Student Ambassador blog

Some of our Student Ambassadors give their perspective on life as a Merton undergraduate, and why you should apply.
  • Rachel Jung shares her advice on applying to study Classics
  • There’s nowhere I’d rather be than Merton says history student Ellie Hall
  • PPE student Zak Angell explains why he chose Merton
  • Charlie Lamb, currently reading Biology, talks you through how to write a good Personal Statement
  • French & Linguistics student Rebecca Smithson describes what it’s like to be on the JCR committee
  • PPE-ist Jessica Searle offers ten top tips on how to handle an essay crisis
  • Don’t talk yourself out of applying, says history student Rob Lentz
  • Is Merton really 'Where fun goes to die'? asks Charlotte Fields, who is reading medicine
  • Historian Jack Allsopp has the low-down on studying Humanities at Oxford
  • Elena Grant, a medicine undergraduate describes what it's like being a Scottish student at Oxford

Studying Classics at Merton

Hi, I’m Rachel and I’m a first year studying Classics at Merton.

The Classics course at Oxford varies depending on the experience you start university with. I’m doing Course 1A because I studied both Latin and Greek at school, but there are many options available to choose and you can find out more about each one in the Classics section of the university website. The course is very broad, which is something I really like about Classics at Oxford.  You can explore a whole range of areas of Classics in the first two years to find what interests you most. Alongside literature and language, there’s a choice to study either Ancient History, Archaeology or Philology, as well as a module in Philosophy, ancient or modern. I’m studying Archaeology this year and I’m really excited to start learning about Greek Vases. This choice gives the opportunity to open Classics up beyond just Latin and Greek language and shows all the things that fall under the umbrella of this degree. Philosophy is something I’m particularly interested in and I really thought about when applying so I’m glad there’s so much of it on offer in the course.

Although an important part of Classics is studying the languages, there’s no need to worry if you haven’t done one or either of them before; the Classics department and the colleges provide a lot of support in starting a new language and it won’t stop you diving head-first into the ancient world. There’s also a good blend of learning in colleges and in the department; in first year, we have weekly language classes at the Classics department, which is a great opportunity to meet people from other colleges studying the same subject. The other time the Classics students come together is for lectures, which I find really interesting. Since Classics is so broad, there will pretty much always be a lecture series on that takes your fancy. Last term, I went to lectures on Gender and Sexuality in Greece & Rome which, although I didn’t need them for any of my papers, really enhanced my understanding of Classics as a whole. That’s the beauty of a subject that encompasses so much!

One thing I like about Classics, especially at Oxford, is its accessibility. You do not need to have prior experience to study it and be passionate about it. The foundational texts of the ancient world, the Iliad and Aeneid, are just as fascinating in translation. They make up a large portion of the beginning of the course and every student studies at least one of them, regardless of how much they have done before. It is quite easy to learn more in Classics and explore new things that come up in tutorials or lectures because there are so many avenues to go down in this subject. Trust me, you will find your niche! It can, however, be difficult at first to get a hold on the different areas of Classics because it is so broad, and the choice may be a little overwhelming, but the tutors are always ready to help. I struggled with Greek when I started at Merton this year, but I spoke to my tutor about it and he drew up a revision timetable for me with textbook chapters for me to work through gradually. It has really boosted my confidence! There is also more time to learn in the Classics course than it may first appear since the first lot of exams, called ‘Mods’, are in second year. 

If you’re thinking of applying to study Classics at Oxford (which I would really recommend!), I’d suggest thinking about what makes you want to. For me, I wanted to study Classics, particularly at Oxford, because the course here is a blend of all my favourite subjects from school: English, Languages and Philosophy. It’s also a very dramatic subject to study, looking at the two ancient cultures that have most heavily shaped the West and all the stories they have produced. When I was little, I was fascinated by the assassination of Julius Caesar and that interest has stayed with me. If you are passionate about anything to do with Classics, I think you’d love to do it as a degree because that passion will only get stronger.

