Oxford and Cambridge, academically elite, oversubscribed, criticised as socially unique – however do these levels actually stay as much as their popularity?
“I used to be fearful 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 season, says she was uncertain when academics at her Aberystwyth complete college first prompt 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 replicate the overall 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 “individuals 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 educational workload and a frenetic social life.
Now she believes her diploma helps her discover work in her chosen subject of worldwide growth and sustainability.
Freya’s preliminary scepticism about Oxford isn’t unusual amongst some state-school sixth-formers, based on a college spokeswoman, resulting in nice efforts to enhance range.
“The concept ‘Oxford is not the sort of place for me’ remains to be one thing we have to handle,” mentioned the spokeswoman.
This yr nearly 60% of Oxford’s consumption from state faculties – the 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 faculties,” 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 exhausting to begin with. “I had by no means combined with individuals who had the boldness 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 instructing.
Mr Bauckham says his college goals to establish college students with Oxbridge potential early, mentioning it to them as quickly as Yr 10.
“It might open doorways. These are extremely regarded programs, typically involving high researchers of their subject,” he tells them.
He says making ready his college students, who typically come from households with no historical past of college, not to mention elite universities, could be “exhausting work”.
“Loads of the choice is finished largely on the idea of interviews which require confidence and poise to do effectively.”
He fears the method could be weighted in opposition to complete college students, with some admissions tutors subconsciously preferring college students much like themselves.
“College students will want to have the ability to debate, address minimize and thrust and reply to surprising challenges, similar to to have performed a better depth and breadth of studying past A-level specs.
“Pupils from elite public faculties are imbibing this from mates 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 exhausting.
“In the event you come from an unusual household and a complete college and you then meet individuals 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 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, based on 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 educational rigour as a very good preparation for any profession, plus the prospect to fulfill different brilliant and bold younger individuals.
“It offers you a very good 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 expertise and the college’s popularity have been an actual benefit in relation to discovering work she is inquisitive about.
“It’s important to write as much as three essays every week and talk about them in very small tutorial teams the place the tutor guides you thru the pondering course of.
“The college’s popularity for tutorial rigour is actual… however you possibly can acquire these expertise at different universities, so possibly it is about standing as effectively.”