Sam's Blog

Schools Tour Diary #5 – Exeter

29 Mar 2015 | Sam | Schools, Visits away

It’s unusual for me to spend more than one day in any place during my schools tour each year. Week 5 was certainly a change from the normal timetable of buses and trains – I was attending and helping to organise a few different events taking place in and around Exeter.

The first event of the week brought me to St James School to speak with students from Years 10-11 and their parents/guardians, introducing Oxford and Cambridge to high-achievers from the area. We were delighted to welcome students from Isca Academy, West Exe School and South Dartmoor Community College too. We had a really successful talk similar to this one in 2014, and this year was no different! I spoke with around 60 people after-school and had some great conversations afterwards about GCSEs, choosing subjects at A Level for different courses at university, and how to find out more about the different subjects on offer.

Every year, I try my best to attend the UCAS HE Conventions which take place in our link areas. These are big events often held at university campuses or stadiums and centres around the UK, allowing Year 12 students to explore hundreds of universities and other post-18 options under one roof. I teamed up with Matt from the Cambridge Admissions Office to answer questions from potentially thousands of prospective applicants at the Convention in Exeter. It was fantastic recognising familiar faces from visits earlier in the year and meeting new students and teachers from schools I hadn’t yet visited.

Helena (CUSU Access Officer) with an amazing prospectus display!

The most popular questions tend to be about the structure and appeal of specific courses, especially Natural Sciences as it’s unlike many other science courses elsewhere. I think Tim’s blog post on studying Natural Sciences shows how the breadth of study in the first year can be a real advantage, especially if you’re not quite sure which area you’ll enjoy most. We give out hundreds of prospectuses at these events too – they constantly fly off the desk throughout the day. Our display unfortunately couldn’t match up to the brilliance of Helena’s, the Access Officer at the Cambridge University Students’ Union, from a recent Oxford and Cambridge Student Conference (see the picture to the left). You can read more about some of CUSU’s access opportunities on Helena’s recent BeCambridge blog.

After two days full of Cambridge talk, it was time to join forces with my counterpart Ian Maconnachie from Exeter College, Oxford for the first of our Oxford and Cambridge Information Days in the South West. Held and attended by Exeter College (the Exeter one… you can see how this got quite confusing!), we also welcomed students from the new Exeter Mathematics School, Teign School, Kennicott Sixth Form at King Edward VI Community College, The King’s School and QE Academy Trust.

After a quick introduction and review of the admissions process from Ian and Dr Marta Correia, one of Downing’s Admissions Tutors, I offered some advice on personal statements in the context of making an application to Oxford and Cambridge. Remember – be academic, be specific and be personal! After a break with some well-deserved biscuits, we used the small army of helpful undergraduate volunteers from both universities to discuss admissions tests and interviews in subject-specific groups. At the end of the day, our students delivered a Q+A session on all things student life. The feedback from the day was great – lots of students said they felt better informed and more confident about applying having spoken with staff and students.

It was a fantastic start to our Information Day series, and a brilliant way to finish off my week in Exeter. With the Easter holidays, the focus switches to other things in Cambridge and elsewhere, but I’ll be returning to the South West for our other Information Days in Plymouth, Truro and Dorchester very soon.


I was once a student at Downing, but now I work full-time as the School and College Liaison Officer. I'm responsible for organising our outreach work in the South West and advising students and teachers on all things Cambridge!