I would also recommend kindling that passion through reading. My main recommendation is to find your niche, the thing that excites you most about the ancient world and read all you can about it. That way, you can think about what direction you may want to take your studying in. When I was in Sixth Form, I mostly read Greek Tragedy because that is what I like most about Classics and I always wanted to know more about it. It also helped that the plays are quite short! It can also be really helpful to mix classical works with modern books about Classics as a whole, such as A Very Short Introduction to Classics’, Confronting the Classics and even Women & Power, all by Mary Beard (sorry, my bookshelf is quite Beard-heavy!). You could also mix it up with some Classics-inspired fiction like Madeline Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles, Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (this last book was the one that sealed my love of Greek Tragedy, I couldn’t recommend it enough). Lastly, I’d suggest dipping into some of the most important Classical texts, namely Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aeneid, which will give you an understanding of the kind of literature studied in a Classics degree. These works are all really compelling in translation; if you’d like to read the Odyssey, I recommend Emily Wilson’s translation, which is not only the most recent but also the first done by a woman.

Best of luck if you’re applying for Classics and I hope this has been helpful!

Rachel Jung is a first-year Classics undergraduate

There’s nowhere I’d rather be

I went to a standard state comprehensive school in Manchester, where I was unlucky in that I didn’t have a proper history teacher until year 11. Instead, I had a mix of other teachers filling in, supply teachers and films being put on. Whilst I liked watching Made in Dagenham, it was when we were finally being taught and engaged in class discussions that I realised this was a subject I actually enjoyed. Before this, when asked about my favourite subject, I probably would’ve said lunch!

You don’t have to have been academic or had a favourite subject since you were six to validate an Oxford application - studying it grows your interest, and that’s what Oxford is for.

I moved to a big inner-city state sixth form college for A levels, and I was lucky enough to be taught by a passionate and supportive history teacher, who encouraged me to apply - even just for a chance of a free holiday to Oxford if I got an interview!

When I applied, I wasn’t sure that I would accept even if I got an offer. I surprised myself by actually enjoying the interview process, so when I did get an offer, I firmed it on UCAS.

Having struggled with mental health through year 13, a couple of days before results day I still wasn’t convinced that Oxford was the place for me (and many pro/con lists were involved!!). Perhaps ironically, the fact that I missed a grade due to extenuating circumstances and Merton accepted me anyway ultimately convinced me to give it a go. I felt like they showed willing to meet me half-way - that they really wanted someone like me to come to Oxford.

Ellie Hall

That hasn’t changed since I’ve got here, and I’m glad I finally convinced myself - and I hope this might play some part in convincing someone else, too. I mainly chose Merton because it seemed nice on the Open Day, was cheap and central, but it is so much more than that. It’s friendly, supportive, and (shock horror) fun!! There’s nowhere I’d rather be❤️

Ellie Hall is a first-year History undergraduate.

Why I chose Merton

When it came to the Oxford Open Day in June, I already knew which course I wanted to study – PPE. Fortunately for me—or perhaps unfortunately given the time commitment required to decide—PPE is on offer at a lot of colleges! So, on the Open Day, my plan was to get to as many of the colleges that I was considering applying to. Here are some of the reasons why, after considering my options, I decided to apply to Merton:

Merton’s size

I think that Merton’s size is perfect – not so small that there is nobody around, but small enough that you feel like you know everyone! In terms of the size of the college grounds, and not just the number of students, Merton is perfectly sized too. Everything within college is just a short walk away, yet Merton is still large enough to encompass the beautiful Fellows’ Garden, a bunch of accommodation, three amazing quads, the large Dining Hall and a huge chapel! Also, the college bar (great social space, whether you want to drink alcohol or not) is small enough to be cosy, but large enough to not be cramped when it gets busy.

Merton’s people

The people that I met at Merton on the Open Day were (in my opinion) by far the friendliest of any college I visited, including the tutors! This has continued throughout my first five weeks at Merton, with everyone being approachable and friendly. To my relief, there are also many football fans at Merton who I can talk to about football! (Something I did not expect at Oxford!)

Merton’s location

Merton is in a great location. Whilst being less than a two-minute walk from the High Street, Merton is hidden away from the hordes of tourists that are somewhat inevitable in Oxford. Everything in the centre of Oxford is within walking distance, yet Merton is still peaceful and quiet.

Merton’s buildings, look and history.

When applying to Oxford, lots of people (me included!) want to apply to an old college with history and beautiful buildings. Merton looks like an Oxford college and certainly has the history to match: whether this be the vase that resides in the Chapel which Tsar Alexander I of Russia donated after a stay at Merton, Tolkien’s table, or the sheer age of Postmasters’ Hall, Merton has history that everyone can enjoy (if you’re that way inclined!).

