Rowdy undergraduates in academic gowns; students staying in the library all night and isolating traditions. You wouldn’t be blamed for defining Oxford in this way. All you have to do is look at newspaper headlines and the carefully selected photos that accompany them.
One of the most common questions I get asked by GCSE and A-Level students as part of my access work is ‘what are Oxford students really like?’. Do they study all day? Are they all posh? Is it true you have to know Latin? My answer to all of the above is always no!
However, I completely empathise with such students as I held similar views just a couple of years ago. Studying A Levels at a comprehensive school near Sheffield, the idea of Oxford had never occurred to me. In Year 12, a teacher suggested applying and I just laughed. It wasn’t until I attended UNIQ summer school that I began to think that actually, Oxford is for anybody with academic potential.
Fast forward to October 2018, when I began my Law degree. I was shaking as I drove into college with a car filled with belongings and I wasn’t sure if it was from excitement or nerves. I think part of me was expecting to be surrounded by flashy cars and serious students wearing sophisticated clothes. But looking around, I realised – there’s no such thing as an ‘Oxford student’.
Yes, there are some (slightly odd) traditions and we do wear funny clothes for exams. But these have made my university experience unique and often create a real community atmosphere. On 1st May, students and residents alike got up in the early hours to celebrate spring by listening to the choir at Magdalen College. It was a truly special occasion and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced… as was the 9am lecture I had to attend after waking up at 4am!
Programmes such as UNIQ and Target Oxbridge are helping to widen the definition of an ‘Oxford student’. With such a wide variety of nationalities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds, I think Oxford is really on its way to being the best it can be. I have made friends since I arrived not just from across the UK but from across the world. Coming from a small village, this is the thing I cherish the most about my university experience.
So overall, what is an Oxford student really like? They’re people passionate about their subject. They devote their life to studying or wake up early to go rowing or go out with friends or all of the above. Since arriving, I have been able to engage in academic debate, work with the access team, dance, row, listen to fascinating people and attend college parties to name just a few.
Please don’t let stereotypes put you off applying. I was very close to doing this and I am so glad that decided to bite the bullet and add Oxford to my UCAS application!