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Oxford admissions inflicts barriers on underprivileged applicants

Oxford+admissions+inflicts+barriers+on+underprivileged+applicants
Millie Kwon

Distinguishing it from other public high schools in California, Oxford Academy’s infamous entrance exam is arguably its most defining aspect. 

Every year, hundreds of sixth grade students from across Orange County take a challenging, three-hour exam in hopes of making their way into the #1 public high school in California. For many applicants, the exam has been engineered into their heads; with months of immense test practice and thousands spent on tutoring programs, an acceptance to the school is an almost guarantee. Yet for others, with no test preparation or money to spend on academic support, an acceptance is only a dream. 

The Oxford Academy admissions system favors those with socioeconomic privilege, while inflicting barriers on applicants who cannot access the same test preparation resources. Out of the 235 admissions slots available each year, only 25 spaces are available per junior high feeder school area from the Anaheim Unified High School District (AUHSD) and 35 spaces are available for applicants outside of the district. For the 23-24 school year, applicants will be required to submit report card transcripts from 4th and 5th grade, state testing scores, and a written response sheet to questions regarding their motivations for applying. Applicants will also engage in a video recording interview (a system introduced in 2020) to assess their character and potential as a prospective Oxford student. 

“Our staff really liked the more well-rounded approach that we got from including the video interview,” said Assistant Principal Ryan Hurley. “It’s a component of our admissions process now.” 

Although the video interview system is a step in the right direction in making admissions more holistic, the exam component of the process is where socioeconomic status plays a role in a student’s admittance to the school. 

The Oxford Academy admissions system favors those with socioeconomic privilege, while inflicting barriers on applicants who cannot access the same test preparation resources. 

After being notified of whether or not they passed the initial application screening, applicants are invited to the Oxford exam in January—a timed, rigorous test that entails an English and math multiple choice section, a math-free response portion, and a written essay.  With such a comprehensive exam, Oxford’s admissions has manufactured a system of intense preparation for many applicants — which has led to the popularity of exclusive prep programs, including PACE Academy and Perfect Score Academy in Cypress, that charge thousands in return for extensive exam training. 

According to Perfect Score Academy, 55 students — roughly a quarter of the students Oxford admits — were accepted into Oxford for the 2023-2024 school year from the prep institution alone. Despite its effectiveness, prospective parents pay thousands of dollars to send their children to these programs, hoping to “buy” their student’s acceptance into Oxford.   

The expensive black hole of prep programs is where the issue lies. Not every student aspiring to attend Oxford has the money or ability to participate in these expensive preparatory programs. Parents without financial stability or support from a community of Oxford parents well-versed in admissions are also stifled by the process.  

“It’s unfair since people who do pay and attend prep programs are receiving the best resources out there,” said sophomore student Salena Adhikari, a former attendee of both  PACE Academy and Perfect Score Academy. “However, there are resources online like Khan Academy that can prepare students with higher level tasks.” 

While free resources like Khan Academy can provide academic help, there’s an obvious advantage of attending programs. These high end academies have created their resources to be near-exact replicas of the exam, even pulling practice sheets or sample essays from previous years, and training their students to handle the pressure of a timed exam setting.  

Oxford’s challenging admissions exam is a tradition—and partly reason for the school’s status as the state’s #1 public high school. However, in addition to the exam, Oxford should incorporate more holistic approaches to level the playing field for financially disadvantaged students. Admissions can be restructured to replicate the college application process, with a greater focus on the character and well-roundedness of a student. For instance, accepting talent portfolios would bring in students who possess skill and passion in areas far beyond the lines of math and English. 

Creating a fair admissions pool for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds would require a holistic review of the current system. To keep its high reputation, Oxford must better assess the genuine value of student applicants while making admissions more equitable for all.

About the Contributors
Nathan Perera, Staff Writer
Nathan Perera will be beginning his second year in Gamut as a writer. He enjoys writing A&E, alternating between scathing reviews to praiseful columns. Writing is at the heart of Nathan’s passion, having first joined the Gamut to become part of a group of people that shared his love for writing. In addition, he is also the Vice President of the Creative Writing Club at Oxford Academy. Outside of school, he enjoys thrillers and dramas in the form of both books and TVs. “Cruel Summer” is among his favorite TV shows. He also enjoys alternative rock and pop. Lana Del Rey is his favorite artist, and his favorite album from her is Norman F. Rockwell. When asked what he likes most about her songs, he admitted he loved everything about it, ranging from their attractive visuals to heartfelt lyrics. Nathan is excited for the rest of his time in Gamut and Oxford, and he will continue to follow his passion for writing. 
Millie Kwon, Staff Writer
Personally recruited, some may say, by Dr. Hind herself at Lexington Junior High School before her transfer to Oxford Academy in 8th grade, Millie Kwon is a new writer for the Gamut. As a freshman, Millie is looking forward to collaborating with people as she has heard that the Gamut is a really fun experience! (She would not be wrong; ask any of our staff) She believes her defining trait to be merely “clumsy,” and claims she is not particularly athletic, despite her participating in tennis, dance and Taekwondo. She admits that others may think she is hard and mean and closed off at the beginning before getting to know her. However, Millie assures us all that once you talk to her, she will become your bestie within two days! (What a claim!) She enjoys chilling and watching TV in her free time. Some of her favorites include her childhood TV show Poroyo and Legally Blonde, and she enjoys listening to RnB and calm music.