Merton’s reputation

Merton comes with its reputation of high academic standards, and undoubtedly this was an attraction for many current Mertonians. However, whilst this may seem daunting, the reputation arises due to the continued excellence of the tutors and the work is set at a challenging but manageable level. If the work were too arduous, Merton wouldn’t get such great results and have such an outstanding reputation! Plus, the reputation of Merton being ‘where fun goes to die’ simply isn’t true – there’s plenty to get involved with here and countless social opportunities.

Merton’s free ice cream and music!

It must be said that the free ice cream and warm atmosphere on the Open Day definitely encouraged me to apply to Merton! My gut instinct said to apply to Merton as soon as I walked through the Porters’ Lodge that day, and I’m very happy with my decision now!

Zak Angell is a first-year PPE student from Alton in Hampshire. He is a massive football fan and supports Portsmouth FC. He has three younger brothers, and all four of them were born within four years of each other (but no twins!).

How to write a good Personal Statement

Hi! I’m Charlie, and I am a first year biologist. I come from a town near Liverpool that doesn’t have many Oxbridge students each year. Since starting at Oxford, I have joined the Oxford cheerleading team The Sirens, and joined the Harry Potter society. I’m only a couple weeks into my first term, so I can’t comment yet exactly on my life at Oxford, but here are some useful tips which will hopefully improve your personal statement for Oxford, Cambridge, or any other university you apply for.

Be interesting

The tutor will read loads of statements that day. Make yours stand out. If your statement is boring, repetitive, and doesn’t show much interest in the subject you’re applying for, the statement just simply won’t be memorable, and the tutor will be less likely to be impressed. You want your statement to read ‘WOW! Let’s give them a place!’, not ‘Oh, this again’. A key example will be your first opening sentence. Make the tutor want to read on. So many statements begin with ‘I want to do this subject because’, and that simply isn’t interesting or memorable. Try an insightful comment, or a small sentence about what first caught your eye about that subject, and expand on how it wanted to make you learn more. My first sentence was ‘Watching Planet Earth at a young age and admiring the vast variety of plants and animals featured was probably the first clue I had about my passion for biology’. This gives an opening statement about what got me into biology in the first place, and then I can go on discussing what I did to learn more.

Be honest

This one is so simple. If you didn’t go to tea with the prime minister, please just don’t say you did. If you make it to the interview stage, the tutors might ask you about your personal statement, and it becomes so clear if you mention something on your statement that you didn’t do. The tutors understand that not everyone has the same opportunities. If someone else did have tea with the prime minister, they won’t mark you down just because you didn’t.

Be informative

You only have 4,000 characters to write your entire personal statement. It feels like a lot, but it’s honestly not - don’t waste them! 4,000 characters is approximately an A4 page of writing, and you want to use that page to convince the tutors to give you a university place. The tutors don’t want to know what your friend did, they want to know what you did. Also, try and keep your personal statement subject-orientated. Try and aim for a few distinct paragraphs and aim for only one of these paragraphs to not be subject-specific, usually the paragraph at the end (approximately 20%). The English tutor does not want to read a full page about your time as a tap dancer. Obviously, extra curriculars can give you great skills that will be beneficial to your subject, and can be useful skills that can prove that uni life is for you, but if you didn’t gain these skills doing something subject-specific, then aim for featuring them in your relatively brief ‘extra curriculars’ paragraph only.

Be specific

As mentioned in the previous point, 4,000 characters isn’t really a lot. Make sure everything you put has a point to it. The tutors don’t care all that much about what you actually did, again they understand that not everyone has the same opportunities, they care about what you got out of it. When writing your personal statement, keep asking yourself ‘so what?’ after every single point, to encourage yourself to include all the skills you got out of it. Maybe the lecture you attended inspired you to read more about that topic and you found out you had a real passion for it? Maybe the work experience you did enhanced your communication skills? Has it made you consider working in that field in the future, and doing this course at university will help you achieve that goal? Make sure you give every point you make a reason why the university should accept you.

Be you

This is YOUR personal statement. No one else’s. This is not the time to be modest, you’ve got to put your persuasive shoes on, and sell yourself. If you want that place at university, then fight for it. Give the university no reason to reject you. This is a big step in your life, and you want to make it the best it can possibly be. Do what is best for you, and get in there and succeed! Good luck in your personal statement writing!

