RARE  RISINGSTARS 2013 The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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Targeting Oxbridge

Kalm Paul-Christian
In October 2013, Kalm Paul-Christian will begin a degree in History at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University. Kalm is a graduate of Rare’s Target Oxbridge programme, which encourages and prepares bright, black state-educated pupils for the Oxbridge application process. Rare Rising Stars caught up with Kalm to find out more about his remarkable story and the notorious Oxbridge interview.

I grew up in East London and attended my local state school. I didn’t know much about Oxbridge besides its outstanding reputation but I decided fairly early on that it was where I wanted to end up. I developed a good rapport with both my teachers and my peers, and was elected Head Boy in my final year. I daresay I was the ‘Golden Child’, and made to believe I could achieve anything I wanted to – they even had plans for me to become Britain’s first black Prime Minster! When I achieved a place at a competitive grammar school for sixth form, everyone was happy for me but not at all surprised.

When I arrived at my new school, everything changed. To them I was a small fish in a big pond about to get a rude awakening. To me, I was a shark in waiting and was not at all concerned by my slow start to the year. However my rude awakening did come and it came on results day. Due to my initial laziness and uncertain circumstances at home, my grades were significantly below where I needed them to be. The school as a whole had made up its mind about me from an early stage, and I was just one of the casualties of the transition to A levels. The school was full of high achievers and I was no longer the Golden Child. I was pretty much on my own.

I decided to take a Gap year to have the time to sort out my grades. That was when I heard about the Target Oxbridge scheme. I was so happy to be accepted because I now had a support network outside friends and family (you know the ones who have to believe) to help me overcome the negativity I felt at my school.

This year’s Target Oxbridge cohort during the visit to Cambridge in May 2013
This year’s Target Oxbridge cohort during the visit to Cambridge in May 2013

“For me, Target Oxbridge was that extra rung on the ladder to acceptance”

I received support from the entire Rare network but my personal mentor was Raphael Mokades. Raph had studied History at Oxford and was able to offer invaluable insight into course content, and support when drafting my personal statement. I wasn’t able to blag my way through the mock interview he gave me because he was so in-tune with the subject. That meant I was able to see any holes in my knowledge and fill them in time for my real interview. Raph and I both play basketball and I even ended up applying to his old college at Oxford, St Hugh’s, based on the dreams he sold me of the college owning the only basketball court on campus!

The interview process at St Hugh’s was varied. I was required to stay at the college for four days, even though my two interviews only lasted around 20 minutes each over two days. It gave me a chance to explore the area and get a real feel of what it must be like to study in Oxford.

My first interview took me off-guard. The academics were quite young and very relaxed which I had not expected. They spent the time just asking me questions about the essays I’d provided and letting me speak, and speak! I wasn’t really challenged on my points and at times I wasn’t sure if I was saying too much or too little. I left the interview calm, but very confused. My next interview was much more like I expected, the academics were older and seemed more serious. At one point they referenced a part of Machiavelli’s work that I could not recall, but they did not hold that against me and simply moved on to the next question. At the time I was a little concerned by this but you’re not expected to know everything. There were no zany questions or outrageous challenges. Before entering the interview room, I was asked why I chose a particular chair but was reassured this would not be part of the assessment! I chose to stand on all further occasions.

Overall the interview process was enjoyable and slightly exhausting but it was nice to get the chance to discuss something you’re passionate about with people who are experts in the field.

Raph continues to help me out even now and I have called on his connections to help secure some time abroad whilst on my gap year. I have however, decided to follow in Daniel Stone’s footsteps and do some volunteer work in Ghana; another opportunity I wouldn’t have been privy to without advice from the Rare team.

The one thing I’ll always be grateful to Rare (Target Oxbridge) for, is never giving up on me. Even when my grades faltered at A/S they offered me so much support, outside the initial scheme, to get me back on track and I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be without them.

For further information on the Target Oxbridge programme, please visit: www.targetoxbridge.co.uk