The Oxbridge application process is extremely competitive, with less than 20% of applicants receiving an offer each year. Successful applicants must be able to stand out from the crowd by going the extra mile to engage with their subject and expand their knowledge and abilities. We like to call this enrichment and it’s essential for turning a student into an “Oxbridge-Quality” Student.
High grades and skill in the subject are the best foundation for a competitive application to Oxford or Cambridge, but your students will need to build off of this to make themself the best applicant they can be in the eyes of the admissions tutors.
This isn’t just done with endless revision but with a varied set of activities that cover everything the universities are looking for, so let’s find out what applicants should be doing and how you can support them through the process in order to secure their place.
What is Oxbridge Wider Reading & Enrichment?
When we talk about enrichment, we are referring to the extra-curricular activities that an applicant takes part in to boost their experience, skillset and desirability for their chosen course. Applicants can go about this in a variety of ways, depending on the subject that they apply to:
Types of Enrichment
Wider reading can be a fairly general term for extra-curricular activities – in fact, the terms Wider Reading and Enrichment are often interchangeable. However, in this context, we use it to refer to any additional reading and exploration of a subject through texts outside of the school curriculum.
Although a large part of this is going to be reading recommended books, wider reading also covers articles, films, case studies, lectures and even just general news. The key is for it to help them to expand their understanding in a way that lets them explore further and discuss unique topics with their peers and tutors.
Work experience is an enrichment method that many university applicants will have taken part in. For those applying to medicine and similar courses, work experience is usually a requirement for acceptance, while other courses also strongly encourage applicants to find placements in relevant industries. When applying to Oxbridge, having some professional experience will help an applicant stand out and be more competitive.
As a teacher, you should be very familiar with the concept of work experience. In fact, your students may even be required to find work placements during the school term, so this is the perfect opportunity for them to get some experience in their field. As well as learning new skills on the job, applicants will be able to reflect on their experiences in their Personal Statement, which will make it more interesting to read and better demonstrate the applicant’s ability and dedication.
For students that want to go even further with their enrichment, some may choose to create their own research projects to learn more about their subjects. These can take many forms but typically involve students taking a deep dive into a topic of interest, perhaps with a hypothesis or question to answer.
Findings from these projects can be presented in many ways, so creative students will likely enjoy the freedom of being able to work without the constraints and requirements of their standard school work. And, of course, a high-quality, in-depth research project will help them stand out and prove themselves as a worthy student to the Oxbridge admissions tutors.
For students who want to put their skills and knowledge to the test, they can enter a wide variety of academic competitions covering all the major subjects. Most of these are aimed at students around Years 11 – 13, with some being run by the universities themselves.
Although the main goal of these competitions is to win, the benefits to applicants go far beyond the potential prizes and accolades, meaning it is worth anyone entering even if they feel they don’t have a good chance of winning. Some are as simple as submitting an essay online while others are full, in-person events that can be entered individually or in teams.
We have written a full guide about academic competitions, including those run by Oxbridge themselves, so be sure to have a look if you want to learn how you can encourage your students to enter.
There are a wide variety of courses available for students to take part in, particularly during the summer holidays. This can range from subject-specific courses to work experience courses and preparation courses for their application. Each course will provide your students with new information that they wouldn’t learn at school and can allow them to take part in activities that boost their experience, competence and confidence.
Many of these courses, particularly those that run over multiple days, will have a fee attached. For those who are unable to invest in these courses, they will also be able to find many free webinars and summits that are run by industry experts.
Extra-Curricular Clubs and Groups
Many students like to attend clubs that let them explore their interests, including sports, arts and study groups. While students will typically join because they enjoy the activity, some of these groups can have a large impact on their enrichment too.
Debate clubs are a big one for many subjects, as it teaches students a wide variety of skills including critical thinking, reasoning and communication. STEM clubs, while more subject-specific, also help students develop their skills and improve their applications.
