Studying at Oxford(52 Posts)
I have a very clever niece (11 A*) who will be going to university in 2006. She wants to study history with the aim of becoming a primary school teacher.
She is looking at universities at the moment but is not considering Oxford or Cambridge. I think mainly because of financial reasons - the cost of returning home, other students being better off, etc.
Oxford would be closer to her home. I have been arguing that there will be lots of people from state schools, not all of the students will be from wealthy backgrounds and more importantly, the facilities will be first class - hopefully the teaching will be excellent (?). Any first-hand advice on why she should at least go on an Open Day and consider it?
my brother went to Oxford. We're not a wealthy background and he loved it; adored it in fact. If she's bright and she's got something about her then she'll really enjoy it.
I went to a variety of schools in the UK and abroad, went to Oxford and had friends from all sorts of schools, comprehensive and grammar as well as Eton & Co. It was never an issue for me, or for any of m friends. I don't think it makes any difference, tbh -- if she's bright enough to get in and confident enough to take advantage of what's on offer, she'll have a great time. And it means spending three years in beautiful surroundings, with teachers who are world experts in their fields and lots of other students with interesting ideas and opinions, which is a brilliant opportunity, which ever way you cut it.
Yes, there are some plonkers around, from public schools and elsewhere, but that's true or all universities, and Real Life too, for that matter. Yes, there are some fairly Brideshead-y pastimes around (punting etc), but if you don't like it, then do something else instead.
The fact that some of the colleges are quite rich in their own right is a plus, as it enables them to offer extra financial support. Plus the college system is much friendlier and easier to handle than the anonymous bureaucracies of other universities.
I went to Oxford but that was 20 years ago so my information is probably somewhat out of date. However, even 20 years ago the Oxford college (Wadham) that I went to had a good mix of undergraduates from State schools, private day/grammar school and public schools and the State school undergrads outnumbered the public school ones. In fact, the public schoolers expended a lot of energy trying to pretend they were working class as that was considered far more cool!
Unlike other universities (other than Cambridge) Oxford University doesn't have a single "culture". The university is a collection of colleges each of which has its own unique atmosphere. Your niece will be able to find information produced by undergraduates on each college describing the atmosphere, facilities etc. and the ratio between state school and private school entrants.
More update information: We're friendly with our next door neighbour's daughter (she was with us on Saturday). She's just finished her first year at Christ Church (a college with a reputation for being very posh). Her friends include an old Etonian and a guy who was kicked out of home at 16 and virtually educated himself from there.
PS I loved Oxford and would re-live my years there in a flash.
My Mom wanted me to apply ( I don't think I was bright enough anyway!) but I wouldn't as I was such an inverted snob about the whole thing...years later I have met loads of people who went to Oxbridge and they come from very diverse backgrounds and loved their Uni days... (as I did anyway, in a less esteemed institution)
I also agree that the college system seems far less daunting and more supportive...
There will indeed be loads of people from state schools there, she shouldnt be put off by any elitist image.
Excellent teaching - ha ha ha NOT! my tutors were without exception were the worst teachers Ive ever come across.
The best thing about going to Oxford is being surrounded by very clever people, which is pretty inspiring.
Also, there is no doubt that having Oxford on your CV opens doors to you later on. I know for a fact that it has got me job interviews.
It's worth adding that it is higher stress than other universities. For example, we used a standard maths textbook, and we did the whole of the first year and most of the second year in just two terms. They push the students really hard cos they know that most can cope with it. You just have to master the technique of cramming a lot of information rapidly, making sense of it and spitting it back at your tutor - up to three times a week. But if your niece got 11 A*s, Im sure she could handle it fine!
Please persuade her to apply. I know plenty of people who teach at Oxford. They work hard to attract applicants from state schools and to give them a fair run in the admissions process. I was a student at Oxford and have taught there and elsewhere. There are good and bad teachers at Oxford, as at any other universities, but two big academic advantages are the much larger amount of time that Oxford tutors spend in contact with students (often 12-15 hours, compared with 6-10 hours elsewhere) and the excellent library facilities. I would encourage her to go along to an Open Day. I know that the English Faculty offers taster sessions for interested school pupils - the History Faculty may do the same.
That is, they spend 12-15 hours running tutorials with 2-3 students, rather than 6-10 hours giving lectures and running classes with 15-18 students.
Thank you for your replies. I will be printing them off to send to her.
It's really encouraging to hear your experiences. I think part of my pushiness is because I went to a mediocre London university and didn't feel inspired by the lecturers or by the other students. I got a good degree but didn't feel I benefitted from it in the way I hoped. In the end it was a case of studying for the finals rather than being interested in the subject. I also think that with more and more people encouraged to study at university, having Oxbridge on a CV may swing an interview and ultimately a job.
Only other point is that it is worth asking around about the colleges - they really vary. The college I was at has strong Northern links and was 50/50 state and private (something to do with its charter, I think), some have quite a sloany reputation, others more easy-going etc. Well-worth trying to find out the current reputation of the colleges to find one that suits you.
Hiya. I'm glad you're encouraging your niece to 'aim high'.
Personally, I would encourage her to look carefully at the courses on offer, as well as considering the social/financial side of things. I know that in my own subject area the syllabus in Oxford (less so in Cambridge, interestingly) is very old-fashioned and the whole system is very resistant to change. I can't tell you much about history, I'm afraid, but personally I'd only encourage A'level students in my subject to go to Oxford (and there are LOTS of good things about Oxford, so please don't think I'm running it down) if they were prepared for the kind of syllabus they'd find there.
