A Year in Review: Virtual Outreach During the Pandemic

  • A close-up of a red flag with three yellow lions on it in front of Oriel's Hall steps
21 July, 2021

A pre-Covid year at Oriel would see a bustling calendar of school visits and other events as part of our Outreach programme. During the ongoing pandemic, our Outreach Officer has been busy devising and operating an entirely virtual programme which has enabled prospective students and state schools in the college’s link areas to continue to access advice, guidance, and a bit of inspiration for their futures.

One of the highlights of this year’s Virtual Outreach programme was a series of four Virtual Study Days for Year 12 state school students interested in studying English, Medicine, PPE or Classics at Oxford or another top university. Participants were able to access a variety of sessions covering everything from virtual tours of Oriel to interview demonstrations and academic lecturers in a live and/or recorded format, to ensure that eligible students could access the information and guidance irrespective of personal circumstances and commitments. Those accessing sessions live had the benefit of being able to ask questions directly to members of academic staff, who were incredibly generous with their time and expertise, as well as current undergraduates who offered themselves up for questions of all varieties on Q&A panels and as mock interviewees. Discussion topics ranged from Old English charms and curses to the economics of recessions; immunology and the microbiome to ancient Greek sporting heroes (just in time for the Olympics).

Thanks to a generous donation from an Orielensis, participants also received a free book selected by our academics to support their further reading. In the spirit of opening access to Oxford and its application process, much of the Virtual Study Days’ recorded content was also made available to eligible applicants who had not been given one of the fifty places available on each Virtual Study Day.

99% of all attendees who completed the feedback form for the Virtual Study Day programme rated the events as “very good” or “excellent” in terms of how useful an experience they were, and 89% gave the same rating for how much they enjoyed participating. Two thirds of attendees indicated that attending their Virtual Study Day had actively changed their perceptions of studying at and/or applying to Oxford, with a number of those who said it had not changed their understanding of the University commenting on how much better informed and more confident they felt having accessed the sessions.

"I felt more at ease about the application process and the work/life balance when studying at Oxford. I also realised that, even for such a prestigious university, they aren't expecting candidates to be perfect, but rather that they try their hardest and have that potential for success.”

“I thought that studying at Oxford would be extremely challenging to the point that I would struggle immensely and not enjoy my experience. However, I really liked the lecture and seminar today, and found it super fascinating and not too difficult. I'm planning to find out more about microbes and also their role in immunology! I also expected the academics at Oxford to be quite intimidating but everyone today was lovely and amazing at teaching.”

“I have always typically held the view that Oxford is only for people with money, but this has changed completely for me after attending this study day; being able to speak directly to lecturers and current students has given me a lot more confidence in applying to university as a whole.”

“It felt very accessible, interesting and less frightening than expected. I was quite afraid I wouldn't be academically compatible despite having quite good GCSEs and I thought I would struggle to feel welcome. After the event, I feel more at ease and cemented in my decision to apply to Oxford. It's down-to-earth and unlike its apparent notorious reputation for elitism that I've been told my whole life. I felt at home and I can't imagine myself anywhere else.”

The Virtual Study Day programme represented four events out of more than 200 virtual talks, sessions, and programmes organised by the college this academic year. Virtual Outreach will continue to be offered by Oriel indefinitely, alongside the welcome return of our in-person activities. Outreach activities are reserved for state schools, with particular priority given to schools and colleges in Oriel’s linked areas of West London and the West Midlands.

All prospective applicants are very welcome to contact our Admissions Officer with any questions, and we look forward to being able to offer college tours by appointment when circumstances allow.