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Coming to Oxford from a Low-income, single-parent household

By Mary McBain

I had wanted to attend Oxbridge since I went to a Magdalene College, Cambridge access event at Goodison Park when I was in year 10. I remember coming home from the event and doing lots of research into Oxford and Cambridge – looking at the courses, the accommodation, YouTube videos etc. and totally obsessing over my new-found dream. I am very sorry Cambridge but Oxford undeniably stole my heart.

There was, however, a little niggle in the back of my mind – how was I going to afford attending one of the most prestigious universities in the world? I am from a town in North Wales living with my mum and my younger twin siblings who are one year younger than me and would be attending university the year after I start. I wondered how I would afford the Oxford social life, the balls, and being surrounded by people who are a lot better off financially than me. To be fair, my mum was so supportive in getting me to Oxford and never let my doubts about money affect my dream and the hard work I was putting in. However, I now realise that all my worries were unnecessary.

I have been at Oxford for a year and I have never missed out on an opportunity due to money. I get the standard tuition fee and maintenance loan from Student Finance Wales which covers a lot of my outgoings e.g. accommodation, food etc. BUT I am also lucky enough to qualify for the Oxford Bursary. This has meant that I have been without money worries for the entirety of my first year at Oxford. I have attended two balls this year (they were about £90 each), have had enough money to eat in hall and buy food to cook for myself; I have covered all my accommodation costs and have had spare money for other fun Oxford activities e.g. Bridge Thursdays (a club night aka my weakness lol), punting, attending student-led music and theatre performances and the odd meal out with friends. Also, my sister has just obtained the grades to attend Oxford in October which proves that a low-income household can still send two children to Oxford without financial worries.

I am so grateful to Oxford for the help they provide, and I would just like to stress that no-one should be put off because of financial stress. Oxford want the best and brightest students, no matter their household income, and there is so much support available for those who need it. I feel that it is also worth mentioning that I have never experienced a wealth divide in Oxford – I have lots of friends from all sorts of financial backgrounds and we all treat each other equally (this is just my experience but it has been very encouraging to see – I’m sure others would agree that they have had the same experience). I am loving my life in Oxford and can’t believe I would have missed out on this incredible life had I been scared off by my money worries.


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