Is your child proudly clutching excellent GCSE results of mostly As and A*s? Congratulations, and not just to you for so patiently supporting a hard-working Year 11. Having achieved top grades, that student is showing potential for a top-rated university, but you might be wondering what to do next. If you’re beginning to dream of Oxbridge (that’s a conflation of Oxford and Cambridge by the way), though, note that success will take some preparation. So, here are some things you can do to maximise your child’s chances after the big hug and the celebratory shopping trip:
1. Get ready
Be clear about the time scale. While the Oxbridge application process is more
straight-forward than most parents think, it’s best to start engaging with it early. DC
will have to include either Oxford or Cambridge (you cannot apply to both) in the
standard UCAS form and submit it by October of Year 13. This means she has to
make her course choice months before students only aiming for other universities do.
2. Time to prepare
If DC still feels hazy about Oxbridge, you want to have a little university talk even
earlier, ideally before the start of Year 12. Just like when you had that talk about
the birds and the bees, you may discover lots of misconceptions. Try to explain that
universities differ in more than just location or nightlife: top ones teach subjects
at greater depth, appeal to top employers and suit keen, rapid learners. Studying at
Oxbridge is not about going somewhere posh.
3. Do your research
Next, both of you may want to study a prospectus or two. Encourage DC to look
beyond school subjects or other familiar courses, which are often vastly over-
subscribed. By doing this in good time, you can ensure that your student’s A-level
subjects fit the course requirements or suit more than one course. Sixth formers can
usually still switch A-levels in the first weeks of Year12.
4. Read around
Oxbridge wants readers, but school work in the sixth form can be a seemingly endless
slog. So, DC needs to start supplementing school text books and website pages with a
few challenging books in the holidays. Try to ensure she has a library card or a clutch
of book tokens. Teachers, librarians and bookshop staff will be happy to suggest age-
5. Go in depth
A student keen to show interest in her chosen course may then want to look for
articles by a subject expert or watch a related online lecture. DC will find links to
both in my tweets @oxbridgentrance.
6. Get a life!
Applicants are no longer expected to shine at music or sport, but being able to
combine school work with a course-related hobby or demanding volunteer job still
goes down well. It can also build verbal skills for the last stage of the admissions
process, the Oxbridge interview. If DC’s school does not have a volunteering
scheme, try https://www.vinspired.com/
7. To road trip or not to road trip?
Should you go on a family outing to Oxford or Cambridge? Yes, if DC loves stylish
old buildings. Other students may need reassurance that Oxbridge life is actually quite
modern. So, being dragged through cobbled streets (colleges are not always open
to visitors) can be a turn-off. Your student may prefer one of the free, lively student
events listed on the Oxford or Cambridge website. Most include both a guided tour
and some application advice.
This is pretty much all you can do to lay the groundwork for success at this early stage.
The most contested courses and the pre-interview tests required for some courses may
need some extra preparation, but not until next year. Meanwhile, keep an eye on progress,
but try not to obsess about Oxbridge, as it will only make your student nervous. Instead,
you want to praise and enjoy those great GCSE results. Best of luck!
Elfi Pallis is the author of OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES
and tweets links to course-related articles or online lectures @oxbridgentrance.