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The Benefits of Enrichment
While some of the benefits of partaking in these activities are obvious, there is even more to consider than you would initially think. The primary benefits of enrichment can be split into two categories:
Benefits to The Application
This is what many will think of first when considering why they should seek out enrichment activities as they are incredibly important, especially to an Oxbridge application. Successful applicants are expected to have thoroughly explored at least one form of enrichment during their application, as it proves a real dedication and interest in the subject.
The more your student can discuss their experiences and learning points from their extra-curricular activities, the more they are likely to leave an impression on the admissions tutors as someone who would fit in at Oxford or Cambridge. Whether this is within their Personal Statement, Interview or even through the reference you have written, admissions tutors want to know that their applicants care about what they do and would use their time at university to develop their skills and become an expert in their field.
However, while your students should seek out as many opportunities as they can, it’s the quality of the enrichment – and thus the quality of the reflection – that really matters here. If an applicant has been unable to attend a work placement but has put together a high-quality research project, they will likely stand as good a chance (if not better) than an applicant who has taken part in five separate activities without taking the time to reflect on what they meant. (Although some subjects do still require work placements, like medicine).
The discussion and reflection on their enrichment activities are what admissions tutors will see. Therefore, it is important for applicants to consider this throughout the whole process and ensure they are prepared to thoroughly analyse their experience. This will be what truly benefits their application.
Benefits to Personal Development
With how much emphasis is placed on enriching your students’ applications, it can be easy to forget that these activities are designed to boost their own development first. It’s important to write/talk about what was learnt from work placements or wider reading, but the actual learning is the most important part. If your student is only taking part in their activities to bulk up their Personal Statement, they likely aren’t going to get as much out of it as they should.
Some of the best ways that enrichment can help an applicant develop are as follows:
- Work experience allows applicants to work within a professional environment, letting them see the reality of a career in their chosen industry.
- Applicants will be working with professionals who can mentor them and help them develop their skills further.
- Wider reading allows applicants to learn more about their field, especially when they are free to read about the topics that interest them.
- Exploring their niche early on will help them develop their understanding of the general subject while finding out what interests them the most.
- Research projects can also help them make new discoveries that they otherwise would not have found.
- Entering competitions can help boost an applicant’s confidence, especially if they are able to receive feedback on their work.
- Team-based activities (which can be found in some courses and competitions) will help them develop their skills in collaboration and communication; both essential skills for many Oxbridge courses.
The benefits to their application will only last for as long as the application process does, but the personal skills they learn during these experiences will stay with them for the rest of their career, so it is vital that they make the most of each opportunity they get.
By now, you should understand why enrichment is important for students, so it is now time to explore how you can support your students in finding, utilising and discussing these opportunities to help improve their application and their own abilities.
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Wider Reading For Your Students
One of the most essential components to Oxbridge enrichment is wider reading – the student’s chance to deeply explore and engage with their subject. Those who are most suited to Oxbridge will most likely need no prompting to get started on their wider reading, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t need help in how they can go about it effectively.
Effective wider reading is not as simple as picking up a book as there are various challenges that students can face when trying to engage with enrichment in this method:
Challenges of Wider Reading
- Some students will not know what books they should be reading for their application. Although reading lists are available, they are not always easily accessible and can sometimes be very short.
- When students do have recommended books to read, they may struggle to prioritise which ones to read first, especially if time is limited.
- Some students may feel they need to read every book recommended to them, which is often infeasible.
- Books can be expensive and outside of a student’s budget and may also not be available to borrow at their local/school library.
- Students who have not yet found a topic they are particularly interested in will have an even broader range of books to pick from, leading to too many options.
- For some students, reading isn’t the best way to engage with their interests.
Wider reading can be a minefield for the unprepared, but it is also an incredibly important part of enrichment. These challenges could stop your students from reaching their full potential, so you and your faculty should be prepared to guide them through this process. You will find that once you get them started and give them the resources they need, they will be able to continue their reading independently fairly quickly.
Here are a few ways that you can support your students through that initial phase of wider reading to get them started on the right path:
Oxbridge Reading Lists
There is a wide selection of reading lists and resource pages which can be compiled by colleges, subject departments and the university as a whole. There is usually a lot of content to work through here so ensure that each student is aware of what is included so they can choose which texts will benefit them the most. As we said before, it’s unlikely that most students will be able to read everything recommended.
