Meet UNIQ participant and Lloyds Scholar Rachael

Rachael Martin is a Physics undergraduate at University College who is enjoying her experience as a Lloyds Scholar and thrived at UNIQ Summer School. UNIQ is Oxford’s flagship access scheme, aimed at providing practical support to outstanding year 12 state school pupils across the UK. By 2014, UNIQ will be the largest free university summer school from a single university in the UK, with 1,000 places available. Here is Rachael’s story.

Rachael Martin
Having been unsure whether Oxford was for me, the UNIQ Summer School put Oxford to the top of my list of universities to apply to. From the friendly student helpers through to the academics, I really felt Oxford invested in their students. Having spent a year in Oxford now, I can definitely confirm this!

My main fear about applying to Oxford was that I was simply not clever enough! Making friends over the week at UNIQ with other potential applicants helped me realise that people from a similar academic and social background to me were applying to Oxford.

The tutorial system in particular made Oxford stand out. To be challenged by a top academic in the field on a weekly basis not only consolidates your understanding but also helps you realise where you don’t understand. My tutors have great enthusiasm for the subject and I always leave the tutorial excited about the next part of the course.

I strongly believe that everyone with the potential to study at Oxford should have the opportunity, regardless of financial background. Giving a talk to potential applicants with the Target Schools initiative, where school students shadow current undergraduates, made me realise how powerful Oxford’s student funding can be in breaking down the myth that Oxford is only for an elite section of society. I would love the chance to explain to potential donors what a difference they can make.

The wider support system at Oxford has been as invaluable as the funding. My summer internship as part of the Lloyds Scholars scheme was a great opportunity to get a taste of a career in finance at the same time as strengthening more general employability skills such as public speaking. From teaching environmental science lessons in local schools, through to being involved in debating for the first time, Oxford has provided immense opportunities to stretch myself academically and to develop new skills. Funding has been vital for me to make the most of the opportunities Oxford provides.


Introducing Ertegun Scholar Sam

Samuel Shearn is an MPhil Modern Theology student at Wycliffe Hall. Here, he explains the impact of the Ertegun Scholarhip on him and his young family.

Samuel Shearn

When applying to Oxford, I knew that my only chance of continuing my studies was to get a scholarship. The previous year I had spent doing an MA at the University of Birmingham, living at my parents’ home (with wife and 2 kids!), rent-free. My parents could not give us money but they did what they could to help for that rather cramped year.

However, when I was given the offer of a place at Oxford, it was clear to me that anything other than full financial support would have been the end of the road. I would have had to turn down the offer. Therefore, when the letter arrived confirming my scholarship here, I was speechless!

Being part of the Ertegun Scholarship programme has been quite amazing. Not only have we been provided with the essential full fees support and maintenance grant, but we are also given study space and the opportunity to belong to a community of humanities scholars who are asking diverse questions and using various methodologies. Thus we are truly stretched and inspired to think beyond the walls of our disciplines.

In the future, I want to be involved at the heart of institutions which take theological education seriously: working at the forefront of research, facilitating the development of the next generation of Religious Studies teachers and ministers of religion, and making a contribution to a broad humanities/liberal arts education which enriches society with individuals who have learnt to be inquisitive, creative, think critically and make wise decisions for the future in light of the past.

Christy’s efforts to support Widening Participation at Oxford

Christy Rush is studying BA Law with Law Studies in Europe at Magdalen College and has put a lot of time and effort into proving that Oxford is a viable option for students who are from less privileged backgrounds. The University is working hard to increase student funding in the form of scholarships and bursaries and we are grateful to students like Christy who are helping us spread the word. Here is Christy’s story. 

Christy Rush

I was ten years old when I visited Oxford and declared to my parents that I was going to do whatever it took to study at the University. Eight years later, I arrived at Magdalen College to study Law with Law Studies in Europe.

On first sighting, I was impressed by the beauty of the city, the diverse and scholarly atmosphere, and the sheer amount of activity that seemed to be taking place around me. As I grew older, I became aware that my impressions years earlier were only just scratching the surface. The Law course I am reading has an unrivaled reputation and has given me the opportunity to explore the subject directly with some of its leading experts, who have challenged me beyond what I thought was ever possible. My course also provided me with the amazing opportunity to study abroad – last year I studied European and International Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands, an incredible experience which significantly broadened my horizons, but also made me appreciate the skills Oxford has given me. I have been incredibly fortunate to make friends from all walks of life and become involved in all sorts of activities. I have found that every student at Oxford is completely different and brings a unique perspective to every task, yet we are all united by a common love of learning.