Charlie Lamb is a first-year Biology student

What it’s like to be on the JCR committee: the access perspective

Let me paint you a picture. My second year, Day One, Freshers’ Week. I was stepping into the JCR bar, introducing myself to 100 new people. I was nervous, and excited, and had one task: explain what my JCR role is. Easier said than done!

The JCR is kind of like a student council, that has influence over the undergraduates (basically your Bachelors or usually first degree) and coordinate all these people to make sure life in college is as good as it can be. As you can imagine, there are lots of different roles. Some of them are kind of predictable: President, Vice-president, Treasurer… Some are a bit more unexpected, like mine: Access and Equal Opportunities Representative. What does that even mean? What do I do? What’s the point?

You can split the role into two parts. On the one hand, access. As you probably know, Oxford doesn’t always have the best reputation. It’s sometimes seen as scary, foreign, only for posh geniuses and full of elitism. No one ‘normal’ gets in. These are all the myths you hear, right? Well, none of them are true, and it’s my job to make sure that people forget about these myths and still apply. I try to make the idea of getting into Oxford as straightforward and open as possible, especially if you’re from a background where people ‘just don’t go to Oxford’.

This means that I organise the Student Ambassadors (who have written far better posts than me!) to take tours, and write blog posts, or do social media campaigns, or make day-in-the-life videos. I also run the Facebook page Humans of Merton, and the instagram account @mertonjcraccess. I help to organise college open days too. I also attend meetings with staff in college to discuss how we can best use our resources to make sure people from every type of background feel comfortable applying to Oxford - it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, only your academic ability and potential.

On the other hand, once people are in, things have to stay really open and inclusive too. I try to ensure that college is as considerate of peoples’ varying needs as possible, and make sure that everyone has equal opportunities: so that’s the second part of my role. This means that I try to make college life adapted to everyone’s needs, like making sure our accessibility information is easy to find online, or helping people out with the access scheme for our ball, which gives grants to students who would like to go to Merton’s ball but find that their financial situation is too difficult for them to pay the full price.

What is it like to be part of the JCR committee? So much fun, but so many emails and meetings! My second year has been so busy with meeting college staff and other members of the JCR to make progress as efficient as possible. It’s a fair bit of responsibility, but I knew what I was getting into! I couldn’t be happier that I’m part of a community in Oxford and across the country that are tackling the problems of educational inequality and barriers to advancing to higher education.

Why did I apply to do this? I love being a student ambassador, and it kind of developed from there! I think it’s super-important to make sure that Oxford keeps up with the fast pace of the modern world. University needs to represent the amazing diversity we see across the world; diversity and inclusivity are something to be celebrated and supported.

So, Freshers: I did a terrible job of explaining my role, and what access is. But hopefully this clears up any confusion. Access to university is super-important, and there are so many people that are passionate about helping possible Oxbridge applicants to achieve their dreams! And if anything, I hope I’ve made it crystal clear that no matter who you are and where you’re from, there is a place for you at Oxford.

Rebecca Smithson is a second-year French & Linguistics student, and the Access & Equal Opportunities Representative 2019-2020. She likes to go for walks in Oxford in the rain and is slightly obsessed with tea.

How to handle an essay crisis: ten top tips

It’s 9pm. You’ve had a fantastic evening chatting with friends – or maybe you were off at a society or sports training session, or even just catching up on some Netflix. That’s not the important bit here. You realise, as you return to your room, that you’ve got an impending deadline. The real crux of the issue? You’ve not cracked open even one of the books on the reading list, and the essay is due first thing tomorrow morning.

As much as we’d all like to pretend that we’re always organised and on top of our lives, the reality of life means that sometimes (perhaps due to other commitments, or just a healthy dose of procrastination) essays are left a little too close to the deadline for comfort. If you’re finding yourself in this situation for the first time, then allow me to welcome you to the world of the ‘essay crisis’! I have here for you my ten top tips for handling an essay crisis, which should be able to help you navigate the situation a little more smoothly (having tried and tested such steps more times than I would care to admit…).

