What I found at the University of Oxford’s International Guidance Counselor’s Conference went beyond the admissions insights, campus tours and student panels. I found a true love of learning at the University of Oxford. A deep dive into academics. A passion for asking big questions. A community of scholars not solely there because it is Oxford, but a community thirsty for knowledge. I walked away with a sampling of what I feel to be some of the strongest education and growth a student can experience. The University of Oxford is truly a special place. And not because of the prestige.
Because there is so much information to share, I am going to break this post into two parts, Oxford as a whole and the admission process.
35 colleges and 250 programs and 200 global alumni networks comprise the University of Oxford. The colleges represent smaller communities not based on major or priority, but are there to foster living learning communities breeding a more intimate experience. In addition to their classes, students have weekly tutorials comprised on average two students and a tutor, in which the tutor will challenge the student to analyze, to think, to ask further, to widen their breadth of knowledge. Students have access to every text published in the UK ever, renowned museums throughout campus and a history dating back to the 13th century.
It is what college is meant to be. A place that doesn’t just teach. An institution that will push students to think critically about the work they do, debate it, present it, research it and dive deeper than they ever thought they could.
As I walked from my hotel to the campus tour on Banbury Road, I passed dozens, if not ultimately hundreds of students and professionals biking to class and/or their respective work places. I stopped at a small coffee shop packing big heat called Brew and grabbed a latte to head on my way. I met our tour guide at the Ashmolean Museum and we began our journey along with a couple of students, one from Ireland and the other Pakistan.
The students described their experience within their colleges as one that strengthened their friendships and provided a space for academic, personal and social support. Harry from Ireland talked about his accommodations, where he had his own room and shared common areas including a kitchen with 10 other students in his “stairwell.” The feeling of a smaller community within the larger institution is a strong backbone of Oxford. The students have a “family” system with two upperclassmen as “parents” who also have their own “parents.” Each student essentially has a family comprised of “parents” and “grandparents” for a peer support system within their college. They have their tutors for academics and deans for additional academic and social support.
Academics for students are comprised of lectures and classes for their specific course, studying and preparing works, time investing towards a culminating research project and preparing papers/work and discussion for their weekly tutorials.
The tutorials are a huge piece of the academic framework that makes Oxford. The work and readings students prepare ahead of time for the tutorials are not scored or counted towards a mark. It is truly an environment to expand the knowledge base in a more analytical way with the guidance of an academic within their course. Students are challenged, critiqued and encouraged to debate their ideas in a more individual level. An invaluable piece to the academic environment that is Oxford.
Beyond the tutorials, students are assessed by final exams rather than homework. The student who is truly capable of tackling reading lists and can devote hours of study on their own AND are incredibly passionate about their course of study is one that would thrive at Oxford. It is fairly rare for a student to change their course after being admitted and while studying at Oxford. I recommend reading about the courses of interest directly on their website to get an idea of what each course (major) comprises of.
One of the most common mistakes, typically an international applicant, will make, is applying to the wrong course. Admissions highly recommended students go onto the website and REALLY read about the courses they may be interested in studying. The titles don’t always match up to what students may assume. For example, Economics and Management is NOT for students interested in studying Business. Course selection is even more paramount in the admission process, as students are reviewed within the context of the course they are applying for, and if chosen for an interview will be challenged on the content by tutors. Again, I’ll create another admission post for a deeper look.
Search courses here: University of Oxford Course Search
What I really enjoyed about the student body and Oxford as a whole, was this larger passion for intellectual curiosity. It’s insane. And I love it. Oxplore is a site created by tutors and students that explore “big questions.” The questions are student driven so the questions are relative and super relatable. It’s one of the small ways you can get to know the things Oxford finds interesting.
The city of Oxford itself is an easy hour train ride from London. I found it to be incredibly easy to navigate, even only using WiFi service for my phone connection. Lovely food, the pub where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter and C.S. Lewis would join her to compare writing, seeing the new amongst the old…it’s all magical.
As with any university/college it is all about fit. That academic, social and learning piece that allows a student to thrive. Is Oxford for everyone? Nope. But I do believe it is an institution doing beyond incredible things. And anyone who is a part of it…well that’s kind of exciting.
- Ranked number 1 in the world by Times Higher Education and World University Rankings
- The university generates 7.1 billion dollars for the global economy every year
- 150 countries are represented on campus in addition to a staff represented by over 100 countries
- Over 100 libraries on campus
- Home to Einstein’s blackboard
- Course terms are 8-9 weeks long