Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

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Game_boy
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Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby Game_boy » Sat Sep 20, 2008 12:00 pm UTC

Thanks everyone for your input. I am going to apply when I can.

I am a UK Year 12 student studying for A-levels in Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Further Maths. While I don't yet have predicted grades, I did get 9 A*s and one A at GCSE, all in respected academic subjects. I want to study Physics at university and go on to get a job that is as pure as possible while still earning above average (i.e. not a research technician job). Beyond that, I don't know what fields or jobs I should specialise in (other than my dream job being particle physicist at CERN*).

I have always found high school science easy and boring and nothing in the A-level syllabus looks particularly challenging (I've done a lot of reading ahead in areas like quantum phenomena and particle physics). Because of this, it has been suggested I apply for Oxford or Cambridge. We have been told that this is very difficult and the course is much more demanding than even other 'top' universities.

So, is it worth it for me to try and go there? What's the main differences between studying there and elsewhere? Will it help me when it comes to jobs? If you need any more information, please ask.

*And I knew this well before the LHC was in the news.
Last edited by Game_boy on Tue Sep 23, 2008 4:40 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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AtlasDrugged
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby AtlasDrugged » Sat Sep 20, 2008 3:02 pm UTC

As somebody in a similar situation, and as somebody who knows many people currently at Oxford, I would definitely recommend applying. Your grades and the facility with which you seem to be able to learn stuff beyond the syllabus definitely suggest that you should give it a go. Can't say which colleges you should look at though... that's something that can only be selected by the person in question.

Employers tend to prefer Oxbridge to other unis (although occasionally other unis are better than 1 of them in a particular subject e.g. Warwick has a better reputation than Oxford for Maths).

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hagger
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby hagger » Sat Sep 20, 2008 7:19 pm UTC

My recommendation is to go for it. However, don't be disappointed if you don't get in, as the interview process is quite tough, especially if you haven't been coached. From my experience, most of the kids who apply to Oxbridge have been attending Public schools where they have been getting many practice interviews and talks from professors on how to appear best in the interviews, and as such, students who don't have this advantage may find it harder to get in.

If you have that coaching, then all is good. If not, I would say you should definitely still apply, but don't be disappointed if you don't make it. Depending on whether you go for Maths or Physics, try Warwick or Durham as a second choice. Between Oxford and Cambridge, there isn't alot of difference. Cambridge has an interesting science program, but if you're interested in fundamental theoretical physics, you might want to try the Physics and Philosophy course at Oxford. I didn't get in personally, so don't have first hand experience, but it is a challenging course from what I have heard. (Previous experience with Philosophy isn't required or expected.) From what you say about your current position, you should be capable of pretty much any Physics undergrad course in the UK, so don't worry about things being too challenging.

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TGG
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby TGG » Sun Sep 21, 2008 12:31 am UTC

hagger wrote: From my experience, most of the kids who apply to Oxbridge have been attending Public schools where they have been getting many practice interviews and talks from professors on how to appear best in the interviews, and as such, students who don't have this advantage may find it harder to get in.

If you have that coaching, then all is good. If not, I would say you should definitely still apply, but don't be disappointed if you don't make it. D


Physics & Philosophy at Oxford is meant to be seriously tough, IIRC. However, you wouldn't lose out by applying for that as you'll still be considered for the straight Physics course (I think).

With regards to applying from state schools vs private schools. It's an eternal debate which probably won't ever be settled. I didn't find that applying from a state school hindered me in any way, shape or form. There were lots of people there who'd done lots of further reading into the subject (whilst I had done none) but I don't think it gave them much of an advantage. The tutors are sifting for potential more than what you already know. The only advice I'd give for applying is BE CONFIDENT. IMO, interview coaching is worthless if you're already comfortable with the idea of talking to someone you haven't met before about Physics. If you think you'll get tongue tied and such, then it might be worth getting some coaching just for the practice. Don't be intimidated if everyone at interview seems 100000000% more intelligent than you, because you've really got no way of knowing. Just focus on doing your best when you get there. Unless you feel that nerves are going to hinder how well you 'perform' then I don't think there's a huge advantage in being coached by your school.

I applied to Oxford for Maths with 7 A*s and 5 As at GCSE and got in, so if you were looking to compare: Go for it. I heard that the average applicant has 6 A*s at GCSE and averages 89% in their 3 strongest A levels at an Oxbridge conference. Having said that, my impression was that the tutors really don't care about your GCSE results. They're bothered about your predicted A level grades, personal statement and interview/ admissions test performance. Go to the Oxford website, look at the past papers for the Physics/Maths for Physics applicants aptitude tests. If you think you can answer any of the questions, then definitely go for it.

So yeah, go for it without a 2nd thought. Just don't make it a life or death thing. If you want to work at CERN (and end up being intelligent enough, it's not really feasible to know in y12 IMO) then you'll be getting a PhD. So you could go and do an undergrad somewhere awesome like Bristol/ICL/Durham/whatever and then get a PhD at Oxbridge if your UCAS application isn't successful. It happens quite a lot I think. It's not THAT big a deal.

