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 Post subject: Oxbridge tips
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:58 pm 
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Joined: Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:43 am
Posts: 360
DS1 is seriously looking at Oxbridge - though only just started year 11, so not urgent.

DH and I both have degrees etc, but never Oxbridge, and whilst I'm sure school will be some help, I wondered if anyone here with recent experience via their DC can give some pointers. In particular, we're not too sure how to pick a college, or even how much the college choice matters. Later on, there will be issues of tactics (personal statement, interview etc), though they will perhaps be a little less Oxbridge-specific.

I'd be particularly interested in any books or websites people have found useful (and not!), which I don't think breaches the forum rules, but if in doubt, you can always PM me.

Thanks


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 4:28 pm 
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Location: Solihull, West Midlands
Both universities have a lot of official info on their own websites which is invaluable, including alternative prospecti for the colleges, admissions details, the breakdown of subjects being studied by undergraduates in each college etc etc. The best advice is to visit and get a "feel" for the places, as although choice of college is not usually vital (except in some minority subjects) there are different atmospheres, very different architecture & locations, different intake balance between state/private, different sizes, different accommodation on offer etc. Whichever college you initially apply to I believe both Oxford & Cambridge will ensure the applications get shared around so that a candidate wouldn't lose out by accidentally picking a college with too many applicants in the same subject. Students will end up fiercely loyal to whichever college they end up at!

Some colleges organise sessions for groups from lower years (DD went on a geography day to Girton, Cambridge in yr 10) or subject-specific courses in the summer but you might have to research the details.

A good range of A* and A at GCSE would be expected, and a careful choice of A levels - check the official websites for advice on combinations recommended

There are organisations which promise (for a large fee!) to improve interview technique etc but it would be better IMHO to develop an enthusiasm for the chosen subject, read widely round it rather than being constrained by the curriculum, be confident about talking about your subject to adults in a relaxed way etc - the school may be able to organise practice interview sessions nearer the time using volunteer parents.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:00 pm 
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Location: Birmingham
DD has just completed her UCAS for medicine so have found some useful sources of information.

The StudentRoom website is quite useful

http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/

whilst for medicine new media medicine can contain some useful information, particularly about the relative merits of the various colleges

http://www.newmediamedicine.com/


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 7:05 pm 
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Thanks. The Student Room site looks useful (though at first glance it's one I might have ignored as releating more to those who are already at uni).

He wants to do physics, possibly at Oxford, but more likely Cambridge, though he'd have to start off as Natural Science or else Maths and Physics.

He expects and is expected to get good enough GCSEs and has already adapted his A level choice to better fit the Cambs requirements.

He's looking at the course content on the official sites, but as I said, at this stage, the college aspect is the one we're most unsure of.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 9:24 pm 
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Location: Solihull, West Midlands
In my completely biased opinion the nicest Cambridge colleges are those on the river (Kings, Queens, Trinity, St Johns, Clare etc... Can't remember now why I picked Clare, possibly something to do with a reputation for music ) Trinity is by far the largest and attracts a disproportionate number of mathematicians - some of them are even human! Downing & Emmanuel have grand wide quads, Pembroke & Peterhouse are small & ancient, Girton is for those who enjoy a long cycle ride. Churchill, Fitzwilliam & New Hall have more modern buildings which Prince Charles would probably not like... Not sure where the teaching of NatSci & Maths takes place now - Maths lectures used to be fairly central

Oxford has more, smaller, colleges, mostly interspersed around & amongst the shopping centre but with much less emphasis on the river. DS chose to apply to a larger college with a fairly high state school proportion, good central location with nice gardens, based on the fact that the son of an acquaintance had been there and the Maths prof was well known on TV! We went to the open day, visited a few other colleges but stuck to the initial "gut" feeling. He was also interviewed by another college but was offered a place at his first choice. You can make an open application but that removes any degree of expressing a preference.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 1:55 pm 
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One 'child' currently Physical NatSci - another applying right now!

Wouldn't worry about College till end Year 12 except if you fancy a relaxed trip after GCSEs maybe?

Main Open Days are after AS exams & early Year 13 - book early.


