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5 Things the Prospectus Won’t Tell You About Oxford

5 Things the Prospectus Won’t Tell You About Oxford main image

For students the world over, Oxford is an attractive option. But the 2017 prospectus, while highly informative, fails to give a complete impression of the university.

Behold! The things no prospectus will tell you about Oxford.

1. Not all colleges are made equal.

Oxford is divided into colleges – over 30 of them – into which students are sorted. Interviewees are allowed to ‘choose’ which they apply to. Unfortunately, everyone picks the same ones – and so each year in December, while Hilda’s and Hugh’s and Kat’s struggle for good candidates, Magdalen and Christchurch are swimming in rejects.

It’s a big mistake, because there’s no evidence that Magdalen and Christ Church are any better than their fellows. So what should you base your choice of college on, if not proximity to Harry Potter filming locations?

You may have heard of the Norrington Table, the college league that measures which students have done best in finals. Don’t use the Norrington to choose which college you apply to. Thanks to the way Oxford works, you’ve got about as much chance of getting a first from St Anne’s as you have from Oriel.

Instead, pick your college for its culture and extra-curriculars, not its academic record. For example, male rowers are best off at Oriel, Pembroke or Christchurch. Rugby players gravitate towards Teddy Hall. Wadham has a strong thesp and liberal politics scene, while St John’s offers ‘book allowances’ – yes, extra money just to buy books.

Consider yourself a prime-time nerd? There’s only one place for you: Merton. This lovely little medieval college, dubbed ‘where fun goes to die’ by the rest of the uni, regularly tops the Norrington. Don’t worry, Mertonians; I’m sure they’re just jealous.

2. Leading academic ≠ brilliant teacher.

Your tutors at Oxford will be world-class brains, experts in their subjects and potentially even pleasant people. What they might not be are good educators.

Because – surprise! – the world’s leading universities don’t choose their researchers for their easy smiles and patience. Want to abase yourself at the altar of cutting-edge academics? Oxford can help. Want to live in a real-life version of Dead Poets Society, with your own personal Robin Williams looking over your shoulder? Try elsewhere.

Oxford has the resources, the brains and the talent to propel you to your academic limits. But ultimately, the person who does the pushing has to be you. If you’re the kind of student who lacks self-motivation, finds it difficult to set high standards, or struggles to cope under pressure, you won’t flourish here.

3. Oxford is for everyone… period.

“Oxford is for everyone – as long as you have the grades!” So chirps fresher Louise on prospectus page 6. What she fails to mention is that, for those who don’t have the grades or background to achieve them, there are alternatives.

Oxford reform campaigners have welcomed a new scheme pioneered by college LMH (that’s Lady Margaret Hall to you). LMH offers teens from underprivileged backgrounds, who would otherwise lack the required three As/A*s, the chance to undergo a year-long foundation course at the university. Those who excel will go on to earn a place as an undergraduate.

Oxford isn’t as polarized as people sometimes make out. A quarter of its student body identifies as ethnic minority, compared to a national average of 12%. Almost 60% of students are from state schools, a proportion that is slowly rising. And one in four undergrads gets a bursary on top of government support.

Okay, so some of this stuff is in the prospectus. But it’s important, y’all!

4. Speaking in tongues.

You might be aware that Oxford is an excellent place to study languages, both ancient and modern. What you might not know is that it has its own native tongue, as well.

That’s right; the number of nicknames, jargon and euphemisms in Oxford student dialect is so dense that, to the outside viewer, it can seem like a foreign parlance. For example:

“Lizzie? She rusticated. I’ve got collections in 0th. Gotta check my pidge before hall.”

Layman’s translation: “Lizzie has taken time out from her degree. I have start-of-term-exams in my first week back at university. Let me just have a look in my personal mailbox before we go to lunch.”

Not only will Oxford change your vocabulary, it will alter your accent too. Whatever taint you take into your first year – whether Brummy, Scouse, Yorkshire or West Country – you will come out that little bit posher, that bit smoother. It’s the RP effect; in Oxford, everyone speaks like a middle-class Londoner, whether they are or not.

Oh well. For better or worse, you’ll sound cleverer.

5. And finally, to tackle some prospectus gems…

Like any school or uni advert, Oxford’s prospectus has its share of lame student endorsements. In the case of the 2016 doc, some of these are plain misleading. Let’s address the worst.

“Last summer I toured California, India and Edinburgh for free – and made a studio album.”

While I’m pleased for Marco in 3rd year, I seriously doubt Oxford had much to do with this. Please note: Oxford is not a record label. It has zero interest in your mix-tape capabilities.

“My face was painted by one of the children I volunteer with.”

Thus spake John from 3rd year. Again, while wonderful and commendable, this is probably nothing to do with Oxford. Volunteering is not a part of the university’s academic program. If you want to be a social justice warrior, a four-year course in Phil-The won’t help you.

“Ultimate Frisbee is the best (temporary) cure for every essay crisis.”

No, Noemi from 2nd year. The best cure for your essay crisis would be getting down to some hard work – of which you’ll find plenty among the dreaming spires. Alas, some Oxford myths are entirely true.

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2 Comments

The last point is both incorrect and also miserable. Internships and volunteering places are offered through the uni (in order to access some scholarships and bursaries you have to volunteer as a condition). There are music recording studios within the university, so you really could release your first album from there. Advertising social clubs is not a bad thing, and if you're having a breakdown due to the workload sometimes the best thing is to go and play an hour of sports with friends. Travel bursaries are also provided for many courses, although these are competitive and you do have to give a valid reason as to how it would benefit your academics (e.g. if you're studying Egyptology, a trip to Egypt is probably going to be given funding but trip to Ibiza won't be!)

Wrong.

Christ Church (not Christchurch, that's a city in New Zealand) and Magdalen are *not* examples of the most competitive colleges. Brasenose has by far the lowest acceptance rate, and ChCh and Magdalen are at joint-No 4 with two other colleges.

St Catherine's is not one of the least competitive ones. It's the 14th least competitive ones with six other colleges.