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What happens on a university access or outreach programme?

Do you have Oxbridge – or another top-rated university – in your sights? Not quite sure if the environment is right for you?

Luckily, there are a number of events, initiatives and programmes available to give potential applicants like you a taste of the academic experience universities offer. These are aimed at encouraging capable students from a wide range of backgrounds to apply.

Student Ruby, now in Year 13, attended one such programme, Balliol College's Floreat programme last year:
Balliol College's Floreat is a year-long academic programme offered to Year 12 students from state schools, currently across two geographical regions – Hertfordshire and London. The programme offers the opportunity to engage with Oxford-style teaching in the humanities, and is offered to students free of charge.
This opportunity is aimed at bright students who are interested in studying a broad arts or humanities degree at a top university (not necessarily Oxford); and who are keen to engage with academic ideas and material outside their school curriculum, ahead of applying to university the following year. Katie Kettle, Outreach And Student Support Officer At Balliol College, Oxford
Ruby reveals how Floreat has helped her ahead of applying to Oxford, and how such a programme could support you:

How did you get on the Floreat programme? 

I heard about it through my careers advisor at school. There was an online application where I was asked about my extra-curricular activities, an achievement or award I hold, something I had read recently and how the course would benefit me. 

Floreat Programme, Balliol College
Balliol College, University of Oxford (Source: Ian Taylor)

What do you do on the programme?

The weekly sessions are each Thursday after school from 5-7pm in a school in Harpenden. Since Balliol college is the college associated with Hertfordshire, all the students are from there, and so the sessions are also held fairly locally. 

The sessions give us a flavour of Oxford-style teaching and help develop our critical thinking. Sessions have included 'Class and community in the East End', 'Protest, radicalisation and continuity' and 'The bomb'.

Prior to each, we have to read four different texts, varying from dissertations to novels, to form the basis of our discussions.  

Floreat Programme, Balliol College
A group discussion during one session (Source: Rob Judges)

We talk predominantly about the different viewpoints of each author, and how these have influenced our own ideas on the subject. Sometimes we are given broad questions to stimulate our thinking further and focus our discussions. 

My favourite session has been the 'History of visual arts' session. Although daunting to deliver a small presentation, the texts themselves were particularly stimulating, especially since this topic was completely new to me.

How has the programme helped you? 

To be a part of a humanities course led by ex-Oxford students has been invaluable. Not only has it helped me to see if I’m suited to the intensity and style of Oxford teaching, but the seminars have also allowed me to broaden my horizons and explore new themes.

Ruby in a session on the Floreat Programme
Ruby participating in a group discussion (Source: Rob Judge)

Having group discussions each week has further developed my public speaking and arguing skills. This is key for an Oxford applicant, since the weekly tutorials that students have are essentially a one-on-one or two-on-one debate with an expert where you will have to justify your opinions in your work or on something you have read.

You took an Oxford aptitude test too, right?

I won't lie, I was terrified by the very thought of a mock-style Oxford admissions test. As it turned out, it wasn't too bad at all. 

Since the course itself covers a range of humanities subjects, the admissions test had to cater for all of us too; so it contained components from the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT) and the History Aptitude Test (HAT). 

A week after the test, we got back our marks with some feedback. Although I would have to take the ELAT (English Literature Aptitude Test) to study English, this test was nonetheless incredibly useful to see the kind of format to expect and what a good essay would include.  

What's the summer residential?

The main focus of the week was us researching and writing a humanities essay, the title of which we chose in advance. It was especially exciting to have access to the wealth of books in Oxford's many libraries, including the Balliol library. 

Floreat Programme, Balliol College
Floreat students tour Balliol College (Source: Rob Judges)

At the end of the week, we had a 'tutorial' with an Oxford academic to replicate the teaching style of humanities subjects at Oxford, given feedback on our essays and encouraged to discuss the topic in depth. 

Looking back

The whole experience has been invigorating and engaging. I've met some really great people along the way.

I would urge those considering applying to Oxbridge to look at the sorts of programmes on offer to students in order to help you to make you decision.


About Ruby

Ruby is a Year 13 student, studying English literature, French, early-modern history and theatre studies. Ruby is interested in becoming a journalist when she's older. In her free time, she likes to sing, dance, act and read.

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