Features

In Conversation with OxPath

Image: OxPath’s logo on a faded background of colourful Oxford illustrations, and ‘let’s solve access together’

The Flete recently spoke to Chase Koch, History and Politics student at Christ Church and founder of multiple platforms designed for Oxford students. Among them is OxPath, a brand-new access initiative launched in 2020, which allows students at Oxford to sign up according to college, subject, and availability. This information is then processed online by Oxpath and the student mentors are matched with prospective applicants to carry out a 30 minute 1 to 1 mentoring session over zoom to help advise the applicant through whatever part of the process they wanted help with. 

OxPath doesn’t just offer help to applicants directly – it also offers schools services such as Q&As, Video Workshops, and mock interviews to help support prospective applicants who might not have known about OxPath and therefore not signed up directly. In addition, key distinctions between OxPath and other access initiatives are speed and number of uses: OxPath promises future applicants that they can usually get in touch with a current Oxford student within 24 hours, and that the service is free to use as many times as the applicant might want, providing applicants with not only a resource for advice but also someone who might assuage their concerns about the often highly intimidating Oxford admissions process.

OxPath has seen great success. Since its inception, more than 200 students from across the country have signed up and more than 400 current students at Oxford have signed up to be mentors. Moreover, the OxPath team is currently working with schools and developing strategy as to how to broaden their access initiatives, including extending the service to helping with other university admissions and even with A-levels, encouraging students to think more critically about their subjects with a view to pursuing them at university study. 

“We felt that when a teacher looks at their student and says “you should apply to Oxford”, they’re probably right, and we trust their judgement, so the reason they have relatively few offers is because they lack the inside knowledge to turn student intellect into the other characteristics that Oxford values.”

The team began by looking at Oxford’s school statistics. Chase says, “We did an intensive investigation into state school applications to Oxford – Leo who spent two days going through Oxford’s data deserves a shout-out for this! – looking into the types of schools getting Oxford offers, such as the number of applications, interviews, and offers. Unlike many universities, Oxford publishes all this information, and it is very easy to find your school (all UK centres that made 3+ applications are listed), but it is really hard to compare multiple schools. We managed to get it all in a spreadsheet and picked out state-schools on POLAR criteria and offer criteria (see above). These were schools that had a fairly high number of applications, but relatively few offers, over the past 3 cycles. 

We felt that when a teacher looks at their student and says “you should apply to Oxford”, they’re probably right, and we trust their judgement, so the reason they have relatively few offers is because they lack the inside knowledge to turn student intellect into the other characteristics that Oxford values. The students we want to help are the smart ones who have the belief of their teachers, but lack the inside knowledge that helps them get across the line and into Oxford.”

We asked Chase our most pressing questions: 

Given the huge success of OxPath so far in the Oxford community, which other avenues do you see yourself exploring to further increase outreach? 

“Firstly in Oxford we’ve been blown away with the response to our initiative. With over 400 mentors signing up, from every college and subject, we totally did not anticipate being able to get this kind of success so early on, considering we only launched in September. This term we’ve mostly just been focusing on the short-term of getting through this admissions cycle and helping as many applicants as we can, which has been averaging about 5 a day, which is also much more than we originally anticipated. Our main plan for 2021 is to increase our efforts to reach for mentors so we can fulfil all our requests within 24 hours.

It’s been very difficult to do precise marketing, because we are keen to prioritise those from disadvantaged and state-school backgrounds; this is where we find people that are likeliest to benefit from speaking to one of our mentors. So our main efforts to find students have been dedicated to reaching out to schools in certain areas with certain characteristics. We have focused on schools in areas in the bottom quintile of the POLAR rankings, which reflects postcodes with low progression to university, and state-schools who have made lots of applications to Oxford (2017-19) but have received fewer than one offer per year.

That narrowed things down to 36 schools in all four regions of the UK that we felt was a good set of schools to start with – we didn’t want to overwhelm our mentors with too many sessions, but we would like to have set up relationships with over 100 schools in time for next year’s admissions cycle.

“It’s not just about getting them in the door – but making sure that once here, they can thrive.”

