It’s no secret that being a student is expensive business, what with rent, reading lists, and funding well-earned recreational activities. Oxford is no exception, and whilst there is a wide range of bursaries and grants available for those of us in more difficult financial positions, many students, like myself, also undertake employment during vacations to bolster our bank accounts.
The myth that all Oxford students have cash to splash at a whim is exactly that - a myth. In my experience, I have met students from a variety of different social backgrounds, in a range of financial positions. Many more of us work in customer service jobs outside of term time than you may expect. In my case, I work at Three Wise Monkeys in Colchester, Essex; a four-storey bar so busy that my working weeks are at least 40 hours. The job is physically demanding, and 16 hour double shifts on Saturdays leave me exhausted, but there are far more benefits to working than just financial compensation.
I was extremely fortunate to have employment in my hometown prior to starting at Oxford. If you are an offer-holder or a newly-accepted undergraduate reading this and thinking that you may need to work outside of term time to support your finances, my recommendation would be to find a job in the summer before you leave. I was able to establish myself in my place of work, building friendships as well as proving my usefulness and (reasonable) competence, meaning that my employers now welcome me back to my job whenever I return for the vac.
I find returning home to work a welcome change from the routine of Oxford. It can be extremely fulfilling to do a job that requires different skills to that which are required by your degree, allowing me to think in ways that I wouldn’t if I were sat behind my laptop screen all holiday. The change in mental gears helps me to approach academic work with a clearer mind, rather than falling into a rut of reading Shakespeare sonnets with a lack of inspiration to write.
I also feel much more prepared to enter the working world once I graduate next year than I otherwise would. I know what it’s like to work long hours, to deal with and overcome difficult situations within a workplace… The CV bonus points of holding down a job for over two years doesn’t hurt either!
This is not to say that working in the vacations doesn’t bring its challenges. As an English student, a large amount of my work for the term takes place before I even step foot back in Oxford. Reading lists are multiple pages long, and must be completed in order to build the correct foundations for a term’s work. I have found myself more than once returning to college underprepared for a new paper due to work obligations. Lunch breaks are spent simultaneously scoffing a sandwich and trying to skim read as many pages of a novel as possible before having to return behind the bar. Achieving the correct and required work-Oxford balance is a tricky line to tread. At my academic review last term, my tutors were flabbergasted and somewhat appalled to discover that I often work upwards of fifty hours a week. This vacation I’ve tried to cut this down due to the massive pre-finals workload on my plate, but an awareness that I won’t be able to work very much over the coming vacations pushes me to take on extra hours and save the earnings for when they will be most needed.
Even if you don’t necessarily feel like you require a job for financial reasons, I cannot recommend working in the vacations enough. The skills that you will gain in terms of time management and workplace experience, coupled with an appreciation for the value of money and a sense of independence, are as important to the personal growth of an undergraduate as any time actually spent in Oxford. Furthermore, for anyone considering applying to Oxbridge but has concerns about being unable to work in term time, you can rest in the knowledge that not only is it fully possible to manage both your finances and your academic workload around vacation employment, but you will be far from a minority of students doing so.