THE BLOG
16/10/2013 11:45 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Is an Oxbridge Education a Big Deal?

This week was the last week for Oxbridge candidates to submit their applications. With interviews fast approaching, the decision now lies with tutors; a decision which is often life-changing.

Even now it makes me feel nervous. Those hours spent scrutinising over my personal statement, feeling absolutely petrified at the Open Day. I've virtually blacked out my Interview Day, the 24 hours before which I neither ate nor slept. At the age of seventeen, it seemed the scariest, most life-changing process I could possibly undertake.

I got lucky, and had a wonderful education. But that education finished last June. As of graduation day I began Real Life in the Economic Crisis and entered into the same competitive, ruthless jobs market as hundreds of thousands of other graduates.

Widespread popular belief always told me an Oxbridge education opens more doors. But this summer's data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed Oxbridge failed to top the list in terms of employability six months after graduation. The name 'Oxford' or 'Cambridge' may increase your chances of an interview, but it won't swing your application - usually in a pile of hundreds - one way or the other.

The key point is that these same doors are still open to non-Oxbridge graduates. When I look at my own friends who graduated in the humanities from Oxbridge versus from redbrick universities, there's not as much difference in outcome as you might initially expect. Many Oxbridge graduates do go to the City. But from both groups, several friends have chosen teaching, some are on private sector graduate schemes, and others are in politics or the media. And from both groups, many are unemployed, doing unpaid internships, travelling, or - using the term which tries to define our generation - NEETs. But maybe it'll look different a few years down the road.

Ultimately, a degree from any top university isn't enough these days. In many industries work experience, passion and determination count for more, and will take you much further. Graduates are increasingly expected to enter the jobs market armed with a mass of unpaid work experience - and expected to undertake paid work to fund said unpaid work if the Bank of Mum and Dad has insufficient funds.

Around 61% of graduates take jobs with companies they've interned with. While some competitive internships remain sadly based on who you know rather than what, building up a work-related portfolio of other experiences still goes a long way. Free time is a seriously underestimated advantage for non-Oxbridge students looking to boost their CV (Oxbridge really doesn't leave you much spare time) and while students are often attacked for not working hard enough, it could well be the hours devoted to student journalism, university societies, work experience placements, or virtually any other productive non-degree-related activity which can make or break a job application.

So if you've just submitted your application, don't worry. This shift seems terrifying but can be positive too: you're more in control of where your degree, Oxbridge or not, will take you than it might seem.