For many Hongkongers, becoming a student at Oxford or Cambridge in Britain sounds like an impossible dream. It’s too hard to get into these universities, too expensive, and too complicated a process. However, a group of students are working together to make getting into these prestigious institutions that much easier.
Project Access HK is a student-run charity that runs a free mentorship programme for underprivileged students who want to get into Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge). Young Post caught up with some of the volunteers within the programme earlier this month to talk about what they do, why they’re doing what they do, and why getting into Oxbridge still matters.
At the moment, aspiring Oxbridge students often pay external agencies in the city upwards of HK$100,000 to look over their university applications and to make them sound as good as possible. That means students who can’t afford these fees submit applications that might not sound as polished, or as professional, and so miss out – even if their grades are just as good.
Jessamyn Chiu, the managing director of Project Access HK, said contrary to what many may think, Oxbridge is not as hard to get into as it would initially appear. Many students, for example, might not know that the local government, as well as many schools and organisations, support a lot of scholarships for those who might not be able to afford to continue on in higher education.
The confusion over how hard it is to get into the famous universities is why the Project Access HK programme exists, says Jessamyn, 17. The Oxford student, along with about 70 other Oxbridge students, are ready to help underprivileged students who want someone to look over their applications.
The programme offers candidates help with mock interviews, their personal statements, what sort of application procedures to expect, as well as work on their personal development. Mentors will also help candidates compare the different scholarships out there. Most of the volunteer mentors are first-year students at both Oxford and Cambridge, Jessamyn adds. This means they’re able to share with hopefuls what happened in their interviews – which is important, as the interview process can and has varied from year to year before.
Oxbridge interviews are thought of as being much harder than other university entrance interviews because there is more of a focus on a student’s observation skills, their thinking process, and how they respond to new information.
“Our education system [in Hong Kong] wants us to produce the right answers,” Eden Au, 21, explains. That is not what the Oxbridge universities care about – the answer doesn’t matter as much as how you arrive to a conclusion. Hong Kong students, he adds, aren’t often asked to explain how they come up with an answer in this way.
Nineteen-year-old Nicole Chow, another mentor within the programme, says that their programme can help students with this. “After a few mock interviews, students are more likely to talk about their ideas fluently and concisely.”
One successful programme applicant, Jaysen Ma, says that the programme, and his mentor, Mike, has helped him a lot.
“I met [Mike] face-to-face a few times, and he helped me to polish my personal statement to make it more appealing and convincing,” the 18-year-old recalls. He and Mike would keep in touch through Skype, and they would engage in academic discussions and talk about studying abroad.
“By learning about his life, I was better able to picture my own future,” he says, adding that the programme has made him all the more motivated in working towards his goals.
Are you a Form Five student wanting to join Project Access HK’s Oxbridge mentorship programme? You’ll have to sign up soon – the first deadline for applications for the programme is April 30.