The Oxford Experience
By Nicholas Wong
(UK Admissions Consultant at The Edge Learning Center)
Oxford’s academic excellence is firmly cemented and demonstrated through its granular admissions sift, graduate employability, and world-renowned academics. Whilst Oxford’s academic outlook is most definitely one of its central pillars, the limestone-clad town offers much more beyond this, and it would be a mistake not to savour the rest of what is provided by the vibrant Oxonian community.
What’s the big idea?
Oxford certainly has its aesthetic charm, bringing in over 7 million tourists annually for its remarkable and timeless architecture. That said, the ravishing façade is scarcely what the students actually come for. Indeed, many take it for granted – for them, it’s just another all-nighter working in Lincoln’s 15th Century gothic church-converted library. No, what truly defines the “Oxford Experience”, as trite as it may be to state out loud, is the Oxonians themselves.
What is the University of Oxford?
For a little bit of background: the University of Oxford is organised in a collegiate system. This is a defining feature of its social and academic experience. Students choose (or are assigned, at the postgraduate level) one of the 39 Oxford ‘colleges’. They are part of the University, offering amenities such as accommodation, meals, libraries, sports, events and more. At an undergraduate level, general teaching is organised by the respective department or faculty, with smaller personal tutorials being organised within Colleges.
Day in the life of an Oxford student
For example, the average day of a Biological Sciences student at Brasenose College may start with university lectures at their department. In this case, it would be the gorgeous Natural History Museum down by Parks road. Late morning, they will then meander down the Parks Road promenade down to Broad Street to their College for meals. The academic day may then end with tutorials with their other Brasenose Biologists with their respective Brasenose Biology tutors.
Why a collegiate system?
A key, but not immediately obvious, advantage of the collegiate system is the community. Through your college, you’re able to meet and relate with many beyond your discipline through sports events, college dinners, and other intra-college activities. There’s also a healthy bit of friendly rivalry between Colleges – with more historical forms of raiding and, still today, sports rivalry, especially on the river Isis amongst boats of eight.
The charm of Oxford also lies in the absolute freedom in any activities you choose to indulge yourself in. Students have the choice from over 400 active societies and over 70 official (’Blues’) sports teams. One may be able to traipse from a pre-sunrise rowing practice to breakfast, followed by faculty lectures, then a luncheon with the aeronautical society. A tutorial in 14th century English literature could follow after, then a networking event with the African society. The evening could then start with a University-subsidised ticket to a Dvořák concert performed by the official Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, and ending the day with Kendo practice at the University sports center. The point is, there is more than enough for everyone’s tastes. For students who still feel unsatiated – perhaps an itch for underwater hockey – the University and Colleges also have plentiful provisions for keen individuals to start their own societies. With around 25,000 students enrolled at any time, there are bound to be others sharing in what may seem to be the nichest of interests.
What’s the downside?
As an artifact of enrolling in a University, every adolescent is bound to experience the phenomenon known as fear of missing out. Oxford, with its infinitesimal happenings, drives this unhealthy manifestation to the max. Being top students from their respective secondary education institutions, students at Oxford are often aggressively competitive beyond their academics, and everyone feels the need to involve themselves with everything. This could rapidly lead to the deterioration of the mental fortitude that many enter the University with, leading to accelerated burnout. If you are planning to continue your academic career at Oxford, be prepared for an experience beyond the plane of your studies, and don’t lose yourself amongst the endless sea of opportunities!