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Student Life at the University of Oxford

university oxford student life experience undergraduate

The University of Oxford, famous for historic buildings, rowing, and for being home to the country's largest concentration of geeks. Located in the city of dreaming spires, steeped in tradition, it's one of the world's most prestigious academic institutions. But what is it actually like to study here? Are student lives really scripted in the manner of The Riot Club? After the lovely comments that I received on my post on the subject of my current PhD studies, I thought I'd share my insider info on my previous Oxford education as well. I gained my BA in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Merton College in 2016, followed by my Masters degree in Classical Archaeology in 2017, also at Merton. I had a very positive experience in my four years in Oxford so keep scrolling to find out more about it!

university oxford student experience life undergraduate

Let's start off with some stereotypes...

The biggest Oxford stereotype is probably that the place is full of posh, privately educated knobends with silver spoons firmly lodged in their mouths. Normal people couldn't fit in at a place like this, right? WRONG. Despite coming from a very non-traditional educational background (I was homeschooled until the age of 16, before attending a rather rubbish state school in rural Norfolk for my A levels), I never had a problem fitting in at Oxford. I was never looked down upon or made to feel unwanted because I didn't attend a certain school. I had absolutely no trouble making friends, and the friendship group that I did form came from incredibly diverse backgrounds; some were indeed from the hallowed halls of Eton and Winchester, but some grew up on council estates in the north-east of England, and others travelled from India and China to study in Oxford. Don't think for a second that you'll be the odd one out. In 2016, the 59.6% of Oxford's intake of new students hailed from state schools, and 42% of Oxford's students come from outside the UK. Oxford is an incredibly diverse and welcoming place.

oxford university student life experiences undergraduate

So, what's the work like? 

From comparing my experience to that of my friends at other Russell Group Universities, I can say that student life at Oxford does differ to the norm. Terms are short and very intense. No reading weeks for us! We cram an entire term's work into eight weeks, and in the holidays, we are expected to spend time revising for collections, a set of examinations held at the start of each new term, which test us on the material covered in the previous term. It never really stops.

How are you taught? 

Oxford students attend lectures and classes/seminars, just as you would at any other university, but we also have tutorials. Tutorials are one-on-one or two-on-one meetings with tutors, giving you the chance to discuss your week's work with a leading academic in the field. In a tutorial, you'll be expected to elaborate upon the points made in your essay, defend your arguments, and answer questions. Your essay, and your ideas, will be both praised and criticised, and you'll be expected to think on your feet to refine your thoughts. Although it may seem intimidating, tutorials provided one of the best learning experiences that I've ever had. Yes, I have cried in front of my tutors in tutorials, but the discussions in this setting have also enabled me to come up with some of my best ideas, and they gave me the opportunity to talk to experts in the field about a subject that I love. You get to ask questions and really explore things that you're curious about in tutorials, so they are immensely fulfilling.

oxford university student studying life undergraduate 

My Standard Week's Work as an Oxford Undergraduate

    Every subject and individual student will have a different work schedule, but here is a flavour of what I would have to do every week during the eight week terms, not counting extra-curricular or social activities.

    • Complete the reading for and write a 2,500 word essay
    • One hour-long tutorial to discuss the essay
    • Three Latin language translations to complete over the course of the week
    • Three hour-long Latin language tutorials
    • One Latin language class with a larger group of students
    • An average of five one-hour lectures (the exact number differed according to the term).

    This may seem like a huge amount, and it takes a while to get used to it all. However, if you really love your subject and you're passionate about what you study, you will enjoy it. You will learn a hell of a lot; I found my studies immensely rewarding and I revelled in the opportunity to be really pushed academically. If it all gets too much, the University also has one of the best mental health and welfare provisions out there. Support is available within your College, and your Faculty, and there are university-wide programmes such as Nightline and counselling that are readily available. From my experience, Oxford really does take mental health and student welfare seriously.


    Graduation

    As you can probably tell, the photos which illustrate this post are taken from my graduation ceremonies - days I will always remember! Graduating is a very special experience and the tradition at Oxford makes this even more so. Graduation ceremonies take place in the stunning Sheldonian Theatre in central Oxford, the ceiling of which is decorated in a breathtaking Renaissance oil painting. Adding further to the traditional elements, graduation ceremonies are also entirely conducted in Latin. Getting dressed up for graduation isn't quite the same at Oxford compared to other universities, as you have a "uniform" of sorts to wear. This is called sub fusc and comprises a scholar's gown, white collared shirt, white bow-tie or black ribbon, black trousers or skirt, black shoes, and a mortar board. There's no option to wear anything else - if you turn up in any other clothing you won't be permitted to graduate! Students are also required to wear sub fusc when sitting exams, which can be VERY hot and stuffy. With graduation gifts, however, there are no restrictions! My graduation present from my parents was a night away at a lovely spa hotel - perfect for recharging my batteries. However, a stylish watch from ADEXE makes for an equally wonderful gift, a reminder of your special day every time you glance at your wrist. The Meek Petite Marshmallow watch in white is sleek and lightweight, ideal for everyday wear. I'm sure that any girl would be delighted to unwrap it on graduation day!

    And there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of my life as an Oxford University student. This post predominantly focuses on my undergraduate experiences but if anyone has any questions about postgraduate study, please feel free to leave them in the comments below! I'm always happy to offer help and advice to anyone considering making an application to Oxford or Cambridge so don't hesitate to get in touch if I can be of assistance.

    Are your student days full of happy memories for you? Let me know in the comments!

    Until next time, 

    A x
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    *The watch mentioned in this blog post was provided for free by ADEXE.