UNIQ voices

Perspectives from past UNIQ Summer School students

Jamie Titus-Glover

First-year student in PPE, Exeter College

UNIQ 2017

I spent a lot of my first year of sixth form considering what my future would be. Coming from a pretty average state school and a working-class family I believed there were a series of barriers that made me think the chances of getting into Oxford was essentially impossible. For instance, the school I attended did not offer much in terms of support of getting into Oxford and not many people were able to go. Whilst my family were supportive, they did not know how to help me, especially as most of them had not even been to university.

I also had some very negative perceptions of the university. I thought the vast majority of people would be rich, the courses would be tough and leave no time for fun and I also thought that my class would make me stick out like a sore thumb. This left me in a position where I thought that I might not be good enough and did not have the resources to be able to apply to such a prestigious place. If it were not for UNIQ I would have certainly not applied to Oxford and my life could have taken a completely different path.

I was recommended by a teacher to look at various summer schools to learn more about the course that I wanted to take at university (PPE). I found UNIQ and thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to see if my ideas about Oxford were wrong and to also learn more about the process of applying to the university.

I think it is a brilliant thing that UNIQ is expanding. The right to be great and do the best you can is a right that everyone should have — it should not be reserved for the few.

It was clear within a few hours on the first day of the course that I knew I was wrong about many things. Everyone was friendly and approachable, and I felt very comfortable very quickly. Most people there were in the same boat as me and therefore I did not feel out of place. You could ask as many questions as you liked, no matter how basic or mundane they sounded. There was also a lot of free time to relax and talk to others, both on your course and those who have come to study other courses. Simply put, UNIQ was not just work, there was time for play.

After being at Oxford for a term now I can see that the UNIQ experience is very similar to that of actually being an Oxford student. The tutors who give you lectures at UNIQ over the week do not condescend or belittle you just because you are in sixth form, they give challenging and highly fascinating lectures. I had a variety of lectures on things from the death of traditional news media to developmental economics. We also looked at things such as utilitarianism, and had time to emulate a tutorial. This is when you and at least one other student met with a professional academic to discuss an essay or essay plan that you have written.

When I had my tutorial, it became the official point in which I wanted to join the university because the mock tutorial was so interesting that I knew I wanted to go to a place where I could enhance my knowledge with an academic on a weekly basis.These were not only interesting, but ended up being very good preparation for the sort of things I have been doing since I have been here.

Another critical thing that UNIQ did was provide loads of advice on how to apply to the university. Instead of listening to teachers trying to guess what Oxford considers to be a good application, UNIQ set up sessions in which actual admissions tutors told you what makes a candidate good and bad. They gave advice about personal statements, how to do well in the admissions test and how to do well in interviews. This advice was critical in helping me to get into the university. I was able to recognise my potential to get into the university and could imagine myself being around the people on the course.

I think it is a brilliant thing that UNIQ is expanding. The right to be great and do the best you can is a right that everyone should have — it should not be reserved for the few. Greatness does not know class or background, so the fact that the university has recognised this fact and is trying to accommodate for such things is a step in the right direction. This is a place where you can better yourself greatly, help others and make a set of good friends for life.

For those who are considering applying don’t deprive yourself of such a chance. If you have ever even considered applying for the university, apply. If you are still unsure then the absolute best way to work out if this place is for you is to apply to UNIQ. No other place can offer even half as much information (also nowhere else would offer this experience for free!).


Rachel Sweeney

First-year student in Chemistry, Lady Margaret Hall

UNIQ 2017

I am from Glasgow, Scotland, and was raised by a single mother who has no higher education and works as a cleaner. I have two older siblings, one of whom studies Fine Art at Edinburgh College of Art, and another who works as a bartender.

Although Oxford is working on outreach, and diversifying the university, there is still a long way to go. The overwhelming majority of people I’ve met here are English. At interviews and on course, I’ve only met a handful of Scottish people. The issue is, in part, that Scottish students just aren’t applying; that they don’t think Oxford could be for them. I hope that for at least someone, my story helps to inspire; to show that Oxford is for anyone — regardless of background — with a passion for learning.

Where I’m from, Oxbridge always seemed like something other people did, and being in a completely different qualification system meant that hardly anyone from my school considered options outside of Scotland. Not many people from my school chose to study Advanced Highers (the qualification necessary to apply to English universities), and if anyone did it was usually only one or two in subjects they really enjoyed. It’s hardly surprising then, that my school had never had a student admitted to Oxbridge. By the time I reached my fifth year (predicted 5As at Higher), the only subjects I could imagine studying were Advanced Higher Maths, Physics, and Chemistry — I couldn’t go a whole year without studying my favourite subjects. This felt almost like a waste, however, as I would be overqualified for the first year at a Scottish university, and I didn’t want to jump straight to second year.

My first thought of applying to Oxbridge came when I found a Cambridge University prospectus my older sister had picked up at higher education fair. It seemed ridiculous at first when I proposed my plan to my friends, but given my determination, they all believed in me. The only problem was: I had no clue how to go about it. The application process was long and unfamiliar, and no one around me had any experience of it. There was no Oxbridge co-ordinator at my school, we didn’t have mock interviews, and we weren’t a registered admissions test centre.

I never expected to get to Oxford interview stage — let alone get in, but here I am one year later, hopefully encouraging others like me to do the same. My Oxford journey started with applying to UNIQ summer school on a whim, but I am so grateful that I did.

I had never heard of any Oxford University outreach work as such or anything like the UNIQ summer school until my 5th year head teacher handed me a flyer for the programme. He thought it would be ideal for me and two other students. The deadline was soon. At the time, I had only recently decided to study a science at university, and had not yet decided between physics and chemistry. After some thinking I was swayed by physics and decided to apply to study this on UNIQ, with chemistry as a second choice. My careers advisor had also suggested applying to a Sutton Trust summer school, and since I also knew very little about the differences between Oxford and Cambridge and could only send a UCAS application to either one, I also applied to a physics summer school at Cambridge.

When the acceptance and rejection emails came out, and the two other students from my school were rejected, I was certain I had missed out too. But, to my surprise, I had been accepted onto the (slightly less competitive) chemistry summer school. This initially may have seemed like a let-down, but for me it worked out perfectly. That summer I was able to spend a week studying each of the subjects I was finding it hard to choose between, at each of the universities I could not distinguish between.

When I arrived in Oxford for the UNIQ summer school, I was nervous to say the least. In my head I had exaggerated the prestige of the university to the point where I thought everyone who got in must be some sort of genius. That’s why I was so surprised when I arrived and met people just like me who were easy to talk to and often, just as nervous. Of course, everyone was very smart — we were all top of our classes and very interested in our chosen fields. But something that took me a while to figure out is that people may seem to be highly intelligent, but have really just had more rigorous teaching, or are more confident and better at expressing themselves.

