How much would you pay to get into Oxbridge?

The number of tutoring companies offering training for potential Oxbridge applicants has soared in recent years, as have the fees they charge. Prices for hourly one-on-one tuition ranges from around £60 an hour to £4000 for an all- inclusive ‘Oxbridge package.'

A simple Google search provides evidence that university coaching for Russell Group entry, especially Oxbridge interviews, is growing, both at the upper ends of private school society, and in areas where state and grammar schools strive to keep up with their independent counterparts.

The packages on offer purport to assist applicants with the academic aspects such as college selection and written work submission, while also looking to familiarise students with ways of standing out among high achieving candidates.

Tutoring schemes in general claim to have a 50% success rate for Oxbridge applications, compared to the 21% rate for Oxbridge applicants overall. No agency guarantees Oxbridge offers (most have a condition in their contract stating that there is no assurance of success), but rising demand for services has caused an increase in reliance on out-of-school assistance.

Higher demand has come along with record numbers of undergraduates applying for Oxbridge places, especially as applicants seek better value for money after the sharp increase in tuition fees. Almost 57,000 people had applied for Oxford and Cambridge by October 2012, an increase of more than 1,100, or 2%, on the previous year. The number of offer places, however, has remained constant at under 7,000 between the two institutions.

One of the most recognised names for application training is ‘Oxbridge Applications', which, since its foundation by Oxford graduate James Uffindell in 1999, has advised over 50,000 applicants and claims to have a success rate of just under twice the average.

Some have expressed wariness of tutoring schemes which purport to help people ‘get in through the back door'. Moreover, the University of Cambridge has denounced such schemes. In a previous ‘interviews fact guide' for prospective applicants, Cambridge University stated that: "none of these companies has access to any information that is not already readily available free of charge to all schools, colleges and individual students from College admissions offices."

Similarly, Trinity College states on its admissions pages that private interviews coaching companies "don't have access to any ‘insider information' that isn't available on the Cambridge website", and claimed that Cambridge's Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Dr Geoff Parks, has found one of the interview coaching books examined to be "full of errors and omissions."

In the US, making money out of the college application process is a long-established business. Kaplan, founded in 1938 has helped around 3 million students prepare for all levels of education, including the ‘standardized scholastic-aptitude tests' (SATs) in over 30 countries. Its 2011 revenue was $2.5 billion.

Furthermore, there are many instances where Oxford and Cambridge have created their own outreach programmes for students who may not get the right support at school. The Pem-Brooke Access Programme for example, is a unique collaboration between Pembroke College, Oxford, and Brooke House Sixth Form College (BSix) in Hackney, London. Under the guidance of Dr Peter Claus, a Senior Research Fellow in History, one interesting aspect of its ‘Raising Aspirations' programme is a session in the £10,000 ‘Red Room' that replicates a typical Oxford don's office, complete with leather sofas, to help students acclimatize to academic life.

Overall, this is a booming industry. These companies are not only proving to be of interest to undergraduates but are increasingly providing employment opportunities for new graduates. Nathaniel McCullagh from Simply Learning Tuition, a tutoring company that includes Oxbridge preparation, told The Cambridge Student that demand for Oxbridge–educated tutors has risen substantially with the expansion of one-on-one tutoring, and that many graduates have found flexible work with them whilst they look for more permanent jobs. In his company, "around 90% of the tutors had attended Oxford and Cambridge and their skills across all subjects were highly in demand", he said.

Madeleine Bell - Deputy News Editor

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