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Students Benefit From Oxbridge Conference

This year’s Oxbridge Conference, organised by Bolton School in partnership with state schools Canon Slade and Rivington and Blackrod High School (RBHS), was attended by 80 ambitious students from Bolton School, Bolton Sixth Form College, UTC, Turton, RBHS, Canon Slade and Thornleigh. The event, held at Bolton School, built upon the success of the inaugural conference held in 2019. 

Opening the day, Mrs Winder, Head of Sixth Form at Bolton School Girls’ Division, explained that the Conference is timed to ‘kick-start’ Y12 students’ thinking, in order that they are ready to make an informed choice about applying to Oxford or Cambridge and to support them in making a competitive application in the Autumn Term. 

Gaia Lambert, Schools’ Liaison and Access Officer from St John’s College Cambridge, offered a thorough overview of applying to competitive universities and highlighted points of difference between The University of Oxford and Cambridge University. She told how Oxbridge colleges are looking for A* and A grades at A Level and explained how each college is like a mini-campus. She advised how admissions staff will always be happy to arrange tours and that most Oxford colleges now have an online virtual tour. 

The audience was given a step-by-step guide to applying, including preparing for aptitude tests, writing personal statements, completing online supplementary questionnaires and, of course, preparing for the interview. 

Gaia stressed the importance of 'supra-curricular activities', which are usually academic in nature and relevant to the subject that a student is applying for. She told the Y12s to read widely and critically, to ask questions and try to compare and contrast different thinkers. She said: “It is not enough to say you are interested in a subject, you need to back it up with solid reasoning and explanations. You need depth to your application and to exhibit your passion for learning. Show that you can take knowledge out of school and have fun with it.” 

Dr Eves of Canon Slade delivered a presentation on how to ‘pack the most punch’ with your Personal Statement. This document, he told the audience, can convince universities that you are not just a set of grades but that you also have what it takes to be successful. He warned that there is no room for modesty due to the tight character limit. 

75% of the statement should focus on your academic subject and supra-curricular activities: Dr Eves said “to get your geek-on” and demonstrate your love of your subject by talking about related courses, background reading, lectures attended, societies joined and subject-specific work experience. The other 25% of the statement, he said, should show that you are a well-rounded human being and include examples of resilience, extra-curricular activities, soft skills, leadership capabilities and experience beyond the classroom. 

Dr Eves asked students, what adjectives apply to you? Good examples are ‘resilient’, ‘curious’ and ‘driven’. He also reminded them there is nothing wrong with giving your opinion – it is part of who you are! 

Natasha Hall, left Bolton School in 2015 and went on to study Classics at Downing College, Cambridge, graduating in 2018. In her insightful presentation, her top tips for applying included; starting work now on supra-curricular activities and high-quality written work that can be sent when universities ask for examples; writing several versions of your personal statement and getting lots of opinions; thinking about what is important to you and what different colleges have to offer – the Student Room website can help with this; and, when it comes to interview, to be yourself but have confidence, relax and be friendly. Bear in mind, she said, that interviewers want to choose someone they want to spend an hour a week talking to! 

Mrs Winder then led an interactive session on preparing for interview and aptitude tests and Gaia Lambert offered more tips on the interview itself; including don’t be afraid to stop and think, and question the interviewer if you need to; it’s good to think out loud to show your thought process, and fine to say you’ve not covered something yet; be physically as well as mentally prepared - eat well, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, don’t try to cram; remember that it’s supposed to be hard; be yourself; expand, elaborate and explain everything, and give examples if you can; there is no “right” answer (except in the case of some maths/science questions); and remember that the questions are designed to elicit different responses from different people. 

She emphasised that an interview is not a “final hurdle”, an ordeal or a test, but an opportunity to meet in person, to assess potential and see whether you would fit in. It’s a structured but informal discussion with challenging, open-ended questions that are designed to push. She said it’s a good thing if it gets harder as this means you’re coping well with what they’ve thrown at you and they want to find your limits! 

Reflecting on the day, Anna Carruthers of Rivington and Blackrod High School said: “I am hoping to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge. My predicted grades in Chemistry, Biology and Physics are A*s and As. What inspires me to apply is that many great discoveries were made at Oxford or Cambridge and I want to be part of that! I am building up my supra-curricular activities by expanding my knowledge beyond my A level subjects.” 

Shreya Kamath, a Bolton School Girls’ Division student said: “I am aiming to study Computer Science at either Imperial College or Cambridge. Cambridge is the best place in the world for Computer Science. I want to eventually do a Masters in Engineering and I feel like I’ll get unlimited opportunities if I go to Cambridge. There are good rates of students getting careers in the areas they are interested in and I think I’ll have a good foundation for the future. Oxbridge is valued by many companies across the world and I think it will give me a better chance to get the job I want.”

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