Letters extra: Oxbridge entry

9th February 2001 at 00:00
The Oxbridge experience

I was concerned by the misleading impression given by Mary amp; Colin Scobie in their letter concerning their daughter's Oxbridge rejection TES , January 19). They suggest that time is wasted by the need to choose a specific college rather than applying to the university.

I cannot speak of Cambridge but it is certainly possible to make an open application to Oxford, without specifying a college (if you are prepared to be flexible). Our son has just done so. The university selected colleges for him.

At the interview which he was delighted to be offered, he was rejected by the college originally selected but redirected to another college. He found the interview process exhausting but on the whole worthwhile. With History and Economics as his chosen course, he had an hour on economics and half-an-hour on History at the first college, followed by a double interview for half-an-hour at the second. He came back saying that he was glad to have had the opportunity of an interview, even if he never got any further. He has been offered a place to read History and is striving for the grades.

The Scobies complain of the time wasted by interviews. All of those also attending the interview with our son had higher exam scores than he does and higher predicted grades. He is convinced that it is only thanks to the requirement of sending in essays and attending an interview that he was able to secure an offer. Surely, the greater the opportunity to show their strengths, the better the chance for those, like our son, outside the hothouse of the public school system.

I have every sympathy with the distress the Scobies feel over their daughter's Oxbridge rejection. Rejection is painful, particularly if it follows an interview which has appeared to go well. However, it is not limited to Oxbridge applicants. I vividly remember our daughter's distress at her rejection for a teacher training course at Canterbury two years ago after an interview she had enjoyed. Interviews are, of course, obligatory for teaching courses and yes, they do take up a lot of time.

A friend's daughter was shattered by her rejection by Liverpool but has been accepted by Cambridge. Our son has been courteously rejected by Leeds but has conditional offers from Oxford, Aberystwyth, Liverpool and St Andrews. His sixth choice has yet to reply.

The whole higher education selection process is hectic and stressful. I am sorry if the Scobies' daughter was unaware that she could make an open application to Oxford but I was anxious that their letter should not mislead others. I hope that, like our daughter two years ago, she will find the right place for her.

Gillian Clayton
29 Winfield

Don't blame the system

Perhaps it is natural, when things don't go as one might wish, that one seeks to blame the system. But, by suggesting that their daughter did not get an offer from Cambridge because of the 'archaic' nature of the selection process, Mr and Mrs Scobie ( TES Letters, January 19) pick the wrong target.

Entry to Cambridge is fiendishly competitive: 6,000 of last year's applicants gained AAA at A-level. Cambridge can take fewer than 3,000. This means both that selection must be based on more than A-level point scores alone; and that no individual should believe that they' deserve' a place, simply because they have attained a particular academic standard.

It is also not true that the process of applying to Cambridge need be either expensive (of money or time), or difficult. No prospective applicant need visit Cambridge before applying, unless they wish so to do. University and college prospectuses, amply illustrated, can easily be found online (from www.cam.ac.uk ). Colleges respond, daily, to specific queries from potential applicants - whether by phone, letter or email.

Representatives from Cambridge attend the many higher education fairs around the country; and individual students and staff visit many schools over the course of each year. A student need not choose to apply to any single college: the 'Open' application system allocates students at random to less-heavily subscribed colleges, and works entirely fairly.

As one of those in the 'front line' of the selection process, may I assure the Scobies, and numerous others, that none of our decisions is taken lightly: I take no pleasure in turning away the many capable applicants that, nevertheless, I have to. Perhaps schools and parents might reflect on the fact that regarding entry to Oxbridge as a competition at which some 'win' and others 'fail' is counterproductive?

Dr David Pyle
Admissions Tutor
St Catharine's College


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