The course itself was extremely useful at helping me decide what I wanted to study and where. After taking part in labs, tutorials, and attending lectures, I just knew the course was right for me. And getting to stay in an Oxford college and living with like-minded people in a beautiful city made me fall in love with the place. But it’s not all about the academics. On UNIQ I also got to take part in sports and social activities most evenings — I was really amazed at how much you could fit into a day here; there’s always something exciting going on.

Something very valuable though, was getting to find out more about the application system from the inside. Not only did we take part in workshops on writing an impressive personal statement, but we also took part in mock tutorials (which are essentially like interviews), tried past admissions test questions, and got to hear first-hand what tutors are looking for in candidates. The overwhelming message was that it’s not all about grades: the most important things are how you can think towards solving problems, and how passionate you are about studying your subject.

I decided to apply to the UNIQ summer school mostly on a whim, but I am so grateful I did. Even for those who attended the summer school and didn’t end up studying here, it was very valuable and a lot of fun. I’m still friends with people I met when I did UNIQ. There’s no harm in applying and even if you don’t get in (as the summer school is often more competitive than the courses themselves) don’t lose heart.

You only get five choices on your UCAS form so if you’ve ever wondered if you could study here one day, then make Oxford one of your choices and see what happens. I only decided to apply at the beginning of my 6th year (after attending the UNIQ summer school), and had a few short months to get my application together and send it off. I never expected to get to interviews, let alone get in, but here I am one year later, hopefully encouraging others like me to do the same. Oxford isn’t the be-all-end-all of universities, but it is fantastic, and it could be even more so if you decide to apply.


Monim Wains

First-year student in Computer Science & Philosophy, Oriel College

UNIQ 2017

I am a student with a working-class background who was lucky enough to go to a grammar school. Thanks to the encouragement that the school gave to me, Oxbridge was a target I had my eyes set on in the last few years of school. I always thought of Oxbridge as an incredibly difficult challenge and knew that that I would have a difficult job of getting in because the universities are so competitive. It was, nonetheless, seen as a possible option for people in my school, and the teachers I was lucky enough to have were all incredibly supportive of me.

Having come here, the perception around Oxbridge was one of impossible difficulty, and it seemed like you had to be the perfect candidate in every way to be even a consideration for a place. This isn’t true; the admissions system is geared towards students in year 13, so they expect students from year 13, not world experts in that subject. This is something that should be emphasised to more people, and UNIQ helped me gain a more realistic perception.

I heard about UNIQ from other students who had previously applied to it online. It seemed like a great opportunity to me, as it was the only outreach event that would actually provide me with an Oxford-like experience in the real environment for my subject. Applying for it wasn’t a difficult decision as I didn’t see any downsides. It was true that Oxford had this reputation of being some other place with strange people, but applying to UNIQ, and getting a place on it, completely busted that myth. Everyone at Oxford is very good at their subject, but other than that, there is nothing in common throughout the university at all.

For someone of my background, Oxford might seem like a big gap economically. There’s an idea that it is full of people who are rich and distant. This isn’t true; the UNIQ summer school will show you that. And the best way to change the bias that Oxford does have towards the upper class, is to be here yourself.

The summer school itself was an intense and enjoyable experience. It gave me the truest insight into what Oxford would be like academically, as we had lectures and practicals of a similar standard taught by the lecturer who has lectured me for the real thing in my first term. Having the subject taught to me by a real Oxford professor was perfect, and the fact that I enjoyed the whole experience confirmed that I wanted to apply here. It meant I knew that I had the right interest in my subject to enjoy my time at Oxford if I was ever given the chance.

Of course, the more typically fun stuff happened outside of lectures, and UNIQ was a brilliant boost for my confidence. The social events were very well organised and welcoming for everyone, which meant that I made friends quickly. This was great, because it gave me confidence about how I would fit into Oxford socially if I got a place. UNIQ really does help you to realise that once everyone is at university, trying to make new friends at the same time, it is much easier than you think to settle in. It’s still a challenge, of course, but it’s one that everyone goes through together.

The summer school also gave me valuable insight in to the admissions process. The best of this was the reassurance that you do not have to the best and most perfect candidate possible in every way. Oxford expects that everyone will struggle at some point of the process. The idea is to have a good application all round, and most importantly, to show that you really want to study your subject to a high level for the sake of your interest in it.

The whole experience was the closest I got to an Oxford experience before getting here for real. The work was fast paced and intense. The social life was busy and vibrant. The people were varied and interesting. All of that is true now that I am here. I don’t think anything can truly give you the Oxford experience except being here. Everything in the uni is more intense than I expected. But UNIQ is definitely the closest I could get, and it was definitely a valuable experience. It gave me a far more realistic idea of what life would be like (it’s not just a bunch of geniuses who never leave their room).

I think it’s really important that organisations like UNIQ involve as many students as possible. The summer school gave me a lot of confidence and let me know that I would be comfortable at Oxford. This was incredibly reassuring, and I think that it is important for as many people to experience this as possible, so that the myths around Oxford can be finally put to rest. It is an impressive university with some very unique features, but it is still a university full of young people just like others.

For someone of my background, Oxford might seem like a big gap economically. There’s an idea that it is full of people who are rich and distant. This isn’t true; UNIQ will show you that. And the best way to change the bias that Oxford does have towards the upper class, is to be here yourself. If you deserve to be here because of your academic ability, then that is all that Oxford cares about. Apply here if you are interested in your subject and want to learn from some of the best minds in your field. Of course, getting in is hard, and being here is hard, but not even trying is too easy.


Sophie Haldane

Second-year PPE student, Balliol College

UNIQ 2016

I was raised in a single parent household in the south side of Glasgow. Oxford was never really mentioned or thought of until my friend’s sister a couple of years above got in, and even then I never considered that I would ever go. My school teacher mentioned the UNIQ summer school in an assembly and me and my friend decided to apply. I almost applied to the wrong course as I thought human sciences was sociology and not biology. One of my teachers recommended PPE to me, which I’d never heard of before, and I thought I’d try it to see what it was like — I wasn’t confident that I’d even get in.

When I arrived at UNIQ I was surprised that I was the only Scottish person doing PPE and the only Scottish person in our assigned college. In retrospect I shouldn’t have been as surprised as this is quite representative of my experience in Oxford. One of my mentors, however, was Northern Irish and it was great to hear his experiences as I felt I could relate to him more. Aside from this, I can honestly say I loved every moment of UNIQ. I made friends that I am still friends with today, who also got into Oxford — we still try to meet up and share our experiences and for our exams last year we sent each other essays and revision notes.

