Student Ambassador: James Morrison

James Morrison

Year: Second

Subject: History

Where are you from: Bournemouth

Why Merton?

Even in the weeks leading up to the application deadline, I was very sceptical about the idea of applying to Oxford. I thought that I had no chance of even getting an interview, and that the whole process would be a waste of time. I didn’t attend an Open Day and consequently didn’t have much of an idea about which college to apply to once I eventually decided to give Oxford a go. I knew a bit about Merton because they had held an outreach talk at my school where they were friendly and informative about the whole application process. Above all, the fact that they were visiting a school like mine, which has little history of Oxbridge success, gave me the impression that Oxford was in fact attainable for someone like me. After going online and reading about Merton’s historic buildings and purportedly amazing food, I decided to apply there. Having been at Merton for nearly two years now, I am satisfied to report that the buildings are indeed very historic (the College was founded in 1264!), and that the food is genuinely delicious (and incredible value). I haven’t looked back since.

Best thing about your course?

Studying history at Oxford places you at the heart of the academic field right from the start. Since arriving, I have gone from studying A-level Tudor England from a textbook to having one-to-one tutorials with one of the historians whose work was featured in that same textbook. The level of close academic engagement that you receive is extraordinary, and the tutors show a real investment in your progress during your time here.

Another point to mention is the huge breadth of options that are available to study. This allows you both to follow your interests and to develop new ones altogether. My general approach to picking modules has been to find things that sound interesting but that I don’t know much about - this has taken my degree in directions that I never anticipated it to go. So far, I have written essays on topics as wide-ranging as the rise of Islam in the early Middle Ages, IQ testing in the 20th century, and Aristotle’s political philosophy!

How has Oxford changed you?

Oxford has pushed me to constantly seek new ways to improve myself. The history degree in particular involves a lot of independent study, and every week I find myself questioning and rethinking how I can most effectively approach my work. This applies outside of my degree as well: there are so many opportunities here at Oxford, and I have become increasingly focused on making the most of everything that Merton and Oxford have to offer. To use a cliché, life at Oxford really is what you make of it, and I have grown both academically and personally over my time here as a result.

What do you do when you’re not working?

All term long I go to a wide range of events within Merton and the wider University, from poetry readings and debates to Merton’s renowned BOPs (essentially a night out organised by the students). I have also started volunteering at a primary school just outside the city centre, which has been an enriching experience quite unlike anything I have done before. The great thing about being here is the sheer variety of opportunities at your fingertips – I usually find myself doing something completely different every term.