  1. If possible, avoid getting into an essay crisis in the first place
    Okay, so I know that, most likely, readers of this advice are already in an essay crisis, making this one perhaps slightly obsolete. But for the sake of any zealous readers acting pre-emptively, or for the sake of avoiding a repeat – it tends to be much more enjoyable not doing essays at the last minute. Sometimes, if you’ve been having a very busy week or just really needed a long chat with a friend, it’s unavoidable, but also take note if you are just procrastinating, and avoid ending up in the realm of the essay crisis if you can.
  2. Try not to panic
    Moralising over, and into coping with the situation at hand. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is not panic. If you’re the kind of person who is easily stressed under pressure, then try to remember that panicking will not get the essay written or the books read any quicker – it will, in all likelihood, slow you down when time is limited and you probably really just want to go to bed. Keeping a level head will improve your clarity of thought and get the experience over that bit faster.
  3. Break it down into smaller tasks
    It can seem really daunting at first, when faced with a long reading list and a blank word document, knowing in a few hours, you need a 2,000+ word essay with a coherent, well-explained argument. Break up the essay-writing process into a mini to-do list – for example, with each reading, planning the paragraphs, and then writing each major paragraph, as points on the list – to make the process a bit more manageable.
  4. Be discerning with what you need to read
    Reading lists can be hugely variable in lengths. Personally, I’ve had anything from 4 to 15 pieces of reading, and know they can be even longer – and that’s without adding some of your own reading, if you really enjoy the topic. However, you should remember (and this applies beyond the realm of the essay crisis) that often you are not expected to have read everything on the list. There may be a few asterisked texts, which you should definitely read, but also try to assess for yourself what seems important and what is more niche. Lectures slides can be a good guide for this. It can also be worth asking friends or tutorial partners who have been more organised this time around if they can recommend any (or, even better, if they have notes they’d be willing to share).
  5. Remove all distractions
    As painful as it may be at the time, Netflix, Facebook, and Buzzfeed quizzes will all still be available to you in a few hours. What won’t be there? The chance to work on your essay! Do whatever you need to do to really focus, whether that’s turning off your phone (I like the app Forest) or shutting yourself in the library. You’ll worker faster and better this way.
  6. Fortify yourself
    Chances are, you’re in for the long haul, so try to make it as pleasant as you can for yourself. Personally, I have a lovely comfy hoodie (a gift from a friend, chosen with essay crises in mind), and would recommend keeping snacks on hand (I like Bunny Bites, Tesco’s version of Pom Bears). If you like to work with music, then select yourself some good tunes too.
  7. Set targets as you go
    Something that keeps me motivated along the way is mini targets and self-imposed deadlines – for example, I’ll try to reach 1,000 words by 10pm. It tends to work even better if a friend sets the deadline, as then you’re held accountable (although potentially this should be avoided if said friend would also distract you).
  8. Have fun, if you can!
    ‘Have fun?! I’m in a crisis here!’ – okay, but you made it through interviews and admissions tests and exams to earn your place here. You’re here because you really care about studying the subject, and because the tutors thought you were capable. Circumstances might not be ideal, but hopefully the subject matter is at least a little bit interesting, and if you can summon up some enthusiasm, the whole process will be much more fun.
  9. Don’t compromise your health for an essay
    The workload can be intense at Oxford, and if it all gets too much, then don’t be afraid to submit what you can manage or ask for an extension for the sake of your health. This is a balancing act; maybe you’d manage an all-nighter, or maybe you don’t think you can take the pressure at the moment. The most important thing is to communicate with the tutors (or maybe even welfare in college, if you need it).
  10. Try to learn from the experience
    To tie things off, I hope you come away from the essay crisis experience with more than a patchy knowledge of the tutorial topic and the opening hours of the college library. Hopefully, you’ll have learnt to get started a tad sooner next time – or at least, how to deal with it more smoothly the next time crisis hits!

Jessica Searle is a second-year PPEist, who has continued on with Politics and Economics. When she's not writing blog posts and trying to help improve access, she can usually be found promoting gender equality (as both Secretary for UNWomen Oxford and JCR Gender Equality Rep), or with a book in hand.

Don’t talk yourself out of applying

For a large part of my life, the idea of going to Oxford University was in my eyes an entirely unattainable, abstract concept on a pedestal that was far too high for the likes of me.

