Studying at Oxford: finding your dream

For many ambitious people, attending Oxford is the height of academic excellence. A small city, ancient in origins yet populated by young people – around 40,000 of them, it boasts a large percentage of people under 30, in fact, more than a third of the population.

Few places offer students the opportunities that Oxford does. You will be able to attend world-class lectures and experience exceptional mentoring while enjoying the world’s most prestigious debating society, famous libraries, and outstanding sporting facilities. Opportunities include access to many clubs, research groups, networking events, and high-profile internships. You’ll find yourself in the ‘Golden Triangle’ (Oxford, Cambridge and London) where some of the world’s most advanced research and development in technology and medicine takes place.

Established in the 11th century, and ranked the best university in the world (2018 – 2020) Oxford is not only renowned for its academic prowess, but also as a valued centre of global commercial research and a significantly multi-cultural hub of intellectual innovation and contribution. Merely considering the great achievers who have passed through Oxford is motivating enough: 26 British prime ministers, at least 30 international heads of state, 50 Nobel Prize winners, and 120 Olympic medal winners. Past attendees include Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Wren, Oscar Wilde, Stephen Hawking, Harper Lee, Bill Clinton, Malala Yousafzai – to name just a few.


Understanding Oxford

Oxford doesn’t have a central campus like other universities but presents a constellation of over 30 colleges located around the city centre. These colleges are the focus of Oxford life for students, providing accommodation, dining halls, laundry facilities, security, opportunities for socialising, and the gem in the Oxford crown: tutorials.

Tutorials are small-group learning spaces – generally between one and four students – with a leading academic from your college discussing a topic for which you have prepared. Oxford uses the “flipped classroom” approach, meaning that you cover the work yourself and then discuss it with your tutors afterwards. You are to produce a substantial amount of work for these, and they often go beyond the course on which yexamined.

But beyond the traditions of college life, you will find many cafes, bars, restaurants, theatres, museums, fairs, markets, galleries, pubs and clubs scattered throughout the city centre and its surrounds. Oxford offers a vibrant life – from plays and musicals to comedy nights (Rowan Atkinson, for example, is an alumnus of the university) and concerts, and of course, plenty of live music ranging from the traditional choral evensong in some of the most beautiful chapels to contemporary and popular music at large arenas.

Here are some good points to know if you’re thinking of Oxford as your education destination:

  • Security is stringent and all colleges have porters’ lodges which are usually staffed 24/7. Porters are always the first port of call if you need to know anything or need assistance.
  • Whichever college you belong to, your degree course will be taught in the same way.
  • Incoming students are required to matriculate at a ceremony fully conducted in Latin. To this ceremony, as well as exams and degree ceremonies, students must wear subfusc – dark clothing with an academic gown and carrying their mortarboard.
  • College tutors support students’ learning and normally teach students in their colleges.
  • Colleges may differ in age, character and size, but life in them follows a similar pattern.
  • A number of events are organised across colleges, and you will have the chance to meet people from other colleges in their subject department and at university-wide events.
  • All students are given a college room for their first year. This is arranged by the college, so you won’t need to sort that out for yourself. However, if you don’t live in college accommodation, you will still have access to all the facilities.
  • Students residing in their colleges will have their own fully furnished rooms.
  • New students are normally given rooms near each other so it’s easy to get to know other students who have just arrived.
  • Hot, subsidised meals are available in the college dining hall. However, if preferred, there are kitchen facilities where you may make your own food.
  • Easy to explore by foot, bike or bus, Oxford is a safe city. The Complete University Guide ranks Oxford in its top ten safest student cities in the world.
  • Green spaces abound, ranging from the huge expanses of Port Meadow and Shotover Hill to Christ Church Meadow and South Park, along with miles of tranquil waterside walks.

There is a wealth of history to explore:

  • The Inklings, a group of writers including C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, would meet regularly in The Eagle and Child pub.
  • The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments houses historical instruments, including those played by people like G. F. Handel.
  • Roger Bannister was the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile at the Iffley Road Sports Complex.
  • Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, was the daughter of the head of a college at which Lewis Carroll taught.
  • The Bodleian Library is the second-largest library in Britain, housing more than 13 million items.

It’s a high-octane experience.

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The best way to get inside information on studying at Oxford is to pick up pointers from those with first-hand experience. Here are a few statements from past students:

  • Oxford is renowned for the academic intensity of its schedule. Terms are short and the workload is high. Finals is the ultimate marathon of resilience. Put simply, there’s no way to survive at the university if you don’t want to work hard.
  • Possibly one of the best parts of the Oxford experience is the close interaction you get with some of the most prominent and respected scholars of our times. The small size of the lectures and the weekly tutorial system, means you get to develop a personal relationship with these academics, which can be incredibly rewarding when you’re passionate about your subject.
  • Oxford is weird in a wonderful kind of way. It’s got its own jargon which is largely indecipherable to the outside world: ‘subfusc’, ‘rustication’ and ‘sconcing’ to name a few words. Very soon you will soak up Oxford’s idiosyncrasies, and be fluidly conversing in its very own vernacular.
  • It is crammed full of fascinating, talented, and engaging people from all over the world who are all looking to make a difference somehow. The students are top-notch.
  • But the premium is the academic pressure. Excellence is assumed there and what is considered fabulous work anywhere else is considered average. The workload is huge and Oxford does normalise mental illness and stress. However, if you are willing to work hard, you stand to develop as a human being at an exponential rate.
  • Oxford is for everyone – it’s a space with lots of traditions, but it caters for people from any background, school, or country, as long as they’re passionate about their subjects. There are so many opportunities to explore once you get to Oxford – you just have to reach out and take them.

Delve into a fascinating, first-hand account of the Oxford experience.


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