UNIQ was extremely effective in building my confidence and I’d love to see the same effect on other Scottish students. Oxford isn’t considered an option back home in Scotland and I think it is important to make prospective students aware that it is an option and it is possible.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the academic side: all the lectures and even the essay we had to write. I had never done any of the subjects before and it definitely fuelled my interests. The tutorial we had was quite daunting, however: I was not used to articulating my thoughts out loud and being able to respond to criticism, which made the tutorial quite intimidating and uncomfortable. This is still something I struggle with today but I have come a long way since that first tutorial.

Had it not been for UNIQ, I doubt I would have applied for PPE, never mind Oxford. It completely changed my perspective and gave me a great deal of confidence in that I should at least try to apply. Even after UNIQ I still struggled to understand aspects of Oxford, like the college system, but UNIQ definitely improved my knowledge and helped with tips for the admissions test and for my personal statement.

I think it’s really important to expand the programme, especially since the majority of people I met at UNIQ were from the South of England, which felt quite isolating in a sense. Oxford isn’t considered an option back home and I think it is important to make prospective students aware that it is an option and it is possible. I think UNIQ was extremely effective in building my confidence and I’d love to see the same effect on other students back home. One of the most important things, asides from simply making students aware that Oxford is an option, is for all of us to decode and explain the Oxford system — both through spreading information and from hearing personal experiences.


Eleanor Bennett

First-year student in Law, Worcester College

UNIQ 2017

Having attended a comprehensive school near Sheffield since Year 7, the concept of applying to the University of Oxford had never crossed my mind. When in Year 12 my Head of sixth form suggested looking in to Oxford, I laughed. I was convinced that the university would no interest in even inviting me for interview, never mind offer me a place. However, as I am now a first-year undergraduate at Worcester College studying BA Law (Jurisprudence) I have realised how skewed my conceptions of Oxford were.

My family and I had no idea what going to Oxford entailed and knew of nobody who had attended. A couple of years ago, the only thing I knew about colleges was that they formed teams on University Challenge. I had no idea that the system of learning was any different to other universities, or of any of the (slightly strange) traditions that create such a unique student experience.

I first heard about UNIQ whilst doing some research about summer schools I could attend in the holiday between Year 12 and 13. Above all, I was looking to gain a place on a summer school to see what life would be like as a Law student. The more I read about UNIQ, the more interested I became. I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to gain an understanding of what studying Law would be like general and help me to decide whether Oxford was for me. It sounds dramatic but filling in the application form was truly one of the best decisions of my life.

UNIQ provided me with the invaluable experience of being able to form my own opinions and judgements about the university and student life here. Speaking to current and prospective students helped me to see what Oxford was really like, despite the inaccurate media portrayal that often influences views of the university.

I was incredibly nervous to come to Oxford for UNIQ. I had no idea what to expect when I stepped on the train with my suitcase filled with everything I needed for the week. However, as soon as I arrived in Oxford, I was immediately put at ease by the student ambassadors who met us at the train station. UNIQ provided me with the invaluable experience of being able to form my own opinions and judgements about the university and student life here. The schedule was filled with lectures, tutorials and we even had the opportunity to take part in a moot (a mock court in which participants argue a case in front of a judge) whilst being supported throughout the week by Oxford tutors and students. Speaking to current and prospective students helped me to see what Oxford was really like, despite the inaccurate media portrayal that often influences views of the university.

The most rewarding part of UNIQ was being able to ask as many questions as I could about what life was like as a student here. I explored the city, looked around colleges and engaged in academic discussions with people who were as enthusiastic about studying Law as I was. I learned that Oxford is not just a place for people who are privately educated; efforts are being made to ensure that the university is a diverse place to live and study. The tutors considering your application have no interest in your background, they want to know about you and your enthusiasm and ability. By the end of the week, Oxford was not an intimidating place. It was just a regular university, with exciting opportunities and unique features that make being a student here so special.

When it came to applying to university in October 2017, having attended UNIQ certainly helped. I was familiar with the admissions tests I had to sit due to workshops during the summer school and roughly knew what to expect in my interview. Before UNIQ, the admissions process seemed complex and daunting, and the way in which the students and tutors guided our understanding during the summer school certainly helped me to feel more at ease. There are so many myths surrounding the admissions process, especially the interview stage, that could easily dissuade a person from applying and this really does not need to be the case.

Now I am a student at the university, I am certainly glad that I took part in UNIQ. Oxford is still a little strange sometimes, it has traditions dating back hundreds of years that can take a while to get used to. However, UNIQ helped me to feel much more comfortable in what can at first be quite an overwhelming environment.

I believe that it is incredibly important that the University of Oxford becomes more diverse, with the cohort showing a true representation of people from all backgrounds. The best academic and social environment will only be created when there is true equality in the admissions process. However, this cannot happen without initiatives such as UNIQ encouraging those from non-traditional backgrounds to apply and consequently change perceptions of the university.

It is easy to shy away from applying to programmes such as UNIQ or considering the University of Oxford as a place to study. However, I would really encourage those from all backgrounds to find out more about the opportunities available rather than immediately dismiss the idea. A couple of years ago, I never imagined that I would be a student here and I am so glad that I took myself out of my comfort zone and filled in an application form for UNIQ, which ultimately led me to where I am today.


Lewis Sutton (right)

Lewis Sutton

First-year student in Materials Science, St Edmund Hall

UNIQ 2017

I am from Norton in Teesside. I credit my successful Oxford application to the experiences I had during the summer of year 12. One such experience was UNIQ. UNIQ is a summer school aimed at areas where students tend not to apply to Oxford. UNIQ is a fantastic programme for young adults. The week was the highlight of my 2017 summer. It provided me with the insight and confidence needed for a successful Oxford application and I met some brilliant people.

I believe that the lack of northern students in Oxford is due to lack of applications and not due to lack of merit amongst northern applicants. This is why UNIQ is a fantastic opportunity and I urge everyone to apply not just to UNIQ but to some of the other fantastic programmes as well.

Before UNIQ my image of Oxford applicants was that they are posh, pretentious and private schooled however UNIQ changed this. The UNIQ ambassadors are amazing! They do a great job of making all students feel at home and welcome. The programme and its ambassadors showed me that nobody should discount Oxford as a genuine possibility on their background alone. Your school and postcode has no effect on your application to Oxford.

I applied to do materials on UNIQ as an attempt to bolster my personal statement. I chose materials as it sounded incredibly interesting, the high application success rate was also a bonus. From this throw away application I discovered my love for materials and how well the Oxford education system suited me.