Throughout my time at my local secondary school, I had resolutely discarded applying to Oxford as an option. With no actual evidence, I completely subscribed to and believed all of the stereotypes about it – full of posh Etonians, a place of constant and unrelenting hard work, complete lack of social activity, and so on – and convinced myself that Oxford wasn’t for me.

What I wanted from university was the same as anyone else: a good and valuable degree, but also an enjoyable three years that I would always look back upon happily. I feared that going to Oxford, if I somehow managed to get a place, would mean three confined years of constant reading, writing essays, and spending most nights sleeping at a desk in a dimly-lit library, alongside people with whom I had nothing in common. Writing this article now, it’s hard to believe I was so close-minded, simply based off an idea of 'Oxford' that had zero grounding in reality.

After being pleasantly surprised by my GCSE results, I was gradually persuaded to visit Oxford on an Open Day; I am very thankful that I did. Coming up to Oxford completely erased my misguided perceptions of the university, hence why I would urge those who are still on the fence about an Oxford application to visit if you can, and absorb as much as you can.

For myself, the repeated assurances by the students and tutors at each of the colleges that I visited that Oxford was not as archaic as I had assumed was highly persuasive. It became clear to me that the university almost couldn’t care less about the background of an applicant: Oxford simply wants those who genuinely care about a subject, and will do well in their exams. There is a drive to ensure academic ability and interest are the sole factors in determining who gets a place; since coming up, it has been transparently clear that there is in fact no Oxford 'type'.

Although I finally managed to recognise how foolhardy I had been to dismiss Oxford, this realisation came a little too late. My first year of sixth form was, to be quite blunt, a train wreck. Realising this, I chose to restart sixth form entirely; while I knew this would mean I could achieve better grades and get into a good university, it seemed to completely write off any chance of making it to the dreaming spires.

However, despite me having to take a less-than-direct route through sixth form, admissions staff at the various colleges that I visited on study days still suggested that it was worth applying, and I think this is where an important point comes to light: even if you think that you’ve in some way closed the Oxford route off to yourself – perhaps due to a few dodgy exams, feeling like you haven’t read enough, that you don’t stand as much of a chance as someone else from your college, or whatever else it may be – it’s only by applying that you can know whether or not you could get a place, and that is definitely a chance that is worth taking.

The vast swathe of the negative ideas people have of Oxford University are false, and I myself am a clear example of this, and you learn that as you discover more. One of the most significant and damaging misconceptions is that if you aren’t from the 'correct' socio-economic background, you can’t get in. Quite simply, that is not true. Since getting a place and starting last October, I’ve been stunned and surprised to find that Oxford is full of an immense variety of different personalities from diverse backgrounds; all of the fears that for a long period had led me to turn Oxford into an impossibility in my mind have been resolutely proven wrong.

Don’t let the media representation, the stories you’ve heard in the common room, make up your mind for you. Visit Oxford, read the prospectus, look at the college websites, and decide for yourself.

Rob Lentz
First Year History

“Where fun goes to die?”

Coming from a state school background as the first person from my sixth form to go to Oxford, I knew very little about the college system when I applied.

Initially I applied to Worcester, because it was one of the very few I’d heard of (credit to Emma Watson), I knew it had nice gardens and a good location, and saw no point researching colleges further than that because I didn’t think I’d get in. For Medicine, as with most science subjects, you’re assigned a second college for interviews and mine happened to be Merton. When I received an offer from Merton I was ecstatic, but also confused, and decided it was time to do some research into the college. I’m a sociable person, so imagine the horror 17-year-old me felt when my Google search of 'Merton, Oxford' described it as the place where 'fun goes to die'.

In that moment I was adamant that I was just going to turn down the offer and go to a nice, 'normal' university, but thankfully my mum managed to make me see sense.

In reality Merton is nothing like that. On the first day my dad kept joking about spotting piles of dead fun in random places, but as soon as I arrived I was directed to the JCR (Junior Common Room – like a mini-students union) Entz reps (the social secretaries of College) to get my Freshers' Week tickets. Like any college there are people with different interests - some go out three nights a week, some spend their time playing university or college sport, and others opt for games nights in the TV room; and everyone can enjoy themselves. There are many choices for how to spend your time, and that is a choice that belongs to you.

