I’m a first year studying Earth Sciences (What is that?, I here you say! – more on that another time perhaps) but my place at Oxford was conditional of attending Univ’s 3-week Opportunity Programme towards the end of the summer, following A-Level results day. I didn’t opt in for this – in fact I didn’t apply to Univ in the first place. Rather, I found details of it described in my offer letter that I received in January, conditional too of meeting the grades of course (which, it turns out, I didn’t).
As can be expected, I was apprehensive opening the envelope that concealed my university fate. So, on the one hand learning I had a place was a relief. However, to learn that my place involved a going to a compulsory summer school put a slight damper on how I felt about the offer. Other than saying the programme would be fully subsidised, the description was vague, leaving me to speculate over what could be taught/required-of in these 3-weeks. I prematurely concluded that I’d be in for cutlery lessons, crash courses in poshness and tasters of a generally upper-class lifestyle. Spoiler: this was not what happened.
Skip forward eight and half months to just after a rickety results day and I’m arriving in Oxford at Univ. It’s only today that myself and the other 8 students on the programme find out from meeting with the Senior Tutor why we were here and what we’d be doing. We were here because we each ticked at least one of five underrepresented socioeconomic parameters in Univ, determined from our UCAS applications. As for what we’d be doing, Week 1 would be a general introductory week comprising seminars, tutorials and discussion classes and too some social time with 4 helpers in older years. Week 2 and 3 would be subject based and more academically involved. These weeks would end with us giving a short presentation on what we’d done. All in all, it was looking a little brighter than I imagined, at the very least less ambiguous.
We were welcomed on Night #1 with a full formal dinner – a taste (literally) of what was to expect on special occasions throughout the year: 3 courses, civilised chatting and a fair bit of wine. Admittedly, I worried if we would be asked to demonstrate our knowledge of table etiquette, however, it was thankfully not asked for! The rest of Week 1 progressed with our classes, which were split into Humanities and Sciences, and a small amount of independent, preparatory work. Plenty of time was allowed around our classes for typical Oxford activities like pub exploration (the Turf Tavern is a good one), punting on the River Cherwell, a trip to G&D’s ice cream parlour and St Giles’ fayre, ice skating trips and a feel for the city’s nightlife. A good first impression.
I won’t bore you with the details of Week 2 and 3 too much as for me these were Earth Science subject-related since I know most people tend to take a dull initial view of the subject. In a nutshell, I spent one week researching and writing an essay on the relationship between plate tectonics, igneous rocks and volcanism, and spent the second week writing a thesis on how the media influences climate science. Other people of course did different tasks, depending on what their tutors set them. As a result, our final presentations were broadly varying and really celebrated our different subjects.
I’m now here with the friends I made over the 3 weeks at a great uni and we got to experience it before all the madness of Freshers’ Week. Univ is a really friendly place so I really value my place here. If you’re reading this as part of your consideration of which college to apply to, definitely (highly) consider Univ. And if you are accepted on the condition of the Opportunity Programme, don’t be disheartened – it’s a lot better than you may think and you’ll be glad to meet people ahead of everyone else.