Oxford and Cambridge, academically elite, oversubscribed, criticised as socially unique – however do these levels actually reside as much as their fame?
“I used to be nervous that everybody can be actually nerdy and posh,” says Freya Pryce, describing her fears as she arrived at Oxford College in 2011.
Freya, who left with a primary in human sciences final summer time, says she was uncertain when lecturers at her Aberystwyth complete faculty first steered she apply.
“I wasn’t eager to begin with. I had unfavourable concepts about it. I assumed it was elitist.”
However an open day on the college was “a really optimistic expertise”, and the human sciences course, which mixes a various array of topics from genetics to sociology “was an enormous draw”.
As soon as she began, she was conscious of a social combine which nonetheless didn’t mirror the final inhabitants and shocked by the continued existence of “wealthy boys’ golf equipment” the place members are chosen primarily based on wealth and social connections – however there have been additionally “folks from all types of backgrounds who had been actually pleasant, open-minded and enjoyable”.
Sleep suffered in her first yr as she struggled to juggle a heavy tutorial workload and a frenetic social life.
Now she believes her diploma helps her discover work in her chosen discipline of worldwide growth and sustainability.
Freya’s preliminary scepticism about Oxford just isn’t unusual amongst some state-school sixth-formers, in response to a college spokeswoman, resulting in nice efforts to enhance range.
“The concept ‘Oxford is not the type of place for me’ continues to be one thing we have to handle,” stated the spokeswoman.
This yr virtually 60% of Oxford’s consumption from state colleges – the very best in 40 years.
At Cambridge the determine is 62% – up from simply over half a decade in the past.
“Earlier than we uncork the champagne, bear in mind 93% of pupils are in state colleges,” says Ian Bauckham, government head of a non-selective Kent secondary that sends “a trickle” of scholars to Oxbridge annually.
Mr Bauckham was himself a state-school scholar who went to Cambridge and graduated with a primary.
He admits discovering it arduous to begin with. “I had by no means combined with individuals who had the arrogance and social benefit of many individuals there.”
However as soon as he graduated, he says having been to Cambridge helped him progress in his chosen profession of educating.
Mr Bauckham says his faculty goals to determine college students with Oxbridge potential early, mentioning it to them as quickly as Yr 10.
“It could possibly open doorways. These are extremely regarded programs, usually involving high researchers of their discipline,” he tells them.
He says getting ready his college students, who usually come from households with no historical past of college, not to mention elite universities, may be “arduous work”.
“Numerous the choice is completed largely on the premise of interviews which require confidence and poise to do effectively.”
He fears the method may be weighted towards complete college students, with some admissions tutors subconsciously preferring college students much like themselves.
“College students will want to have the ability to debate, deal with reduce and thrust and reply to surprising challenges, resembling to have achieved a larger depth and breadth of studying past A-level specs.
“Pupils from elite public colleges are imbibing this from associates and households from an early age.”
Mr Bauckham says he has by no means met anybody who says they remorse having gone to Oxford or Cambridge – however socially it may be arduous.
“If you happen to come from an peculiar household and a complete faculty and you then meet folks from Eton, Harrow, brimming over with confidence, as an 18-year-old you’re on a steep studying curve.
“Some say, ‘I’d in all probability have had extra enjoyable at Sheffield College however now I’ve an Oxbridge diploma.'”
This yr has seen the very best variety of purposes to Oxford, with 19,500 making use of for three,500 locations.
At Cambridge there have been 16,719 purposes for about three,400 locations.
These figures simply add to the aura of Oxbridge.
These are all high college students competing for locations, in response to the Oxford spokeswoman: “Good grades get you to the beginning line, however aren’t sufficient on their very own to ensure a spot.
“There may be now a wider mixture of backgrounds amongst candidates. Many individuals now know somebody who’s one of the best scholar they’ve ever recognized and so they nonetheless do not get in.”
The spokeswoman highlighted the tutorial system and tutorial rigour as an excellent preparation for any profession, plus the prospect to satisfy different shiny and impressive younger folks.
“It provides you an excellent preparation for any profession in any sector,” she added.
Since leaving, Freya has had an internship at a high-profile environmental organisation and is a part of a staff researching an Open College report on worldwide wellbeing.
“I believe going to Oxford was good for me,” she says.
Educational abilities and the college’s fame have been an actual benefit in the case of discovering work she is enthusiastic about.
“It’s important to write as much as three essays every week and focus on them in very small tutorial teams the place the tutor guides you thru the considering course of.
“The college’s fame for tutorial rigour is actual… however you possibly can acquire these abilities at different universities, so possibly it is about standing as effectively.”