The JCR Entz reps also organise Bops; which is a quaint name for fancy-dress themed parties for people to chat and dance, and generally socialise; fancy-dress can feel a little silly to begin with, but these parties are actually great fun, and we’re all silly together! Friends at other colleges have told me that we have some of the best bops in the uni, and Merton has four per term whereas other colleges normally have two! Who sounds more fun now?

Another worry I had about Merton was its size, but I really love the community that comes with having a relatively small college. The years above were super-welcoming, everyone knows each other and you’ll always bump into someone to chat with. It's great when you’re having a stressful day or missing home to be surrounded by friendly faces. I worried about not fitting in but quickly made some really close friends after bonding over fancy-dress shopping and outfits for the next freshers' event!

The workload for Medicine is, unsurprisingly, intense, but no more so at Merton than any other college, and the same goes for other subjects too. There are some weeks where you end up mega-busy and others less so, but for exams everyone needs to know the same syllabus and students at all colleges are taught the same by the faculties. Everyone should come to Oxford knowing they’ll have to continue working hard and no matter how hard they try to hide it, everyone does!

So, no, there are not piles of 'dead fun' lying around and people aren’t just hidden away in their rooms all day. All the colleges have little reputations that other colleges tease them with, but Merton's is no more deserved than that of any other – and I can't imagine being anywhere else!

Charlotte Fields
First Year Medicine

Studying Humanities at Oxford

Hi! I am Jack, a second year historian, and I am here to give you the low-down on doing a degree in a Humanities subject at Merton.

This is an incredible college where you can flourish academically, learning so much about yourself and your subject, make incredible friends, and take up some really incredible opportunities, all whilst living in a stunning space over 750 years old.

I can offer a flavour of what it is like to study not only History, but also (fairly) similar subjects like English, Modern Languages, Classics and the like, and, hopefully, give a bit of advice. Firstly, there is no such thing as the 'perfect' student, as everyone approaches work in a different way. Therefore, you will discover what works best for you here, and this will be a combination of trying things out for yourself, making mistakes, and taking advice from friends, those from the years above (like me!) and tutors. Don’t be scared of your fellow students, we are all equally as nervous, and equally as talented. Look at the other Mertonians on your course as friends and as people here to offer mutual support, rather than competition.

Now on to the specifics: I typically have 4-5 hours of contact a week, comprising of a few lectures and one, maybe two, tutorials (standard for historians). So although other Humanities subjects will have more contact than this, we are all similar in the sense that we have far less time supervised than the average lab-bound scientist, though it's important to note that there is no divide between arts and science students, we all socialise together. This is both a blessing and a curse: the opportunity to structure your own day can open up the opportunity to fit in your work around lots of other fun commitments, but beware the perils of procrastination!

It is likely that at some point in your first year, a long night and much of the subsequent morning will be spent frantically producing an essay. The infamous 'essay crisis' afflicts every student at some point, and with some moral support from friends, a stockpile of indulgent food and a bit of creativity, the deadline is more often than not met. However, it's important not to rely upon this method too often, therefore I would recommend learning to plan in specific times in the week where you want to do your reading, and leave yourself, especially in first term, a good 24 hours for just writing.

In terms of actually getting through the books, it's worth noting too that reading lists are often scarier on paper and dealing with them over the course of a tutorial cycle is doable. The way to 'read' 8-10 books a week is not by meticulously studying a book line by line, but through finding articles which express what's going on in a shorter and more concise way, finding a good textbook that can give you a lot of the 'facts', as well as developing the art of skim reading, using book reviews and reading introductions and conclusions. These skills come with practice, everyone is learning just like you.

Most importantly, never be afraid to ask your tutor for support. They devised your reading list for a reason, and can always suggest positive ways to tackle it. Similarly, if you are having a bad week, most tutors will be willing to give you an extension and will be kind and considerate if something has gone wrong. Nevertheless, as far as possible, deadlines are set for a reason so try your best to meet them. Oxford courses are designed to be challenging, and thus they will stretch you intellectually, but also at times emotionally and physically. Merton has an excellent welfare provision where academic and pastoral support can be sought. However, most, if not all, of the time the workload is manageable so revel in the opportunities you have to engage in really interesting material and stretch your intellectual horizons!

