When I decided to apply to Oxford it was after worrying about a number of things. Would I be the only black person? Would I be the only person from a state school? Would I be the only person whose parents didn’t go to university? I wasn’t sure about the answers to these questions, but I applied anyway, as I wanted to give myself the opportunity to attend one of the best universities in the country.
I’m glad that I made that decision! I studied PPE at Lincoln College, Oxford from 2008 - 2011 and learnt loads - academically, about myself, and about other people. Whilst I was the only black person in my year at my college, I wasn’t the only black person at the university - the African and Caribbean Society showed me that during freshers week. And whilst it did take me a bit longer to settle into Oxford than my friends from more “traditional” backgrounds, I did manage to find my feet within first year, and went on to graduate with a first class degree.
On graduating, I went to work at Rare, a firm specialising in diversity. That year a story hit the papers claiming that only one black student had been accepted to Oxford that year. The stats weren’t accurate - representation of black students wasn’t as good as it should be, but it wasn’t that bad! I became very worried that the story was putting black students off applying to Oxbridge, as I knew that such media coverage would have made me give up on the idea.
After speaking about these concerns, my boss gave me the go ahead to set up a pro bono programme at Rare called Target Oxbridge, to support black students to apply to Oxford and Cambridge. We started with just six year 12 students in the first year, and three gained offers! Since then have helped a total of 81 students with black heritage to secure places at Oxford and Cambridge.
The programme does three main things. Firstly, it demystifies Oxford and Cambridge by taking the students to visit the universities and meet current and former black Oxbridge students. These visits help students to start thinking of themselves as future Oxbridge students. Secondly, we provide students with advice on how to go about selecting the most suitable course and university, based on their interests. Finally, we provide the students with personalised support throughout the application process, along with subject specific seminars and Oxbridge mentors to develop their confidence when dealing with challenging questions.
The programme has grown significantly this year thanks to support from both Oxford and Cambridge. We have gone from 45 places to 160 places! We hope that over the coming years we will be able to help change the narrative on who it is that goes to Oxbridge, to ensure that black students no longer have to worry about fitting in.
Naomi Kellman - Founder of Target Oxbridge (www.targetoxbridge.co.uk)