On UNIQ we had an admission talk with a genuine professor which gave me a good idea of what to expect if I was to make it to interview. By sheer chance this same professor was my interviewer during my Oxford application and now tutors me in mathematics. I wouldn’t have felt so relaxed and wouldn’t of done so well if I hadn’t spoken to him on the summer school. The exposure of the application process you receive whilst on UNIQ will very much aid your application and may give you the edge come interview.

I believe that the lack of northern students in Oxford is due to lack of applications and not due to lack of merit amongst northern applicants. This is why UNIQ is a fantastic opportunity and I urge everyone to apply not just to UNIQ but to some of the other fantastic programmes as well. I know many students more academically gifted than I am who missed studying at top institutions due to them not applying. So take a risk and apply! You never know where it can take you.


Katie Chester

Third-year Biochemistry student, Hertford College

UNIQ 2015

I’m from a really small village in North Lincolnshire, and went to my local state school and sixth-form college. At school my impressions of Oxford was this very elusive, far away place that seemed very unreachable/unlikely place to go. I think the barriers for me about applying/going to Oxford were not knowing anyone who had been and just thinking I wasn’t good enough to go there.

I heard about UNIQ through my sixth-form college. I applied as it looked like a great opportunity and something I could put on my personal statement. To be honest I didn’t even know if they would accept my application so I just applied and didn’t really think about actually getting to go on it.

UNIQ massively changed my opinion about Oxford. Attending the summer school meant it was no longer this elusive far away place. It also made me realise that although you do have to care about your subject you don’t have to be Einstein or know every (or even one) answer to University Challenge questions.

I was so happy when I found out that I had got in to UNIQ. The actual week was so fun! I had such a good time. I think my favourite part was just meeting really normal people like myself. I remember talking about the show Pretty Little Liars at lunch and thinking, wow this is so much more normal than I thought this would be.

UNIQ massively changed my opinion about Oxford. Attending the summer school meant it was no longer this elusive far away place. It also made me realise that although you do have to care about your subject you don’t have to be Einstein or know every (or even one) answer to University Challenge questions. It reassured me that there would be people like me at Oxford and I would have a fun university experience if I got in.

In fact UNIQ was probably one of the main reasons I applied to Oxford. They also did personal statement workshops so that really helped me on how to write my personal statement and make a competitive application. They gave everyone some free books at the end that I read and was then able to discuss in my personal statement. With the help of UNIQ I felt as prepared as I could be for the application process.

UNIQ was one week, so inevitably it can’t prepare you for full university life. But it did help in lots of ways. For example in freshers week it was quite an easy talking point if you find out if someone else did UNIQ. It also meant I saw friendly faces around of other people who had done the same UNIQ summer school as me. Since we had a mock tutorial in UNIQ it meant my first tutorial was less scary as I knew more of what to expect.

I think it’s important UNIQ is expanding as there is still a massive under-representation of a variety of groups at Oxford. I think one of the main challenges to changing that is there are just not enough competitive applications from people from the north, state schools and other groups that we don’t see enough of at Oxford. I’m supporting this campaign as I think UNIQ is a vital way of changing that problem.

To people who were in the same position I was a few years ago: I would say, apply to UNIQ even if you’re not sure. It gives you a true representation of what Oxford is like and is a really fun (and completely free) week! Then following from UNIQ you can make a much more informed decision if Oxford is the kind of place you want to live/study. I’ve had the best time here and have met such a range of nice normal people. We do work hard but still go out, have fun. There is no harm in applying and then deciding not to go later on. I would just say don’t close that door/opportunity until you are 100% sure it isn’t for you because you may be surprised!


Katie Wilson

Second-year student in French and German, Oriel College

UNIQ 2016

I live in a “deprived” area in the Northeast of England: a warm and welcoming place that will always be my home, but a place where no one moves outside of their postcode or goes to university. The type of place that had a party on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. University simply isn’t presented as an option. When I considered applying, my extended family thought I was arrogant to think I was clever enough and selfish to want to “leave everyone” and move away. My school was encouraging but fairly clueless about Oxbridge. They supported the applications of their star pupils, but I was never on their radar as a potential applicant.

It was pot-luck (or fate) that I found UNIQ after a vague Google search of “languages summer school”. Three days before the deadline I wrote a quick personal statement, applied and forgot about it. When I heard I’d got a place, I was bouncing off the walls.

The phrase “it changed my life” is clichéd, but UNIQ genuinely did. All because the tutors and student helpers convinced me I’d be wanted in a place like Oxford.

UNIQ was glorious. I fell in love with Kafka on the spot as I sat in the sun on St John’s College garden reading his work for the first time. At UNIQ I also had my first tutorial. At first it was utterly terrifying to present my thoughts on a poem I’d read the day before to an Oxford academic. But the tutor listened and took my ideas seriously. He allowed our group of three to develop our thoughts without cutting us off or deeming them irrelevant. A far cry from any classroom setting I’d experienced.

The phrase “it changed my life” is clichéd, but UNIQ genuinely did. All because the tutors and student helpers convinced me I’d be wanted in a place like Oxford. Through UNIQ I also discovered German literature, which created new levels of passion and motivation in my subject.

UNIQ never forgot about us after the summer, which eased the stress of applying. They organised meet ups for participants during interviews, which felt like a protective bubble from the otherwise competitive atmosphere. They told us “you’ll inevitably meet boastful people who’ll try to intimidate you during interviews. But funnily enough, we never meet them at the Freshers Fair.” During interviews I spent my time with a friend from UNIQ also interviewing. We both got places and we’re still very close friends.

I remind myself of what UNIQ taught me almost every day: believe you’re clever, trust your instincts, listen, but be confident in your ideas. We simply aren’t taught confidence at school, which is key in making the most of Oxford’s tutorial setting. With UNIQ I could bridge the gap between university and A Level approaches to learning.

With UNIQ expanding, more students (whether they decide to apply to Oxford or not) will experience a week in the sun learning more about what they love. They’ll develop confidence and make a new group of friends who they otherwise wouldn’t have known. No matter what university they apply to, I know from experience they’ll have in each other a brand-new support network across the process.

My advice for those who relate to my experiences is: don’t let anyone tell you your academic limits or make you feel guilty about your ambition. If no one’s realised yet that you’re brilliant, a whole host of tutors in Oxford are waiting to tell you how wonderful you are.


Joe Inwood

BA History, Mansfield College

President, Oxford University Student Union (2018–19)

UNIQ 2014

I grew up in Manchester, and like every other Mancunian I feel a huge sense of pride in my city. My family are from a mix of backgrounds; my Dad is from a working-class family and grew up in a council house, my Mum is the daughter of high school teachers. Manchester is a student city and going to university was always assumed for me by teachers and my parents, but the ‘normal’ thing to do was to study not far from home. I could choose one of the many options in the cities of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool or Newcastle.

