A programme that helps high-achieving black students gain places at the UK's top universities is to expand.
The Target Oxbridge programme is run on a pro bono basis by the graduate recruitment firm Rare and aims to increase black African and Caribbean students' chances of getting into Oxford and Cambridge.
The scheme has helped 46 black African and Caribbean students receive offers from Oxbridge since it launched in 2012. That includes 16 this year alone, at a success rate of 36% – well above the national average of around 20%.
Now, Oxford University will be facilitating the expansion of Target Oxbridge to 45 places for Year 12 students on the full programme each year, with a separate three-day residential event at Oxford expanding to 60 places.
See below for a Q&A with Target Oxbridge alumna and current Oxford student Elizabeth Oladunni.
The programme incorporates a number of strands focusing on intellectual, cultural and social development irrespective of personal or economic barriers. These include regular contact with a black or minority ethnic Oxbridge graduate, personalised advice on A-level choices and the Oxbridge application process, and visits to both universities.
Target Oxbridge alumna Elizabeth Oladunni received an offer to study history at Oxford in 2015 after completing the programme. Describing her decision to apply to Target Oxbridge as the best she ever made, she said: 'Having one-to-one support, personal statement advice and having exposure to Oxbridge alumni developed my confidence and other skills an Oxford student would need.'
Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at Oxford University, said: 'I am delighted to be able to facilitate the expansion of the Target Oxbridge programme. Oxford is committed to reaching under-represented groups and increasing the diversity of its student body. This carefully designed programme offers information and guidance that students may not have immediate access to, and I am pleased that Rare can provide it.'
Rare has received an unprecedented 170 applications for the next Target Oxbridge programme. Interviews are under way, and the new cohort will begin the programme this month.
Q&A with Elizabeth Oladunni
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I am from Camberwell in south-east London. Up until secondary school, I went to state schools in the local area – St Francis Primary School in Peckham, then St Michael's College in Bermondsey. For sixth form I travelled a bit and went to Lady Margaret School, a state comprehensive in Hammersmith and Fulham. It took me an hour to get to school each day, but I made great friends there.
How did you get involved with Target Oxbridge?
It was all a bit random really. I heard about an organisation called Rare from a friend back when I was in Year 11. I followed up with a Google search, and Target Oxbridge came up as part of the result. I'd missed the deadline but called the number on the website, and after sending in my CV and cover letter, and attending an interview, I was able to join the programme provisionally. I attended a few events but was required to apply again for the full programme in December that year. I remember being initially hesitant to reapply, because the application process is very selective, and I was away from home that Christmas so thought I might not have enough time to perfect my application. I will always be grateful to a friend who told me that since I had told her so much about the programme and inspired her to apply, I should do it too.
I can honestly say that formally applying to Target Oxbridge is one of the best decisions I have ever made. The programme was amazing and provided step-by-step guidance on the Oxbridge application process. The mentors assigned to me, the time they took to guide me through Oxbridge interviews, and the time they spent just listening to me and addressing my worries were all invaluable. I will forever be grateful to everyone – and there were quite a few people – who helped me on the programme.
Was a leading university such as Oxford always on your radar?
I come from a Nigerian family, so yes. My mum always encouraged me and my siblings to aspire for the best, even when we were uncertain about the outcome of our efforts. My mother's mantra is 'Just try!'. Nevertheless, like many other students applying to Oxford, I was conscious of this myth that all Oxford students are Mensa geniuses who have gone to public school. I am thankful that my mentors at Target Oxbridge were always there to dispel this myth.
How did Target Oxbridge prepare you for studying at Oxford?
They offer help for every step of the application process, from ideas on how to draft personal statements, to guidance on how to approach aptitude tests, to mock interviews, to pairing you up with another BME student who studied or studies your subject of choice at either Oxford or Cambridge and who guides you and gives you an insight into Oxbridge life. We also had some workshops and one-to-one sessions that would challenge us intellectually and promote discussion. The topics you discuss are unseen and are largely based on random articles – and they could be about anything! I found them challenging but intellectually stimulating too.
How would you describe your Oxford experience so far?
Oxford is great! It's the best place to study if you are passionate about your subject. It is intellectually rigorous, and there are so many interesting and very intelligent people here to learn from. Socially, there are so many societies at Oxford that you're sure to find your own clique. I think the challenging part is trying to balance everything: the academic rigour, a social life and sleep! I'm in second year now, so I'm getting better at balancing everything, but I still have the odd essay crisis here and there. I can't believe the time has flown by so quickly, and I'm trying to make the most of my time here before finals come knocking.