I also know from talking to colleagues who did go to Oxford that the system can feel very pressured and may not suit all students. (Better if you're the confident type, for example.)
I'm sorry about your own experience of being uninspired by lecturers and courses at your university. I had the opposite experience. Went to a provincial redbrick university (of the type I now teach in, though actually less prestigious than where I am now) and found excellent teaching (with one or two rare exceptions) which turned me on to my subject to such an extent that I stayed to do a PhD and am now a lecturer in the subject myself. Provincial universities are often staffed by highly committed and intelligent people, who are just desperate to share their knowledge with intelligent and committed young people like your niece. Don't discount the redbricks just because of your own experience.
Having said that, I was in Cambridge last week, and their students are very good and the one-to-one tuition that students get in Oxford and Cambridge clearly pays off in lots of ways (they write very well and are able to express their ideas fluently and clearly, for example). I have also taught in Oxford and again found the students interested and interesting. I am not convinced that Oxbridge is necessarily 'better' than elsewhere, but let's just say that the 'lowest common denominator' there is higher than elsewhere (... does that make sense? I mean that fewer students are really struggling, though the best will do well anywhere).
I am not trying to put your niece off trying for Oxford or Cambridge, but I am just encouraging her to see that there are also other good places where she might go... Could she arrange to go to Oxford for an Open Day to have a look around and talk to some people? That might reassure her that it's not some scary place people solely by toffs! Both Oxford and Cambridge have made huge efforts in recent years to attract students from state schools and I'm sure their respective history departments would be pleased to hear from her.
Hope this helps and doesn't sound too negative (it wasn't meant to be).
PS I didn't get in to Oxford at 18 (so I may have a chip on my shoulder) but it definitely hasn't held me back academically!
peopled solely by toffs, I mean. Oops, must proof read!
Go for it. I came from a working class background, the first generation to get any form of formal education after age 14, dad worked in a fatory mum in a sweet shop. I went to a bog standard, rough comp.
I got in and loved it. Met DH, his mum was a single parent , he also went to a bog standard comp.
PS also worked in Edinburgh and St Andrews universities and they are also excellent
Oh and the chance of having lectures from some of the best in the field is not to be sniffed at. I remember a stunning lecure in my 4th year from a nobel prize winner.....hard to put a price on that
You get to meet lots of fabulous people at Oxford that you then meet again on MN a couple of decades later, too
History syllabus at Oxford is really dire - hasn't changed to speak of since I was an undergrad there 20-odd years ago, and it was painfully old-fashioned then. And Nightynight is right that no-one should assume that teaching there is bound to be excellent. An awful lot of the teaching is actually done by postgrads and part-timers, and even if you do get one of the 'big names', there's no guarantee that they'll be any great shakes as a teacher (because their reputation comes from doing research).
There might be many good reasons to go to Oxford, and other posters have listed some of them. But getting the best education in History is absolutely NOT one of them!
(I did a different arts subject there, had a great time, made some fantastic friends, and learnt a lot despite what was mostly, frankly, cr@p teaching.)
Hmm, have to say the English syllabus was no great shakes either back in those early 1980s.
I liked the Biochemistry sylabus in 1980. I always loved the way Modern History can start as early as the fall of the Roman Empire!
I went to Oxford - started 10 years ago.
At Oxford you can do as much or as little of the Pimm's-and-punting stuff as you like - one thing you are guaranteed to meet is a very diverse range of people. When you have to do stuff like putting on gowns you'll always have someone to laugh about it with. The best thing about the teaching is the one-to-one (or -two or -three) attention, your ideas being taken seriously and listened to, you having the chance to really chew through a question or problem - real luxury. The workload is pretty heavy, but so (so to speak) is the playload - it's the sort of place at wich the ups are very up indeed, but the downs can sometimes be very down.
It's also a lovely city.
Im so sad reading about other peoples experiences of studying, because mine was so negative. I had 2 tutorials and one practical (which equalled another tutorial) every week the whole time I was there. We were so busy rushing through tutorials that there was never time to explore an idea or take time to chew over it. I had expected lots of exploration of interesting ideas, so I was really disappointed.
As for the one to one attention, that was just a joke. My tutors were arrogant intellectual snobs, who couldnt understand why we didnt float through the work as easily as they had done in their day (of course they had got top firsts, that was why they were tutors!). One tutor kept a gold medal that he had won for the quality of his research on his desk, but he was completely uninterested in undergraduates. It was a particularly difficult subject, and neither my tute partner nor myself understood it at all, and he was completely not getting the message. So I started asking him questions to try to understand, while my tute partner kept mum, but I knew she was just as much in the dark as I was. Guess what reports we got at the end of the term: I was deemed to be a thicko who didnt understand the subject, while my tute partner was apparently getting on fine.
As a general rule of thumb, never admit you're having any sort of problem at Oxford, or you'll get fingered for a low degree result. Its just such a competitive place.
Having said that, its still worth going there, only you have to be realistic about what to expect from it.
I found Cambridge financially cheaper than my brother / sister found redbricks, as the college provided cheap accomodation for the whole of my time there (don't know anything about top-up grants), plus I received a healthy travel grant for a fun jaunt to South America.
Each college has it's own feel.
I found the 1-to-1 teaching pretty good: the postgrads weren't that bad on the whole, and supervisions with world-leading profs in the 3rd yr is a big treat.
Worth going to an open day at Oxford: she can always decide against it on the basis of some knowledge rather than heresay and media hype. I went to a few different college open days, fortunately, as the main tutor at my first choice college was disgusting, so I applied somewhere else.
This has been great. Thank you all.
Any more experiences before I print this out?
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