According to Times Higher Education ranking, the University of Oxford currently is ranked as the overall number one university in the world and is ranked 4th for schools offering an arts and humanities degree.
With a rich history and an impressive alumni network to boast, Oxford has established itself as an institution that many aspire to matriculate into.
Though the academic life of an Oxford student is greatly talked about and publicised, little is known about the recreational side of Oxford.
With this in mind, we approached one of our mentors who graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in History of Arts to share with us what can be expected as an Oxford student.
What subjects did you do at high school (e.g:IB/A Level/AP etc)and what did you score?
I studied A levels in the UK and got A*s in three subjects: History, English and Geography
What were your CCAs and Leadership positions in high school?
In my final years of school I was a Senior Prefect and won the School Debating Competition. As an Academic Scholar, I taught Year 2 children reading and writing once a week. I also played school cricket and was a singer-songwriter and regularly performed in school concerts and on BBC Radio in the region.
How does the workload of university compare with A Levels
During my A Levels I was given on average 3 or 4 pieces of homework to do after school, whereas at university I was normally given 2 or 3 essays per fortnight. So I think at university you are given more control over how long you can spend on pieces of work. If you want to excel, the workload is probably slightly higher but you also have more control over when you can get the work done and how much time you should put into something. I probably spent between 35 and 40 hours working per week at university, and slightly more during revision periods. You can choose how many items to read from the reading list and are never expected to read everything. At university, the tutors were good at making sure you take enough time off work to stay healthy and rested.
How did you decide on your final university? Did you get offers elsewhere?
I had offers from The Courtauld Institute of Art and Edinburgh University which I was tempted by but in the end I chose Oxford because of its research reputation. Also, Oxford is known for teaching using tutorials, which are weekly 1-1 or 1-2 sessions, and give students a lot of attention and feedback. I was keen to experience this level of input from the teaching staff. Lastly, Oxford is split up into colleges which give students a small community feeling even within the large university and I felt this would suit my personality very well.
What is the cost of Living and cost of school fees for the entire duration of the undergraduate degree?
The university fees for UK students are £9,250 per year and for overseas students are £31,250 per year. The accommodation costs vary but are normally around £9,000 per academic year for college accommodation (this does not include vacations). My personal expenses for food, transport, events, clothing etc normally came to around £1,000 each term, so £3,000 per academic year. So it is estimated that the duration of the degree for a UK student would cost around £65,000. Of course, this does not include costs incurred during the long vacations or travel costs for overseas students.
How is the teaching and learning work in your school? Are the faculty accessible?
Because of the small cohort for History of Art and the use of weekly tutorials, the tutors give a lot of attention to the individual students and there are many opportunities for students to ask questions and seek help if they need it. I found that the tutors were very accessible and made a great effort to get to know the students and invest time in their education. For this reason I rate the teaching very highly. There was also a good mixture of specialised lectures and more conversational forms of teaching such as seminars and tutorials.
How large is the cohort for your courses? How many Singaporeans are there?
In my year, the cohort was made up of 14 people and 1 was from Singapore.
Are people very competitive academically? How many exams are there in a year? What happens if one fails the year?
While people at Oxford are very invested in their academic achievements and care a lot about the course, I experienced this as a positive aspect of the course because everyone learns from each other’s diverse interests. I did not experience a great deal of overly competitive behaviour. Tutors also make sure to nurture an atmosphere of sharing information and interests so that people do not feel as if they are against each other. In my degree there were 3 preliminary exams in first year, and one piece of coursework. If you fail the year, it is possible to sit retakes in September of that same year and the failure rates for humanities subjects are extremely low. If you fail the resits then you cannot move on to the next stage of the degree. I then had 5 exams in my final year, and two pieces of coursework. The number of exams varies greatly across degrees. Some courses set exams every year of the degree.
How would you describe the school culture?
I think the culture was very diverse and positive. People from very wide ranges of backgrounds and with very broad interests are all in close proximity which makes the life there very exciting. I think it is a positive culture in the sense that people within the university community are supportive of each other’s endeavours which is demonstrated in the broad interest in student plays, societies, academic conferences, and student run nights out.
