No. No it's not. Not statistically, not psychologically, not even anecdotally. But what seems obvious to people who went to a school where the closest thing to a tuck shop was the Chicken Spot over the road, is not what they believe over at Britain's top schools. Ask most Wickamists, Etonians or Salopians* and they'll tell you that getting into Oxbridge from a state school is easier than looting trainers in a riot.
This is the final part of my guide to getting into Oxbridge and it's not just for state school kids. If you're clever and passionate you deserve to get in whether you're from Cheltenham Ladies College or a comprehensive. But I do set the record straight about Oxbridge's supposed bias for state school kids and give a bit of advice about weathering the aggression of the social scene at interviews. So bear with me if you've spent every Sunday afternoon since prep school combating on the rugby pitch and know how to handle a pumped up posh lad.
*Yeah me neither, Wiki informs me that's what you call someone from Shrewsbury School.
Forget Your Roots
Interviews at Oxbridge are strange. You'll only be around for a day or so at Cambridge and about three days at Oxford, but an unhealthy amount of time is likely to be spent in the common room. These are usually full of undergraduates bribed to stay around after term and 'look after applicants' aka lounge about in front of Keeping up with the Kardashians and occasionally rouse themselves to take someone to an interview or buy hummus on expenses. On the other hand the applicants sit jittering and nibbling biscuits distractedly. The atmosphere is enough to make anyone edgy.
But don't, whatever you do, set out on a campaign to sabotage your fellow applicants. I worked at interviews and observed that there was generally an applicant practicing complex psychological warfare in the common room, nine times out of ten this psycher was focusing on where the psychees had been to school.
A typical scene was a posh boy, high on testosterone, lecturing a state school student on how the whole system is prejudiced in the favour of the state educated applicants so if they do well it's not on their own merit. This is bollocks. But it seems to have taken root in a few of the coiffed heads of the privileged to the extent that they really believe it (although obviously not enough to actually state educate their children).
Unfortunately the opposite is true, if you encounter someone spouting this rubbish tell them that the privately educated make up 7% of the country and yet last year took a whopping 42.3% and 40.7% of places at Oxford and Cambridge respectively. And then take comfort that the little psycher shot themself in the foot, as I can assure you that they never turned up in the next year's intake.
If you're a state school student filled with indignation at the unattractive statistics, then please turn your anger into a bloody brilliant application and help redress the problem. The best I can offer you for comfort is that for arts subjects you probably don't need quite as squeaky clean an academic record to get an interview as someone from a 'famous' school.
Ultimately though, as much as positive discrimination could do good things for the universities, Oxbridge will only ever take someone on merit. Not pure subject knowledge. Not polish. Not a firm handshake. But merit. Ignore anyone who says otherwise.
Don't Get Sucked Into 'Keeping Up With The Applicants'
Tutors are curating their next year; they don't want seven people who think in the same way. So if you meet someone who's read Clarissa (FYI it's really effing long) or done work experience at Cern, then take a deep breath and remember that their accomplishments are totally irrelevant to how well you'll do. Tutors aren't looking for the same knowledge, skills or even the same interpretations of what a subject is.
Roll cliché: There's no such thing as an Oxbridge brain.
Hard interview? Yeah, of course it was, on to the next. Sometimes hard interviews mean you've got in, sometimes they don't. You just can't know. And if you battled with the first interviewer chances are you'll get on better with their colleague. Like any successful group act, college departments thrive on differences, so if you clashed with Baby Spice then look forward to your 20 minutes with Ginger.
Remember Your Life Will Not End If You Don't Get in.
It honestly won't, and you'll probably have loads more sex at your second choice Uni. So don't waste your time at interview hyperventilating with nerves, enjoy the free custard creams, explore the city and breathe deeply.
Good Luck, yes even you Hugo.