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Applying to Oxford from a state school in the North of England

Oxford is an undeniably wonderful place, yet it represents a society notoriously difficult to access. Despite the wealth of access programmes encouraging applications from students outside of the private/grammar school halo, the fact remains that pupils from state schools are in the minority, especially if they’re Northern. Yet this must change, and it starts with you!

I come from Cheshire, a county in the North West of England, and I went to a state comprehensive school. Granted, it was a good comprehensive school, but it simply didn’t have the resources, contacts or expertise that many of the grammar and private/public schools have. This isn’t a criticism of these more privileged schools, it’s just a simple fact. However, as I and numerous others have proved, it’s still very possible for students like me to get an offer.

This blog is a great place to start for advice on the application process, and you should also definitely look at all the inner archives of Oxford University’s webpage. If you know of anyone at all who’s applied to the university – whether they got in or not – speak to them for tips. If you don’t, feel free to message me (if I don’t do your subject I can at least offer general advice, or pass your details on to someone who can help you!).

It is key that more people from state schools – especially in the North – apply to Oxford, as there needs to be a greater pool of applicants in order for more to get in. I must also add that no matter what you think about the ‘Oxford type’ and the sort of privileged people that go here, you will fit in!

I was extremely worried about arriving here and not being posh enough: not having the accent, school or upbringing. Whilst there are inevitably some people who have gone to the best and most expensive schools in the country, there are equally encouraging amounts of students who will be just like you. No one cares about your accent, or where you come from. And just because you think someone is posh, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get on with them!

Oxford certainly is overwhelming if you haven’t experienced anything like it: the buildings, the gowns, the traditions…you can begin to feel the infamous ‘Imposter Syndrome’. This is where you feel as though you don’t belong, and you don’t deserve to be here. This is also absolute rubbish! For me, the feeling took a few weeks to pass, and I still have moments where I think I should be at a different university. Yet if you’re lucky enough to receive an offer from Oxford, that means the tutors know you deserve to study here, and trust me - they know what they’re talking about!

If you’re not sure whether Oxford is for you, then definitely take a look at applying for outreach programmes such as UNIQ, which is a week in the summer purely for state school students that will give you a taste of Oxford life. However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get onto this – I didn’t! There are a number of lesser known outreach programmes that individual colleges host; I managed to get onto one at Oriel college, which is where I now study! I’d definitely do some research around which colleges do them, because they’re one of the best ways to get an insight into Oxford life.

Ultimately I’d encourage everyone – no matter where you come from – to apply to Oxford. Your social or educational background does not determine your chances of receiving an offer, it just means that you might have less information about the application process or the inner workings of the university. But this doesn’t mean you won’t get in! I applied with no real consideration that I’d actually ever be here, but making that leap was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.

Please don’t let your background stop you from applying, because access is steadily improving and without applicants there will never be more equality! I should also mention Class Act, a brilliant initiative started this year that aims to demystify (as I’ve tried to) the Oxford experience. It connects current Oxford students with pupils who have received an offer and their grades, targeting those who have come from a state school/working class/ethnic minority background or those who are generally apprehensive about beginning to study here. I found it an extremely helpful resource, as I had my doubts and fears calmed by students who had had similar experiences to me. All the students who help with Class Act are helpful and friendly, and it can really help to dispel the myths and provide you with practical advice about studying here!

All in all, I hope this blog post has encouraged those of you from a Northern state school background to consider applying to Oxford. It’s one of the most magical places to study in the world, and we need more students from different backgrounds to apply and study here to make it an even more enriching and diverse place!

Always remember: your background does not determine your chances of getting an offer, so if you love subject, please, please apply!!!

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