How to get into Oxbridge.

“Have you heard” they asked as I entered my sixth form’s common room. I shook my head but insisted that I would check. So, I pulled out my phone and tried to remember my UCAS password. And once I did, it hit me. That cross was all I needed to see. “Your application for this choice has been unsuccessful”.

But enough of acting like a victim. I felt I did all I could and there was nothing that I would have changed. I must say I enjoyed the interview experience. But it did make me wonder what it takes to get into Oxbridge and why schools like Brampton Manor, in East Ham, have such great success.

Was it just not meant to be? Is there a specific technique? Or is it just about being good enough on the day? I assume it’s the former and latter and Oxbridge is not the be all and end all. I’m just curious, that’s all.

So, I had a look at Brampton Manor Academy. And this year they did it again. The number of students offered Oxbridge places increased from 41 offers in 2019 to 51 offers in 2020. Many of these students are from ethnic minority backgrounds, receive free school meals and/or are the first in their family to go to university.

This makes the school exceptionally interesting because these are not the stereotypical Oxbridge applicants, as 42% applied from private schools, with only 20% from ethnic minorities, according to Channel 5 news in 2019. Evidently, this was not a barrier to the school or students alike and their story is inspiring.

The sixth form was set up in 2012 to try to transform progression rates to Oxbridge and Russel Group universities for young adults in Newham and neighbouring areas. They instill ambition into their students from a young age as they work with Oxford graduates from year 7. This seems to be the key and the Executive Principal, Dayo Olukoshi, spoke about “the change in mindset” that the school brings about. A true Nigerian. He reminded me of a true Ghanaian.

Stormzy launched his Stormzy Scholarship for black students admitted into Cambridge, in 2018. This received backlash, which the rapper has addressed in interviews and his song Crown, which features on his new no.1 album, Heavy is the Head – “I done a scholarship for the kids, they said it’s racist / That’s not anti-white, it’s pro-black”. Despite the backlash, the scholarship has so far helped four students, covering their tuition fees and providing a maintenance grant.

Beyond that, the initiative showed that black people can be more than entertainers and can achieve academically, even if they come from deprived backgrounds. Stormzy himself was bright and achieved 6 A*s at GCSE. It’s all about levelling the playing field and increasing the representation of black people at universities, like Cambridge, as we are more than capable so the number of students and feeling around such a university should reflect that.

It seems I have got no closer to actually solving the problem of getting into Oxbridge, which makes since I didn’t make it. I think it’s more important that all kinds of people feel that they can try to get into such universities, even if it’s not Oxbridge. Whatever happens, we will shine regardless and keep on aiming for the top (and if you did get in, keep going).

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