Oxbridge dreams

DREAMING spires, punting on the Cam, the ancient cloisters…Oxford and Cambridge are still popular with thousands of hopefuls applying for places every year.

DREAMING spires, punting on the Cam, the ancient cloisters…Oxford and Cambridge are still popular with thousands of hopefuls applying for places every year.

Today Oxford is under the spotlight after it was reported that the more prestigious the school the better the chances of successful admission. So what chance do Suffolk youngsters stand?

JAMES MARSTON meets three students determined to fulfil their ambitions.

IT seems that there's a row about Oxford and Cambridge entrance every year.

Either the state sector is up in arms as too many students who earn a place within the rarefied cloisters are from fee paying private schools or the independent sector has its nose put out of joint by suspicions its students are denied places to increase the numbers of state school students.

This year Oxford is under the spotlight after it was reported that the more prestigious the school the better the chances of successful admission to Oxford.

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According to latest figures pupils, from high class school Eton won 70 Oxford places last year compared with 38 in 2001.

Whatever the arguments Oxford and Cambridge still harbour a huge attraction to potential undergraduates. Their reputation remains worldwide and they are at the forefront of academic research.

So far this year, six students from Northgate High School, in Sidegate Lane, Ipswich, have received conditional offers, five for Cambridge and one for Oxford.

Head of careers Jackie Parker is justly proud of the school's record. She said: “Oxbridge is still very hard to get into. We have 250 in the sixth form and 18 applied for places at Oxford or Cambridge.

“All of them are predicted three a grades or two A grades and one B grade at A-level. Six of them have offers.”

But why is Cambridge and Oxford still the pinnacle of academic ambition for so many students?

Jackie said: “They still carry a huge kudos and I think young people are very aware of career aspirations after their studies. Oxford and Cambridge degrees carry huge clout in the job market.

“Also I think here in Ipswich youngsters are aware of Cambridge in particular. They know the city.”

Straight A grades are not enough on its own to get into so-called Oxbridge.

Jackie said: “So much depends on the interview nowadays. Everyone who applies has really got to be already predicted straight A grades and have a string of A and A* grades at GCSE behind them.

“The interview is about what makes them special. Oxford and Cambridge pride themselves at assessing people's potential at interview stage.”

Though students are coached for the interview, Northgate holds an annual Oxbridge admissions conference to which the school invites speakers from the universities to talk about the application process.

Jackie said: “They look for originality of thought and love of the subject they are going to study.”

Jackie, who was rejected herself by Oxford, said: “They are all fantastic candidates but I do have to warn them they may well be disappointed. Sometimes it is their first taste of rejection. They have to be prepared to be rejected.”

Applications for Oxford and Cambridge have to be submitted by mid October, sometime before other universities.

Jackie said: “Students have to move quite quickly to get their applications ready after they return to school in September. We have an idea of who should be considering applying by then and staff might well suggest to a pupil they ought to think about giving it a go. Oxford and Cambridge to their utmost to encourage students from the state sector.”

Did you go to Oxford or Cambridge? What makes them such attractive universities? Do you think they are still elitist? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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Students at Northgate with conditional offers:

Emily Coghill - Law - Trinity, Cambridge.

Chris Maynard - Natural Sciences - St John's, Cambridge.

Sarah Kadri - Oriental Studies - Trinity, Cambridge.

Yusuf Mohammad - Economics - St John's, Cambridge.

James MacNaughton - Politics Philosophy and Economics - St Catherine's, Oxford.

Sarah Atkinson - Law - Sidney Sussex, Cambridge.

Name: Sarah Atkinson, 18

Studying: English literature, history, geography, music.

Predicted: Four A grades.

Offer: Conditional, needs three A grades.

Hoping to study: Law at Sidney Sussex College.

Sarah said: “Law is an up to date subject that is constantly changing. It is a diverse subject and covers a range of topics.

“I'd like to be a solicitor but I'm not sure what to specialise in at the moment.”

Keenly aware of securing the best job prospects for life after university, Sarah said Cambridge attracted her because of its academic reputation.

She said: “I think Cambridge is in a league of its own. I think I will be employable afterwards and it will give me lots of opportunities.”

A keen pianist and clarinettist, Sarah went through two twenty five minute interviews to secure her place.

She said: “I've always wanted to go to Cambridge and I'm very determined to get there. I had two interviews and a 90 minute test on law. It was quite difficult.”

If Sarah doesn't make her grades she is considering Reading or Essex as possible second choices.

She added: “I'm excited about leaving school. I've been here since I was 12 and it will be good to have a change and have some more independence.”

Name: Emily Coghill, 18

Studying: English literature, government and politics, religious studies, art.

Predicted: Four A grades.

Offer: Conditional, needs three A grades.

Hoping to study: Law at Trinity College.

Emily said: “Cambridge University's collegiate system quite impressed me. Trinity is one of the larger colleges and there will be about 50 students studying law.

“Going to Cambridge is something I've always had an ambition to do. It's hard work to get there though.”

Emily, who underwent a 40 minute interview to secure her offer, was turned down by Durham University.

She said: “I wanted a subject that was academic and Cambridge teaches law as an academic subject. Law is a crucial part of society. I'd like to be a barrister but not in criminal law. I am interested in human rights law.”

Emily, a keen saxophonist, said she is looking forward to the cultural opportunities that Cambridge has to offer.

Name: Yusuf Mohammad, 18

Studying: Further maths, chemistry, physics, economics.

Predicted: Four A grades.

Offer: Conditional, needs two A grades, he already has maths A-level grade A.

Hoping to study: Economics at St John's College.

Yusuf said: “I'm not sure what I'd like to do yet but I think I'd like to work in government policy. Cambridge is a very good institution and a lot of the professors are at the top of their fields.

“I had a 90-minute thinking skills test and two interviews, one general one and one specifically about economics.”

Outside of school Yusuf is a keen sportsman and enjoys football, karate, and kick boxing.

He said: “I have a brother who is at Oxford at the moment so there is a bit of rivalry.”