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Thinking about an Oxbridge application? We can help

Are you an Oxbridge candidate (or wondering whether you should be)?

You’re not the first straight A* student to feel intimidated by the prospect of an Oxbridge application. The thought of an interview might already make your mind blank and send your stomach sideways. The prospect of drafting your personal statement might be overwhelming to the point of brain freeze.

There is help. You’re not alone. Shyer and more chaotic folk than you have won Nobel prizes. Self-consciousness, nerves or fear of failure needn’t be deal breakers. So if you know you have the right qualities to succeed at a top university*, but are worried about whether you can convey this in your application, we can help….

*And if you’re not sure you even want to go to Oxbridge, we can help with that too

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Are you the parent of an Oxbridge applicant?

Parents of high achieving students often wonder how best to support their child, without piling on more pressure. Everyone wants them to both do their best, and be happy. But the stakes are high as the family prepares to make a significant financial investment in university fees.

You might have concerns about whether your child should apply to Oxbridge, or whether they would fit in if they’re successful. Or perhaps you’re unsure how to help them draft their UCAS personal statement or prepare for aptitude tests.

The prospect of an interview might be the sticking point, if you’re unsure how your child would perform under pressure. And whether or not your family is familiar with the Oxbridge application process, even the most well meaning advice can be received badly by a teenager with high standards.

Here’s how we can help…

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Are you a teacher or school with Oxbridge applicants?

It’s frustrating when a pupil you know would thrive at a top university, fails to shine at interview. Knowing how best to support them can be a challenge, especially where specific expertise and time are limited in a busy academic environment.

These best and brightest minds are also teenagers, and often the best advice about background reading or personal statements can be actively resisted when offered by familiar sources, however tactfully presented. For some candidates, the desire to impress breeds arrogance and a lack of sophisticated thinking. For others, nerves leave them completely ineffective when under pressure.

This is where we can help.

There is no big mystery about the application process for Oxford, Cambridge and other leading institutions. These top universities want enthusiastic students with a natural aptitude for the kind of learning they will experience as an undergraduate, and the knowledge to back it up.

For some students, years spent focusing on exceptional exam results can bury that natural aptitude.

This is why we have worked with hundreds of straight A* pupils who have sailed through school, yet still felt uncomfortable when challenged hard in the context of an academic interview. Used to knowing the right answer, when invited to stray outside their familiar intellectual territory to demonstrate their suitability, they can feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed. That discomfort can be enough to mess up their chance to win a place.

What Impetus Coaching does isn’t only about preparing exceptional students for interview. We’re preparing them for the kind of mental rough and tumble that’s just normal at top universities. Adapting and feeling comfortable with this sets them up well for a strong application, positive interview experience and a stable foundation for university and beyond.

Here’s how we can help.

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“An excellent part of preparation for interviews, dealing with stress and confidence building, whether for specific applications or more general personal development.”

Careers and Higher Education Adviser, St Clare’s, Oxford

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Latest Resources:

Interview body language

It’s perfectly possible to read about body language for interviews, and end up feeling like your arms are too long, and you have too many feet. Body language rules often leave us tied up in knots. One person’s relaxed posture, makes someone else look half cut.  The best thing to do is be yourself.  If you’re not sure what being yourself looks like at the moment, ask a friend (of the helpful and perceptive variety) to give you a mini mock interview (“tell me why you want to read this subject?”). Ask them to pay attention to [...]

Oxbridge interview questions

“Can a thermostat think?” “How would you organise a successful revolution?” “How can I poison someone without discovery?” “Is Shakespeare a rebel?” “Should there be laws on light bulbs?” “Can statues move?” Here’s a review of a book, by John Farndon, containing some excellent Oxbridge practise interview questions, and a great explanation of why they ask them. If you like the prospect of those kinds of conversations, but are a little concerned you won’t perform at your best on the spot at interview, check out how we can help.

Oxbridge curious?

It’s tempting to think it’s possible to work out the perfect UCAS choices from behind a pile of prospectuses, in the comfort of one’s own bedroom. But while information is important, so is the feel of the course, the institution, and the people you’ll be interacting with.    Go and speak to some current undergraduates about college life, ask the admission tutors what they are looking for, and chat with lecturers about what the courses are like. To make this easier and less daunting, each spring, both Oxford and Cambridge universities round up a bunch of their staff [...]

What should I wear to my Oxbridge interview?

The short answer is – whatever you like. Here’s the longer answer. Some of your fellow interviewees will be in fleeces and walking boots. Others will be in very sharp suits. And most will be in the ’smart casual’* zone in between. Your interviewers will span the same range. Some other points for consideration: Colleges can be draughty in winter, so have something warm to hand or pack your thermals. Colleges can have lots of cobbles, so high heels might be tricky. Avoid wearing an outfit for the first time, you don’t want to be bothered by [...]

Is coaching for Oxbridge interview candidates a waste of time and money?

The Director of Admissions at Cambridge was reported to have said that advice given by companies who help Oxbridge candidates with their entrance interviews is a waste of time and money. Speaking at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2016, Dr Sam Lucy said they can spot people who are delivering rehearsed answers, and it never ever works. As a company that does help people prepare for their Oxbridge interviews, we agree that rehearsed answers are a waste of time. We also agree that overthinking the process is unhelpful. What is helpful is for candidates to [...]

It’s not arrogant to show them what’s true

“What’s the difference between selling yourself at interview, and being arrogant?” It’s a question that often comes up in our conversations with university interview candidates.  The difference is the way you feel about it when you say it.  If you’ve learnt at school that self-aggrandisement does nothing for one’s social standing, it’s easy to cringe when you talk about yourself.  But once you understand what the interviewer is looking for, and that they want someone who is naturally suited to studying their subject, it’ll make sense to help them see this in you. If you need some [...]