At my school, looking further afield was relatively unusual. Very few of my peers applied to study in London or elsewhere in the South. And then there was Oxbridge. The difference between Oxford and Cambridge was neither here nor there in my eyes, they were both equally strange and distant. I had never been to either city, and I did not know anyone who had been a student there. News coverage — social elitism and eccentric traditions — coloured my perception entirely. It all seemed to tell me it was not for me, so why should I want to try? An equally big stumbling block was my own perception of what being intelligent meant. I was convinced that Oxford students were all super-confident, privately educated, serious, and working at a level beyond anything I could understand. This was not helped by the fact that I had never met one.

There was a poster for UNIQ on the door of my Head of Sixth Form’s office. I remember seeing it and thinking it looked far brighter and more exciting than any impression of Oxford I had. I went on the website and it just looked like fun — this was not something I associated with Oxford in my head. I was surprised and excited to be offered a place.

UNIQ itself was a lot of fun. We were spoilt with great weather, and I discovered that summer in Oxford is a beautiful thing. The hours I spent punting on the River Cherwell, reading in the Bodleian, and wandering around beautiful colleges (I stayed in Lincoln College, in a room above the shops on Turl Street) gave me a taste of what Oxford has to offer.

I believe the expansion of UNIQ has the potential to be transformational. There is no substitute for spending time here, seeing the colleges, libraries and laboratories, and talking to current students. The investment UNIQ made in me back in 2014 changed my life just like for so many others

There were some huge shifts in my thinking about Oxford as a result of UNIQ. A large part of this was spending time with the student mentors. I had never met anyone who had studied at Oxford before, and the first thing that struck me about the mentors on our course was how normal they were. I had a very negative impression in my head that was not the reality.

I had very little confidence in my academic ability at the time, and I had already convinced myself I was not good enough to actually study at Oxford. I also had no idea which course was the right one. Having applied first for French I was transferred onto ‘Humanities’, an interdisciplinary course. On the first day of the academic programme we drew scraps of paper out of a hat to decide our specialism for the week. I ended up with ‘historical sources’, and our topic was the First World War. It was these few days of reading letters from soldiers on the Western Front that gave me a passion for history from the perspective of the individual. I saw how huge forces impact on ordinary lives, and as I wrote my essay, I suddenly realised I could even contribute my own ideas! I cannot overstate the significance of the positive feedback that I received at the end of the week. The penny dropped: this was something within my reach.

I made friends during the week that I am still in touch with today, including some I still see around Oxford. UNIQ gave us a powerful tool that we would not otherwise have had — a support network. A running joke in my first year was that I already knew everyone in Oxford because I had met them on UNIQ. As a counterbalance to people who did also ‘know everyone’, but because they went to the same private schools in and around London, this felt like a special kind of secret power. A group of us kept in touch through application, meeting up for a Nando’s during our interviews, and again seeing each other in Oxford when many of us received offers and started studying. It’s a group that even helped support my election campaign when I ran to be SU President three and a half years later.

I believe the expansion of UNIQ has the potential to be transformational. There is no substitute for spending time here, seeing the colleges, libraries and laboratories, and talking to current students. The investment UNIQ made in me back in 2014 changed my life just like for so many others. At the student union, we believe access doesn’t stop at admissions, and there is still much work for us all to do. But to anyone who has thought of Oxford but is hesitating like I did — apply. You can grow and thrive here, you can find your place without losing who you are, and most importantly, your presence here is part of a great and exciting change in this university. Apply for UNIQ, you will not regret it.


Maddison Sumner

Third-year student in French & Linguistics, Lady Margaret Hall

UNIQ 2015

I come from a small town in the northeast of England: Scunthorpe. You may have heard of it from a couple of songs and one article about the worst/dingiest towns in England…! Our main industry is the steelworks, and it is not very common for students from Scunthorpe to go to Oxford.

The view of Oxford at my college was the classic stereotype: it’s a university for rich people who are extremely clever. It just seemed so far away — not only geographically, because I couldn’t afford the expensive train fare to go on open days, but also because I didn’t feel like I was clever enough to get in. It truly just was not a passing thought: I didn’t even consider Oxford until I saw an advert for UNIQ in college.

The advert was hidden in a notice board in my college, and it was a very spur-of-the-moment decision for me to apply: I remember going to sit in the library, writing my mini personal statement, sending off the application and then telling my mum that I’d done it. I didn’t really think about it because I wasn’t totally aware of the point of UNIQ, and I thought ‘I’m from Scunthorpe, they probably won’t accept me’ — applying was a bit of fun. Something to pass the time during a free period. I really wasn’t expecting the acceptance email!

This is why UNIQ is so important: it shows people like me that Oxford is fun, Oxford is possible, and Oxford is for you, not just the people you think it’s for

UNIQ was genuinely one of the best experiences of my life. I was housed at Lady Margaret Hall (the college I ended up applying to and being accepted to) with a huge group of like-minded young people, and it was such a blast. I was reminded how passionate I was about the subjects I wanted to study, and I was comforted by the realisation that the people on the summer school were just like me (i.e. not posh, rich people) and the actual students who were mentoring us were really nice, too.

One of the biggest fears I had about Oxford was the heavy focus on literature (I study French) but the summer school really helped me understand that a heavy focus on literature is something I really like! We had lectures, seminars, and even did a tutorial essay which helped me understand that the degree at Oxford was something I was actually excited about.

UNIQ was definitely the deciding factor in my decision to apply to Oxford — there was a whole day dedicated to preparing us for the applications process. This was highly useful for me, particularly coming from a school who did not really have any structures in place to help with this, since the number of people applying to Oxford is extremely low. I don’t think I would have applied to Oxford had I not experienced UNIQ.

Oxford is steadily, slowly, surely, becoming more diverse. It’s becoming a much more interesting and dynamic place because more and more people from areas less exposed to Oxford are starting to realise that Oxford is, in fact, an accessible university for them! This is why UNIQ is so important: it shows people like me that Oxford is fun, Oxford is possible, and Oxford is for you, not just the people you think it’s for.

If you are passionate about your subject and prepared to work hard to succeed, then it is worth applying for UNIQ. It changed my life — I’m a third-year Oxford student studying abroad in France, reading classic French literature, with a big and exciting future ahead of me, all things I would not have experienced if I had not taken part in UNIQ — why not give it a go?


