Where are you from?: Wigan (near Manchester)
Best thing about your course?
There’s far more variety to the Oxford English course than people think: it’s not simply churning out stale essays on the classics. In reality, the first term was spent learning a new language – Old English – entirely from scratch, so it involved translations, vocabulary memorisation, and interesting pronunciation exercises. Also, the ‘Language’ part of the course isn’t just glossed over: there is a linguistic and literary theory based paper which deconstructs so much of what you think about society and language, so that makes for dynamic learning when paired with the typical comparative essay on classic texts.
Best thing about Oxford?
Confidence in your unique academic talents flourishes when you’re surrounded by determined people, leaders in your field, and pushed to stretch yourself as often as possible. While I thought it would be overwhelming and impossible to feel smart in an environment like Oxford, the opposite has happened. I’ve attended talks run by societies which are quite far from my degree, but the passion everyone has for whatever they’re talking about, and attending such talks in historic buildings makes it impossible not to feel engaged.
How do you cope with the workload?
I know some people who allocate a day off a week that they don’t learn, but I personally make sure I have about three non-academic ‘activities’ per day so I feel as if every day isn’t taken up by libraries and essays. For instance, I’ll arrange to cook tea with my housemate; try and go to the college bar or JCR from 8pm to hang out with my friends and switch off; or go to a society event or new place in Oxford during the day, such as the shopping centre or around the parks. You don’t have to drown in work constantly like the rumours say, because you’ve reached the stage in education where you have the most control over your routines and priorities.
What are tutorials like?
The most exciting and rigorous part of Oxford! Interviews replicate this, and the small grouping size only initially feels nerve-wracking, instead soon becoming an opportunity to push yourself beyond the 2000 word essay you’ve produced that week. For example, if I’d written something about the history of language, questions about ‘what does language even really mean’ would be common, forcing me to pull upon a range of sources and ideas and work through them with my tutors. You also can’t beat the feeling of getting words of encouragement and agreement from the world-specialist in that particular field!
What were you worried about before you arrived?
The myths around Oxford were plentiful at my northern state school: that other students would make fun of your non-posh accent, that everyone spoke Latin, that only people who’d completed a crazy amount of work experience were accepted, that you needed all A*s to be accepted. Realising that there isn’t an ‘Oxford type’ was reassuring and important: the thought of anyone feeling that they’re not ‘the right type’ is a real shame, because more diversity is what our uni needs to make it a place full of all kinds of incredibly intelligent and unique individuals.