Carina Cunha, MD of Crimson Education in the UK, reveals why top marks are not enough to secure you a place at Oxford or Cambridge universities.
As thousands of new sixth form students embark on their AS, A-level and IB studies, many will be aspiring to go to university and planning what they need to do over the next couple of years to secure a place.
Some students will already have their sights set on one of the UK’s elite universities. It’s important to note that there are certain attributes these institutions look for in a potential candidate – and it’s not all about good grades.
So, what do students need to do – both inside and outside the classroom – to give themselves the best chance of gaining a place at Oxford or Cambridge?
Why academic excellence is not enough
Each year around 37,000 students apply to Oxbridge, and less than 7,000 are accepted. That works out at a 20 percent chance of getting in.
Most students and parents believe that getting high grades is the main factor for success. And while it’s true that a student is unlikely to be considered without a sterling academic record, it’s not the only deciding factor.
Each year the applications teams at Oxbridge universities have to filter through thousands of applications to find the right candidates to interview. The vast majority of these candidates will be on track to secure three As or A*s at A-level or scores of 40 in the IB diploma.
This means that high-achieving students need to do more than just score well in their exams to truly set themselves apart from the rest.
Activities that support a passion
It’s often those who can demonstrate a genuine love of their subject who stand out. The students who spend time outside of school developing a deep knowledge of their subject that cannot come from the classroom alone.
I worked with a student who applied to study English at an Oxbridge college. She had a good academic record, but what really set her apart from her peers was what she had achieved outside of her studies.
She had created a blog where aspiring writers could submit their own works in progress to be encouraged and critiqued by others. Learning from other writers not only enriched her own knowledge of good writing, but also showed she was willing to help her peers and that she wanted to be part of the writing community. She also demonstrated leadership in identifying a problem – she wanted to improve her writing – and found an unusual way to solve it.
This was a major factor in her being offered a place at Oxford University.
What this example shows is that this student used her love of her subject to think outside the ordinary and create extracurricular activities tailored to her own skills. She developed knowledge and expertise in her field and while doing so, had a positive impact on others with her actions. It’s these qualities that a selection board will truly notice.
So, if you have a child who has their heart set on Oxbridge, why not get them to think about all of the reasons they love their subject and encourage them to come up with ways of expanding on that interest. It might inspire them to create a community of like-minded individuals, take part in a research project or charitable initiative or even start something up for themselves.
This could not only boost their chances of getting into their university of choice, but also give selection boards a taste of what they are truly capable of achieving, given the chance.
Carina Cunha is the MD of Crimson Education in the UK, which helps students gain acceptance to the world’s best universities and has helped students secure 57 offers to Oxford or Cambridge (that’s a 60 percent acceptance rate). Find more advice on university applications at www.crimsoneducation.com/uk