Our plan for the upcoming year is to:

1 – Actively engage with state schools. Provide workshops, Q/A sessions, and what we call ‘aspirational talks’ to help with Oxford applications but also to encourage Oxford applications. 

2 – Actively engage on platforms where prospective students are. We’ve been in talks with The Student Room about collaborative efforts and us having official status on their platform so we can interact directly with prospective students, answer questions, and direct people to our platform. This is one of the ways we can make our marketing more precise, which is useful, because the average school we work with has only 2 or 3 applicants per year.

Finally, we want to further develop our internal partnerships in Oxford. We’d like to collaborate further with groups such as ACS, the 93% Club, Class Act, and Oxford First Gen, to target access more effectively – we already have some members of these groups on our team, and their experience has been really useful – and also work on ‘in-reach’ so that once students arrive, we can do more to support them in adjusting to Oxford life. It’s not just about getting them in the door – but making sure that once here, they can thrive.”

How does Oxpath plan to replicate its success with application help in the same way with other universities? 

“Our system is very scalable and we designed it that way. Our plan is to apply our platform to Cambridge, Durham, and other university admissions, as well as for competitive subjects, particularly those with interviews, such as medicine. Also, we would love to work with universities formally to provide our platform (the on-demand 1-to-1 scheduler) more broadly. One example of how we have done this in Oxford is partnering with the Crankstart Scholarship, so Crankstart Scholars can use their OxPath volunteering hours as part of their Crankstart volunteering requirements.

What’s great is that we’ve actually developed a fairly proprietary system that serves a niche, so in higher education, we see lots of areas where we can help a lot of aspiring people, and help many more to aspire.”

“We see lots of areas where we can help a lot of aspiring people, and help many more to aspire.”

Helping with A-levels, being nation-wide exams, is very different from helping with Oxbridge admissions – how do you plan on tailoring the mentoring accordingly?  

“What makes OxPath so great for university admissions is that the mentors are pretty much experts: they’ve been through the system and are unique in their ability to provide informal advice that might not be available officially.

Extending our work to A-levels/IB entails a completely different type of mentoring, because our mentors won’t have so much expertise, and this level of education is much more broad, so it is harder to fill students’ needs; professional teachers are the bedrock of late-secondary education for good reason.

However, the informal and on-demand advice OxPath provides has potential to be a useful supplement and we would be interested to work with our partner schools to see how the expertise of our mentors can most help sixth form students in their exams. There’s a great opportunity for mentors here too in that this provides a chance for them to engage more professionally in the secondary education sector, and many of them might appreciate that experience. Nonetheless, we think we have much more to offer in university admissions, and think we have a lot more expansion, both across the UK and perhaps internationally, in higher education too.”

“What makes OxPath so great for university admissions is that the mentors are pretty much experts: they’ve been through the system and are unique in their ability to provide informal advice that might not be available officially.”

“One of our great successes has been supplementing our sessions with a ‘general advice’ sheet that we made in consultation with the hundreds of mentors we had at the time. We had over a hundred responses to our form which asked people for their general and subject specific advice, which we condensed into a double-sided sheet and sent to schools. It’s a brilliant resource that has advice for every stage of the admissions process and can be interpreted as the bedrock of every session we do, where mentors help apply the sheet specifically to that applicant, their subject, and their needs.

We really want to replicate the experience of having mentors visit these schools and impart advice, and with Zoom, we’re in the blessed position where any school, no matter their connection to Oxford, can connect Oxford students, of any subject and background, with their students. It’s easy to underestimate, as Oxford students ourselves, how incredibly empowering [it] is for prospective students – hearing first hand the advice and experience of [current] Oxford university [students]. We think this will help them envision themselves at Oxford, by addressing their genuine concerns, busting myths, and making Oxford seem within reach.

At the core of OxPath, we want to solve not just the information gap but also the aspiration gap. We believe that by putting prospective applicants face-to-face with real students we can inspire more bright students to apply to Oxford. Ambition and intelligence is spread equally across this country – so why not spread opportunity equally? With OxPath, and using our on-demand platform, we can make sure that anyone, no matter their background, can talk to an Oxford student who can help them across that line and into this wonderful, but inadequately shared, university.”

Sign up and read more about OxPath at the link below! 

www.oxpath.co.uk

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