Exploring Oxbridge: A holistic approach to supporting students with their applications

As the early UCAS deadline passes for another year, Amber-Page, our Oxbridge Programme Manager, reflects on the last two years of our Explore Oxbridge programme.

The early UCAS deadline has passed for another year, and at least 100 IntoUniversity students are known to have submitted applications to Oxford and Cambridge among their chosen universities. They are the third round of applicants since the Explore Oxbridge Programme began in September 2021.

Having worked with many of these students on their Personal Statements over the past few months, it’s outstanding to see how strong their applications are. The standard seems to increase every year. This year’s applicants are grappling with concepts from neoliberalism to dark matter to Modernist art, with a level of maturity I can safely say I had not developed myself when I was seventeen! Some wrote about how the research projects they had completed as part of the programme had developed their skills and knowledge. Some wrote about how their experiences of homelessness or immigration prompted their initial interest in subjects like Economics and Law. Seeing my students’ insight into their subject, and their resilience in the face of challenges, is one of my favourite aspects of this job. Sometimes, I learn just as much from them as they do from me.

IntoUniversity’s Explore Oxbridge Programme is unique in its provision of a long-term, objective-led, progressive sequence of activities with age-appropriate scaffolding. There are two underpinning principles. The first is to ‘make the implicit explicit’: to define what is meant by ‘critical thinking skills’, what makes a ‘strong’ personal statement, what is really being assessed by an interview. This is combined with IntoUniversity’s community-embedded approach, providing individualised pastoral support alongside tailored application advice. The second principle is to tell students that it’s perfectly okay to be a nerd, to take joy in academic study, to learn for the sake of knowledge itself, not just for a grade. Students are introduced to subject-specialist volunteers from as early as Year 9 to boost super-curricular knowledge and help develop an exploratory approach to their learning.

Explore Oxbridge sits within IntoUniversity’s wider offering, supporting students to accomplish a range of education and career outcomes, from degrees to apprenticeships, from engineering to the arts. Oxford and Cambridge are framed as one of many options for our students, as universities which offer a particular kind of learning experience. We help introduce students to Oxford or Cambridge from Year 10 and take them on residential trips to Open Days in Year 12. My role exists to help them develop the necessary skills early on so that, if students do decide that they would enjoy studying at these universities, their applications have the best possible chances of success.

Year 12 students on an Open Day at the University of Cambridge

For a variety of reasons, some students do face considerable barriers to getting a place at Oxbridge. This can be seen in Oxford and Cambridge admissions statistics, for example, success rates are lower for UK students who live outside Greater London and the South East. However, with the right combination of information, guidance and encouragement, which our programme offers, we believe it is possible for students from these backgrounds to overcome these barriers. As IntoUniversity expands into areas like Kirkby, Hull and Leicester, more and more students need support to prepare for and navigate the application process, even those that are achieving top grades.

Whatever the outcome for our Oxbridge applicants this year, I know that their intellectual curiosity and determination will take them down a range of exciting and fulfilling educational and career paths.

Find out more about our Explore Oxbridge programme

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As the early UCAS deadline passes for another year, Amber-Page, our Oxbridge Programme Manager, reflects on the last two years of our Explore Oxbridge programme.