Admissions and Outreach Blog

As I start my third year as Schools Liaison Officer, I’ve decided to filter a few more things through this blog so that readers can see what I get up to when working with schools. 

In the past, this has been a great forum for our current students to share their experiences of St Peter’s, and it will continue to be so, but with recent good news in the press it seems apt to showcase more about what goes on behind the scenes in our bid to attract the best applicants from all over the UK and to make sure that information about the University of Oxford gets to all those who have the potential to benefit from it. 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it countless times again: here at Oxford, we don’t care about what you look like or sound like, and we don’t care what you wear or where you’re from. If you’re interested in a subject and you can demonstrate those good grades, we want you to apply. It’s this reason alone that sees me traveling thousands of miles across the UK each year talking to bright students, who often just need a nudge of encouragement to make them think about applying. 

Behind the scenes

Although August is (naively) set aside for those irksome admin tasks that never quite get done, it actually becomes a time of burning off the overtime that has been accrued from the busy summer months. 

Across June and July, I ran 19 events including a teacher conference in Liverpool (which was kindly funded by alumni who had attended St Peter's in 1969), three days on the Isle of Man delivering talks about Oxford and attending their annual HE fair, and a whole host of UCAS fairs and regional events. 

We were also really pleased to welcome Southgate School (Enfield/Barnet) and Manchester Academy to the college for a day at the end of June, where they received talks from the Maths department, the Pitt Rivers Museum, and had a tour and lunch with current students at St Peter’s. This is only a snapshot of what goes on in the ever-changing world of Widening Participation and Access, and you’ll see more of this in the coming weeks and months. 

Happy New (Academic) Year!

As schools opened their doors to a new cohort of students this week, my inbox opened its door to three million emails (mild exaggeration, though it doesn’t feel like it). The buzz of the new academic year means that as Schools Liaison Officers, there’s a lot of momentum from schools to get events booked in. Already my calendar suggests that I’ll come back up for air at some time at Christmas (which suits me just fine)!

My first event of the season took place last night in St Asaph, Denbighshire. It was the launch of the new Conwy/Denbighshire hub that is part of the Welsh Government’s Seren Network: an initiative to encourage more applications from high achieving students across Wales to top universities across the UK by providing super-curricular support to students from schools across the country. 

The event was a huge success and the venue was packed out, with around two hundred parents and pupils attending. I’ll be seeing these pupils a lot in the next couple of months, and it was a great way to introduce myself and to get an idea of what they’re all interested in and thinking about. 

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the latest updates: @SPCOutreach

As an Organ Scholar, I adopt a unique role within College life. Organ Scholars are vital to the operation of musical activities in Oxford Colleges, although we are appointed principally to administrate their Chapel Choirs. At St Peter’s, this responsibility is shared with a professional Director of Music, Jeremy Summerly. The organ scholarship programme is rewarding because it provides the elected Organ Scholars real-time experience within a professional context; a place in which mistakes that would get you fired in life outside Oxford are forgiven. My responsibilities as Organ Scholar run hand in hand with my academic studies, informing and enriching them through practical and professional application.  

Before Oxford, I attended a local comprehensive school in Wales, the so-called Land of Song, without the greatest tradition of sending young organists to Oxford. At 14, I took up the post of Organist at my local church, a title that you must interpret extremely lightly. What now can only be described as early high-risk, painful-to-listen-to public musical experiments caught the attention of my parish priest, who had attended Hertford College. He was the first person to suggest that there was a possibility that someone like me could attend somewhere like here: a brief conversation that rapidly changed the direction of my life. I worked hard to get my organ playing up to a competitive standard, and began to read all sort of material outside the requirements of my examination courses.

I was never part of the activities in School designed to assist pupils thinking of applying to Oxbridge. As far as everyone was concerned, my GCSE grades were good, but not remarkable. I recently found out as part of my work as a St Peter’s College Ambassador that GCSE grades are but one part of the consideration process, and should never really have been used as the sole prediction of a successful application to Oxford. I attended Open Days run by the Royal College of Organists, and the Music Faculty’s Organ Scholarship Open Day. These two days, coupled with a school trip to an Oxford and Cambridge Student Conference in South Wales, comprised my only exposure to this university city before coming up for interview. Therefore, I relied heavily on the advice of people who knew this world better than me, which I sought out by attending summer schools relating to the sorts of things I knew I would be doing here if I were successful. I am indebted to the National Youth Choir of Wales and the Eton Choral Courses for providing me with really informative, balanced and honest information at a crucial point of the application process. 

I am also indebted to my school for providing me with the solid educational foundation I needed to attend this fantastic College. The complex collegiate setup, and the unique nature of the application process, were barriers to the accuracy of information my school could give me; with so few Oxbridge alumni numbering the staff list, it was no surprise that nobody ever really understood how the university operated, or how to explain it to me. To really experience how this amazing university operates my advice to all prospective applicants is to visit the colleges as much as possible. Find old members, speak to new members, draw on as much advice as possible from people who have an intimate knowledge of the university and its operation. You will be surprised who you will find along the way – I promise that they will not be adorned in red trousers or come to you on horseback.

On being offered a place of study, my to-be Tutor wrote to the school both to congratulate them and to inform them that St Peter’s would always welcome prospective students from Porthcawl to the College; a testimony to St Peter’s ethos of being a warm and inclusive environment, where background is never barrier to success. If you’ve read this far there is a high chance that you can relate to much of what I have written about. Someone like you has the potential to be someone like me; go out and find the information, for the rewards make the extra effort all the more worthwhile.

It’s deadline day! Whether you’ve already submitted your application or are just about to, our new ambassadors have some comforting words and some gems of wisdom to share.

Eleanor (Music)

I think my piece of advice would be 'have confidence and enjoy every second of the application as it's a great way to delve further into the subject you love'.

Charlotte (History)

I think the best piece of advice I had was that there genuinely isn't an Oxford type. They don't look at what school you went to, or whether or not you're Grade 8 in three instruments, or whether you speak three foreign languages. If you love your subject then there really is no harm in applying: if you're passionate about what you do, you have as good a chance as anyone at getting into a top university.

Bethany (English)

I'd probably just say that it's totally fine to screw up every so often. (Learned from experience).

Christopher

1) During the interviews - don't lock yourself in your room. Take advantage of the JCR - there was a great amount of support, which made the whole thing less stressful. 

2) Don't become obsessed with extra curricular activities. Just elaborating about a couple demonstrates a passion for the subject without becoming a list.

Alexandra (Physics)

If I could give one piece of advice to myself this time last year, it would be to relax a bit and actually enjoy the admissions process (it was actually quite enjoyable), no matter what the outcome.

Georgina (Geography)

... Don't worry, stay calm, and whatever happens just be yourself. Things will turn out for the best in the end, wherever that may take you. So just enjoy the moment while your still in it!

Noah (Biochemistry)

I would say, as somebody who just missed their exam results and reapplied during a gap year, that if something sets you back it isn't the end of the world. Don't feel like you're a failure if something goes wrong, and don't settle for less than you think you are capable of because of it!

Joseph

My advice would be... listen to your parents, because they're probably the people who care about you most and want to you to achieve more than anything, so their judgment towards what you should do will probably be right!

Josie (Biochemistry)

A comforting word to the year 13s who are thinking about interviews is that I'm yet to talk to a fresher that has said all their interviews actually went well.