One issue with the reading lists provided by the universities is that every other applicant will be reading the same recommended books and texts. While these will be highly relevant to the course the student is applying for, they may not help them stand out as well if 100’s of other students have read and discussed the same thing.
Therefore, it may be worth helping them explore outside of these lists, either individual books or different reading lists that feature less well-known texts. Each approach has its benefits and there are no rules to how a student selects their reading as long as it’s relevant to their subject. What matters is that they connect with what they are reading and are able to reflect upon it.
The more avid readers in your class will be more likely to get through more texts during their application preparation. While this is great, it can be difficult for them to retain the most important parts of each book, making it harder for them to discuss when the time comes to write their Personal Statement or attend an interview.
As their teacher, you should encourage them to be stringent on note-taking and cataloguing for each text they read as it will help them remember the key points and formulate talking points months after initially reading them. Within these notes, they should include key details such as:
- TItle of Text
- Date Read
- Author’s Main Argument & Key Ideas
- Useful Facts & Actionable Points Learnt
- Quick Analysis (Author’s Intentions, Text Limitations, Questions)
With all of their thoughts summarised in a neatly organised system, they will easily be able to remember exactly what they thought of the book after they had first finished it and compare it to how they feel about it now.
Scope of Reading
Remember, wider reading is not just about books. As long as a piece of text or media is relevant to the subject and provides accurate information or an interesting perspective, it will be useful for a student to consume and analyse.
There are limitations to this; for example, a fictionalised film (such as a Biopic or Docudrama) will not have much actual useful content compared to a documentary. A lot of wider reading comes down to learning from credible sources, but the methods of learning from credible sources are increasing all the time.
If a student does not connect with books as much, they may instead prefer watching lectures and webinars run by subject experts. Others may prefer to read about topics in article and report formats. As long as the sources are credible, these texts will offer just as much value as your average books. Even when sources aren’t as credible, your student may benefit from analysing why the text is not reliable and comparing it to better examples.
As we previously mentioned, one of the biggest barriers for students is simply access to the books that have been recommended to them. Although Oxbridge avoids recommending texts that are too inaccessible to students of this age, the price or availability may still prevent them from reading certain books.
Many schools today are working with extremely limited budgets which will often have an impact on teacher’s ability to provide for students outside of their standard curriculum. Ordering all of the relevant books for students may be unfeasible, but it may still be possible to make a system around the budget you have available to get the books that your students need most.
This would require coordination between students and faculty to determine which books are the most important to own and determine the quantity needed to ensure that everyone has access to copies for a minimum amount of time.
Applicants for more niche subjects may suffer from this process as their books will be of lower priority, but it is still important to ensure that they have access to at least one text. If your school has more of a budget to work with, it is definitely worth investing in these texts now as they will last for many years.
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Alocatted Reading Time
We have said this a lot in our Teacher’s Guides, but offering students some time to actually work on their enrichment will go a long way to encouraging them in the first steps. There is so much to focus on throughout the months preceding the Oxbridge application, including their standard school work, but you can help them focus by dedicating just a single hour to either teaching them the benefits of wider reading or simply letting them get started.
Once students are more informed of why they should be spending time on wider reading, they will be more likely to continue in their personal time. The main hurdle many students face is the initial motivation or understanding of why wider reading is important, but it can take very little time to help them overcome it.
Supporting Student Work Experience
Next is arguably the most common and most important form of enrichment. Work experience is something that almost every school student will be required to take on a work placement at some stage in their education. While students are encouraged to find their own placements, especially in Years 10 – 12, some students, even Oxbridge applicants, will struggle to find a relevant placement in their field.
This is not always the fault of the student, as many of the more niche subjects taught at Oxbridge rarely offer work placements at this level due to the nature of the industry. For some roles, the level of entry is too high for students of this age and experience while basic assistant positions and shadowing opportunities are extremely limited.
In any situation where a student is struggling to find the experience they need for their application, it is possible to help out in a couple of ways to ensure they can find a placement that will help with their enrichment.