Shannon Edwards

Second-year student in Biochemistry, The Queen’s College

UNIQ 2016

Coming from a state school in North London with a BME background, for a long time I believed that a place like Oxford was unattainable. Not only had neither of my parents been to university, meaning that the process of applying to university was unfamiliar in itself, but other than hearing about Oxbridge on TV, Oxford was never the type of place that was said to be possible for me. The majority of my teachers throughout secondary school, and even sixth form, told me to aim high yet made it seem as if aiming to attend a university such as Oxford was just a step too far. This is on top of the fact that I didn’t know whether someone like me would be welcomed in such an influential place, and I had the idea that everyone who went to Oxford would have a vast natural capacity which would allow them to grasp concepts much more quickly than myself.

However, I was thankfully made aware of the UNIQ summer school at a meeting for like-minded students at my sixth form who were curious about Oxford, but were on the fence about whether or not they should pursue their goal. The meeting was really encouraging, but I quickly fell back on my previous doubts about applying because I was almost certain that I wouldn’t get selected. It wasn’t until the deadline was fast approaching that I watched the video on the biochemistry admissions website, and listened to how useful current students found the UNIQ summer school. It was at this moment that I realised, as cliché as it sounds, that I only had something to lose by not trying.

Fast-forward a few months and I found myself at St. Catherine’s College, experiencing Oxford in a way that reflected a typical week for students. There was a combination of lectures and practical sessions which allowed us to explore many more topics than I previously thought was possible in a few days. My favourite part of the week, academically, was being in the lab looking at C. elegans and seeing how mutations affected their function. This is not only because we got the chance to use equipment which would not be feasible to use in the classroom, but I found it intriguing to explore the possibilities of genetics beyond the scope of the A-level syllabus.

It was by far one of the best weeks that I’ve had during any summer holiday, and after being so heavily influenced I want to emphasise that any student who is willing to apply can find their niche here and can succeed

However, a special part of my experience was meeting other UNIQ students from all across the country. Although we all came from different backgrounds, we all had a common ground in terms of trying to figure out how we would navigate our way through a space which felt so different from what we were used to. By sharing our concerns, we were able to challenge each other to not be so afraid to go for what seemed impossible, which was emphasised by the biochemistry staff who provided what seemed like genuine encouragement.

Towards the end of the week, we had several talks about ‘the next steps’. What was particularly helpful was the session with Dr Mark Wormald going over a variety of personal statements paragraph by paragraph, discussing what was good and what would have been better left unsaid. This was helpful as it allowed us to realise that you really don’t need to be captain of the football team as well as having loads of work experience under your belt, on top of juggling several other activities, to have a chance of getting in. I learnt that as long as you try to engage with your subject as much as your socio-economic environment allows, your interests and qualities will shine through. A session with the biochemists was also provided where we did a TSA paper and then went through it; although we don’t have admissions tests as biochemists, it was really useful to practise thinking on your feet as it is a skill which can never be over-practised before (and after) interviews.

Another way in which the week prepared us for life at Oxford was having the chance to work towards a mock tutorial. To my surprise, it helped me to discover that not only were tutorials something to not be afraid of, but it turned out to be an experience that I actually enjoyed. Moreover, despite the intensity of the week the summer school also prepared us by giving us time to roam around the beautiful city. This is important to remember as you settle in as a fresher because there is so much more to Oxford than just the libraries!

As a result of the great experience I had, I am supporting the UNIQ summer school not only because I appreciate the effort that the university has put into trying to prove that there is not an ‘Oxford type’, but because the summer school completely changed my trajectory. It was by far one of the best weeks that I’ve had during any summer holiday, and after being so heavily influenced I want to emphasise that any student who is willing to apply can find their niche here and can succeed. Whether or not people come from a similar background as you, you all share in your enthusiasm for learning. This will not only help you academically but also socially because as a result of this, students here are so much more open to learning from and making friends with those who are not carbon copies of themselves than you would expect!


Gagan Khurana

Second-year student in Physics, St Anne’s College

UNIQ 2016

Growing up, going to university wasn’t really on my radar; I didn’t have any immediate family that had done so, and my parents certainly hadn’t gone! Oxford and Cambridge were just names I’d hear every now and again in movies — I didn’t know that they were actual towns, let alone places to teach and learn. A charity looking to increase higher education take-up did some work with my school, and that’s when I started thinking about university for the first time — I knew I liked Physics (I always had since reading a Horrible Science book in primary school) and I remember hearing whispers about Oxbridge whilst doing my GCSEs when I was 15 — it was only once they were done that I thought it might actually be worth applying.

I used to work with my dad in his market stall every weekend, and I remember the summer after my GCSEs mentioning to a customer who had asked that I was thinking about applying for Oxford — her response was a brief chuckle, and then when she realised I was serious, a quiet word detailing how Oxford is a bastion of privilege — not a place for someone normal like me. If anything that fuelled me, but it also planted a seed of doubt — what if I applied and got in by some miracle, but didn’t fit in?

if you come with an open mind and want to take opportunities that come your way Oxford’s a place that doesn’t judge you on who you are, but gives you the space to explore and become who you want to be

I remember sitting around in our sixth form common room when our head of sixth came in and put a poster down for UNIQ quite pointedly aimed towards me, and I applied because it seemed the perfect opportunity to see what Oxford was actually like. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. UNIQ was brilliant — it was the first time I was surrounded by people who deeply enjoyed their subjects, but who were also able to have fun — the highlight of UNIQ for me was the bop at the end which was the perfect end to a week where I felt I was properly pushed for the first time. The summer school changed my perception of Oxford — people take what they do seriously, but don’t take themselves too seriously, and that feeling of having fun but being challenged is what really encouraged me to apply.

After UNIQ I knew I wanted to apply, and having had some admissions test help, done a practice tutorial, and seen the style of work in Oxford, I was able to make a much more informed application. In retrospect what was great about UNIQ is that it was just as busy as a week during term, and was a great predicator of what life studying at Oxford is like — that’s the reason why I think it’s so amazing that UNIQ is expanding; so many people from such a varied range of backgrounds have no idea what Oxford is actually like, and UNIQ is an exceptional equaliser in that it gives you an incredible insight into the Oxford experience.

For anyone who’s thinking about applying to either Oxford or UNIQ — do it. I can’t emphasise it enough: by some miracle I got in, and over the past year I’ve met people and done things that 15 year old me couldn’t have even imagined — if you come with an open mind and want to take opportunities that come your way Oxford’s a place that doesn’t judge you on who you are, but gives you the space to explore and become who you want to be. I didn’t realise I wanted to be anything beyond a market trader until I went on UNIQ, and now I’m writing this as President of the JCR at St. Anne’s College Oxford, where I get to work with an insanely talented committee to make life better for everyone. It’s a strange place, and I don’t know where my life will go in the next few years, but I do know Oxford’s given me the opportunity to figure it out.


