“Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained” – an article on an individual’s growth through ISSP

I’m a former student of All Saints RC School in York and I’ve just started studying English Language and Literature at Hertford College, Oxford University. Since arriving at Oxford as a fresher on 2 October 2018, I’ve been wondering what contributed to getting me here; I believe my involvement with ISSP over many years is definitely one of the contributing factors.

I realised how lucky I am to study at Oxford, ‘The World University Ranking’ listed number one best university in the world (you know it’s a tough list when Harvard is listed 6th best and Yale 8th!) when I read an article in ‘Prospect Magazine’ published on 18 September 2018 by Alan Rusbridger, ex editor of the Guardian newspaper and current principal of Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University.

Rusbridger pointed out that every year more than 18,000 young people apply to Oxford, but only 3,200 make it and of these, just 2,600 live in the UK. Clearly on these statistics, an Oxford education is for the few, not the many and the question of who gets to be admitted is a topic of great interest. Statistics on Oxbridge entrance percentages on gender, race, geographic location, class and state/ private schools are all rightly under scrutiny to improve access for all. However, I’ve always been firmly of the view that you should always put yourself forward for things you want to do, even if the chances of succeeding are small. The old saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, has much to recommend it.

No matter what your background, if you work hard and achieve great grades you are in with good a chance. What’s even better is if you can widen your horizons and interests and ISSP is part of this process. There’s nothing to lose in applying to Oxbridge, as the experience of the Oxbridge interview is itself invaluable for future life. I went to my interviews thinking I’ll give it my best shot and if nothing comes of it at least I’ve had 3 nights free accommodation in an Oxford college and it was a nice mini break in a beautiful city making new friends with interview experience too! This positive ‘have a go’ attitude is always stressed at ISSP events.

Rusbridger points out that “A place at Oxford matters beyond symbolism. The badge of an Oxbridge degree will, on past form, take you far.” He explains that three quarters of our judges; nearly two thirds of our permanent secretaries; half our diplomats and newspaper columnists went to Oxford or Cambridge, along with a third of BBC executives; a quarter of all MPs, and nearly 40% of the House of Lords. All compared with less than 1% of the UK public as a whole. As he says,  “No wonder there is a long queue at the door.”

So, to give Oxbridge a good shot, working hard at school and home is essential, a supportive family and/or friends who talk about everything from culture, world and current affairs helps, and attending extracurricular events such as ISSP events is also a definite benefit.

Throughout my time at secondary school I was lucky to attend many ISSP masterclasses; I was always interested in literature, languages, classics and humanities so most of the ISSP courses I took were in this area. My advice is to grasp every opportunity to expand your knowledge on as wide a variety of subjects as possible. Join a school debating society, and if there isn’t one enquire about setting one up. Visit museums, galleries, theatres, the cinema, keep up to date with the news and Politics – even if your interests are Maths or science, you’ll be a fully rounded individual knowing something about everything; eating in college halls has shown me how useful it is to be able to talk about a wide range of subjects with students studying such a variety of subjects. I’d suggest attending some of the free lectures that are open to the public at York University which are regularly advertised. Everything helps!

Attending ISSP courses over the years certainly gave me insight into many areas outside the school curriculum and made me want to expand my learning. I hope your involvement with ISSP, whether through master classes, summer schools, the Brathay residential or through taking GCSE’s through the programme such as Latin or Astronomy is similarly making you motivated and excited about learning.

However, ISSP is more than just learning new information, it’s about expanding your social skills and outlook meeting new people from different areas and backgrounds. This will be very useful when you start at university and at work. ISSP is a great opportunity to meet students from all secondary schools throughout York, from both the private and state sector, who are motivated and excited about learning.  Enjoy this unique experience! It’s also about building confidence to grow as a person. When arriving at university you are living and studying with people you don’t know, so you have to make friends. On my first night at Hertford College we had a welcome speech in the college chapel by our principal Will Hutton, author, journalist and political economist. We then attended pre dinner departmental drinks with our tutors and professors before a formal candlelit dinner in our hall.  You have to be able to talk confidently and mix socially; attending ISSP events helps with this. You need to show a true love of your subject, your ability to think around subjects, make connections and grow your mindset. ISSP offers you all of these opportunities. I’m grateful to the programme and those who ran it for its contribution to my new life as I start my studies at Oxford University.


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