Building Professional Connections
The first option for supporting your students through work experience is not always easy to do but will help your cohorts for years to come. Simply put, you and the rest of your faculty should seek to build a collection of connections within a variety of industries who are willing to provide placements to students.
Whether these companies and professionals are looking to take on interns, provide temporary placements or simply facilitate a few days of work shadowing, having a varied list of opportunities to offer you students can help them get the boost they need. While it will be difficult to find something for every single student, it is still valuable to have these connections.
How should you go about building these connections though? Your list will most likely be made up of local firms, as the process of dealing with HR and other logistical factors will be much easier when compared to major corporations. Some of the best options for building your list include:
- Care Homes
- GP Offices/Medical Centres
- Accountancy Firms
- Law Firms
- Construction Firms/Tradespeople
- Local Newspapers/Magazines
- Other Schools (as well as your own)
If your team (or students) already knows someone who works in any of these fields, you will have a head start in proposing a collaboration to provide placements. Otherwise, you may need to make some calls to find parties that are interested in welcoming students into their firm.
You shouldn’t be expected to do all the work though, as it is important for students to develop their research, communication and persuasion skills when finding a placement. When students do successfully find placements, be sure to make a note of who they will be working with for potential future collaborations.
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Providing Outreach Support
The ideal scenario would be for each student to have the initiative to research and secure their own work placements. Most Oxbridge applicants certainly will have the determination to do this, but that doesn’t mean that will always be successful in their search. Speaking with managers at professional firms is a skill that they likely have not yet developed, so their chances of success will be much lower when they aren’t sure how to best sell themself.
Supporting applicants with this aspect of the task is as simple as providing some form of education on how to go about securing their placement. Whether it be through courses, trial runs or one-to-one support, it is important that you prepare your students for the reality of job-seeking. Plus, many of these skills will be helpful during their university application.
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Developing Student Research Projects
Students who really wish to engage with an area of interest may decide to start their own research project. They can be challenging and fairly time-consuming, meaning they won’t be for everyone. But those who are extremely interested in learning or want to get creative with their enrichment will find that their application and personal development will both benefit greatly.
There are plenty of reasons why a student may wish to dedicate time to a full research project, such as:
- They may want to record and analyse their journey through their learning process of a specific topic.
- They may want to collect data on an issue important to them to provide evidence for a hypothesis.
- They might be trying to uncover new information or develop a new theory regarding a specific subject matter.
- They may want to shed light on a relatively unknown topic or compile information that has not been previously available in one place.
- They could be a creative student who wants to present information in a unique and innovative way.
- They may be entering a competition that requires a presentable research project.
- They may simply wish for the information gathered to be easily accessible to themselves and other people.
No matter the motivation behind a project, you should aim to support and encourage your students where you can to ensure they find success in their work. These tasks certainly don’t take priority over their school work and application, but should the time be available to them, researching is a great way to learn.
Students who undertake these projects may want them to remain as independent as possible (including team projects) as they will have a greater sense of accomplishment with less help from external parties. However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to support them through this process.
Academic Referencing Support
One of the most important aspects of research projects is also often one of the most overlooked. Academic referencing is key to providing credibility to your student’s work as it proves the reliability of their sources and demonstrates their ability to write academically, a skill which will be essential at Oxbridge.
Your students may not ask for feedback from you and you should refrain from forcing your feedback on them. However, there are more subtle (and less subtle ways) of reminding them of the importance of academic referencing. Perhaps you can hold a quick refresher lesson for your class, or you could simply reinforce how important referencing and verifying sources are to the research process. If they want their project to impress Oxbridge, they need to ensure they do it to a professional standard.
Depending on the project, students may need to collect data or run experiments to back up their claims and research. Where possible, be willing to interact with their project and take part in any surveys or activities required.
Beyond that, you can also encourage the rest of the cohort to take part in order to boost their data pool (this is especially helpful for students with lower confidence). Lastly, you may wish to review their data collection and recording methods to help them improve the process. This input may not always be welcome, but it can still be worth making suggestions.
