Second Year Student Mentors at Oxford-Based Summer School

Amie Campbell (2017, Mathematics and Statistics), JCR Access Rep, shares her experience of being a Student Ambassador at the UNIQ summer school this year.

Since its launch in 2010 the UNIQ summer school has welcomed nearly 6,000 Year 12 students, with 34 different subjects now being offered across 19 colleges (St Catz included). The week-long school has become increasingly popular each year and in 2018 I had the pleasure of being a Maths and Stats Student Ambassador. The summer school is exclusively available to state school students, with selection depending on multiple criteria, including the number of A*s achieved at GCSE; POLAR classification (the rate of progression to higher education in a postcode); and Acorn classification (which looks at social factors and population behaviour in a postcode, e.g. the proportion of people who own a home).

Despite many of the students never having visited Oxford before, as soon as I met them at the train station most of them already had a very strong view of the University and what it would be like. A lot of them told me straight away that they definitely wouldn’t be applying, as a result of ‘facts they’d heard’ about life here. I completely empathised with all of these misconceptions – they were things I had also been told and had believed until I arrived at Oxford last October. They were surprised to find out that all the ambassadors were from state schools like them, and even more surprised that we lived ‘normal’ student lives.

Academically, the week was very intense – students were in sessions from 9am to 4pm every day. One of the most inspiring parts of the week was realising how engaged the students were in this. For many of them this was the first time that they weren’t the only person in the room who was really interested in maths. They engaged in conversation with like-minded people, which they hadn’t had the opportunity to do before at school. For the vast majority, this was also the only time that they had been stretched when it came to maths. They had not found GCSEs particularly challenging, and they were now being asked to think about second-year university maths content, which I hadn’t even studied yet. This was definitely a challenge, but one which they all flourished at and clearly enjoyed. It was obvious how suited they would be to studying maths at university – they had a clear passion for the subject and dealt successfully with complex new material. It then came as a surprise when many of them expressed concerns about ‘not being good enough’. Explaining that students at the University could feel like this and that not everyone here is the stereotypical ‘genius’ you may expect, as well as helping them through entrance exam or interview questions gave them much more confidence by the end of the week.

All in all, UNIQ was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I can’t recommend highly enough that undergraduate students apply to be Ambassadors, and that eligible Year 12 students are encouraged by their schools to take part. The students left the week with their misconceptions about Oxford and doubts in their own ability shattered. They were all very keen to apply to Oxbridge and had enjoyed the week even more than I did. I met one of my students at the Open Day, and she told me that she had applied to St Catz for Maths and Stats. Knowing that one person I’ve mentored has made an application makes taking part in outreach activities completely worth it.