Charlotte Winter

Third year Economics & Management student, Worcester College

UNIQ 2015

I came to Oxford from a non-selective state school in Nottinghamshire where there had only been one Oxbridge student before. Oxford University wasn’t an option that students from my school considered, never mind actually took the steps to apply to. It wasn’t like a normal university, surely? I thought everyone must work all the time and not have fun, or ever go clubbing like ‘normal’ students do. I never considered Oxford as an option during year 12, even after achieving great GCSE results.

During the Christmas holidays of year 12 I began to explore what I would like to study at University. Doing A Levels in Maths, Biology and Chemistry, I was really unsure what interested me so I began researching summer schools. A lot of summer schools that I found sounded great but unfortunately I did not fit all of the criteria as my dad had gone to University. When I found UNIQ, I thought it looked like something I would really enjoy. With the help of my Head of Sixth Form, I sent in an application. I actually didn’t gain a place at first, but I was put on the reserve list in case somebody wasn’t able to attend. Luckily for me, just that happened and I gained a place!

I really do think I owe my place at Oxford to UNIQ — without it I wouldn’t have even applied, and it proved an interesting conversation starter in my interviews!

I attended the Maths and Statistics programme, as Maths was the subject that interested me the most. The week was intense but great fun. We attended lectures and worked on a group project, as well as participating in social activities every evening. Social activities included going to a formal dinner with tutors, as well as a bop (Oxford’s word for a party) with all of the UNIQ students of that week. My favourite part of the week was making friends with lots of incredible people — some of whom are still my friends today! After making so many friends I realised that actually people who study at Oxford are ‘normal’, and they do like to have fun. Although I decided that Maths wasn’t for me (something that I might not have known without UNIQ!), it helped me in exploring other options. In particular, how maths is applied to other subjects such as Economics, which was not offered at my sixth form so I didn’t know much about. The student ambassadors were all so helpful and it was really comforting to have them around, answering questions all the time.

Although I had the most incredible week on UNIQ I still wasn’t completely made up on applying to Oxford — surely I wasn’t good enough to get in? Throughout September, I had written my personal statement and decided on four choices of universities that I really wanted to apply to but I didn’t have a fifth choice. I remembered how much fun I had had on UNIQ so I just thought — why not just put Oxford down? Luckily, I had written my personal statement in plenty of time for the Oxbridge deadline. After sending off my application and completing the entrance exam (the TSA), which UNIQ helped prepare me for, I put university to the back of my mind and focused on my A levels. I couldn’t believe it when I was actually invited to an interview at Worcester College!

I really do think I owe my place at Oxford to UNIQ — without it I wouldn’t have even applied, and it proved an interesting conversation starter in my interviews! That’s why I decided to work on UNIQ as an ambassador in the summer after my first year at Oxford. I think it’s incredible that UNIQ is expanding because it shows teenagers that Oxford is not just for privileged teenagers — anybody can study at Oxford if you work for it. At the end of the day, even if you decide that Oxford is not for you, then it’s still an amazing opportunity to spend a week exploring your subject more in a world-renowned University for free and making some great friends.

If anybody is in a similar situation to where I was, wondering whether there is any point applying to Oxford, or even considering it, all I would say is: it’s one space on your UCAS application but has the potential to open up so many opportunities — why not just apply?


Lina Cox

Third-year student in Chemistry, Exeter College

UNIQ 2015

I come from Whitby, North Yorkshire and went to a Caedmon College Whitby, which is an 11–18 community school with about 1200 students and has the only sixth form in a 30-mile radius. Everyone from town goes there so that when you get to sixth form you literally know everyone in your year. This is a really nice thing but it also leads to you feeling a bit sheltered from the world. Also, a lot of people tend to either stay in town and work for local businesses or, if they go to university, choose nearby options like Teesside, York and Newcastle without really thinking about places further away.

Growing up with everyone around you not even thinking about leaving Yorkshire, never mind going to Oxford is not the best thing to encourage you apply. Before I went on UNIQ Oxford seemed a bit of a mythical place, to be honest. It is so far down south (further than a lot of my mates have ever visited) and I thought it was going to be all incredibly posh, snotty lads who march around in fancy gowns chanting in Latin. (Spoiler: it isn’t, it really really isn’t)

When I applied to be on UNIQ there was no one from my school at Oxford but I’d heard from someone 3 years above that they went on UNIQ and had a good time and I thought I should really give it a go before dismissing it — it was a week long-holiday with free food, after all.

My favourite thing about UNIQ was probably the people. They were just so normal and so lovely. Everybody was in the same situation, a little bit suspicious of what they’d find but soon we were chatting away about anything and everything

Going on UNIQ was absolutely the best week of my summer and became a really important factor when I was deciding where to apply.

My favourite thing about UNIQ was probably the people. They were just so normal and so lovely. Everybody was in the same situation, a little bit suspicious of what they’d find but soon we were chatting away about anything and everything. There were so many socials: sports day, bop (like a fancy dress party), ridiculous card games, and by the end of the week I’d made friends that I’m still in touch with four years later.

Aside from the people the academic stuff was also really interesting. The lectures were interesting and just the right level of difficult. I could understand what was going on but I also didn’t feel patronised. Being taught proper chemistry by proper, world class chemistry experts was and is pretty cool.

The mock interview was also so helpful. We had a lecture where a volunteer was interviewed by two tutors. No way would I have volunteered for fear of embarrassment but as I followed the questions and thought about what I would say in that situation I realised that it was totally something I could do, just like an in-depth chemistry chat really.

The whole experience prepared me really well for the application process, with UNIQ meet-ups at interviews reminding me that I had this great experience behind me and I really stood a chance of getting in.

I would say that UNIQ prepared me well for Oxford but mainly in that it normalised it for me and made me realise that coming here was an achievable aim. Once you figure this out and arrive here, Oxford really sells itself. There are so many great clubs and societies and facilities and lectures, UNIQ just let me know that I was the kind of person who could take advantage of them.

I think it’s so important that more people from the northeast come on UNIQ and come to Oxford because while there are many great people here, not enough of them have a nice proper Northern accent. I don’t want to have to settle for saying I live “near Newcastle” when it’s 75 miles away. I don’t want to have to explain what it is to be “mafting” or why the word “the” isn’t really necessary in any sentence. Some of the people here have never been further North than Birmingham and to them the North-East is just as mysterious as Oxford once seemed to me.

It’s our responsibility to let them know how great Northerners really are. Also, the more of us there are, the more people at home will realise they can make it to any university they want as well. I don’t want anyone thinking they can’t come to Oxford just cos they say grass instead of grarse or cos they spent their summer working in a chippy rather than on fancy holidays.

This is why if anyone is reading this who lives in the deep North and goes to a school that never has anyone go to Oxford, I really think you should apply for UNIQ. You’ll have a great time, you’ll realise that Oxford is for anyone who wants to go there and maybe soon we will have enough signatures on the petition for a Gregg’s to open in the town centre.


