[Assam] [assam] A place at Oxbridge is a matter of luck
bbaruah at aol.com
Wed Jan 25 10:44:11 IST 2012
Circumstances compel me to take interest in children's education.So, a letter published in the Independent today (25 01 2012) drew my attention. I reproduce it below:
Independent Blogs > Notebook - A selection of Independent views -
A place at Oxbridge is a matter of luck
Schoolgirl Elly Nowell sent a rejection letter to Oxford ahead of hearing the result of her interview last week, claiming that it “didn’t quite meet the standard” of other universities. In her letter, Nowell complained that holding interviews in formal settings “allows public school applicants to flourish… and intimidates state school applicants, distorting the academic potential of both.”
Naturally Nowell’s letter elicited a huge media response, with some admiring her tenacity and others complaining that she has merely reinforced the stereotypes that Oxbridge is so desperate to shake off. Either way, the letter has raised some important questions about state-school access and thrown some light on the Oxbridge interview process.
To argue that Oxbridge aren’t doing their bit to increase the intake of state-school applicants is unfair. Given that private schools account for just 13% of A-level exam entries, the fact that just 59.3% of Cambridge students are state educated is fairly surprising. But, Cambridge spends over £3 million a year on widening state-school access, through shadowing schemes, open days and student conferences. They are doing everything they can to widen access.
It’s too easy to claim that the Oxbridge interview system favours public school applicants, but it’s equally easy to claim that there is a pressure to admit more state school applicants to fill a quota. In fact, one Cambridge admissions tutor told me that during the winter pooling process – a system that allows undersubscribed colleges to look at the strong applicants that oversubscribed colleges don’t have room for – that a college with a deficiency of state school pupils might be told to “look closely” at state applicants. “This is a euphemism for ‘ignore the independents’,” he said.
This is an old argument, and in reality, neither view is strictly correct. Getting offered a place at Oxbridge is about more than favouring students with a certain background, whatever that background may be. Largely, it’s about luck.
We’ve all heard thestory about the Oxbridge interviewer who threw a ball at his interviewees as they entered the room: dropping the ball meant missing out on a place, catching the ball meant getting a conditional offer, and throwing the ball back guaranteed you a place. Unfortunately, the process isn’tquite as exciting as everyone likes to make out.Getting a place at Oxbridge means knowing your subject inside out, and being lucky on the day of your interview. And let’s not underestimate the caliber of those who get turned down.
Last year 27 percent of A level entries were awarded an A or A* grade. The problem is that the number of students receiving top grades increases every year (and that’s assuming that exams and coursework are an accurate indication of the sort of intelligence that Oxbridge are after).
It’s not a question of writing a good personal statement either. Aside from the fact that expressing anything of interest in 2,000 characters is almost impossible, the nature of online UCAS applications means that anyone can write a personal statement for you; you can evenbuy personal statements online.Of course references aren’t much help either, since they depend largely on students’ relationships with their teachers. Teachers from schools that aren’t used to Oxbridge applications, for example, won’t understand what Oxbridge look for in a reference, and teachers at sixth form colleges won’t know their students for long enough to write accurately.
The current university admissions system leaves those looking for the brightest pupils with a problem. Last year, Cambridge received 16,000 applications and offered 3,400 students places, whilst Oxford offered just 3,200 of their 17,000 applicants places. These are all straight A students, and the majority of them would probably thrive at Oxbridge. This forces admissions tutors to make life-changing decisions based on a couple of 20-minute interviews and additional exam papers.
But preparing for Oxbridge interviews is a tricky business. Yes, you can make sure you’ve read all the books you mention in your personal statement, and you’ve looked up your interviewers’ interests, but ultimately there’s not much more you can do. If you happen to share a particular passion for a certain topic with your interviewer, who – if you are accepted – will become your Director of Studies, of course you’ll be offered a place over someone with differing interests.
These tutors are looking for students who they want to teach; students whothey want to spend their time with. If one interviewee gets on with his interviewer on a personal level, he’s far more likely to get a place than another interviewee who may be equally academically talented but interested in different aspects of the course.
Getting offered a place at Oxbridge means knowing your subject inside out, and being lucky enough to get on with your interviewer. That’s all there is to it. Ultimately every college will admit the students that they think will achieve the best possible grades in their tripos, because exam results are all that really matters, regardless of what sort of school they come from.Claiming that state school applicants are disadvantaged by the interviews system is unfair; in reality, a rejection could be down to something as simple as not sharing interests with your interviewer
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