Is there an established Singaporean presence at your university? How many Singaporeans are there per batch?
The university is very diverse and has intakes of students from across the world. There is therefore a sizeable Singaporean presence. In 2018, there were 348 Singaporean students at the university, making it one of the top ten national origins for Oxford students.
How are freshmen/freshers welcomed to your university?
The first week, Freshers Week, is filled with fun activities to help new students settle in and meet new people. Because of the college community, this is much less daunting than at some universities. There is a dinner where you meet some of your tutors and course mates and there are lots of induction events to make sure students are safe and know where everything they need is. There are also a range of nights out but also lots of events for people who do not enjoy drinking or going to nightclubs which means that no students should feel left out.
Is your school “cliquey”? Do people tend to hang among people of their own major, social class, race, or nationality only, or is there a high degree of integration?
There are definitely social groups that form over the course of university but I did not experience that in terms of nationality or race during my time at university. For instance, my friendship group in the History of Art cohort was made up or one Singaporean student, one Polish student and two UK students. So I experienced a high level of integration. I felt that these groups were often defined by the kinds of music people listened to, their favourite nights out, or through society’s such as a film society. The college community also means that students are able to meet people from other courses very easily and interact with people from across the spectrum of the student body.
How would you describe the following “scenes” in your college and its surroundings: shopping, drinking, clubbing, fine arts, and sports?
Oxford had a good range of clothes shops and a recently opened shopping centre called WestGate so it is definitely well equipped for shopping. It has a good selection of bars and clubs but is definitely not as diverse for music and dancing as other, larger UK cities. London is close enough though that you can go to London for an evening if you want something that Oxford does not offer. The fine arts scene is excellent. Modern Art Oxford is a wonderful contemporary gallery and the Ashmolean is a world-class museum in the centre of the city. There is also the Ruskin School of Art which regularly hosts exciting student exhibitions. The University sports setup is extensive, which several university gyms, college gyms, race tracks and lots of very beautiful sports grounds across town. If you are not at a very high level in a sport, there are also smaller college teams so the university sports culture has something for everyone.
How’s the accommodation? Do most people stay in college dorms/halls, or independently? How should one look for accommodation?
In your first year, almost everyone stays in college dorms so it is best for new students to do that in order to feel integrated into the community and supported by the college. College accommodation is on the whole excellent and very central within the university so you are well connected. You can also choose whether you want to be in catered halls or have access to your own kitchen. One should look at the range of accommodation through the college websites.
How is the transport like? Does one need a car? If so, how should one go about getting a car?
Oxford is a very manageable city by foot, bus or bike so it is definitely not necessary to have a car, especially in first year when you are living in college and so are very central in town.
Is Asian food readily available? If one is to cook, where can we get the Asian food from?
Like in most UK cities, there is a very wide range of restaurants including many serving Asian food. I used to eat regularly at a Chinese restaurant and a Thai restaurant which were both within 5 minutes walking distance from my college. There are also many Asian and international supermarkets so you can definitely cook Asian food from home as well.
Do most people cook, eat at a catered facility or cafeteria, or eat out? How’s the catered food?
The catered food is generally very good and varies slightly from college to college. Most people eat in college in their first year and then will cook for themselves in second and third year, although this does vary and is based on personal choice.
What are the laundry arrangements like?
Colleges normally have laundry rooms within a couple of minutes from your room where you can go and wash your clothes. These are normally very cheap so you do not have to rely on a commercial launderette. Student houses almost always come with a washing machine.
What’s the best experience you’ve had so far in college?
My personal favourite experience was running my college’s film club with my close friend. We were able to have a great deal of control over which films we showed and have found that we had lovely community of people join us through their love of films. It was always the highlight of my week and a wonderful way to socialise and relax.
Any final things you’d like to tell juniors about your school?
Oxford is surrounded by a lot of myths and ideas about how old fashioned or elitist it is, but in my experience it was not like that at all. It is a place where people who are very passionate about their academic work can come together and study, but also make friends and grow as people. The academic staff are very attentive and the city is perfect for students because it is small and diverse. For these reasons I would really recommend people to apply to the university.
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