Feel free to PM if you have any other Qs about applying to Oxford.

Oh, also: When looking at doing Physics at Cambridge, don't be put off by the big 'natural sciences' tag. I'm pretty sure that they've got a streamlined route for people who just want to do Physics. You take Maths with Physics in your 1st year and then switch to NatSc in y2, whereby you can focus purely on Physics. Cambridge people- Please correct me if I'm wrong.
What must be endured, can be endured. -Paul Atreides.

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crazyjimbo
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby crazyjimbo » Sun Sep 21, 2008 12:46 am UTC

Most of what I would say has already been said so I'll be brief. I applied to Cambridge for Maths and didn't get in. At the time this made me feel pretty crap and put a significant dent in my confidence. I started looking through my other university choices and went to look at Edinburgh. Straight away I fell in love with the place - the architecture, the culture, the friendliness and the general atmosphere associated with acedemia - and all of a sudden university stopped seeming like a place to go because you are brilliant and far more a place to BECOME brilliant and grow as a person. This is something you can do anywhere and I have loved every minute here - it has been about far more than just the teaching quality. I'm sure I would have loved it at Cambridge too so I think you should definitely apply, but if you don't get in then don't worry about it.

It seems like all universities have a great atmosphere where you are encouraged to excel yourself and the personal achievements are no different. You maybe don't have that fancy bit of paper which says Cambridge on it after you've graduated, but in terms of how you feel you have done yourself, that shouldn't matter. I can't think of any situation or place that you couldn't go onto just because you didn't come from Oxbridge.

Either way, good luck!

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Sirius B
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby Sirius B » Mon Sep 22, 2008 10:33 pm UTC

Of course! Everything that should be said has been already, but I wish you good luck in applying there. If you don't get to Oxbridge, I'm sure you'll have your pick of many other top Uni's.

Game_boy
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby Game_boy » Tue Sep 23, 2008 4:39 pm UTC

Thanks for your ideas/comments everyone. I will apply...
The Reaper wrote:Evolution is a really really really long run-on sentence.

Zuffox
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby Zuffox » Tue Sep 23, 2008 5:07 pm UTC

Game_boy wrote:Thanks for your ideas/comments everyone. I will apply...

Good show! Cambridge or Oxford?

If you're applying to Oxford, I might be able to answer a few questions, as I'm applying this year as well. Albeit as an international student (and at another course).

popple
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby popple » Sat Oct 04, 2008 3:52 pm UTC

Ooo, I have just applied to Oxford, for the physics course, (entry in 2009). I'm glad I did, although I don't think I will get in, but I might just be being negative.

OP: Have you decided on a college and when are you applying for?

As for interviews, I got the impression that you should just be yourself and let your interest show, is that a good tactic?

Zuffox
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby Zuffox » Sat Oct 04, 2008 5:26 pm UTC

popple wrote:As for interviews, I got the impression that you should just be yourself and let your interest show, is that a good tactic?

As far as Oxford interviews go, you're abso-didde-ly correct.

The attire of the interviewers should reflect that, too.

popple
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby popple » Sat Oct 04, 2008 6:39 pm UTC

so, what you would wear usually is fine then?
I wasn't sure what would be right, would the classics jeans-and-a-t-shirt be ok?

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TGG
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby TGG » Sat Oct 04, 2008 11:24 pm UTC

popple wrote:so, what you would wear usually is fine then?
I wasn't sure what would be right, would the classics jeans-and-a-t-shirt be ok?


Yeah, I attended all of my interviews in a fleece and jeans. Whatever you'd normally wear is fine.

I also agree with the above post, in that all you can really do at interview is be yourself and show that you are enthusiastic about what you're applying for. Try to be semi confident with your answers to questions and such, if you are blatantly bricking it in during interviews then I think it makes it harder for the interviewer to make a decent judgement of what you're capable of.

tl;dr: Wear whatever you want and don't be nervous.


[^ Applies to Oxford interviews.]

Edit: Agreeing with Zuffox, interviewers are experienced enough to see when nerves are hindering your performance so it's far from the end of the world if you are a little jumpy in your interview, it just makes it an easier/ more pleasant experience for everyone if you are able to keep on top of any nerves.
Last edited by TGG on Sun Oct 05, 2008 3:10 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
What must be endured, can be endured. -Paul Atreides.

Zuffox
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Re: Is it worth trying to get into Oxford/Cambridge?

Postby Zuffox » Sun Oct 05, 2008 12:35 pm UTC

Oxford interviewers are also human-y enough to see when a person totally cocks up an interview due to nervousness, so if you blackout, it's not like an exam situation where the graders couldn't care less. They're interested in getting the best students, and (even) some of these get jittery sometimes.


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