Cherwell can reveal that nearly one in six Oxbridge applicants register for the services of Oxbridge Applications, an independent profit driven company which sells university admission advice.
On average, between 5,000 and 6,000 students contact Oxbridge Applications each year, while the overall number applying to Oxbridge is around 34,000 and growing each year.
Founded in 1999, Oxbridge Applications is fast growing. The profits of the parent company, Application Research Limited, have increased by over 150% in the last year, from £67, 115 in 2010 to £110, 552 in 2011.
The company offer Admissions Tests Seminars for £185, Private Consultations for £240, Interview Preparation Days from £220, and an Interview & Admissions Test Weekend for £1500.
Oxbridge Applications claim that an average of 53% of those accepted for the Premier Service, which costs up to several thousand pounds, gain offers to Oxford or Cambridge, compared with an average of just 21% for Oxbridge applicants overall.
Oxford University was quick to distance itself from the company. A University spokesperson said, “We do not endorse any commercial operations or publications offering advice or training on our admissions process.”
Academic staff were also sceptical. Dr Peter Bull, Tutor for Admissions at Hertford, said, “Colleges will be happy to give advice free of charge. Why be charged by a consultant when you can ask the person who selects the candidates, at no cost?”
Rachel Spedding, Executive Director of Oxbridge Applications and a former student at Worcester College, told Cherwell that the company work with current and former students.
Dr Lucinda Rumsey, Admissions Tutor at Mansfield, said, “Students are not necessarily clearly informed about what tutors are looking for in the interview and other parts of the process. I am really disappointed that students get involved in this.”
Alex Bulfin, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, said, “This sends a message to prospective students that there is a ‘secret’ to winning a place here and that if you haven’t been coached in ‘the right way’ then you won’t stand a chance.”
However, not all students were as damning of the company. Thomas O’Brien, a first-year PPE student who attended an Oxbridge Applications preparation day said, “It would probably have been useful to people who, unlike me, didn’t get much help from their schools.”
A third year History student who used the company’s Access Scheme said, “My school did not have a history of sending people to Oxbridge, so it was really good to meet people who’d been through the admissions process and could tell me what it was like.”
Spedding highlighted the access schemes which the company runs. She said, “We are not helping people get in ‘through the back door’. It’s people’s choice if they want to use our services.”
The University urged that, “The best advice is to work hard, and make full use of the many free and authoritative sources of guidance and information the University itself provides.”