Cherwell

How to get into Oxbridge 101

The Queen's College, Oxford. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As students are forced out of their colleges as soon as exams finish in week nine of Trinity term, college accommodation is desperately sought by all sorts of enterprises and institutions. Among them are several private companies which organise residential summer camps in Oxford and Cambridge, giving well-off prospective applicants the chance to experience the life of an Oxbridge student for a fortnight.

With costs easily reaching over £2000 per week, expectations for such summer camps are inevitably very high. Parents around the world willingly disregard the words of warning hastily crammed at the bottom of the company’s webpage in barely visible italic characters: “We are in no way affiliated with the University of Oxford or its constituent colleges”.

Students and parents alike believe that these camps can give them what they truly seek: the secret behind an infallible application. Whether it be wise words to improve a wonderfully spontaneous “personal” statement, mock interviews or simply the fact of physically being in Oxford, the success of these camps relies on convincing families around the world that participants will have a much higher chance of getting into Oxbridge than would otherwise be the case.

Countless internationals like myself will have at least been tempted by such summer camps, particularly when their Facebook news feeds are filled with aggressive targeted advertising for such experiences. Undoubtedly, the daunting price tag must have sparked up discussions at dinner tables all around the world. During these conversations, the sneaking thought may have arisen: “What if my child is given a magic formula which will pave their way straight into Oxford? Surely, then, this investment would be worth it…”

And so it is the case that bus-loads of 17 year olds from across the globe wind up together for two weeks admiring the spires, punting and dreaming of what being a student in such a place must be like. To their dismay, no special secret of success is handed out to them because, as we know, there simply isn’t one. Two weeks and a few grand later, they head home realising that the only secret behind getting in is hard work, dedication and, perhaps, a considerable amount of good luck.

I will not deny that a similar (but thankfully cheaper) experience made me feel rather misled. I spent two weeks at an academic summer camp at a high-performing UK school, and whilst I had a fantastic time, it did not alter my application prospects at all. The truth is that these camps exist because they are incredibly profitable for both the organisers and for the colleges, not because they benefit participants’ application chances.

Is this really the best that colleges can do with their free rooms over the summer? By letting these private summer camp companies rent college rooms, colleges themselves are complicit in duping prospective applicants into departing with large sums of money for no benefit. And if these camps do somehow advantage participants in the Oxbridge application process, would it not be fairer for colleges to focus on giving students from less privileged backgrounds similar experiences? For instance, colleges could rent rooms to these summer camps on the condition that they give free or discounted places to students from low income households. Regardless, Oxbridge summer camps provide little benefit to students and solely serve the interests of the firms themselves.