In the British public’s imagination, Oxbridge is the pinnacle of academia.
There is a belief that Oxbridge is full of rich, white, private schoolers with the brainpower (or amazing general knowledge) of University Challenge contestant Eric Monkman. The media often sensationalises the admissions process, taking questions out of context to make these universities sound unreasonable.
The “tell me about a banana” interview question has been the subject of many articles as well as books that have been written solely for the purpose of helping people get into Oxbridge. It’s quite mind-blowing that people will have extensive tutoring to pass admissions interviews; it simply underlines the reputation of Oxbridge.
The question is, if you are someone like me – a black, working-class, state-school educated individual from Newham, East London – would you think that you could win a place at Oxford or Cambridge? No, you likely wouldn’t.
Yet, despite my hesitance to imagine myself in a place such as Oxford, it did not stop me from applying for the Lady Margaret Hall Foundation Year. This is a fully funded year (accommodation, tuition and living costs are entirely taken care of) where you prepare for an undergraduate degree. You can study a subject-specific course alongside two core programmes, one on academic writing and the other on preparation for undergraduate study.
Also, the grade requirements of AAA-A*A*A are mitigated to AAB-BBB, so that you end up exceeding the former grade requirements for the beginning of your undergraduate degree. It is important to note that admission to Oxford is not guaranteed but those who choose to study elsewhere take their degrees at Russell Group universities.
I really think that I made the best choice of my life so far in applying for the LMH Foundation Year. I’ve only been here about 10 weeks and, as cliché as it sounds, my life has changed for the better. I have grown in confidence, both academically and socially, and I have been exposed to many opportunities.
There is always something going on. For example, I’ve joined societies such as the university’s rifling and archery clubs. I particularly enjoy the “LMH In Conversation” series where our principal, Alan Rusbridger, interviews keynote speakers on topical subjects. All these amazing opportunities are open to me now because I chose to apply and I believed that Oxford could be a place for people like me.
It’s easy, even when you get here, to think that you don’t belong and to fall victim to “impostor syndrome”. The LMH Foundation Year has been instrumental in dispelling this notion. I wake up every morning, look out at Talbot Hall and feel like this is my second home. It’s my centre of learning and the people who I have met here have become akin to family.
If you let doubts stop you pursuing your ambitions, you could really end up regretting it. So, whether you apply through the conventional routes for Oxbridge, or for the LMH Foundation Year, just go for it.
Cherelle Malongo is a classical archaeology and ancient history student on the foundation year at Lady Margaret, Oxford.