So, we’ve talked through the technical approaches of how to prepare and support great candidates, and I’ve shared what I know about the various components of the process. In this final post, I want to share what I think is the hardest and most challenge part of it all – the emotional rollercoaster that this will take you – and the candidate – on.
The numbers are not promising.
1 in 4 Cambridge applicants are offered a place
Oxford interview 60% of their applicants, but only offer places to 20% of their applicants.
And these applicants are almost all going to be straight 9/8 students at GCSE, and predicted AAA-A*AA as a *minimum*.
The likelihood is that – no matter how talented your candidate seems in the context of your school – the odds are against them in their application. Frankly, looking back at what I did, I’m hugely humbled by the sheer dose of luck that I appear to have had in my own application, and in the support of those around me. Every year, great candidates and wonderful Geographers don’t make it. How do you collectively shoulder that, and understand the emotions in place?
I think the first thing to do is establish a culture of big picture. Doing all of the work here isn’t *just* about Oxbridge – it’s great preparation for university, A Level teaching, and the world beyond school. You’re doing this because you’re a great Geographer, not only because you are applying to one university. It’s really helpful to reduce the identity politics that come with this, and support the candidate to understand that if you can.
There’s a weight of expectation that can often come with an ‘Oxbridge candidate’. Whether it’s celebrated in school media, or whether it’s just parents, family, friends and colleagues asking ‘how’s it going?’, there’s almost certainly going to be moments when the students feel like it’s not worth it. Parental pressure can be particularly tricky to navigate, and I’ve mentored a few people who were only really applying because they felt that their parent/s wanted or expected it of them. As a mentor, you might feel on the front-line of that, and you’ll certainly want to be aware of the pressure. Where possible, you need to do as much as you can to dial it back. The opposite of pressure isn’t ‘jacking it all in, and accepting an offer from X university’, it’s ‘doing the right things’ and being confident in the steps.
Other universities might not be your friend in this. While the ‘conditional-unconditional’ phenomenon has been reduced a bit – where universities say “we like you, and if you make us your first choice, we’ll give you an unconditional offer” – the temptation to take a safe bet early in the game can be high for students. Keep the big picture and long journey conversations going!
Talk and celebrate other offers – and recognise they’re likely to come in quite quickly for your Oxbridge candidates – and keep having the chat about the big picture. So, you’ve got four offers? Which is your current favourite? What are you thinking now? Oxbridge candidates will often have university offers starting to come by October half term, and certainly through Nov-Dec even before other candidates have applied. It’s your judgement about how you share that publicly to support and motivate your other candidates.
Where possible, it’s really helpful to talk with other teachers. Whether you’ve got candidates across your school in multiple subjects, or have an experienced UCAS, Head of Sixth, or Gifted & Talented co-ordinator, sharing your approach – and your feelings about this – are really important in managing the emotions as well as the practical support.
Just like with exams, there’s only so much you can do for candidates. They have to go their own path, and accept their chances. If you follow the advice, give them good resources and give them some help, you can really do no more. Celebrate the successes you have, celebrate the amazing universities and Geographers that you’ve created – no matter what the destination – and know that you’ve played a part in their success, but so have they.
If you’ve got to the end of this, then thank you for reading. I hope it’s been helpful. I’m always happy to have a chat and help if I can, and I wish you – and your candidates – the very best of luck for wherever they choose to apply, and their future Geography studies!
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