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Wednesday, 4 July 2018


Keble College, Oxford

With exams over, many Oxbridge hopefuls will be moving on to  their next worry either before their Open Day visit to Oxbridge or soon thereafter. Visitors' most common worries are social ones. The very sight of so many palatial buildings in one place can make a state school student panic about whether, even if admitted,  unposh people like her might hopelessly stick out. What if there won't be anyone else from her (or his) school, neighbourhood, ethnic origin or class background?  

What state school students need to know is that they will actually be in the majority: in 2017, state schoolers made up 64 per cent of UK students admitted to both Oxford and Cambridge,  as against 36 per cent of privately educated ones. The latter, incidentally, do not bite. They too are at Oxbridge for a course they are excited by, for a chance to acquire some sporting or drama skills and to meet someone they fancy.

Social life at Oxbridge encourages mixing. Students from very different homes and schools  live on the same college floors and eat in the same college dining room. Those missing their mum's food meet others in the same plight at the  communal student kitchens.  Shared lectures, tutorials, lectures and seminars bring people together in a collective grumble over the shocking amount of knowledge they are meant to absorb. Each of the two universities also funds almost a hundred different student clubs, enabling you to have a go at anything from kick-boxing to journalism and from comedy skills to strategy games.

Students not feeling at home yet can join a society for people from their own ethnic, religious  or social background. This can mean something like the Chinese, Hindu or Aeronautical Society. Some student societies offer their members not just reassurance but also a chance to raise issues like discrimination. Black students, who are very under-represented at Oxbridge, run an ongoing campaign on this issue. Oxford's recently founded ClassAct Society seeks to address the specific concerns of undergraduates from working class, comprehensive school, low income and/or  first generation university backgrounds.

What, though, about the financial side? Well, the £9,250 annual tuition fees are the same almost everywhere and covered (until you start earning) by a government loan.  Rent and food are covered by its additional £8,700 maintenance loan wherever you study. In addition, though, both Oxford and Cambridge offer struggling students very substantial grants to make up for this. Oxbridge rents are similar to those charged in London and other big cities, but note that they vary greatly among colleges. So, you may want to email an appealing one for details about  its accommodation cost. You also need to know that students, once admitted, are not expelled if they become unable to afford the rent. There are college hardship grants for that purpose.

In short, if you get in (which depends  largely on your hard work and appropriate preparation) the odds are you will be absolutely fine.

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