Demystifying the Oxbridge process

John Doy - Director of Academic Performance and Enrichment

Our aim at Seaford is for every pupil to achieve their personal best. We welcome the academically gifted, as well as those who find the examination culture a challenge, and we’re very proud of the learning support we provide to all our pupils. On top of identifying and helping students with learning difficulties, we also believe it’s important to identify students with exceptional academic potential, and provide them with the support they need to fully stretch themselves.

This Sunday is the deadline for any Medicine, Dentistry and Oxbridge applications, and this year a number of Seaford College students are putting themselves forward.

John Doy is Seaford’s Head of Academic Performance and Enrichment, and has put in place a number of strategies to help stretch and motivate the academically gifted students here. One of those things is helping students with Oxbridge aspirations to learn more about the whole process, help them with applications, and prepare themselves for potential interviews.

John very much believes that it’s key to start early when it comes to thinking about something like Oxbridge. The deadline to apply is earlier than other Universities, but he believes this is something schools should start thinking about earlier on. “You can’t just start in Year 12, you’ve got to be embedding those sorts of ideas and aspirations earlier on. Oxbridge is obviously a label for those two universities, but it’s more about a particular way of approaching things, being able to think on your feet, to take yourself out of your comfort zone, and think creatively. It’s not just about going to those two universities.”

 

Alex Herghelegiu

“We talk to teachers in the Prep School about students who stand out, and we’re constantly looking at our list of students and reviewing it. We use a lot of data, teacher testimony, as well as talking to the students and their parents. You have some students who’ve had the aspiration for a very long time, and there are other students who are mentioned by teachers and they haven’t given it a moment’s thought, and parents are surprised when it’s mentioned.” However, he also stresses that Seaford is very inclusive when it comes to supporting students with Oxbridge aspirations, and the door is open for anyone with an interest to get involved and ask for support.

Applying to Oxbridge can certainly be intimidating for a student, but John believes with the right information and preparation, it’s much less so. Over the course of the year he takes Year 12 students to a number of events to help demystify that process and help them decide whether they want to apply or not. He arranged a visit to an Oxford and Cambridge Student Conference earlier in 2017, where they discovered more about the courses on offer, the application process, as well as advice on student finance and careers. And, towards the end of the Summer Term, students were taken to Oxford for an Open Day, and attended a day of practice interviews and workshops on wider reading and entrance tests.

Students who attended the Conference, like Ruby Pritchard, found it invaluable, early on in their thought process. “It was really beneficial in the sense that it did give us more information. I don’t have any older siblings or anything, so I wasn’t that aware of what applying to University involves. Going to the conference did give me some quite crucial information.”

“I wasn’t really considering Oxbridge, seriously, before going to this conference,” adds Alex Herghelegiu, who’s applying to study Medicine. “The best part was the opportunity of asking questions, and I had the opportunity to hear directly from representatives of Oxford and Cambridge.”

Aside from events and workshops, John believes the most important support is from him and other teachers. As a former Oxford student himself, he’s uniquely placed to offer insights.  “The big discriminating factor is the interview, and that tends to be the thing that people focus on, because that’s the one thing that’s pretty much unique about the Oxbridge application process. Having been through that, and successful at that, means I can share my experience.”

And it all goes back to starting preparing students early on. “We try to give them guidance on the right courses, whether the subjects they’ve selected in Year 11 are going to enable them to do those courses, so that when they hit Year 12 they’re ready for it. The main point for me is to be a point of contact, whatever stage of the process they’re at. I set up a relationship with their subject specialist, who does good work with them, points them in the right direction in terms of extra reading.”

 

Tom HennessyTom Hennessy, Year 13, feels that John Doy has really helped him stretch himself. “He’s given me quite a lot of advice. I do debating with him, and I also do a lot of extra-curricular things for history. He’s helped me by ordering the Cambridge reading list, and given me lots of information about seminar talks to go to; I’ve gone to Cambridge twice for history seminars. On top of this, he’s given me books of his own, and encouraged other things that I do, like writing my History blog, Hyperion History.”

Tom started writing the blog last year, in November, and since then has written over 100 posts on a variety of subjects, from Ancient Egypt to posts on International relations.

“It’s a really good tool for universities, to show my passion for the subject, show that I understand the viewpoints of historians, and offer my own viewpoint.”

Applying for Oxbridge is, as you may know, an extremely competitive process, but John believes that, whether students are successful or not, it’s hugely beneficial for them.

“I come back to the idea that Oxbridge isn’t just about Oxford and Cambridge. It’s more about a way of getting the students engaged with their subjects, intellectually excited about them. Even if they don’t get their place at Oxford or Cambridge, they’re absolutely going to have a much better shot of accessing the other top universities, the Russell Group universities. That’s also something I try to impress upon them.”

Good luck to the Seaford students putting their finishing touches on their applications!

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