When it comes to universities across the UK, one of the greatest discussions is when people compare Oxbridge to other universities. There are so many questions people have when it comes to the differences between the standard uni and what makes Oxbridge “out of reach.” Quite often there are certain perceptions about Oxford which may make perfectly good candidates completely reconsider their university choices and write it off when it’s actually a feasible option for them.
The best way to learn about Oxford life is to be immersed in it, and I was one of the lucky attendees this year to experience UNIQ - the summer school run by the University of Oxford. I was introduced to the life of a real student by going to lectures, living in one of the colleges and submitting assignments to be marked by academics teaching at the university. After this experience, here’s what I’ve realised about some of the common myths people have about Oxford University.
Oxford Students Are Intimidating
There’s always been a certain standard expected by Oxford University – it’s one of the reasons why they have been in the top leagues for years. However, there didn’t appear to be any sense of competition between students. I found everyone to be grounded, laid back and determined to do well in their studies - there's simply no time for them to be putting on a façade and competing with other students. You will find that the people there have more similarities than differences. I had this vision of formal students in ties and pull overs, using complex words and holding themselves to a higher than normal standard. So imagine my shock when I saw people wearing thrifted jeans and T-shirts.
Often we get so wrapped up in our thoughts about the way people may come across to only forget that if you successfully get into a university, the chances are, the people who are also attending aren’t that different from you. Everyone is in the same situation of moving away, getting to know new people, and very few people go into Oxford with a friend they already know. It may be a strong claim, but from my experience with visiting multiple universities, Oxford is by far the most welcoming and warm environment and the fear of intimidating people is simply that, a fear.
The Accommodation Matches the City's Exterior
If you know anything about Oxford as a city, you know it prides itself on its historic architecture. It feels as though you’re surrounded by castles. We were so mesmerised by the exterior of these buildings around the city that we didn’t give much thought to what the accommodation would be like. That is, until we were given keys to our bedrooms.
No matter what college you end up in, my advice is to not expect much from the accommodation in terms of furniture. Most of the beds and desks are old, which matches the interior of the colleges and can seem rather daunting when they are empty. Of course, once you add your own touches, you can transform this into your little home away from home.
There are some Oxford candidates who have declined their placement because they dislike their accommodation, but you have to keep in mind that you are getting a degree at one of the most recognised universities in the world. The decision you have to make is whether that outweighs the accommodation hurdle. You need at least one thing to keep you humble.
The Colleges Are Completely Different
One of the greatest mind-boggling experiences for any Oxbridge candidate is “choosing” your college. There’s always a lot of talk about the interview process and admissions tests, but we don’t often discuss the topic of colleges. One of the differences between Oxford and other universities is the off-campus colleges that are spread across the entire city; tutorials and check-ins, even some classes are done in your college so your chance to meet people from a different college would be during lectures or social events.
The buildings are quite similar with some variances. Some of them will have a 24/7 library at the cost of a free gym, others may have sport facilities but limited number of en-suite bedrooms. The easiest way to determine which college will suit you best is by using the ‘College Suggester’ -
I found this tool very useful to determine what is available in each college, but I also cannot stress enough the importance of going to open days and seeing the campus in person. Once you’re there you really do get a sense of the atmosphere and what life will be like. In some cases it can solidify whether or not you want to study at Oxford University. If you’re not able to make it to an open day then do your research, read reviews, and check out youtube videos to find out exactly what you would want to know on an open day. Don’t be afraid to get in touch as well.
The staff are there to help and will be happy to answer any questions you have. A word of advice when it comes to selecting a college; make sure you are confident and absolute in your choice, because once you’re accepted to Oxford and have been assigned a college, it’s incredibly hard to move.
Dispelling certain myths may make people feel better about considering Oxford University as an option for higher education study. However, you should still treat this is as any other university and ensure you do all the research necessary so that you choose a university and programme that is right for you and your interests.
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