOW AIMING FOR OXBRIDGE

 
Is the result of your students' Oxford or Cambridge applications too often disappointing? Or is Oxbridge a new ambition for your school? Our well established STATE SCHOOL TO OXBRIDGE  workshops are uniquely geared towards schools with a high proportion of applicants from non-university and/or minority ethnic backgrounds.
 
 As the author of best-selling guide OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES, I know that success takes preparation. While the free Access events cover some of this, even the brightest “non-traditional” applicants tend to  need more targeted help to display their abilities. Our school-based, one-off student and teacher events provide this help, while allowing you to remain within the ethos of your school.
 
Costs are a mere £150 for a teacher or student workshop, covering all aspects of Oxbridge preparation.  Schools booking both events usually enjoy the most satisfying results. For more details, please click on STATE SCHOOL TO OXBRIDGE, or email us at oxbridge.workshop141@gmail.com with any questions you have.
 



Sunday, 4 December 2016

LAST MINUTE INTERVIEW ADVICE FOR NERVOUS STUDENTS

Oxford

Getting jittery as your Oxbridge interview approaches? A little more preparation may just calm you down. Start by googling your prospective interviewers.  Not only will they seem less like strangers when you meet, but a special interest mentioned can suggest topics that might come up.

Don’t, though, try to plough through an interviewer’s book at this stage. It may still be well above your head anyway. Focus on practical things instead. If your Oxbridge interviews involve an overnight stay, pack something that will take your mind off the challenges ahead. For some people, that will be a thriller, for others Rescue Remedy or their favourite chocs.

Once up, get to know some of the other candidates (who may become fellow students), rather than just viewing them as potential rivals. Some will have read books or explored subject areas you never even heard off, but don’t worry now. Interview questions can usually be handled by drawing on a variety of sources.

If a term or author mentioned really baffles you, have a quick look online, but don’t spend hours trying to catch up. You want to stay fresh enough to display your own knowledge and engage with new ideas.

Still worried you might embarrass yourself in front of those super-clever interviewers? Remember that this is actually not what they’re trying to achieve. They’re just experts looking for yet more good learners keen on the much loved course they teach.

Most will try hard to make you feel welcome, but don’t be put off by an interviewer who seems unfriendly or glum. It does not mean that black-gowned figure hates your accent, school or cutting-edge haircut. The poor soul may simply be exhausted after interviewing a dozen students in one day. Other great minds, however well-meaning, merely lack the social skills to put a stranger at ease. Either way, they will still be taking in everything you say and discuss it with fellow interviewers later.

So, keep relating to what you are being asked, instead of fretting about the feel of the event.  And, if you really want to be liked, practise speaking up; whispering, mumbling students are the bane of a don’s life.

While doing so, remember the two key interview skills: giving yourself time to think before you reply to a question is one. Answering the question actually asked (rather than the one you would like it to have been) is the other. Also, interview questions are meant to be hard, so don’t despair if you got the odd answer wrong. 

Lastly, wise students are aware that interviewers expect fairly detailed answers, so try to  cover "what, why and how" if possible.  Can you explain events, analyse texts or calculate outcomes? Show a knack for logical thinking?

For yet more advice, check out OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES, still available by one-day delivery from Amazon.