Leon Matthews

Second-year undergraduate in Chemistry, University College

UNIQ 2016

Growing up on an estate in Middlesbrough, nobody really expected me to go to a decent university, never mind one of the best in the world. Where I’m from, it always seemed that, if you were born here, you’ll spend your whole life here. Although this makes Middlesbrough the community it is, I think it’s a shame that kids from working class backgrounds often think there’s no place for them in a world leading university like oxford. This was definitely true for me; teachers never really pushed me to apply to Oxford, and I was given little information on the application process. In my school, I remember vividly how everyone seemed to talk about that one guy who applied to Oxford, but didn’t manage to pass the interviews, and how nobody from our school had ever managed to get in. Nevertheless, it had been my biggest dream for a long time to go to Oxford, and I was determined to make it.

I found out about UNIQ a few days before the application deadline, and I spent hours writing the perfect application, but when I had finished, I hesitated to send it off. I almost felt embarrassed that I was even applying to a university like Oxford, coming from a state school in the northeast of England. Oxford always seemed like a place for the posh southerners who paid thousands for their education. Luckily my parents were a massive influence, and they always told me I was good enough, and eventually I decided to go for it and send my application. What felt like an eternity later, I was offered a place. This was a defining moment for me, and I honestly believe that if I hadn’t decided to press send on that application, I wouldn’t be in Oxford right now.

The tutorials were a lot more relaxed than I expected, and were less like an interview and more like a discussion. In particular, I came out of the organic chemistry tutorial feeling like I learned more in an hour than I had my whole year in sixth form, even though I hadn’t really even been explicitly ‘taught’ anything

UNIQ was the first of the summer schools I attended, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I stayed at Queens College and studied Chemistry for a week. In retrospect, the chemistry department did a great job of emulating a working week for a chemist in Oxford. We had a few hours of lectures every morning, 3 tutorials across the week, and even got a chance to spend time in the practical labs and do some proper experiments. It amazed me how everyone was there for the same reason — they were fascinated by chemistry, and the tutors and lecturers’ dedication and interest for the subject was really clear to see. Most of all, it was the tutorials that had drawn me to Oxford. Having a few hours every week to speak to an expert in their field about some problems you’ve been working on seemed like an amazing opportunity.

The tutorials were a lot more relaxed than I expected, and were less like an interview and more like a discussion. In particular, I came out of the organic chemistry tutorial feeling like I learned more in an hour than I had my whole year in sixth form, even though I hadn’t really even been explicitly ‘taught’ anything. All the tutor did was push my prior knowledge to the limit, and it seemed as if I had managed to create new knowledge out of nowhere.

Even today, I struggle to find Oxford students from anywhere near Middlesbrough, but because there are so few of us, we stick together, and some of my best mates are still people I met on UNIQ. There seems to be a huge sense of community amongst northerners in Oxford; the Oxford Northerners’ Society is great for meeting other people from similar backgrounds, and they do a great college bar crawl every term! This doesn’t mean you won’t make friends with people from other backgrounds. Some of my best mates came from a seemingly different world, attending the top private schools in the UK. What I didn’t expect was that they are normal people just like me, and once you sit in that first lecture, everyone is equal, regardless of how you got there.

Looking at the statistics from this year’s Oxford admissions, the north-south divide is still very clear. Applicants from the north east make up only 2% of the UK students admitted, the lowest in the country. This is a real shame, as there are so many students that could have made it, but have been discouraged because of their background. The fact that UNIQ are now increasing their intake should be a great motivation for more people to apply, and I hope that knowing my experience, that more people from working class backgrounds will start applying to Oxford. Hard work and dedication is all you need to reach Oxford, regardless of where you came from or how much you pay to get there.


Isobel Townend

Second-year student in Economics & Management, Wadham College

UNIQ 2016

I attended a state comprehensive high school followed by a state sixth-form college in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. When I first mentioned to colleagues at my part-time job that I was applying to study at Oxford, many of them would curtsy to me as they passed or put on a ‘posh’ accent when we spoke. Although this was meant and taken as a joke, it exemplifies how many in my community perceive Oxford, as something quite distant from their reality. I have been lucky to grow up in a household where ambition was highly encouraged, and so I always believed that I was smart enough and good enough to achieve. But I know others may have the view that Oxford is meant for a certain ‘elite’ reinforced in all areas of their life.

In some UK schools there is an expectation that most of the students will apply to Oxbridge, and whilst my sixth-form college had excellent Oxbridge admissions support, to make an application would still be considered only to be realistic for those achieving the highest grades and class rankings. In fact, not having a full complement of A* grades at GCSE isn’t necessarily a barrier to gaining an offer of a place at Oxford as scores are contextualised.

The UNIQ summer school was not something my sixth-form college advertised to me or was aware of, but because I was encouraged by my parents to consider Oxbridge, I found it in an online search. I support the increasing of the scope of UNIQ as well as the targeted campaign because I want talented students who might not even consider Oxford, for instance because they lack confidence in their own ability, to be made aware of and to be able to attend UNIQ.

It is quite true that Oxford is not for everyone, but it can be for anyone with talent and passion — and UNIQ is important because it can help those who perceive Oxford as somewhere foreign and intimidating to see how they can find their place here

For me the programme did several things: it demystified the admissions process, it made me realise how special Oxford is, and it allowed me to form friendships I would maintain during the application process and beyond. Before attending UNIQ I believed that the interview was the make or break part of the admissions process. However, talks during the programme clarified that the interview would take the form of a more informal chat where I could wear comfortable clothes, and it would be considered as just one part of the whole process. This made me feel far more confident about my ability to successfully be offered a place even if I wasn’t a particularly eloquent interviewee.

UNIQ gave me the opportunity to experience lectures and tutorial work; I learnt so much about my subject during the week, having never formally studied it before, and I fell in love with the tutorial style of teaching as well as with this beautiful city where I began to feel at home. I got a taste of college life as well — making friends with people aspiring to study a whole range of subjects in the canteen and accommodation. I found that the college environment was something really appealing to me — something I would never have known otherwise. I was able to meet with the friends I made during the week at interviews, where it was nice to see familiar faces, and those of us offered places shared in the excitement together.

It is quite true that Oxford is not for everyone, but it can be for anyone with talent and passion — and UNIQ is important because it can help those who perceive Oxford as somewhere foreign and intimidating to see how they can find their place here. I would encourage anyone who is considering whether Oxford could be the place for them to apply for UNIQ and I am thrilled to see the university expanding this programme which offers the opportunity, free of charge, for talented students to explore the possibility of an Oxford education.


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