NatSci very competitive - do need good clutch A* at GCSE. Hopefully they will have sorted out the policy re A* offers in a couple of years!

Worth developing an interest in a specific area of Physics, undertaking reading, research, visits, projects etc if possible some kind of related work experience in the next two years.

We were suprised that they are not that interested in non-science related extra curricular activities. Need something other than study (music, sport etc), but not loads & some kind of 'position of responsibilty' but as much as possible try to focus 'spare' time on related activities.EG running science club for year 7 once in year 12, building a racing go-cart, Young Engineer schemes....

Cambridge & Oxford approach very different so might want to start by deciding between them before worrying about College. Cambridge still seems to be seen as the 'elite' option for scientists.

If school sends a number to Oxbridge they should have insight into Colleges eg. some favour Gap years, some go for particular 'type' of student (we were told that one College seems to make 'random' decisions about students from our school - ie doesn't select those the Head would expect so its a less 'safe' option).

Our school tries not to have too many students applying to the same College in one year.

A levels - most Colleges keen on 'Further Maths' for Physics & son's experience is that it is valuable for the course. He did Chemistry, Physics, Maths, FMaths. Thought he was going to specialise in Physics but changed his mind after 1st year - now a Chemist. (Keeping options open is a big advantage of Cambridge - once they start studying at a higher level quite a few seem to change their focus to a different or new area of science)


Admissions systems different for two Universities.
Broadly - Oxford over period of days but fairly instant decision. Interviewed by more than one College to start with so if 1st choice don't offer the second option might.
Cambridge dont tell you till early January - possibility of getting put in 'pool' if 1st choice can't take you but thinks you are good enough to be pulled out by a College who didn't offer all its places. This is supposed to even out applicants across Colleges - who knows? - but it certainly adds to the stress if you have to go back for another round of interviews at very short notice(especially as at same time as January A2 modules)!

Sorry - this is a bit of a collection of random thoughts!
Please ask if anything else :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 2:27 pm 
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Joined: Wed May 09, 2007 2:09 pm
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Location: Solihull, West Midlands
Just to echo a few of KB's points:

Certainly the extra-curricular activities are less important than you might think: I heard a rule of thumb that at least 2/3 of the personal statement should be about your passion for the subject, as demonstrated by extra reading, relevant experiences, Maths Challenge etc with all the music grades, school prefect, sport and community service in the remaining third.

The Cambridge NatSci degree is a very valuable way of producing graduates in disciplines they might not otherwise have considered - OH is a good example ending up in polymer physics....

Oxford process certainly over much quicker with the pre-interview exam: for Maths at least the offer came before Christmas and was based only on 3 A levels whereas Cambridge require top grades in the STEP papers taken in June, prolonging the agony...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Oct 08, 2009 4:53 pm 
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I do think choice of college is important. If you're looking for an academic career you'll want to have a good tutor in your particular interest. If you're looking for a career where the CV is more important there is definitely a very longstanding "pecking order" between the colleges, at least in employer's minds. Balliol will always trump St Peter's for example. Of course personal inclination will also play a part: would you prefer grand (go for Christchurch - its chapel doubles as a cathedral, and it runs its own hunt) or would you prefer beautiful (go for Magdalen, acres of gorgeous water gardens and a deer park), or perhaps just cosy (St Edmund's Hall?).

This is interesting: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_a ... 866127.ece

And I think this is very sensible: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_a ... 855850.ece

_________________
Loopy


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Oct 08, 2009 6:12 pm 
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Not saying choice of College doesn't matter - just that at start of Year 11 there should be other priorities!
Certainly at Cambridge there may be a balance between preference and increased probability of getting an offer :)
Its also a bit too far in advance if you are making decisions on the academics at each College as these could change by the time you get there!

We've just been through it for the second time & its certainly interesting getting 'insider knowledge' from elder sibling & friends :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Oct 08, 2009 9:56 pm 
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Joined: Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:43 am
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Thanks for all the advice. Very helpful.

Yes, I realise it's very early, but as he's keen to investigate, it's good to be able to have some useful input to aid that.

He's pretty sure he wants Cambs as first choice. The next thing will be working out where else to apply to. But, as KB says, there are more important things right now (which he is doing too).


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