Somerville hosted 34 teenagers from underrepresented backgrounds last week as part of the UNIQ initiative, which gives prospective applicants a chance to experience life at Oxford studying their favourite subject.

UNIQ puts pupils in the shoes of an Oxford undergraduate for the week through lectures and tutorials to find out what studying at the University is really like. This Spring’s cohort found out more about studying either Theology, Biochemistry or Computer Science.

While at Somerville, the pupils enjoyed a talk from Senior Tutor Steve Rayner on applying to Oxford. They also heard about extracurricular life from representatives of student societies, including the Afro-Caribbean Society, the Islamic Society, and many of the University’s sports clubs; and listened to a panel and Q&A on the Oxford experience from current undergraduates.

The UNIQ pupils at the end of a successful residential in Somerville. Credit: UNIQ

“It’s about giving them confidence. We help them to see Oxford as something real and achievable – they go home suddenly able to imagine themselves studying here” said Russell Reid, a UNIQ ambassador and current undergraduate at Corpus Christi College.

Another highlight of staying in the College was the food, with a formal dinner featuring a vegan pear sponge dessert reported to have gone down especially smoothly with the teenagers. Rounding out the timetable were fun events including a quiz, a board games night and a party at the end of the week.

A large proportion of their time on the residential is spent in the company of a UNIQ ambassador, a current student reading the same subject. The combination of living in a College, attending lectures and tutorials, and working closely with an Oxford undergraduate, allows the UNIQ residentials to bust common Oxford myths wide open.

“Many people are worried that they might find it tricky to fit in at Oxford if they aren’t a stereotypical candidate, which puts them off from applying” said course co-ordinator Alex Jones.

“Spending time on our residentials and working closely with current students helps them to realise that there is no such thing as a ‘typical Oxford person’. People of all backgrounds belong here – and have amazing success.”

The visit marked the first time that Somerville has hosted the initiative.

“We are delighted to have hosted a UNIQ residential in Somerville for the first time”, said Principal Jan Royall.

“UNIQ is an fantastic project that transforms the lives of its students. We hope they went home knowing that there is a place for every kind of person at Somerville and Oxford. We look forward to continuing to support the scheme in coming years.”

Applicants to UNIQ must attend a state school in order to apply. Candidates submit a personal statement – and in some subjects also have to be achieving certain grades – to demonstrate their ability to meet the rigorous academic demands of the week. The final cohort is then selected with help from the ACORN and POLAR databases, which use a pupil’s school and postcode to ensure those least represented in the current student body are given places on the scheme. Other metrics are also considered, such as whether the teenager receives free school meals or is a young carer.

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