Feedback and Advice
We have already discussed how your input may not be wanted by some students, but that doesn’t mean it will be rejected by all. The best students at Oxbridge are willing to take feedback, advice and criticism of their work from their lecturers, so this is a good time to help them develop this trait.
Feedback can be as detailed or brief as it needs to be, although you don’t want to overload them. If you have a lot to say, try to refine your points into a shorter format so they are easy to read and implement. Inversely, if you don’t see much you would change, instead focus on the positive aspects and let them know what works about it.
As for giving advice, this will be most helpful if you teach the subject that they are researching. While general advice can be helpful, it will often go over their heads when compared to advice that is more specific to their project. If you have knowledge of the topic, provide some insight into your own thoughts and potentially lead them to some extra sources.
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Additional Enrichment Tips
We’ve seen the most important ways you can support your students through their enrichment, so let’s finish off with a few more tips for fostering exploration in your Oxbridge Applicants.
Run More Clubs and Groups
We’ve already looked at how extra-curricular clubs and activities can greatly benefit your students’ applications and personal development. Your school likely runs a good variety of clubs, but are they tailored to your students needs?
Take stock of the clubs that are running and see what is missing and what could be improved. You could do this by encouraging more student involvement, such as facilitating a survey or meeting for new club suggestions and feedback for existing clubs. Their input will help you understand exactly what your students want from these activities.
However, student feedback must be balanced by your own professional guidance. Students won’t necessarily know what is best for their Oxbridge applications, so be sure to mainly implement changes that will boost their enrichment. Finding the balance between student desires and application needs can be tough, but proper education on the Oxbridge admissions process will help students understand why certain decisions have been made.
If your school does not already plan trips for students, then it may be worth considering it as they encourage exploration in a way that other enrichment activities cannot.
Whether it’s a day trip or a full week away, school trips can be tailored to meet the needs of students from any subject, or even entire classes, if planned effectively. While subject-specific trips are much easier to organise from an enrichment perspective (as all students will have the same interests), planning a full-class trip can still be possible when visiting a location with a wide variety of activity options (such as a major city).
For most schools, the biggest blocker here is budget. While it is common to require payments from students to attend major trips, this often isn’t enough to cover the costs associated. Effective budgeting can help ease this somewhat, but the only way to ensure lower costs is to reduce the scale of the trip, which may hurt its effectiveness. However, even low-budget trips can be extremely helpful with a good lesson plan surrounding them.
Keep Up With Current Affairs
Not every form of enrichment needs to be a big undertaking that can be discussed in a Personal Statement. Smaller forms of enrichment are just as beneficial to your students as it helps them develop their understanding and interest in their subject while keeping them updated with the most relevant information.
Keeping your students updated with the news is easy and doesn’t take much time at all. Some simple ways that you can quickly boost your cohort’s engagement with current affairs include:
- Playing the news in your Sixth Form hall during certain free periods.
- Subscribing to papers or magazines that are available to your students.
- Sending relevant articles to groups of students who may find them interesting.
Although the news is going to be more relevant to applicants of certain subjects (Law, Medicine, Economics, etc) than others (History, Classics), it is still useful for every student to get involved as it boosts their awareness of the world around them and allows them to discuss more topics outside of their specific interests.
That concludes our guide to encouraging Oxbridge enrichment amongst your students. Bear in mind that any student can engage with these activities and benefit in both their application and personal development. We focus on Oxbridge applicants here because they will need to take part in the engagement in order to stand out from their competition, but these activities certainly shouldn’t be restricted to just them.
Also, be aware that this advice does not need to be followed word-for-word. Each school and each student has different circumstances and capacities, so what works for some may not work for others. Be creative and develop an enrichment plan that will work for you and your students to ensure everyone can improve their chances of getting an offer to their first choice.
If you are looking for further support in providing enrichment opportunities to your students, be sure to explore UniAdmissions’ Premium Oxbridge Programmes, which provide students access to Enrichment Seminars, Courses, Recommended Reading Materials and full support for every aspect of their application. UniAdmissions can help you develop the ultimate support programme for your students, ensuring that are fully prepared for every step of the Oxbridge Application process.
Other Helpful Oxbridge Resources
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