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Oxbridge Support Sessions: with BISHCMC Alumni and Cambridge Graduate Nam Tran

Since May our College and University Guidance team has been working with a group of students considering an application for 2021 entry to Oxford or Cambridge, collectively known as ‘Oxbridge’. Applying to one of these two prestigious institutions takes a large amount of thorough research and preparation and should not be something which students take on lightly.

Oxbridge Support Session

So far the sessions have focussed on various topics which are common to both Oxford and Cambridge, such as the importance of academic rigour in the ‘Personal Statement’, and the importance of outside reading, and of course, the collegiate system. This is the system adopted at these two world-famous universities, where students live in one college, and are members of that particular college community, but may attend lectures in a different set of buildings which is where the faculty is based. There would normally be a professor living in the same college, who could also assist students with small group tutorials.  Students often don’t appreciate how each college offers an individual sense of community, but also an entirely different experience to that of another college. Students who narrowly fail to gain an offer from one college are often put onto a reserve list known as ‘the pool’. The pool effectively levels the playing field so that students have roughly the same overall chance of making a successful application, regardless of their college choice. Being ‘pooled’ is certainly not a ‘failure’, but a ‘maybe’. Many Oxbridge courses will also require students to sit an entrance test. BIS is a registered test centre for these tests so, in addition to assisting students to prepare for the tests, we will also administer the test entry and thus allow them to sit the test in familiar surroundings at BISHCMC. The list of tests available to BIS students is huge and covers almost every conceivable subject. More information regarding these tests can be found at www.admissionstesting.org/

Oxbridge Support Session w Nam Tran

The Oxbridge Prep group have been joined for two of the recent sessions by BISHCMC alumni Nam Tran.  Nam graduated from BISHCMC and went on to read Land Economy at Homerton College, Cambridge, graduating in 2018. Nam was kind enough to spend some time with our Oxbridge 2021 hopefuls and pass on her wisdom to them regarding the application and interview process and also on life at Cambridge. During the sessions Nam was kind enough to answer some questions from our students...

1.      How did you come to choose Cambridge over Oxford?

I wanted to do a multidisciplinary subject since I enjoy the flexibility and perspective it offers. By complete chance, I discovered Land Economy which was only taught at Cambridge and suited my subject choices during IB.  

2.      Which Cambridge college did you study at?

I initially applied to and received an offer from St. John's College but was put in the summer pool and "fished" by Homerton College after my results were released. I chose St. John’s initially based on location and amenities, however you'll end up loving whichever college you're at so I wouldn't worry too much.  

3.      Will you continue on to postgraduate study?

I currently don't intend on pursuing postgraduate studies but if I did it would probably have to do with using Big Data to create smarter, more sustainable cities. This interest stemmed from my third year at Cambridge where I took some modules on ‘planning and built environment’ which I found enjoyable. 

4.      How is being a student at an Oxbridge college different to being a student at any other university in the UK?

It can feel excessively insular at times since the city is smaller in size and there are less amenities/entertainment offer than in bigger cities such as London. The pressure can pile on quickly as the terms are shorter than other universities. There may me a "re-adjust gap" for some upon not receiving the grades they were expecting for marked supervision/tutorial work. 

5.      Is it more difficult for an international student to gain a place at Oxbridge than for a UK based British student?

It depends on the subject that you are doing. This is the case for Medicine as there is a cap on international places, but not necessarily for other subjects. Both universities make an effort to ensure UK state school students are fairly represented. That being said, Oxbridge wants students who are engaged and will make an impact, so students who demonstrate potential will receive an offer regardless of whether they are UK applicants or international applicants.

6.      What advice would you give current BIS students who aspire to study at Oxford or Cambridge?

Read widely! Read books about the subject you want to study, not just the books which form part of your IBDP course. Listen to lectures/talks by those in the field you are interested in. Talk informally to your subject teacher(s) about which aspect of the field you found interesting to build your own confidence. Don't be afraid of getting the ‘wrong’ answer because the continued refinement of results is the basis of research.

Oxbridge Sessions

Students in the Oxbridge Prep group submitted a first draft of their Personal Statements to the CUG team at the end of Year 12 and have been working on further drafts in the early weeks of Year 13. This means they will have time to refine their statements and still meet the very early deadline of October 15th.

Since the start of the new academic year the BIS Oxbridge Prep sessions are more subject focussed. The rationale behind this is that a student applying -for example- for Natural Sciences (at Cambridge) will have a very different set of requirements and a different type of preparation to a student studying PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) at Oxford. For this reason the CUG team have decided to split the Oxbridge hopefuls into two groups for these sessions. The “STEM” group (for those interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics courses) and the “Humanities” group for those students applying for (mainly) essay based subjects. BIS staff have been leading subject based sessions such as the following:

STEM group:

“How can the simple physics of a single pulley system be extended to multiple pulley systems to enable engineers to overcome seemingly impossible problems by gaining ‘mechanical advantage’?” Led by Mr Rispin

Humanities group:

“Has the BLM movement shifted the globally ‘accepted view’ concerning the disputed ownership of artefacts of historical significance as it has with the appropriateness of certain monuments and symbolism?” Led by Ms. Lowry

These sessions will be followed by other “subject enrichment” sessions and following these a series of sessions assisting students with preparation for any entrance exam they may need to sit and finally mock interviews in November for any students called for an interview.

Regardless of the success or otherwise of any of this year’s Oxbridge applications BISHCMC continues to believe in assisting with finding the ‘best fit’ country, university and course for all students.

Mr Paul Rispin, University Guidance Counsellor