Studying at Oxford is most likely very different to any academic experience you've had at school. This massive change can seem daunting at times, but the transition to degree-level work is a great opportunity as well as a challenge. It’s the chance to explore your subject from so many different angles and perspectives, to see your subject’s breadth in a way that is impossible at school, and then later in your degree hone in on areas of interest your probably didn’t even consider or knew existed when you were a fresher.

Finally, your degree is one (big) part of your wider Merton experience. Get involved in sport, student politics, drama, or whatever it is that interests you. These opportunities will complement your degree, and make your time here more enjoyable.

Jack Allsopp
Second Year History

Being a Scottish student at Oxford

Hello! My name’s Elena and I’m a second-year studying History at Merton. I come from Edinburgh and am going to tell you a wee bit about what it's like being a Scottish student at Oxford.

When first beginning to consider university, Oxford's early/complex application process and sheer distance from Scotland, not to mention the tuition fees, can all seem like barriers to applying. Please, please don’t let these factors put you off, and consider Oxford as an option that you can take! I promise you, Oxford is not the stereotype that it appears to be: the student body is an exciting, diverse, and regionally mixed one.

The decision to pay for a university education that is free in Scotland is a personal choice, and one that I did not take lightly. I have not regretted it. If you think the course at Oxford is the dream one for you, don’t rule it out based on tuition fees alone. Applying is worth consideration, especially as there are forms of financial help, whether this be a governmental loan to pay back or university bursary. When I did some research, I learnt that due to college subsidisation of accommodation and food costs, living costs in Oxford were far cheaper than the Scottish universities I applied to.

The distance from home can also be off-putting, however, the terms are short (3 x 8 weeks), it will feel like no time at all until you’re back home again (you’ll soon find any excuse you can to get back to the dreaming spires). It’s true, however, that travel is both time- and money-guzzling. When I was choosing where to apply in England, (if at all), I chose very early on to consider Oxford over Cambridge, based on little more than pretty pictures of the Radcliffe Camera (History Faculty library), as it wasn’t possible to go down south for both Open Days. The online resources provided by the universities and colleges are great, so if you can’t make it to the Open Days (June and September) don’t worry, you’re not at a disadvantage!

It can be a scary feeling to decide where to live for the next 3-4 years, especially when using online information alone. I had no idea about the differences between colleges and in the end my dad and I picked one fairly randomly (based on age, location, choir and food). Treat colleges like choosing a hall of residence and think about what environment you’d like to live in. Finally, differences in educational systems might worry you, however, Oxford understands how Highers/Advanced Highers work, gives offers based on them, and does understand that (subject dependent) you will be learning different content to the A-level system.

The interview process may seem shrouded in mystery to you at this point—it certainly was to me—but the online resources provided by Oxford are super-helpful. A point worth making is that when you go down for interviews, you will be given accommodation and food by the college you are being interviewed by! (This is something I’ve been asked before: unless specified, you don’t need to bring a sleeping bag/bed linen or a tent to stay in, they’ve got you covered!) Furthermore, an aspect of the interview process that might be unique to Scottish students is age. I was 16 when I did my interviews: I remember arriving and finding that there were 19-year-olds being interviewed for the same course at the same time… scary stuff! Don’t let your age put you off applying, I went in straight after school and was 17 for my first term. Equally I know Scots who applied for deferred entry and took a gap year after school to allow them time to mature and enjoy the world a little bit before going on to do a degree. Both paths are viable and fantastic options.

Let me impart three pieces of, hopefully, wisdom to the Scottish student about to embark on their degree:

You will become an expert at light packing and cramming belongings into as few suitcases as possible… trust me, even I managed.

You will become skilled beyond your years at managing public transport across the UK, especially if you take the train ( is your friend!), in which case you will become very familiar with the stops of Preston and Lancaster in the North of England (where, invariably, the trains almost always encounter some technical hitch, an experience that unites the Scottish student body).

You’re about to learn way more about English geography than you ever thought you would… I embarrassed myself many times during Fresher’s Week… turns out that even though I thought Yorkshire was in the middle of England it actually classifies as 'the North', that the Midlands is a thing, and that there’s more to the South than just London.

Applying to Oxford is one of the best choices I have ever made, and I would strongly encourage you to do so if you love your subject and would like to spend three years studying it in a crazily beautiful city! Best of luck with your applications, finishing off Advanced Highers, and for the future!

Elena Grant
Second Year History