Before going abroad, I participated in a shadowing scheme for pupils from a school in an underprivileged area in order to dispel some of the common myths that pervade perceptions of Oxford. I also participated in Oxford’s e-mentoring programme, through which I gave advice to a young pupil and was able to encourage him to take the necessary steps for applying to Oxford. These extremely bright pupils, who might otherwise slip through the cracks, further confirmed the importance of demonstrating that Oxford is a viable option for students who are from less privileged backgrounds.

“Watching a student acquire funds and excel at Oxford is second to none”

Molly McParland is a Graduate Ambassador undertaking an MPhil in Russian and East European Studies at Wadham College. Being at Oxford gives Molly the feeling that she can do anything, something she would love to see available to as many people as possible. Here is her story…

Molly McParland
I applied to Oxford due to its reputation for academic excellence -it has exceptional teaching and academic support, and surely one of the most impressive collections of academic resources in the world. As an Area Studies student, specializing in Russia and East Europe, I was particularly drawn to the amount of expertise in this area at Oxford. However, it would be ridiculous to suggest that academia is the only thing that Oxford has to offer to students. I have never seen a university with so many opportunities! From fascinating lectures and debates with some of the foremost experts in the world; to opportunities to get stuck in to all manner of hobbies and interests such as sport, volunteering, writing and art; to the amazing quality of the student body in which I have met some of the most interesting and motivated people – Oxford is a place that is would be impossible not to feel inspired by. There is nothing that you cannot do in Oxford, and you can be assured of finding hundreds of people able and willing to support you. Whether its starting your own business, learning a language, editing a newspaper or running that extra 5k, the support here to learn and grow in every imaginable field is truly second to none.

Having spent several years working with students and children in underprivileged areas of the UK, as well as Russia and the former Soviet region, I have really come to appreciate just how vital access to these incredible opportunities are for people, their families, and even whole communities. For so many, the chance of an Oxford education does not seem realizable, despite their clear ability, and it is incredibly disheartening. On the other hand, the feeling of watching a student who felt they would never be able to apply to Oxford, not only acquire the funds to study but truly excel during their time here is second to none. Studying at Oxford gives you an overwhelming sensation that you can do anything – if you work hard at your chosen field, all of the resources, contacts, advice and support are there to help you succeed. Additionally, the inspiring people – the experts that teach or come to give lectures, as well as the peers that you live and work with – encourage you to keep learning, keep growing, and keep challenging yourself to do your best. I would love to see these opportunities available to as many people as possible.

In the future, I would like to return to the post-Soviet region and work in development and diplomacy – improving lives and fostering sustainable links between countries that can provide invaluable political, economic and cultural exchanges. I am certain that my experience of studying at Oxford, the people I have met here, and the ideas and worlds that I have been exposed to will be invaluable in my future career.

Introducing Sarah…

Sarah Atayero is a first year undergraduate studying Experimental Psychology at Wadham College whose negative opinion of Oxford was turned around after meeting some Student Ambassadors while at Sixth Form College. Sarah is now working hard with us to dispel misconceptions about Oxford and introduces herself here.
Sarah Atayero (1)
If it was not for Wadham’s Access team who visited my sixth form college when I was in year 12, I never would have applied to Oxford. This is by not means an exaggeration, I have come from a state school where only one student per year applied to Oxbridge. Of those who applied from my school it seemed only those with an exceptional academic record were accepted. For me, an average student who simply worked hard and had a burning desire to study psychology, Oxford was simply a fantasy. Wadham Student Ambassadors presented the real Oxford. I know how Oxford appears to students from a background similar to mine and I know how this can put them off applying. This is why I am dedicated to being involved in Access both here at my college and at the University.

My first few weeks have been a whirlwind of opportunities and networking. What I am most shocked about is the amount of support available from both my college and my peers. I imagined the University to be a cold, isolating and hard-working institution where I would not fit in. I have not felt discriminated against or judged due to my background or ethnicity, and neither should I be. This is the image of Oxford where I come from; I want the chance to change this perspective!

After my undergraduate degree I will have obtained a Graduate Basis for Chartership by the British Psychological Society which will allow me to progress onto clinical training. After completing clinical training I aim to continue studying psychology, whilst practising in a hospital setting. I believe learning is a life-long process and I intend to stay in formal education for as long as I can.