Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 13 Sep 2007

My daughter is set on going to Oxford but may not get in. Should we encourage her or not?

Hillary's Advice

This is a girl who, you say, is bright but not exceptional, fiercely competitive, and has some eating problems. Both you and her teachers seem clear about the realities of her situation and, to be honest, it is an impossible one. Of course you want to back her ambitions, but at the same time you do not want
exacerbate any emotional fragility that could be developing in her.

I would suggest letting her follow her ambitions shes going to do it anyway -- while at the same time keeping her firmly focussed on the wider picture. Make sure she understands just how the sheer numbers of brilliant applicants aiming for Oxford inevitably turn the admissions process into a lottery there is, after all, no failure in not winning a lottery.

Make her see, too, that while A grades are important, Oxford will also be looking for a lively, well-read and questioning mind, so she will need to do much more than work like a slave at her homework to prepare for her application. And buy her Oxbridge Entrance: the real rules by Elfie Pallis to help her start to think about her interview.

Even more importantly, make sure she always keeps other universities clearly in her mind, by encouraging her to go to get their brochures and go to their open days. If its cloistered tradition she is attracted to, get her to visit somewhere like Durham. If its exciting history, she could look at somewhere like Nottingham.

Remind her, too, that most successful and ambitious people have never set foot anywhere near either Oxford or Cambridge.